So, from Sydney, head up inland to Wollombi, by taking the freeway and turning off at Calga. Wollombi is a great little place for a brief stopover. It has a distinctly “rustic look” (a very tired tourism platitude which very much applies to this little place), and is armed with a national park of the same name and some nearby wineries.
Back in the car, drive up Wollombi road until you hit Cessnock, which is about 30 kilometres away. This is probably the best place to set up camp and plan your attack on the area’s profusion of vineyards, most of which are around nearby Pokolbin.
To help you choose which wineries you’d like to visit, check out http://www.winecountry.com.au/ or visit Cessnock’s Wine Country Tourism office for maps and brochures. But among the wineries in the area you might want to think about include: Tyrrell’s Vineyard, which is plonked right in the middle of romantic scenery in the Brokenback Ranges; Pepper Tree Winery, which is a boutique wine operation just off Broke road in Pokolbin; and of course, you shouldn’t really go past Lindemans – it’s one of the biggest names in wine in Australia. Head to McDonalds road, they’re open daily for wine tastings.
After you’ve sobered up, get back into your car and make the short drive north from Cessnock to Maitland, which is a pretty town full of old colonial architecture and historical ambiance. You don’t need a long time here though, so get back on the road and head up to Scone on the New England Highway.
Here, once again, you’ll be bombarded with all the rustic farmland scenery of before, more wineries yes, but this here is horse country – the business of breeding thoroughbreds is serious ’round here. The day they build a golden horse idol to worship isn’t far away. They’ve already got the horse festival in May and a six-week Hunter Horse expo in September. The Barrington Tops National Park is nearby. And while you’re gallivanting about, why not visit the biblical-sounding Burning Mountain – which actually is burning, and has been for about a thousand years, ever since an underground coal seam caught fire.
Turning your car around, head back down the New England Highway, this time passing Maitland until you get to Newcastle. You’re now on the doorstep of Lake Macquarie – Australia’s largest salt-water lake. It’s here you’ll encounter a clear-water paradise with water sports aplenty. Wend your merry way around the shores, driving through tiny villages and holiday towns like Belmont, Swansea and Toronto. Explore the Watagan Mountains, which flank the western side of the lake, for a sniff of fresh air and a good view.
All that’s really left is to take your time heading back onto the freeway towards Sydney, refreshed and ready to take on all the congested traffic conditions the city can throw at you.