With almost 200 years of winemaking history and over 150 wineries, a visit to the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine region is a popular day trip from Sydney for food and wine lovers. We have done the hard work (hours of research and yes, a little taste testing!) to help you narrow down the choice of the best Hunter Valley tour and wine tasting experiences.
- Why you should visit the Hunter Valley?
- What’s included in a wine tour?
- What type of day tours are available?
- Hunter Valley Tours from Sydney
- Budget and backpacker tours
- Mid-range and luxury tours
- Specialist Hunter Valley tours
- Hunter Valley Tours from Cessnock and Polkobin
- Still got questions about choosing a tour?
Why you should visit the Hunter Valley?
A day trip to the Hunter Valley is a great way to see the Australian countryside while spoiling yourself with some of our finest food and wines.
- The Hunter is the oldest wine region in Australia with 200 years of winemaking history.
- The fertile land here also produces some excellent food including olives, dairy products and more.
- There are also breweries and distilleries here meaning everyone; even non-wine lovers can join in
- The region has plenty of other attractions from manicured gardens to racing tracks and spas; there is plenty to do and see here.
- Over 2.5 million people visit annually, and it is the most popular day trip from Sydney after the Blue Mountains.
Where is the Hunter Valley?
The Hunter Valley is located 200 km north-west of Sydney or 65km from Newcastle. The drive from Sydney takes approx 2 hours, but on a tour bus, you need to add a little longer with pickups and traffic etc. From Newcastle, the trip is about an hour.
What types of wine is the Hunter famous for?
The region is world renown for its award-winning Semillon and Shiraz. Chardonnay and Verdelho are also among the top wines here. Newer varieties that have begun to show promise over recent decades include Tempranillo and Sangiovese.
When is the best time to visit the Hunter Valley?
Is there a best time? Well, I have a favourite, autumn, but each season has something to offer; the excitement of harvest, the colours of spring and autumn and the crisp winter temperatures perfect for red wine by the fireplace. The area enjoys a Mediterranean climate.
Spring – September to November (average 25.7°C/ 78.2°F)* – vines begin to bud, and a lovely light green appears across the valley, gardens are colourful, and the weather is pleasant.
Summer – December to February (average 31.2°C /88.1°F) – harvest time, which usually begins mid-January – it’s very hot! There is a good buzz about the place and lots of visitors.
Autumn – March to May (average 23.5°C /63.6°F) – Autumn wins my pick for the best mix of weather, crowds and the stunning red and gold foliage. It’s an excellent time for photography.
Winter – June to August (average 17.6°C /63.6°F) – Perfect red wine drinking weather. Cooler temperatures make a visit more comfortable.
*daytime average temperatures
Things to remember about visiting the vineyards
- The minimum drinking age in Australia is 18 years
- Closed-toe shoes are required for winery tours
- Weekends are the busiest, so if you have the option to go on Monday or Thursday, this is a good choice. Some places close Tues and Wed so avoid these days.
- Sometimes less is more – tastings at two vineyards that are not rushed is often far more enjoyable than four hurried tastings.
What’s included in a wine tour?
The basic Hunter Valley Tour itinerary includes:
- Wine tastings at three cellar doors – usually 3-4 types of wines at each
- Behind-the-scenes vineyard tour
- Some food tasting, usually cheese and chocolate
- Return transport in an air-conditioned minibus
- Cold storage of any purchases you make
Things that vary between operator:
- Lunch – included or not, fine dining or picnic style, with or without a drink?
- The number of drinks offered beyond tastings
- The quality of the guide and knowledge shared during the tour
- The size and comfort level of the bus used
- The style of vineyard visited, boutique or commercial
- Is a stop to see a wildlife park or kangaroo spotting in the wild included?
- Is the tour adults only or are children allowed to join?
Looking at the pickup locations can give you an idea of who the tour is targeted at if the stops include a bunch of backpackers or only picks up at Central Station it is likely to be catering to a young market.
Even if you are not a tour lover, these tours make sense because drink driving laws in Australia are very strict and on a tour there is no need for a designated driver, meaning everyone can enjoy the day.
What type of day tours are available?
So how do you choose which type of tour is best for you? Well, hopefully, these classifications will help. I have based these on my personal experience of escorting groups to the Hunter for over 15 years. Most of my tours have been with budget and backpackers groups, so this is my primary experience although I have done several mid-range and one luxury tour.
There are three main types of Hunter Valley tours, and the main difference between them is the level of comfort and inclusions. All include some excellent wines and a couple of food stops.
Budget and backpacker Hunter Valley Tours
These tours are designed for backpackers or those who want a general visit. Transport is usually by minibus, and some of these buses are older vehicles that are perfectly safe but not the most comfortable. The itineraries include mainstream venues generally, larger vineyards where the level of customer service can be less personal than the smaller vineyards (of course there are exceptions to this).
Lunch stops on these budget tours are not fancy and mostly offer club or pub food. That is not to say it is bad, it is usually quite good, but it is not a gourmet food experience. You will also typically have a couple of non-wine spots, often chocolate or cheese. They also often include a brewery or distillery. These wine tours are not overly educational, but they are usually lots of fun. They are best suited to laidback travellers who are happy to be tasting some wine and seeing the countryside.
Mid-range and luxury winery tours
Mid-priced tours and above tend to take you to boutique properties and include a more expensive meal. The group sizes can be smaller or larger depending on the operator. Large buses offer a higher level of comfort on the long ride up, and this may appeal to some. On these tours, you are likely to get more information from your driver about the region and Australia’s winemaking history. I am not a fan of big bus tours generally, but the high-end ones I have listed here do the area very well.
Private Hunter Valley Tours
Private Hunter wine tours are perfect for people who are passionate about food and wine. These tours are usually escorted in very comfortable four-wheel drives or larger passenger vans. There is a strong focus on showcasing the area and its unique offerings, and the level of customer service is very high. You may have some ability to suggest particular wineries if you have any that you have discovered and want to visit. The operators are very passionate about the region and likely know many of the winemakers helping to create a more laid back visit. If money is no object, this should be your choice!
Hunter Valley Tours from Sydney
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Budget and backpacker tours
- Tastings at two boutique wineries and visit to a third
- Tastings of organic vodka, gin and schnapps at Hunter Distillery
- Lunch at Matilda Bay Brewhouse (optional beer tasting)
- Shop and small tasting at Hunter Valley Chocolate Factory
Average group size: 18
Tour duration: 10-11 hours
No under 18s are allowed on this tour.
Who is this tour best suited to? This tour appeals at budget travellers and backpackers who are looking for a fun day out with good quality stops. The wineries visited changes depending on the day and season. You have a chance to try local beers at Matilda Bay.
Get prices and check tour availability here.
Zepher Tours -Hunter Valley Tour with Lunch & Distillery
Zephyr offers a fun day out with good guides. The itinerary changes daily to provide the best experience possible and there is a focus on boutique wineries.
- Visit three wineries (often Blueberry Hill, Irongate and Mount View Estate)
- Hunter Distillery organic distillery (vodka, gin and schnapps)
- Beer tasting at Potters Brewery
- Local cheese tasting at Smelly Cheese
- Local chocolate tasting
- 1-course lunch with a glass of wine, beer or soft drink
- Stop at Walkabout Wildlife Park
Maximum group size: 22
Tour duration: 12 hours
No under 18s allowed on this tour.
Colourful Trips – Hunter Valley Winery, Wine Making & Lunch Tour
A great operator, I have travelled with this company several times. Colourful trips have a good history and quality staff who are great at explaining the history of the area. The tours are an excellent choice for budget travellers. They are well-known in the backpacker market so this tour does attract a younger crowd, but as someone a little older than that I also feel very comfortable on this tour.
- Three wineries – usually a mix of McGuigan, Drayton and Iron Gate and Wynwood Estate
- Short winery tour (except during production time)
- Lunch is included with a good range of choices
- free time at Hunter Valley Village shops
- Wild kangaroo spotting on the way home.
Maximum group size: 18
Tour duration: 10-12 hours
No under 18s allowed on this tour.
Get details and prices of this tour
Mid-range and luxury tours
These tours usually include more boutique wineries, better quality food stops, and a gourmet lunch. You can also usually count on a nicer vehicle.
AAT Kings – Hunter Valley Tour with 3 Wine Tastings & 2 Course Lunch
- Leogate Estate Wines – tasting and talk
- Hunter Valley Resort – winery tour and vineyard walk
- lunch at Hunter Valley resort – choose from al la carte menu and a free drink
- There is also a chance for an optional beer tasting at the resort
- a tasting at McGuigan family winery
- shopping stop at Roche Estate – choose to do another tasting or shop at the various retailers here including the Smelly Cheese shop.
Average group size: 20-50
Tour duration: 10 hours
Children under 18 can join this tour at a reduced rate
Check prices of this tour
Grayline – Hunter Valley Food and Wine Lovers Tour from Sydney
Grayline visit boutique wineries which help give their tours a more personal feel. There is an opportunity to meet the people who produce the food and wine you taste and learn about their way of life
- Learn about the wine-making process with a talk and tour
- Cheese tasting
- Two-course lunch at Hunter Resort with wine
- Tasting at Hunter Valley Chocolates
- free WiFi on coach
Duration: 10 hours
Maximum group size: 26
Children can join this tour at a reduced rate
Get details and prices of this tour
Specialist Hunter Valley tours
Sydney Prive – Luxury Private Vegan Tour in the Hunter Valley
- Private transportation
- sommelier guide
- Wine tastings (wineries like Tyrells, Audrey Wilkinson)
- WiFi on board
Check full details and prices
Hunter Valley Tours from Cessnock and Polkobin
If you decide you don’t want to rush your time in the valley, then why not stay overnight. Several operators pick up from the surrounding areas, and there is also a Hop on Hop off bus letting you have a full day of food and wine without all that time on the bus.
Two Fat Blokes – Small-Group Boutique Winery & Providore Tour
Two locals who walk the talk runs this tour, the “two fat blokes” operate Deli and Kitchen in the Hunter and have been running trips since 2008. This is a food lovers tour that I highly recommend for anyone who wants a local experience and is staying in the Hunter overnight.
- tastings at 4 or 5 top wineries
- luxury vans
- excellent and entertaining tour guide
- enjoy a generous lunch among the vines
- tasting and brewery tour at Hunter Brewery
- learn with cheese and wine, and chocolate and wine pairings
Maximum group size: 8
iHop – Hunter Valley: Food, Wine and Whisky Lunch Tour
A great local experience for small groups.
- Learn the art of cheese and wine matching at a boutique winery
- Lunch at a winery and restaurant with signature Chef’s Tasting Plate
- Taste 3 local whiskey flavours that have each been matched to two savoury and one dessert taster-sized dishes.
- local artisan chocolates that have each been paired with its very own premium wine
- Round-trip transport to and from your hotel in Cessnock, Lovedale, Rothbury or Pokolbin
Minimum tour size: 3
Tour duration: 6 hours
There is a chance this tour will not run if there are not more than three bookings
Check full details and prices
iHop – Hunter Valley Hop-on Hop-Off Winery Bus
The perfect option for anyone who wants the convenience of a tour with the ability to choose their own stops. Good range of wineries and other attractions along the route.
- Enjoy a flexible tour of the Hunter Valley via Hop-on, hop-off bus
- Stop at 16 stops and see 40 attractions
- Listen to your iGuide along the way – includes a map, timetable and information on each stop, venue and the local area
- The guide will provide advice about the best stops based on your needs
Check the full list of stops on the route
Still got questions about choosing a tour?
Do you have specific questions about the best choice for your circumstances? Head over to Facebook and join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group where you can ask questions and find friendly locals happy to share their advice!
Decided you need longer to explore? Check out the fantastic range of Hotels in Hunter Valley