“If you are a single woman and you’ve made a commitment to moderate your drinking this year, which holiday destination would you choose for a weekend away … surely not the Hunter Valley wine region?
Yet this is the very place I chose to go. What’s more, I suggested the idea to a colleague who hasn’t been drinking for 17 years. Was it a reckless place to suggest? Possibly. But I don’t want to restrict my options just because I choose to have an alcohol-free trip.” – Emma.
This blog is a two-part story from two Hello Sunday Morning staff members – Emma and Jen sharing an alcohol-free weekend away in Hunter Valley.
Part I – Emma’s story
A few months ago I decided to go on a self-care weekend away. It was the start of autumn and the Australian beaches would have been too cold for swimming – at least for me. So I decided to embrace a cooler change and look for a nice cottage where I could sit by the fire and read, cook comfort food and create some art (The place had to have a decent size dining table for the extra space to do my drawing). I chose the Hunter Valley because it is a beautiful part of the New South Wales central coast. It is also a good season to visit this region, with abundant wildlife and nature for inspiration.
To give a bit of background, my relationship with alcohol hasn’t always been healthy. I tasted my first beer when I was twelve and I grew up watching my father drinking with other male relatives to show who were the strong and powerful men in the family. I never saw my mother or any of my aunties drink; they always let the ‘boys’ drink. It was the culture I grew up with and I suspect there was a rebellious side within me that wanted to go against the cultural norm. I started to use alcohol to give myself an identity so people would accept me and find me interesting. Something to be proud of – which is really silly, but it is what I wanted then as an insecure twenty-something-year-old woman. I lived in that shadow for years until the dark side of the relationship finally emerged. What I hoped would give me good feelings began to turn against me. I would wake up feeling deeply remorseful and depressed the day after each night’s drinking session.
Since then, I’ve learned to see alcohol in a different light. I took a month off alcohol during one Christmas, and then three months off, and finally a whole year off alcohol last year. Now I choose to drink only on select occasions, and a self-care weekend away is not one of them. Once I’d decided to go to a wine region, I wanted to share the idea with a colleague who hasn’t been drinking for 17 years. So I did some research on alcohol-free activities in the Hunter Valley, which wasn’t an easy task, but I eventually created a list for us, and these are the main suggestions:
- Experience the fabulous local food in this region – there are many restaurants in the Hunter Valley that use only locally sourced produce. It is possible to enjoy good food without wine, but if you think you won’t be able to resist the wine list, have a lovely brunch instead.
- Support local business without having to visit wineries or distilleries. You can plan a full day-trip to the Hunter Valley Garden, pack your own picnic lunch or sit for a meal at one of the cafes inside the garden. You can also buy locally made cheese, artisan chocolate and fudge. Pokolbin and Broke areas are packed with great local businesses.
- Hire a bike for two hours (or more) and cycle among the vineyards. Hermitage Road has beautiful winery views. I was lucky enough to witness a mob of kangaroos crossing this road (and lucky enough to avoid running into them!).
- If cycling doesn’t appeal to you, go on bush walks around the Wollombi Valley instead. My pick would be Gira Gira Aboriginal Experience, but there are many other walks that you can take.
What I’ve discovered through this trip is that I am not restricted in places to be just because I choose not to drink. I’m still an occasional sucker: I don’t always say ‘No’ when someone offers me a drink, and I’ve had the occasional regrettable night since I wised up. However, like this trip, I don’t want to be restricted by my own past failures. I choose to be free, and I continue to have a better relationship with alcohol.
Part II – Jen’s story
The Hunter Valley – well known wine region! But I no longer drink alcohol … why would I go??
If you google the Hunter Valley, you’ll see it is home to numerous wineries and known for varietals such as Semillon and Shiraz. I am a person who has stopped drinking wine (actually, all alcohol) so it’s always been in my head that the Hunter Region is somewhere I should avoid.
Backtrack a little … In 2002 it had become obvious that drinking alcohol was not working for me anymore. I had always adored wine, but it had turned on me, and I had become dependent. I was certainly no longer living my best life, because of my alcohol consumption. I felt desperately unhappy and could not recognise myself (to put it mildly) … so it had to go! I needed support – there was no way I could fight that battle alone.
Today I am so thankful. I’ve been alcohol free for 17 years and I can truthfully say that I am happy and free of the desire to drink alcohol at all. Having said that, I would not want to traipse around wineries all day! Hence I’ve given the Hunter region a wide berth during that time.
But – who knew that there was so much fun stuff to do there, sans wine!!
When a work colleague excitedly told me of her impending trip to the Hunter, my head immediately went to ‘that’s nice, but not somewhere for me’ – until she showed me a picture of her accommodation. A beautiful shabby chic cottage, with a French design vibe, surrounded by open fields, cows and horses. Inside there was a fireplace; I could visualise myself drinking hot chocolate and toasting marshmallows, reading books, going for nature walks and generally breathing out and slowing down, all in that wonderful ambience. So, my light-bulb moment happened: just because I don’t drink alcohol does not mean that I wouldn’t love everything else that the Hunter Region has to offer. Some quick research later and, wow! I discovered that there was so much more to this place than the wineries … I was going!
It was also a beautiful reminder to me that I can do anything I want, except one little thing: which is, I choose not to drink alcohol because, for me, it is no fun at all. Instead I can appreciate with clarity of mind, and abundant enthusiasm, the beautiful cottage and all these other places and activities –
Myrtle House, a great place to start. Great coffee and breakfast, with a bookstore attached. That was heaven, right there!
So many quirky and interesting little shops to look around. I dropped into the Hunter Valley Chocolate company – the chocolate there is out of this world. Could not resist the Smelly Cheese shop – taste-testing their cheese! I purchased River Flats herb and garlic infused garlic oils. I went to Thornton, to the Mortels sheepskin factory, and climbed up on the Big Ugg Boots for a photo opportunity (shhhh, there was a sign that said no climbing!)
I had the best time, with self-care in abundance.
Hello Sunday Morning did not receive any commission to promote the businesses we mentioned above. The recommendations are subjective and not influenced by any offer.
Photo source: Unsplash © Tim Mossholder