Australia - Newcastle
Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
124Trip End Ongoing
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Up at 8:15 we packed, checked out and grabbed our first Maccie D's breakfast en route to the bus station.
The Greyhound bus was on time and the seats relatively spacious. As it filled up with fellow backpackers, we were hopeful that no one was going to sit in the empty seats in front of us so we wouldn't have anyone reclining their chairs on us....we hoped too soon!!! The last guy to get on the bus was what can only be described as a scruffy down and out looking drunk...guess where he sat!?!
No sooner did the journey begin than our 'scruffy bum' friend decided to start playing up by shouting goodbye to Sydney, conducting the radio music and praising the lord every couple of minutes. To top it all off he STANK!!! Everyone else was looking around giving each other nervous yet knowing smiles at the idiot sat right in front of us. Unfortunately for the Australian girl sat behind us, 'smelly idiot' in front of us did not take too kindly to her talking and laughing loudly on her mobile phone so started mimicking her before standing up, walking past us and throwing some type of liquid all over her!
The bum promptly sat back down as if nothing had happened while the Aussie girl was left in an understandable bewilderment and panic as she had no idea what had just happened, been thrown over her and why.
The girl attempted to go to the bathroom to clean herself up while the bum turned his attention to the American guy in the seat next to us - after some verbal threats the bus driver was informed of the bums antics and he pulled over at the next opportunity.
10 minutes later we vacated our seats and moved towards the back of the bus as several police officers came on board and accosted the 'bum'(PIC).
Once they had searched all his belongings (to check for weapons and what the liquid was) waited for the ambulance to check the Aussie girl over and taken statements from those concerned, we finally got back on the road...minus one smelly idiot! They took him for 'mental assessment' apparently.
Thankfully the rest of the journey was much less eventful and we arrived safely in Newcastle at 5:45 - only 45 minutes later than planned.
As previously organised, Richard and De met us at the station (PIC) and took us back to their place in New Lambton (a suburb of Newcastle).
The rest of the evening was spent chatting with Richard and De, getting acquainted with Ms Muff (their rather timid cat - PIC), enjoying the BBQ dinner they had prepared and looking on the internet for tours of the Hunter Valley wineries - the main reason for stopping at Newcastle.
We said good night and climbed wearily into bed at 12:30.
With the Hunter Valley (PICS) being over an hour away from Newcastle, and the tour buses around the wineries only running until 4:30, we knew that we would have to get up early to make the most of the day. We arose at 7:45 and were waiting for a bus less than an hour later. While waiting for a bus we were going to pop into a local shop to get a few things for lunch but it turned out that all of the shops were closed, either for a summer holiday or at least until later on in the day - the easy Aussie life sounds like one we should be adopting! (PIC)
Once we arrived into Newcastle centre we caught the WineRover bus to Cessnock; the main town in the Hunter Valley - this is the only bus that runs to the Hunter Valley so we had to make sure we made it on and weren't late. Rover also run the wineries 'hop-on, hop-off' minibuses which we decided would be a better way to see exactly what we wanted. Loads of other tour buses go to the Hunter Valley (mainly from Sydney) but they stop at specific wineries and give you strict times to stay at each one - not for us!
The minibus was almost as good as a personal chauffeur, the driver took us to the doorstep of each winery we wanted to go to and for the first few wineries he even picked us up when we specified (normally you just wait for 10-15 mins for one of the buses to pass you on the loop they travel).
Our first stop was the Hunter Valley visitors centre, to get a map of the region and also to join a talk explaining how to taste wines properly and the etiquette involved in the process. Our main task however was to find a wine that Verdi actually liked and would drink back at home - we had our work cut out for us.
The next stop was the Tyrell's winery, the oldest in the Hunter Valley (5th generation) and belonging to the founder of the wine growing practice in the area. The Tyrell's winery had a tour which had been recommended to us by numerous people, this only takes place once a day (1.30pm) so we made sure that we were there in time. We were able to take in a spot of tasting before the tour, some of the wines on sample were multi-award winning and pretty good (well, Andrew thought so anyway, Verdi still thought they tasted of vinegar).
The tour was really interesting and a recommended feature for anyone visiting the Hunter Valley. It gives a history of the Valley, and the Tyrell's business and shows how the wines are fermented in their barrels (PIC).
Fresh with our new found knowledge of the win industry we moved onto the Champagne house and chocolate shop (coincidentally the venue of Richard & De's wedding a couple of years ago). The chocolate shop was a bit too expensive for our tastes but a few interesting samples offered us a taste of Chilli chocolate (powerful after-kick), and a chocolate coffee-bean which landed Verdi in trouble. Andrew asked her to grab one off a tray that was being offered around, only to then be reprimanded by the man with the tray as the chocolates were ONLY for people on his wineries tour! OOOPS!!
Our next winery was the Hungerford Hills winery, recommended by Richard & De. The wine was again pretty good but the main highlight was what we found sitting next to us on the step outside the winery...a potentially lethal Redback spider! (PIC)
One winery we were particularly interested in was the Kevin Sobells winery. Not really for wine-tasting reasons but because they have a huge St.Bernard that appeared in the recent Peter Pan film. We decided to make it look as though we were cultured and tasted a few wines, including a weird chilled red, and we actually managed to find a wine that Verdi could stomach, only to find out that it was only available from that shop and nowhere in the UK! Then the real reason we were there...we asked for the dog (PICS).
With time running out we dragged ourselves away from the slobbering pooch and made our way to the Hunter Valley Garden Village, with just enough time to grab something to soak up all the alcohol before the bus departed for Cessnock.
Unfortunately, the last bus directly to Newcastle had left over an hour earlier; they seem to stop the buses very early in this area for some reason, therefore a car is recommended for getting round more locations (but you then need a non-drinker), or for the more wealthy staying up there for a night would be a lovely option. We had to wait for a bus to Maitland and then a train from there to Newcastle. We eventually arrived in Newcastle at 7:30pm and Richard collected us.
De had prepared another fine meal, BBQ'd chicken and rice, followed by some great coffee, chocolate and a dessert wine that Verdi quite liked - looked like we had just about completed our mission!
After chatting for a bit we all made our way to bed, at around midnight.
Emerging from our room at around 9:30 we did some much needed laundry and then popped down to the local outdoor swimming pool for an even more needed shower; Richard was renovating their home and as a result they did not have a bathroom or shower whilst we were there.
The outdoor pool was an impressive arrangement of 4 pools; paddling, kiddies, fun and serious. Needless to say we jumped straight into the fun one and played around for a bit until we were suitably wrinkled. The following shower was great, even if it was communal!
After some lunch back at the house we ventured into Newcastle for a brief look around, stopping first in the Main Street. The bus ticket we decided to go for is worth a mention as it is a 23-hour ticket costing about 3GBP. The 23-hour limit meant it would suit us for all of the days travel, the ferry to Stockton and the bus to the station the following morning when we left Newcastle - Bargain!
After popping into the Tourist Information Centre and a few shops (which again closed early - 4pm on a Saturday!), we caught the short ferry journey to Stockton (PIC)
before strolling back to the ferry along the shoreline taking in the views out over Newcastle and the lighthouse (PICS). Stockton is known in the area for its huge stretches of sand dunes running for kilometres along the coast. We sat there for a while and picnicked before returning to Richard & De's.
A vegetarian meal awaited us which had to be the most delicious meat-free dish we have ever had - if only we had stolen the recipe! The beer and wine continued to flow into the evening and we took some time out to pack our bags and book our hostels in the next few destinations before clambering into bed at midnight.