Day Three – Touring Australia’s Wine Country

Yesterday was a full day, starting with a 7:30 a.m. pick-up at the hotel and ending – finally – with a very welcome drop-off more than 12 hours later. In between there was a little wine tasting and a lot of driving.

The wine country, an area known as Hunter Valley, is north up the coast from Sydney some 100 miles, which we covered in part by freeway, in part on winding paved roads and entirely at breathtaking speeds. Our bus driver, Russell, divided his time and attention more-or-less equally between operating the coach and chattering to his 30 passengers over the P.A. system.
In that respect, he got off to a rocky start, greeting us just after we boarded with a cheery, “Well, are we all ready to go get drunk?” That opening gambit was greeted with total silence and, to give him his due, Russell took the cue and pretty much played it straight for the rest of the day.

The drive up to Hunter Valley took close to three hours, including a merciful stop at Wollombi, a tiny outpost of a dozen buildings clustered around a fork in the road. Tiny, perhaps, but there were restrooms and cold drinks, both essential at that particular time, for we were greeted with blistering heat when we stepped off the bus.

Russell announced that we should all make a point of going into one of the shops in this hamlet and trying their “jungle juice,” a concoction he described as “something like rum.” Back on board and rolling once again, he asked how many of us had purchased bottles of the stuff and seemed quite surprised when no one responded.

An hour later we arrived at the Mount Pleasant winery in Hunter Valley where we were given a tour of the facility and quite a nice lunch that included samples of four of their wines. I must say that their Semillon sauvignon blanc was really excellent. I travel very light and buying a bottle or two there was just not practical. Nevertheless, I am resolved to see if I can’t order a case when I get home.

After lunch we were taken to the McGuigan winery for more tasting, then to an up-scale collection of shops adjacent to a small, but definitely high-tone hotel, where we were dropped off and given an hour and a half to spend money, notwithstanding temperatures that the locals guessed at being at least 40 degrees Celsius, which is 104 Fahrenheit.

Russell avoided and more chatter on the three hour drive back to Sydney, but treated us instead to a movie played on the bus’s video system. It was a Jackie Chan film and the subsequent two hours were given over to sounds of car crashes, automatic weapons fire and assorted mayhem. Astonishingly, more than a few of the passengers, worn out from too much heat and wine tasting, dozed through it all.

Today, however, I awoke in anticipation of beginning the real adventure that prompted this trip in the first place. At about 2:00 this afternoon, I will board the Indian Pacific for the three-night train trip across the Australian continent to Perth on the Indian Ocean.

Thoughts of Russell and three-hour bus rides are rapidly fading. Let the real journey begin!