Hunter Valley

Full disclosure: I don’t drink. I’ve been a “I’m driving later” guy since before I even had my license. So the Hunter Valley was one of those places I never thought I’d visit just because the wine culture was so ingrained, I mean it’s KNOWN as Wine Country.

Then I realised the Hunter Valley Gardens were beautiful, that there was an Aquagolf range and that I could go horse riding with the lovely annachaannn and top all of that off with a meal in the span of one Saturday.

Sign me up and let’s go!

Editor’s note: I was invited to stay at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley but opinions on the hotel and the restaurant are my own.

Casual hot air balloon rolling over the Crowne Plaza
We’re in the building!

I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley located in Lovedale for 2 nights and 2 days; which was an absolute accidental masterstroke as every destination and activity on our itinerary was no longer than a 12 minute drive away. There was a fantastic restaurant located on the ground level named Redsalt that I took advantage of as soon as I parked and was there in the morning on a daily basis to take advantage of the breakfast buffet.

Juice stations, breakfast cereals, fruit, a full service cafe and your choice of crispy or bacon by the pool or bacon with a side of people watching. What a time to be alive.

Redsalt's signature breakfast by the pool
You just can’t be mad at a breakfast buffet that has an egg station producing eggs bennedict and omelettes on demand. You just can’t.
The majestic swimming pool located in the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley
The majestic swimming pool located in the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley

Ok, back to the action packed Saturday.

After adding 7 kilos of bacon and mushrooms to my body, we made our way to the scenic Hunter Valley Gardens. Home to 9 beautiful and unique gardens straight out of India, China and even fairytale lore. We did laps upon laps and only realised late into our wanders that there was an option to just board a train that would take you around at a leisurely pace.

Ah well, good cardio.

Hunter Valley Gardens.
I didn’t listen to TLC and went chasing after waterfalls. Oops.
Humpty Dumpty at the Hunter Valley Gardens
Just chilling with Humpty

After trying and failing to put Humpty back together, we made our way to Aquagolf.

Aquagolf is like any standard driving range except it’s on water and there are little buoys that entitle you to PRIZES!

I didn’t win any because er…I had a bit of shoulder soreness from working out too much (Editor’s note: Nope, he’s just bad) but I’m going to win myself a Yogurtland voucher next time.

Hunter Valley Aquagolf
Let’s see if Isaac “Not Tiger Woods” Lai still has his stroke

Post-golf, we took a quick break back at Crowne Plaza before joining the Saddle Club at Hunter Valley Horseriding. I had never ridden a horse before but I was quietly excited (and also terrified that my horse would collapse underneath my weight or suddenly start spouting flames like a pissed off Rapidash).

I confessed my slight bout of nerves and the friendly staff had me partner up with a wiley old veteran named Zac who I spent an hour and a half singing covers of Daryl Braithwaite’s Horses with and talking about our feelings. Oh we explored the incredibly scenic Molly Morgan range with hills, wild kangaroos and forests but I’ll always remember the singing, Zac.

Hunter Valley Horseriding
Zac, Teddy, Anna & Isaac

After our horseriding session, we once again returned to the Crowne to shower and change before heading out to dinner at EXP Restaurant.

And good God, what an EXP-erience it was.

A little bit of duck, salmon, ocean trout, kangaroo, pork crackling and a unique take on a classic ham & cheese toastie

EXP was ridiculous but I was also on the verge of falling asleep and having my forehead make a small indentation on the table. So my thoughts on some dishes were hazy even though I have no doubt in my mind everything was delicious.

The standouts were a classic ham and cheese toastie that was the perfect mix of crunch, smoke and comfort; pork crackling with a smoked eggplant dip that made me unsure if I was dreaming or if I had managed to stay awake as well as supremely tender petunia ocean trout.

It was an absolute EXP-loration that is beyond EXP-lanation.

I then proceeded to be carried out of the restaurant back to the soft mattress waiting for me back at the hotel.

Crowne Plaza bathrooms
Leaked selfies

Here’s the TL;DR for everyone who’s surprised I managed to leave the house for a weekend:

  • I can not recommend Crowne Plaza anymore highly, the staff were extremely nice, helpful and put up with me wandering around the lobby in a bathrobe and slippers without calling security.
  • Can confirm that my butt is still sore from horse riding and that my shoulder is on the road to recovery (Editor’s note: he’s fine).

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