The heart of wine country
Come along as we explore central Pokolbin onboard classic carriages and from way up high, strolling through lush gardens, discovering contemporary art, enjoying luxurious spa treatments and – of course – exquisite wine and food.
First time visitors to the Hunter Valley might find themselves searching for the town centre of Pokolbin. Yet, as any local would point out, Pokolbin is the heart of wine country, but it’s not actually a town.
In the mid-1880s, a plan was laid out for ‘The Village of Pokolbin’ a township to serve as an administrative centre for the district. But the name didn’t stick and by 1890, it had become known as Cessnock. Then – stay with us please – in 1908, that name was transferred to the town known as Cessnock today and a new name, Nulkaba, was officially adopted in 1927.
By that time, farmland further west was being referred to as Pokolbin and the naming game of musical chairs finally stopped.
Time to wrap up the history lesson and to check out some of our favourites in central Pokolbin, along McDonalds and Broke Roads and around the intersection of these two major thoroughfares.
The most awe-inspiring way to start our journey is to take to the skies onboard a hot air balloon.
Multi award-winning Balloon Aloft launch their flights at sunrise. You can get hands-on and help with the setup or stand back and witness your aircraft taking shape and coming to life.
As the balloon starts its ascent, take in the breathtaking, panoramic views of the majestic Brokenback Ranges, of Pokolbin’s vineyards, of Lovedale, Rothbury or Broke. Savour the silence and unhurried pace of the hour-long flight, at times drifting just above the treetops, then again, effortlessly ascending to heights of 2,000 feet or more. As a final treat after landing, a gourmet breakfast awaits at Peterson House.
On the other side of Broke Road, Hungerford Hill’s wine barrel shaped cellar door has long been a must-visit destination for wine lovers. With more awards to their label than we can possibly include, they have just released their first ever Malbec featuring all the hallmarks that this varietal is known for.
With a smooth and velvety texture, the flavours evolve around dark fruit aromas such as blackberry, plum and cherry with hints of floral notes, subtle spices and undertones of vanilla from oak aging. The rose and drops of blood on the striking label allude to the wine’s deep, intense red colour. Grown in the cooler Hilltops climate, this is a flavourful, expressive wine that has already gained traction on the wine show circuit.
On your way up Broke Road, pick up sweet treats at Hunter Valley Chocolate Co and pop into Handmade in the Hunter Markets (most Saturdays and Sundays). Opposite Hope Estate, at Tower Lodge, new Executive Chef Anthony Fullerton is currently relaunching the menu of what used to be Restaurant Sebastian.
Just a little bit further and you will arrive at the centre of the action, the intersection of McDonalds and Broke Roads.
At bustling Roche Estate, three renowned wineries, Tempus Two, Meerea Park and MJ Becker Wines offer tastings of their premium wines. Next door, the menu at Goldfish Bar & Restaurant is all about sharing. Their char-grilled vegetable stack, sticky pork belly and pizzas are definite crowd pleasers.
For authentic Japanese and Thai, try Oishii with its traditional teriyaki chicken, pad thai and fresh sushi and sashimi. Finally, the Smelly Cheese Shop is the place to stock up on artisan cheeses, condiments and house made gelato.
And of course, check out the Roche Estate events calendar. This is one of the most iconic venues in the entire Hunter Valley. Listening to the likes of Jimmy Barnes (February 2024) from the grassy amphitheatre in the midst of the vineyards is a concert experience like no other.
For spring installations like quirky flower displays or colourful birdhouses head to nearby Hunter Valley Gardens and experience the ten themed gardens at their lushest. The young ones will love the Storybook Garden with beloved nursery rhyme characters. Amaze ‘n’ Play will run for two weeks from 23 September, its giant adventure maze challenging the whole family to find lost creatures while navigating intricate pathways and unexpected dead ends.
For a lovely memento of your visit, pop into the Gardens’ Shopping Village. There’s gifts and artisanal products at byvonne or Daisy Lane, vintage wares and collectables at Peppers Creek Antiques. Savour delicious pastries at Gigi & Chix Bonbon French Patisserie or try handmade liqueurs at KissOFire.
For comforting pub fare with a touch of the green isle, Harrigan’s Hunter Valley is the place to go. They also offer spacious, comfortable rooms and two and three-bedroom apartments for families or groups.
Another great option for the night is the nearby Mercure HOTEL Hunter Valley GARDENS. With 72 beautifully appointed rooms, each with their own private balcony or courtyard, with tennis courts, spa and a swimming pool it offers all you need for a leisurely break.
Around the corner, on Thompson Road, award-winning Elysia Wellness Retreat offers a luxurious escape from the everyday hustle. This is a place to revitalise your soul and to come back feeling renewed and rejuvenated.
With an all-inclusive menu of nutritious wholefoods, an extensive list of daily activities and empowering wellbeing workshops, their programs follow a holistic approach to a transformative wellbeing journey.
You can further enhance your stay by adding your choice of over 50 therapies and treatments at Elysia Day Spa, featuring the latest products and techniques in professional skin care.
Choose between one or two-bedroom premium villas with access to all the resort’s facilities including a fully equipped gymnasium, three fitness studios, indoor hockey and tennis courts, a resort-style outdoor and heated 25m indoor pool.
To leisurely explore the area on a vintage set of wheels, Hunter Valley Classic Carriages has you covered with a range of Landaus, Victorias or Broughams and even Wild West chuck wagons. There are bespoke tours for couples and families, for small and large groups. Savour tastings of handcrafted Hunter wines, sumptuous high tea, a chocolate and cheese tasting or a gourmet picnic in the vineyards.
If you are pressed for time, sign up for a one-hour Exclusive Mini wine tour, enjoy the picturesque scenery and a wine tasting at one of the Valley’s boutique cellar doors. Couples love the half or full day exclusive charters for a romantic getaway or special occasion. The two-hour Wild West Adventure Tour is popular with families and a wine tour on a stage coach makes for a fun day out for groups.
A bit further north, at Watershed Gallery on McDonalds Road, owners Lyn and Ron Hammond have created a purpose built, contemporary art space featuring an ever-changing collection of paintings and sculptures by talented professional artists from around the Hunter region and beyond.
There are a diverse range of styles and sizes from stunning multi coloured abstracts to ultra realistic pieces and many types in-between. “We don’t run a program of single-artist exhibitions,” Ron explained.
“Visitors to the gallery will always find a broad portfolio of over 20 artists, presenting their different styles and areas of focus.
“As we are selling pieces, we replace them with new ones, so there is always something new to discover.”
From here, it’s literally just a hop, skip and jump to the secluded serenity of family-owned Palmers Lane Estate with its ten self-contained lodges spread over 50 acres with magnificent mature trees and million-dollar mountain views.
Ranging from one to six bedrooms, with fully equipped kitchens, indoor fireplaces, smart tv and free wifi, they easily cater to groups of all sizes, for hens weekends, for gatherings of family or friends or as wedding accommodation.
Explore the extensive grounds, go for a swim in the outdoor pool or rent a bike at nearby Grapemobile Bicycle Hire and get pedalling on the Palmers Lane Wine Eco Trail. Take in the natural beauty and abundant wildlife as the trail takes you to five boutique cellar doors.
If you are yearning for a peaceful country getaway that’s close to all of Pokolbin’s major attractions, Palmers Lane Estate is the place to be.
Across the road, a more recent addition to the local wine circuit is Jac & Jones’ Tasting Room at the off-grid H Boutique Hotel. They have quickly gained a devoted following for their personable, insightful tastings, conducted by the owners themselves and for a wine portfolio with a strong focus on sustainability and a penchant for vegan options.
The 2022 Veneto Rosé with its bouquet of cranberry and lychee blossoms will treat your palate to an early hint of summer, as will their 2021 Hunter Valley Semillon which goes oh so perfectly with shellfish, or any kind of fresh and spicy cuisine. The Hunter Valley Venus Shiraz, sourced from a 100 year old vineyard, is already a delight. The 2022 limited release is now available at the Tasting Room.
For something a little different, try their 2023 Verjuice Blush from locally sourced fruit. It intensifies flavours and adds gentle acidity to any dish. It’s also vegan, gluten free and utterly divine as
Finally, towards the northern end of McDonalds Road, Chateau Elan is a luxurious and enchanting destination that encapsulates the epitome of elegance and tranquillity.
Boasting a magnificent vineyard setting, this prestigious resort offers beauty and sophistication aplenty. The chateau’s exquisite architecture is matched by its exceptional amenities, including a world-class golf course and an award-winning day spa. Indulge in gourmet dining experiences, grab your tennis racket or simply relax by the pool.
With its opulent accommodation and impeccable service, Chaˆteau E ́lan is the ultimate retr
eat for those seeking a refuge of refinement and serenity in the heart of Hunter Valley wine country.
So with everything there is on offer in central Pokolbin, who needs a town centre anyway?
Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography courtesy of featured businesses.
More stories in the Spring Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.