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Cessnock: 190km (118 miles) N of Sydney

The Hunter Valley is the oldest commercial wine-producing area in Australia, and a major site for coal mining. Internationally acclaimed wines have poured out of the Hunter since the early 1800s. Though the region falls behind the major wine-producing areas of Victoria in terms of volume, it has the advantage of being just 2 hours from Sydney.

The Lower Hunter, centered on the towns of Cessnock and Pokolbin, has around 110 wineries and cellar doors. Many varieties of wine are produced here, including Semillon, Shiraz, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir.

Farther north, the Upper Hunter represents the very essence of Australian rural life, with its sheep and cattle farms, historic homesteads, more wineries, and rugged bushland. The vineyards here tend to be larger than those in the south, and they produce more aromatic varieties, such as traminers and Rieslings. February through March is harvest time.

The Upper Hunter gives way to the forested heights of the World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops National Park. The ruggedly beautiful park is home to some of the highest Antarctic beech trees in the country. It abounds with animals, including several marsupial species and a profusion of birds.