A two-hour drive from Sydney will get you to the charming and historic town of Wollombi
. It took 3000 convicts 10 years of backbreaking work to build the first road linking Sydney
to the Hunter Valley
in the 1820s. The road forked at a spot that became the rural settlement of Wollombi.
Catriona Rowntree had been there with a group of girlfriends at the end of their schooldays. Seems they only got as far as the Wollombi pub when someone suggested they try Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice, otherwise known as rocket fuel. That was as far as they went.
On her first visit since then, Catriona was surprised to see that Wollombi is a bustling village. It's rich in Aboriginal and colonial history, there is a museum, historical buildings and Aboriginal engraving sites.
The Yengo National Park and Watagan Mountains have bushwalking and driving tracks. There are boutique wineries, B&Bs, guesthouses and self-contained cottages, all adding up to a fantastic few days away. Wollombi is undergoing a renaissance and there are more things to do and see.
Panino Restaurant, Deli & Café
Panino has locals and visitors buzzing. It has taken eating in Wollombi to a new level providing European-style breakfast, lunch and dinner on Friday and weekends. They serve organic sourdough, gourmet sausages, salami and prosciutto, smoked salmon and delicious cheese. Homemade soup, meat pies, cakes, pastries and biscuits and gourmet meals to take away are all there, and they are very proud of their coffee.
Noyce Bros Wines
Thanks to the combination of soil and climate, Noyce Bros Wines, a boutique winery, produces distinctive Hunter-style wines, particular semillon, verdelho, chardonnay and shiraz.
The Noyce family has been farming the valley for 40 years. Phil Noyce has made a name for himself as one of Australia's most successful international film directors, and loves to visit Wollombi. His signature Director's Cut is the winery's premium red. His brother, Michael Noyce, is more than content with the quiet life of Wollombi.
Wines are available at the cellar door and Noyce Bros is part of the Wollombi Valley Wine Trail. Their Sawman Wine Club gives excellent benefits to members discounts on purchases and access to wines before release.
Nestled on eight hectares of bushland under the ridgeline of the Wollombi Valley are two private, couples-only escapes.
Somewhere Unique is rated 4.5 stars and it's an environmentally friendly and eco-certified property, blending beautifully with the surrounding bush. The architect-designed retreats have custom-made timber furniture, home theatres, barbecues and gas log fires.
Each has a king-sized bed made up with luxurious cotton bedding, rain shower, two-person bath, bathrobes, soft towels, candles and aromatherapy oil burner, and Natio Australian-made bathroom products. Bicycles, binoculars, bird books, backpacks, picnic hampers and rugs, maps, books and magazines are some of the thoughtful additions. Gourmet breakfast, a bottle of red or white Noyce Brothers wine and chocolates are included.
The retreats are a couple of kilometres from town where you can enjoy a bit of the area's history and maybe taste one of those Dr Jurd's Jungle Juices Catriona seemed to enjoy.