Hunter Valley

Trip Start Sep 27, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Valley Vineyard Tourist Park

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

We left Barraba and headed towards the Hunter Valley, ready to start work the following day. We were really sad to leave the Websters but were looking forward to earning some money as we were all running really low. We drove 100km to Tamworth and then the van broke down!! Luckily there was a mechanic just around the corner, the clutch cylinder had gone which just needed replacing but the part wouldn't arrive until the following day. The mechanic was a really nice guy and offered for us to set up camp on his forecourt and pointed us in the direction of the local pub. After a few drinks we went back to the van and drunk the left over goon from New years eve and sneaked into the hotel next door to use the pool, it ended up being a really funny day!

The next day we went to the local swimming pool and hung out there until the van was ready. It only cost $80 so we got back o nthe road again only to break down again 1km away! It is illegal to tow in NSW so we had to push it back to the mechanics along the dual carriageway which was also illegal but we didn't have much choice. The mechanic had another look at it and there was a blockage in the carburettor so he just blow it out and we were back on our way again! We spent the night in a free rest stop half way between Tamworth and the Hunter Valley.

We finally arrived in the Hunter Valley, even if it was a couple of days later than planned! The Hunter Valley is a famous wine region in Australia and has over 120 wineries. The most well known vineyards are Dray ton's Family Wine, Mount Pleasant, Audrey Wilkinson, Tulloch and Tinklers. The main town in the region is called Cessnock so we booked ourselves into the caravan park there.

We worked for an Australian guy called Jason, a contractor who looked after a handful of different vineyards. He paid us $20 an hour which is a really good rate. We were pretty much the only backpackers who worked for Jason though, the rest were all local Australians! Em was the only girl for a while as it was mostly men. At lunch on our first day Em said "Everyones really friendly, Ive had about 10 people come up and introduce them selves" Chris and Dan laughed as no one had spoke to them, we guessed that they never had many women on the team haha.  The Aussies were real country blokes and a bit rough around the edges which took a bit of getting used to but all the guys really took to us and we had a real laugh with them. Everyone called us 'English' 'Lady English' and 'Little English' which was quite funny as it was Chris who was "Little English"! The blokes gave us a bit of good natured stick for being English, but we just had to remind them of the ashes and they soon went quiet.

We got up at 4.45am and started work at 6am each morning. We drove to the vineyards in the van which was good to save some cash. The number of hours varied each day but it was usually around 5 hours so we were finished by midday most days but still earned $100 so we were laughing. Grape picking was much easier than tomatoes, 4 or 5 pickers work together on each row and you just had to snip off the bunch of grapes and fill your bucket. There was even bucket boys who came and emptied your bucket for you so it was real easy it was just the weather! There was a heatwave going on so most days it was about 40oC which was a killer! The heat was insane you had to wear a hat as the sun just made you feel sick, at one vineyard it was so hot they had to hose us down.

Jason was a sound boss. He was brilliant to us, as he was always buying crates of beers for everyone, buying pizzas and even bought us a bottle of wine from one vineyard we worked at! Two guys took a real shine to us called Norm and Happy. They were both great guys who really looked after us. We went to Norms a fair bit as him and Happy were a good laugh, they were always inviting us around for beers and BBq's and helping us fix up the van!

We had a lot of free time on our hands finishing at midday each day but with no money we didn't have a lot to do so we spent most of our time by the pool topping up our tans. The caravan park we were staying at had two swimming pools and loads of sun loungers so we just relaxed by the pool as it was stinking hot. We played a lot of cards and watched a lot of films on the laptop and went into Cessnock a fair bit for a few schooners, we went out one Saturday night which put us off going out again as it was pretty rough but it was good for comedy value. The Aussie men love their rats tails, basically short hair with a pony tail, it was funny to see these big blokes walking around with pony tails and when they go out they put them into plats which is even better. Cessnock wasn't the best of towns to be honest, it was in a gorgeous setting but the town left a bit to be desired.

One of the days off we had we went to do some wine tasting in a few of the vineyards. We first went to Mount Pleasant, Mc Williams wines and did a tour. The guy took us all around the vineyard and explained how it all worked then we got to try loads of different wines. The wine was brilliant, none of us are wine drinkers but when you try real wine you can really tell the difference, some of the wine was really good. We got to try about 11 different wines and they were all great.

After Mount Pleasant we went to Audrey Wilkinson's which is were we did the majority of the grape picking. The views at Audrey Wilkinson's are brilliant over looking all the vines, we saw some amazing sunrises there whilst we were working. Anyway we got to try all the different wines there too which were also really tasty.

After Audrey's we went to another place we had been picking at called Mount Polokin Estate which is more of boutique winery. We tried all the wines there and then went to the Olive centre which is also on the estate. We didn't actually try any olives as they are not in season yet but we got to try lots of different jams, chutneys and oils which were all delicious, but a little out of our price range 20 quid for a bottle of oil!

After Polokin Estate we went to the Hunter Valley Cheese company where we tried a selection of cheeses, jams and oils. We finished up in the Hunter Valley Chocolate Factory where we tried some chocolates and fudge which were great too! It was a really fun day and we got all the tasting for free so it was a great day out!

The work finished up quicker than expected and was the shortest grape picking season they have ever had! It was a shame as the work was so easy but we weren't really getting enough hours after the first week so we left after 3 weeks.

Before we left Norm and Happy did a big BBQ and we spent the day at his place in his swimming pool and managed to drink 3 crates of beer between us, needless to say it was a messy night and ended with Dan in a shopping trolley! A couple of the other guys Brad and Southey also did us a farewell BBQ which was really nice of them, we will have to keep in touch with them all as they are great guys. We were ready to leave Cessnock though and looking forward to getting back on the road, we hadn't saved as much as we had hoped but hopefully it will be enough to get us into Victoria.
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