Top 5 for the C’s
- Take a wine tour through the Hunter Valley vineyards
- Take a tour of the Canberra parliament
- Go visit the big banana in Coff’s Harbour, but more importantly visit the beach.
Departing from Byron Bay (and not happy to leave our little paradise), on Christmas day we drove into Coff’s Harbour, a small town on the coast to the South. As one would predict, absolutely EVERYTHING was closed, so after checking into our resort (a sprawling family-friendly place with its own beach) we were at a bit of a loss for what to do. A tip from the hotel staff sent us up the mountain to a local national park for an amazing viewpoint over the coast, and a short walk through the trees. Once down again, we decided a novel way for two Canadians to spend Christmas day would be cracking a beer on the beach. I mean, cracking a beer in December for a Canadian generally means you are (A) inside, or (B) outside at a hockey game freezing your butt off. So we took our local brews down to the sand, and enjoyed the simplicity of waves crashing, sand in our toes, and the distant sound of Christmas music coming from the hotel dining room. Merry Christmas!
The next day, thankfully some stores were open again and we felt a little more in touch with society. Our drive took us a bit inland to experience Australian wine country – and an absolute GEM of a hotel, our favourite on the trip. Vine Valley Inn is situated in the sleepy town of Cessnock – truly nothing much goes on there besides tourists being picked up by shuttle buses to go to the wineries. Anyway, Vine Valley Inn is up a set of unassuming stairs, which reveal a complete other world when you check-in. The Inn is totally outfitted in a funky retro style, which may sound horrible but the way the owners decorated is just so totally cool, sleek, and somehow modern. Each room is completely unique, with individual paintings, pillows, bedspreads, and perfect little touches like retro trays, mirrors, glass vases, and tiny details that bring everything together. Luckily we were early to check-in so we got to snoop in all the other rooms while walking down the hall to ours. My favourite had a huge refinished wooden door as a headboard, and cute animal pillows.
Besides the rooms, Vine Valley Inn has a communal kitchen where at any time you can go in for a snack – there is bread, jam, butter, honey, vegemite (of course), various cereals, juice, and yogurts. You’re also free to use the abundant supply of utensils and pots/pans to cook your own meals. There is a big dining room and an amazingly funky living room – retro tunes are continuously played, there is a working vintage record player, a wet bar, old-school fabric lamps, and even a kitchen aid stand-mixer converted into a lamp, complete with a goldfish lazily swimming around in the bowl.
I could go on and on, but I’ll switch to the wine part 🙂 We booked a day tour with “Cheers Bus” – for $55 AUD per person they pick you up at 9 am, and take you to five wineries, a lunch spot, a distillery, and a cheese shop and chocolate shop, arriving back at the hotel around 6 pm. This tour was MORE than worth the money and we had a blast. The first winery was Pigg’s Peak – and my favourite of the day. The names of the wines were all cheeky plays on farm animals, and the sommelier here was really chatty and informative. My favourite was the Werewolf Shiraz, which apparently has won many awards for being one of the top Shiraz’s in the Hunter Valley. The other wineries included . . . At all you receive a sample of at least 4 different varietals with varying levels of description. There is no pressure to purchase anything on the tour however we both had a hard time limiting ourselves! Most of the wines are reasonably priced and given the friendliness of the people and beauty of the scenery, it’s hard not to want to buy everything and support the business! The lunch spot had great food – I tried a salad with feta cheese and perfectly cooked rare lamb. The afternoon brought the rest of the wineries and the distillery – where we sampled a number of different flavoured vodkas, some rather disgusting and some delicious (the chili vodka was out-of-this-world good. Our fellow tour-mates including many local Australians from other parts of the country, some Europeans, and a few Americans. By the end of the day our brains were a bit mushy from the eight hour wine marathon and we were happy to fall into bed.
On our second full day in the Hunter Valley we went back to a couple wineries, ones which we missed on the tour but wanted to check off the list. The most scenic and memorable was Audrey Wilkinson – the oldest vineyard in the valley (and older than Australia itself), where we had the most amazing panoramic view of the area from the tasting room. Once again we were so in love with this area and sad to leave – but also anticipating more adventure coming up.
Next up – the Capital. Canberra. The drive to Canberra was totally different from our previous days – the greenery and forests gave way to desert like brown and rising temperatures. By the time we drove into Canberra in the mid-afternoon, it was a sweltering 40 degrees and the air was as still as a dead wasp in a pool of honey (literally how I felt). We checked into our hostel – spotlessly clean and perfectly serviceable. We made an attempt to walk around the city but in the heat and the sun we quickly tired and went back to the hostel for some down time.
The next morning I enjoyed one of the most beautiful jogs I’ve ever had – around the lake in Canberra. With the sun rising off the sparkling water, birds chirping, and a lovely crispness in the air, I was in heaven. After a quick shower and breakfast we were off to do a tour of the Parliament building – highly recommended if you’re looking to learn a bit more about Australian history and politics. The building itself is a beautiful modern somewhat spacey-looking structure high on a hill above the city. Our guide was very interesting and informative and happy to answer extra questions from the audience.
On our last morning, we were leaving early so we enjoyed one last Canberra signature – Gus’s Coffee shop, a local institution. We grabbed a couple bevvies and enjoyed our caffeine fix before a long day in the car.