Previously on my Australian adventures in New South Wales: I saw some mountains.
It wasn’t long before the short trip to the Hunter Valley region took a turn for the adventurous (provided you find getting totally lost to be an adventure). It seems I am too trusting of modern technology as well as being kind of an idiot, so I can’t be too surprised. Google Maps soon proved to be an unreliable aid to navigation. Our first clue that something was screwy came when the written directions commanded us to drive into a river. Despite our lives almost turning into a bad episode of the Office, we did get to ride on an awesome raft/ferry/moving bridge hybrid.
We kept driving through the most picturesque and desolate valleys I have seen this side of the Scottish Highlands. Too bad that none of them were our destination of Hunter Valley.
The road went from fully paved to significantly less so and back again several times before becoming more of a trail than a road in the traditional sense of the word. At first we had seen farms and the occasional field with sheep and other suitably rustic sights but even they fell away to be replaced with empty fields and muddy holes with the occasional copse of trees.
In a move that will surely stack up favorably against other examples of man’s hubris, I was navigating without a map. I relied instead on Google’s written directions, which it turns out bear only a glancing resemblance to the reality of the Australian backroads. But we had crossed a mental Rubicon, whereby my intuition told me that Hunter Valley had to be closer in the direction we were heading than it would be if we doubled back. Despite the clear wrong-headedness of this assertion, we pressed on.
Eventually we stumbled back into some (barely) populated outpost of civilization where, after his shock had subsided and his laughter died down to the point where he could speak, a kindly soul pointed us in the right direction for the highway. On the other side, I came across the first of many signs promising the possibility of seeing the Australian totem animal.
My imagination danced with images of the hoppy little bastards jumping back and forth over the highway. A classmate, my reliable source for Aussie Intel had assured me that the countryside was rotten with them and that I was all but guaranteed to see one but went out of his way to disabuse me of the notion that they usually wear boxing gloves and/or sweatshirts filled with cash. He is a damn liar. I didn’t see any. I realize that New South Wales isn’t exactly the untamed outback, and that Hunter Valley is all very civilized but I don’t think one lousy ‘roo is too much for a traveller to ask.
The end result was slightly less time in the Hunter Valley than I originally had on the itinerary, but since I am not a true oenophile this didn’t disappoint me as much as it could have. Suffice it to say that we had a fair sampling of what this winemaking region has to offer and spent the slowly dying afternoon enjoying some tastings, usually on a wooden deck and frequently overlooking lakes.
I have been to the Napa Valley and therefore have some familiarity with vineyard-dense areas, of which Hunter Valley is an enjoyable example. I am not a huge fan of wine to start with, so that might have dampened some of my initial enthusiasm. It also precludes me giving a winery-by-winery breakdown of what I drank and what I thought of it. I can’t really say why that is. I have often lived just outside some areas seriously known for the skill at turning grapes into tasty beverages, including Stellenbosch just outside Cape Town and the Napa and Sonoma valleys close to San Francisco. Perhaps its because I feel that my knowledge of and appreciation for single malt scotches and microbrew beers has made me pretentious enough without becoming a wine snob on top of that.
I find that red wine gives me a headache despite the fact that many people have told me that is an old wive’s tale. I prefer a dry white, Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sticking my nose into a glass and swirling it around. I don’t even mind the taste, but even then I would much rather have a nice, foamy wheat beer. I was therefore happy to find my way to the Bluetongue Brewery where I could no longer ignore the Siren’s Song of the beer tasting paddle.
I had a ginger beer which was much less disgusting than I thought it would be, although I hope never to taste it again.
I ended the night with a Guinness Pie at the expansive Irish Pub/Restaurant Harrigan’s, and it was a delicious way to fortify my strength for the next day’s adventures…