An easy drive down the highway brought me to the cute little miner’s cottage in the coal mining town of Abermain, near Cessnock, that was to be my home for the next two and a half weeks. A warm welcome from my housesit host and we enjoyed another long chat and a cuppa. A coal train passes through the town, sounding its horn – I haven’t heard this ’toot’ since I was a small child, living on a goods train line in Belmore, Sydney. I’m always taken aback at how sounds and smells can bring back childhood memories.
Like the ‘beach crawls’ from my previous housesit, I decide I’m going to do a ‘winery crawl’ – exploring a different wine trail on each outing. First one was the Lovedale Trail, just north of Cessnock. Interestingly my first stop was the Hunter Beer Company – a brewery!
I enjoyed a ginger flavoured beer while I learnt the history of beer making. A magnificent centrepiece of a massive single slab of teak from Thailand serves as a bar table for guests. It is a beautiful piece of timber.
Beautiful old brick kilns are scattered throughout the grounds.
I check out the Hunter Valley YHA hostel, in case I need a bed for the night in between housesits. Set in a beautiful rural setting with a pool and great barbecue pavilion, and offers its own winery tours. Check it out at www.yha.com.au – Hunter Valley
First cellar door wine tasting was at the Capercaillie Wine Company on Londons Road which has new owners giving it a bit of a freshen up.
I enjoyed a long chat with the cellar host who showed great enthusiasm for my housesitting adventures and vagabond lifestyle. She offered some suggestions for favourite restaurants around the area, which I will hopefully get to try at a later date.
I pass numerous B and B’s and cottages along Lovedale Road before my next winery stop at Majors Lane Wines which also houses a restaurant, smokehouse and cookery school. I taste a variety of their cheeses along with another wine tasting.
Next stop the Wandin Valley Estate, for its connection with our long running television show ‘A Country Practice’, set in Wandin Valley. The long driveway up to the restaurant passes an impressive cricket field and clubhouse. I’ve never seen a private cricket field before! Perhaps it was built as part of the setting for the television show?
The restaurant – Wandin Wine Bar & Diner – was one of the recommendations from the cellar host at the previous cellar door. Offering a new ‘Divvy Dishes’ style of dining with an array of share plates to enjoy with friends on the deck overlooking the vineyards, it is in a beautiful setting.
I head along Wilderness Road and pass another six or so wineries and numerous cottages and eateries. I was hoping to visit Emma’s Cottage Vineyard as it has a café and art gallery, but it was closed – open only on Friday’s and weekends.
An afternoon spent in Maitland, with a picnic lunch in a picturesque park before a visit to the Red Cross Blood Bank at the local hospital. This is the first time I’ve ever given blood in a permanent location – my regular donations have always been at mobile blood banks.
After enduring a week of severe pain in my left wrist and thumb, I took myself off to the hospital at Kurri Kurri, near my housesit town. Without knowing a local doctor, this was the next best thing. What a breath of fresh air a small town hospital is! After a lively chat with a local lady with a similar wrist problem, I was attended by a very humorous male ER nurse, who loved my sense of humour. “Who are you?” he asked as I took a seat. “I often ask myself that same question” I replied to him. From there we engaged in some light hearted banter before a doctor was summoned to order an x-ray. With a strong foreign accent, I was unsure of what his diagnosis actually was! I left there still none the wiser as to my wrist problem, but had had an entertaining afternoon at this comical emergency department.
Responding to an ad on tv for a special offer, I join the local Curves Gym in Cessnock for a ten day trial. The circuit classes on offer were perfect for me in my current unfit state – I could increase intensity at my own pace. I followed each workout (I managed four that first week) with either a swim at the local pool, or a walk up a flight of steps called ‘Heart Start Hill’, part of a walk around Convent Hill, behind the gym. I could feel my fitness level lifting with each visit.
Long overdue for a haircut, I face that agonising decision of who to choose when in a new town. I always find it daunting having to try out a new hairdresser – having naturally curly hair, it’s always a bit of a lucky dip finding one that can actually cut curls! I notice a board out the front of Johanne’s Hairtique in Kurri Kurri – wanting models for a trainee hairdresser. I thought – why not? It’s going to be a gamble for me anyway, and at least a trainee would be overseen by a senior – and I get a free haircut. So I toddle in there at the appointed time, and am delighted with the result! It may have taken an hour and a half for a trim, but such precision I’ve never seen before! After being inspected and corrected a couple of times by her mentor, there is not a hair on my head that is even a millimetre longer than the next! It is the neatest, most precise haircut I’ve ever had. And didn’t cost me a cent! I’m getting good at this budget lifestyle!
Next ‘winery crawl’ was out to the Wollombi Valley Trail and the cute little village of Wollombi. I was intrigued by a sign to the ‘New Gokula Hare Krishna Farm’. This could be fun, I thought to myself. A winding, rough, partly dirt road led me to the entrance sign to what turned out to be a deserted farmhouse – not a sole around. Perhaps it was chant time?
Beautiful farmland surrounded the house and outbuildings – I photographed a herd of cows resting under the shade of trees.
Next, Millbrook Estate Winery, high on a hill up a little lane, with the most stunning views in every direction. Another long chat to John, the winemaker and a lesson on the history of his farm and the nearby town of Millfield.
Originally a wheat growing region, with remnants of the original horse drawn capstan (to mill the wheat) still in a paddock on the property. The winemaker is also a licensed distiller and has extended his range to fruit liqueurs – including aniseed, ginger, mulberry flavours, and Lemonella (based on the favourite Italian liqueur Limoncello), as well as a Chilli Wine! There is a lovely cottage available for overnight stays on the property. Worth a look at www.millbrookestate.com.au
Into the little historic town of Wollombi and a visit to their museum, full of interesting articles from the farming community. This tiny village attracted quite a few visitors, mostly bike groups enjoying lunch at the Wollombi Hotel.
A handful of cafés, Noyce Brothers Wines, an Italian restaurant and an historic church completed the attractions here.
I enjoyed lunch in the grounds of the museum – the old Courthouse.
My leisurely drive out of Wollombi was interrupted by the sighting of a sculpture of giant bull ants climbing over an old Mercedes car, on a property called Lavendar Gate Farm. Of course, I had to investigate.
I love sculpture gardens, they add such interest to already beautiful gardens. This one had an art gallery to view, as well as wandering through the grounds inspecting the sculptures. The house was reminiscent of “Bramisole” – the lovely villa in ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’.
A quick stop at Stonehurst Wines at Cedar Creek – it’s little stone Cellar Door attracted my attention. More wine tasting and browsing through the goods on offer before heading home for an afternoon nap.