As part of our Australia trip, we allocated 7 days to make it from Sydney to Brisbane, planning a very rough route and having accommodation booked at either end, but nothing in between!
From Sydney, our original plan had been to head to the Blue Mountains, but several people advised us that visibility was so poor, it wasn’t worth the trip, so we added it to our list for our next trip to Aus!
Whilst looking at alternatives to the Blue Mountains, we discovered the Hunter Valley wine region (we still have no idea how we didn’t find this in our previous research!) – about 3 ½ hours from Sydney. All disappointment about the Blue Mountains disappeared and we promptly booked a room there for the following night.
We wanted to break up the journey from Sydney, so we decided to start our drive up the coast, on the almost deserted Pacific Highway and booked a night in Woy Woy, a small coastal town just over an hour from Sydney. Hotel options in Woy Woy were limited, but we booked a room at The Bayview Hotel – rooms above a pub.
The pub itself had been recently renovated, and was really nicely styled, with a huge covered terrace with open sides – the perfect place for us to plan our next few days of travel with a few drinks – while the torrential rain fell around us! There were also a few resident ducks that roamed around our feet while we drank! There was also a Shoreditch-esque rooftop, where we tried to grab a table at, but to our surprise (in this small coastal town) we found it fully reserved! Our room was tired and quite shabby round the edges and whilst the shared bathrooms were super clean, the noise from the pub kept us awake until 1am. So we weren’t huge advocates in the morning!
Dinner in Woy Woy however, was great! We’d ventured out earlier in the day and booked a table at Fisherman’s Wharf – a photogenic restaurant on a jetty overhanging the water. We ate delicious bbq’d scampi – which was nothing like it’s namesake in the UK and more like a langoustine – and fish and chips (Baby Barramundi). The fish was fresh and tasty, the wine chilled and crisp and the restaurant was beautifully designed, with a lovely chilled atmosphere.
Breakfast in the morning was also a success! Costa Centrale is a small breakfast cafe in the centre of town and whilst we were there several locals popped in for their ‘regular’ and were greeted warmly by the owner, which gave it a lovely friendly vibe! The veggie breakfast in particular was delicious – and after a quick wander around the town and popping into a couple of cute shops, we had a slightly more positive feeling towards Woy Woy! We wouldn’t feel the need to ever stay there again, but if you’re passing through and need food, it’s got you covered!
Onwards and upwards, we drove to Pokolbin, a village in the middle of the wineries. Our home for the night was a lovely cabin in a hotel complex, aptly named Pokolbin Village, and came complete with a living area and veranda. The complex also had a swimming pool and a couple of shops, where we stocked up on supplies (wine and cheese).
Within an hour of arriving, we decided that one night was not enough, so promptly booked ourselves in for another, so we could visit as many of the wineries as possible!
In the afternoon we had booked ourselves on The Fat Blokes wine tour – who collected us in an air conditioned minibus with a few other couples. The tour took us to four different wineries, where we sampled several wines at each, some with cheese and other snacks. Our tour guides were really friendly and informative and the wineries had beautiful views across their vineyards. The organisers were super friendly and informative and it was great to be ferried around and not worry about transport! For a half day, it cost us $70 AUD each (about £38) – which we thought was well worth it.
Slightly sozzled, we were dropped off at our hotel a few hours later, and then walked to The Blaxland Inn next door – one of a few options for dinner. The food, lamb shanks and a pie, was hearty and filling – just what we needed after the wine tour!
After a bit of kangaroo spotting in the morning – some of whom live in the field out the back of the hotel, we headed to the nearby Brokenwood Cellar Door, where we’d booked ourselves on an afternoon tour. The previous day’s tour had taken us about 15 minutes drive out of Pokolbin, so it was great to be able to walk between those closer to the hotel, on our own accord. Most of the cellar doors offer free samples if you purchase a bottle, or charge a small fee ($5-10 AUD) if you don’t.
We were greeted by the lovely Roger, who took us on a brilliant tour of the winery, sampling some wine on the way round. We then headed back to the beautiful newly renovated Cellar Door where we had a private tasting with Roger, who gave us a great introduction to Brokenwood wines. The Semillion and Sticky Wicket were particular favourites – and, in a bid to convert us to Chardonnay, Roger kindly let us sample more than just the specified wines, so it turned out to be great value, at just $40 AUD each.
Just a few minutes walk away is The Wine House, where Matthew had the lucky job of serving us – already slightly excitable about the prospect of more wine tasting! We sampled a few different wines, which were free with a purchase of a bottle to take away, so we settled on a bottle of Australian ‘port’. The service was very pleasant but not over-friendly.
McGuigan Wines was our next stop – who were unfortunately just closing. However we were given a speedy explanation over their wines and sampled one or two – of which we weren’t a huge fan!
We also tried Roche Estates – a winery so huge that it often holds large concerts – but it was just after 5pm and they were also closed. Luckily we decided that we’d sampled enough wines for one day! Most of the cellar doors shut around 4pm or 5pm, so it’s worth having a rough plan of which you want to visit.
We walked back to Pokolbin Village and cooked by the pool on the communal BBQ, which we had all to ourselves!
The following day, we regretfully left the Hunter Valley – promising ourselves that we’d be back one day to visit a few more of the 150 cellar doors!
Pinpointing Port Macquarie on the map for that night’s stay, we drove towards Port Stephens and Tomaree Pak – just over an hour away. Taking the advice of the local Tourist Information, our first stop was Little Beach. A few fishermen were cutting up their catch on a communal outdoor kitchen and feeding a flock of pelicans at the same time – very surreal! There were also public BBQs available for use, which would’ve been perfect if we’d been prepared! A short drive away, the nearby old lighthouse offered stunning views across the bay – and then a short drive further, we arrived at Tomaree Mountain. A very steep and sweaty trek was rewarded with absolutely incredible views across the peninsula.
After an equally sweaty walk down, we were rewarded by a visit to the beautiful Zenith Beach at the base of the mountain, including our first proper dip in the ocean! We were one of only two groups on the beach and we could’ve happily stayed there for hours, but we had places to be! Leaving town, we briefly stopped at Gan Gan Lookout for more beautiful views.
Anna Bay was our next stop off – a desert-like landscape, with an incredible expanse of sand dunes and even a couple of camels!
We arrived at Port Macquarie fairly late and checked into the Surf Motel – where the owner recommended Bill’s Fishhouse for dinner. The food surpassed our expectations – jew fish with gnocchi and blue eyed cod with cauliflower puree were some of the best fish dishes we’ve ever had. We sat outside, but the restaurant was buzzy and vibrant, in an otherwise quiet town!
The next morning, we got up early to visit the Port Macquarie Koala Sanctuary, in time for feeding. Having never seen a koala in real life, I was incredibly excited – and promptly fell in love with all of them! The sanctuary rescues koalas with all sorts of injuries, rehabilitates and, where possible, releases them back into the wild. It was most definitely worth a visit and great to support the sanctuary.
After a long time choosing from a menu where we wanted everything, we grabbed a couple of Black Market Bagels and a delicious coffee and ate it overlooking Port Macquarie beach. Heading for a stroll along just past the beach, we came across the breakwall rocks, which have been beautifully painted, creating an open air gallery of tributes, anniversaries and declarations of love and friendship.
We then headed off to Coffs Harbour, where we found a few impressive cliffs but not much else. In our opinion, not worth the visit! Continuing along the Pacific Highway, we arrived at Yamba and had a wander along the beach, stumbling across a lighthouse and had a quick drive around the peaceful town.
Back on the Pacific Highway, we drove to Byron Bay and checked into our private en-suite room in Nomads Hostel. The room itself was a bit tired but the bathroom had been recently updated, so it wasn’t all bad! Dinner was at The Balcony where we indeed sat on ‘the balcony’ under cover, while it rained around us. Chilli crab linguine and a crab salad were super tasty, albeit a little stingy on the crab! After the rain stopped, we wandered around the town, alongside, stopping to listen to the musicians playing on the streets, alongside lots of other backpackers, hippies and surfers. The music of a local bar kept us awake until 2am, accompanied by the slamming doors of the dorm rooms, so Nomads isn’t perfect – but it was a cost effective choice!
After skipping the hotel’s breakfast of toast and not much else (most of which was hoovered up by hungover backpackers) we grabbed a coffee and wandered along Byron Bay Beach.
Our rumbling stomachs lead us to Byron Fresh Cafe, for a tasty chicken burger and halloumi roll, in Instagrammable surroundings (which also applies to virtually everything in Byron Bay!).
With a few raindrops falling, we decided to drive up to the lighthouse and joined a tour to the top, taking in the views of the bay and learning more about the history of Byron Bay. Bessie, who ran that tour, was super friendly and knowledgeable about the area.
A few wings and drinks later, we set off in search of dinner. We stumbled across Light Years – an ‘Asian Diner’, with a friendly, buzzy atmosphere – and we were quickly in food heaven! Chilli caramel pork belly bao buns came deconstructed for us to build, with the best pork belly we’ve ever had! Steamed scallops with a Xo sauce with soft and delicious, whilst the monkfish curry was ridiculously moreish and we fought over the last few spoonfuls! We could’ve easily made our way through the whole menu but decided it was time to move on!
The Bolthole is a cosy cocktail bar tucked away on a street running parallel to the main high street and we managed to quickly sink a couple of their expertly executed cocktails!
Morning arrived and we checked out of our hostel, and walked to The Hideout for brunch. Sitting on the terrace, surrounded by lots of local Mums in activewear (which we deemed a good sign!) – we had a tasty huevos rancheros and sweetcorn fritters.
Our next stop was Brisbane!