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Driving holidays – Lower Hunter Valley (NSW)

I have a dream of owning my own rural patch of heaven, 30-odd acres of paddocks and bushland where I can keep horses, run a few chooks and write the great Australian novel. And I know exactly where this Tree Change will take place – Wollombi.

This quaint little hamlet 140 kilometres north of Sydney in the Lower Hunter Valley is my secret weekend getaway. There’s nothing I love more than picking up a camper and heading up the F3 freeway, relaxation beckoning with every passing kilometre.

I’m not sure if it’s a psychological thing, but as soon as I turn off at the Calga exit at Peats Ridge, I visibly relax, drawing a deep breath and filling my lungs with the pure mountain air. It’s then a leisurely hour or so through picturesque countryside, lush horse studs and hobby farms flanked by dense eucalypt forest on rolling hillsides.

Wollombi rolls into sight like something from a Tom Roberts oil painting, a genteel slice of colonial history. Its main street is scattered with heritage-listed buildings, honeysuckle-strewn verandas sheltering antique galleries and coffee shops. St Michael’s church, built in 1840, is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Australia. Even the General Store has an irresistible olde worlde air.

The focal point of the town, however, is its pub. It’s impossible to miss – just look for the line of Harley Davidsons out the front! The Wollombi Tavern is the place for motorcycle enthusiasts to gather on the weekend, joining families and other daytrippers having a taste of Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice.

The ingredients for this world-famous brew have been a closely guarded secret since its creation in the 1960s – but whatever is in this sweet liquor certainly keeps the punters coming back for more. Families, bikies and country folk wearing RM Williams all mix and mingle on the veranda of the Wollombi pub, the quintessential Aussie Sunday experience.

If you can drag yourself away from this oasis, there’s plenty more to see in the region – national parks, boutique wineries, craft and art galleries. Take a weekend to explore this hidden treasure and it’s guaranteed you’ll be back for more … or you will be planning your retirement here like I am!

ANGELA DE LEON

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