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5 of the Hunter Valley’s best things to do this winter

Craving something different this winter? Head to the Hunter! From spotting 'roos airside to kicking back by a fire under a sparkling night sky, there's a huge array of winter activities on offer. Here are five of our favourites.

Play giant board games at a winery

Underneath giant willow trees sits the cellar door of Tinonee Vineyard Estate and its giant chess board. Come and learn about some of the label's lovely offerings, which you can sample in the architectural on-site cellar door, or wander the grounds and admire the adjacent original homestead, The Residence – one of the region's best-kept secrets. Built in 1930, this high-ceilinged, beautifully restored building comes complete with six bedrooms, polished floor boards and a grand fireplace… and is available as holiday accommodation. Current owners Dan and Olivia have also carefully restored the nearby Dairy Cottage, now also available as accommodation. If you ask nicely, you might even be shown to the rock where parts of the original cable system still remain: once upon a time, there was a flying fox between here and the nearby village, supplying residents with milk from the dairy.

Go horse-riding past the vines

Listening to a soundtrack of birdsong, sitting astride a horse, as you traverse the Australian countryside: does it get any better? A horse ride with Hunter Valley Horses offers the best of both worlds, leading you through classic Hunter Valley wine country scenery, and native bushland as well, atop one of the riding school's calm, placid animals. Listen as your guide regales you of historic stories about the region and its characters; more experienced riders are able to let loose with opportunity for an exhilarating canter, while beginners will be well catered for, with plenty of careful instruction.

Cruise the vineyards by bike

There's a lot to be said for the youthful fun of travelling by two wheels – but the bikes from Sutton Estate Bike Hire are a little different to your BMX of yesteryear. Kick off, and you'll immediately understand why: the extra 'oomph' behind your pedalling comes courtesy of a silent motor, which conveniently kicks in when you need a little help on those hills. Admittedly, the riding round these parts is hardly tough (phew), but when you want to admire the scenery –and there's plenty of that around – it does you mean can take it a little easier. Hint: if it's views you're after, head to Mistletoe Lane (just near the hire centre). Expect vine-filled rows in the valley, framed by a mountain range out back. Glorious.

Kick back by the open fire at Spicers

If you like luxury and comfort, you're in a for a treat: newly-opened Spicers Guesthouse is a purveyor of both. The boutique hotel retreat, which offers a host of suites as well as a stand-alone guesthouse, combines all the usual Spicers comforts (attentive service, well-appointed rooms) with plenty of local touches, including its two-storey 'wall of wine', complete with sliding ladder. While the hotel is great at any time of year, winter sees staff light the fireplaces both indoors and out. Order a glass of something warming from the well-stocked bar and head to the fireside couches for an aperitif, or wander outside after dinner in the on-site restaurant, to savour a digestif as the fire crackles merrily under the stars.

Watch the sun rise from a hot air balloon

There are very few places where you can wave to kangaroos as you lift up into the sky in a basket; fewer still, when those roos are lazing among the vine-covered hills of wine country. So, while hot air ballooning is a special experience no matter where you are in the world –there's something inescapably beautiful about floating through crisp morning air, totally silent – it's extra special in the Hunter, with Balloon Aloft. Gaze out over the landscape, which stretches well off into the distant horizon, and you'll get a unique perspective on the size and scope of the region as the sun streaks the sky with pink, red and finally blue. After landing – hold on for the bump! – celebrate with local sparkling wine and breakfast, served on-site at Peterson House.


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