As Australia starts to open back up, we’ve partnered with RedBalloon to uncover the best of what our country has to offer. From experiences and weekends away, to gift ideas (to treat yourself, and others), we’re encouraging you to make every moment count, think outside the box and get out there to support local businesses and communities.
I’ve done a whole lot of daydreaming during the past few months in iso, so much so, that I’ve now planned just about every holiday I’ll be taking from now and over the next decade (pending border openings around the world).
While a far-flung trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights and swim in the Blue Lagoon may be a little way off just yet, the good news is that with (most) state and regional travel back on the cards, I can get to actioning some of my closer-to-home travel plans.
Using experience platform, RedBalloon, I’ve curated what I deem to be the ultimate weekender in the picturesque NSW Hunter Valley. Starting on Friday around lunchtime (when my editor will give me an early mark… please?), I’ll head off on a luxurious escape filled with fine dining experiences, fireplaces, and a special sunrise treat.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
After knocking off work, I’ll drive a short two hours north to the Hunter Valley where I’ll arrive at my home away from home for the next two nights. A modern yet traditionally decorated cabin, the cottage, secluded on the Block Eight vineyard and olive grove, boasts a full kitchen, private deck, and lush fireplace.
Afternoon tea with freshly baked treats will be waiting there to greet me, and I’ll be given a vegetarian breakfast hamper in case I get hungry. Even better, the vineyard throws in six bottles of its estate-grown wines as a take-home treat. But my mind couldn’t be further from home at this point.
Just as the sun begins to set, I’ll make my way over to Amanda’s on the Edge, positioned on a hill overlooking the wineries of the Windsor’s Edge Vineyard. The dinner package on RedBalloon includes a glass of sparkling, plus a three-course meal of culinary treats that include seared scallops, rack of lamb and linguini with king prawns. There’s also dessert and a coffee and/or port for the road. Early night tonight, though, because I have a super early start tomorrow…
While on most mornings I sleep right through sunrise, on this particular Saturday, I plan to take it in from the vantage position of a hot air balloon in the sky. Braced against the chill, I’ll view the sun pop out from the valley beyond and cast its light over the rolling hills and wineries below, many of which I’ll be exploring later on.
Following a safe landing, I’ll enjoy breakfast at a local winery and a glass of local sparkling wine. What? I’m on holidays. Plus, it’s all part of the RedBalloon experience.
Since I sipped champagne, I see no problem with enjoying another tipple before lunch. I am in the wine country, after all. I’m certain to hit more than a few wineries over the course of the weekend, but to kick things off, I’ll embark upon a guided tour of the Margan Wines vineyard, winery and one-acre kitchen garden and orchard.
Following a wine tasting and learning experience, I’ll sit down to a five-course degustation lunch at the hatted restaurant on site, which showcases a menu committed to seasonal, estate-grown produce.
At this point, I am full and I am tired, but it’s too early for a nap and I still have things to see! So I’ve planned a quiet little horse ride through the Brokenback Range for one hour of wine-free immersion in the outdoors. The trails showcase varying terrain — from green bush to farmlands and vineyards, all backdropped by mountains.
You may be wondering, why would someone on holidays want to cook their own meal? Well, I don’t get much time during the week and it’s certainly not every day that I have access to local, organic produce.
As such, tonight I’ll be attending a BBQ cooking class, where, with the help of a professional chef, I’ll learn to perfectly grill up a three-course BBQ meal, that I’ll then get to eat while simultaneously taking part in a two-part wine tasting. It’s the perfect end to a perfect day.
★ Enjoy breakfast and check out of Block Eight Hunter Valley
Following a blissful stay in my comfortable cottage, it’s time to check out and move on, but not before I dive into that vegetarian breakfast hamper. Using the full kitchen, I’ll whip up a meal and enjoy breakfast on the verandah as the last of the embers from last night’s fire are reduced to ash.
Newcastle is a short one-hours’ drive from the Hunter Valley, and since I’m in the business of prolonging my weekender, I’ve planned a pit stop in the coastal town. Time to hit the road.
Upon arriving in Newcastle, I’ll head over to Newcastle’s Honeysuckle Foreshore to board a two-hour whale-watching cruise, where I’ll witness Humpback Whales on their migration up north.
I’ve heard that at this time of year, you can spot seals and dolphins, too. With my camera roll full of breaching whales, I’ll pop into a local cafe for a wholesome, light lunch (you’ll see why).
I might cry from fear, and I may change my mind nineteen times in the lead-up, but it’s possible I could feel brave enough to cap my perfect weekend off with a tandem skydive over Newcastle’s pristine beaches and Lake Macquarie.
By jumping out of a plane at 15,000ft, I’ll leave my troubles behind and enjoy (through screams) a 60-second freefall, followed by seven minutes of calm floating to safety. Maybe I’ll love it so much, I’ll want to do it again sometime.
It’s time to drive home after a blissful, exciting and adventurous weekend away. I’ll spend the drive reminiscing about the days prior, and gearing up for the work week ahead, feeling relaxed yet simultaneously energised.