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Weekend country escape in the Upper Hunter

If you’re looking for an adventure or a place to take your family for the weekend, look no further than the idyllic scenery of the Upper Hunter Country in New South Wales. This region – stretching from Muswellbrook, northwest of Newcastle, to Murrurundi, south of Tamworth – has everything you would want to get the complete countryside experience: charming rural towns, magnificent mountains, rushing rivers, quaint farms and lots of activities and experiences for the whole family.

Explore the wilderness, take in the history and revel in old-fashioned country hospitality. The air is fresh and the spaces open and vast so children can run around and explore to their hearts’ content, making it perfect as a family weekend getaway. You’ll run out of time before you run out of things to do!

Top 6 experiences in the Upper Hunter

There is so much to do here that you will wish you had more time to do it all. Here are just some of the things you can do while staying in the Upper Hunter.

1. Horse riding adventures

For those who love horses and anything to do with them, Upper Hunter Valley is the place to be. The town of Scone is known as the Horse Capital of Australia, and the whole region is home to some of the country’s most prestigious thoroughbred horse studs in Australia. Throughout the year, it also hosts many events such as polo tournaments, horse racing and rodeos.

You can explore the valley from horseback and discover gorgeous locations while going through bush tracks and crossing river streams. Jo Fernandes from Open Space Events can organise trail rides and private tours along with lessons and instructions to guide you. Depending upon your experience with horse riding, you’ll find a variety of experiences available to you.

Horse Riding Adventures

1. Joy flights

Take in the valley from the sky. Ross Pay, the owner of Pay’s Air Charter, is an aviation enthusiast with an exceptional collection of old warbirds. Take to the sky for a quick flight (called ‘jollies’) and a vintage thrill.

3. Apple-picking

For a fabulously fruity experience, head straight to the orchards at Omadale Brook Estate, located where the Omadale Brook and Hunter River meet. The Tilse family owns the estate and makes Tilse Wines and Apple Truck Cider. Kids will love running in the orchard and picking apples, while you relax by the water and simply enjoy the stunning views. The children can also walk across the river plank to the Orchard Lodge where there is plenty of open grass for them to play on. In the meantime, you can sample the local wines at the Cellar Door. Follow this up with a homemade lunch or a picnic by the river.

Apple Picking

4. Cuddle a Tasmanian devil

If you like a touch of the wild and want to view it up close, check out Devil Ark in the Tassie-like environment of Barrington Tops and its ‘Devils in the Wild’ tour. The kids will get the chance to see the Tasmanian devil in free-range enclosures and also learn about the conservation breeding project. You can even enter one such enclosure and watch a communal feed. The park has two ambassador joeys, called Levi and Diva, that the kids can even cuddle.

5. Explore Barrington Tops

If you are a wildlife enthusiast, you definitely don’t want to miss Barrington Tops National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whether you just want to enjoy the scenic views or look for adventure in the wild, Barrington Tops is truly amazing. There are plenty of lookout points along the way so you can get some magnificent views of the Upper Hunter, and the brumbies and waterfalls are not to be missed.

6. Visit Old Oakley Farm

At Old Oakley Farm in Merriwa, guests are invited to explore 1416 hectares of stunning farmland. Hosts Annie and Rowan offer several fun activities that all ages can enjoy. The kids will have a ball visiting the animals and exploring the farm on a buggy. The whole family can join Rowan and Annie as they do some of their rounds such as collecting eggs and mustering cattle. There are also horse rides and tractor rides, topped off with a delicious picnic lunch with plenty of homemade treats on a mountain with the most stunning views.

It’s a fantastic experience and a great opportunity for kids to learn about farming, animals and produce. Old Oakley Farm is part of an initiative by the New South Wales government known as Visit My Farm, an initiative that is aimed at bringing farming communities and urban communities closer. The tours last two to three hours, with morning and afternoon visiting times.

For bookings email anniwhere1@hotmail.com or visit www.visitmyfarm.com.au and select Farm 45

Old Oakley Farm

Where to stay

Belltrees

Although there are plenty of options in the Upper Hunter, you won’t want to miss out on the experience of staying at the spectacular Belltrees. Located 30 minutes east of Scone, this historical working farm is one of Australia’s most famous rural properties. It has been owned by the White family since 1831 and is now managed by seventh-generation family members who have done an admirable job preserving the rural heritage.

It is a fantastic place to base yourself to explore the region and experience the true-blue Australian country lifestyle. Belltrees offers a variety of accommodation options such as self-contained cottages, mountain retreats or a country house. The historical cottages are located on the banks of the Hunter River and are perfect for families. The White Cottage has two double rooms with ensuite, and one twin room; a sitting room that comes complete with an open fireplace and a kitchen. You can cook up your own country feast with fresh produce from local farm trails or enjoy homecooked meals from the Country House.

Belltrees is the type of place where you can relax and take in the fresh country air and sounds of nature while enjoying simple pleasures with the kids: feeding the horses, visiting the paddocks with grazing cattle, spotting kangaroos. The kids will love swimming and canoeing in the river. You can also visit the Belltrees historical village with one of the family members who will show you around the original buildings such as the stunning Bells Homestead, the little chapel, the post office and school.

Belltrees

Places to dine

Wonderful eateries dot the entire Upper Hunter and range from historical pubs, boutique restaurants to quaint cafes and much more. The region is full of dining options. Haydon Hall is an incredible little hiding spot in Murrurundi, known only to a few. Scone is home to award-winning restaurant The Cottage. Further south in Muswellbrook is Hunter Belle Cheese Factory and further toward Denman is the brilliant olive grove of Pukara Estate. Denman is well known for its wineries, pubs and restaurants such as Gerard’s Place.

How to get to the Upper Hunter

DRIVE Scone is a three-hour drive north of Sydney along the New England Highway and only two hours from Newcastle.

TRAIN NSW TrainLink services depart Sydney Central Station at 10am and arrive in Scone at 1.50pm.

FLY Airspeed Aviation has charter flights from any airport.

Snezana Belevska-Bennell and her husband David run Big Kiss Creative and have been producing videos and destinational content for the travel and media industries for over a decade. Their business enables them to travel for work and leisure with their boys Luka and Saachi.

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