"A grape for all seasons" Top 5 Page for this destination Pokolbin by iandsmith

Pokolbin Travel Guide: 96 reviews and 232 photos

A view to the future

There was a time, in the late sixties, when I was Hunter Valley Tourist Officer. At that time the BHP, a large steel making complex, was our biggest tourist attraction. Frankly, Newcastle Council had no idea at the time what tourism could mean to the community and paid barely more than lip service to it. Tired of living on lip service, we parted company.
One of the things I did during my brief six months' tenure however, was redraw the map of the Hunter Valley vineyards. How pathetic it looks today. Where once there was only one public golf course, now there are two and three resort courses.....and that's just at Pokolbin!
I remember some of the original names. McWilliams, Tyrrells, Tullochs and Drayton's are four that spring to mind. I can remember the latter at one of their outlets had a tin shed propped up by wooden posts and the place was called "Happy Valley", which apparently had conitations of drunken winos in a creek bed. Today the shed and name are gone, replaced by modern architecture with less sensitive names.
The extraordinary development that has taken place never ceases to amaze me and I'm up there about once a fortnight with my job.
The world class Hunter Valley Gardens have become a fact of life, new wineries, accommodation houses and restaurants seem to spring up on a monthly basis.
Visitor numbers went from 1,600,000 in 2001 to over 2 million in 2002. The signs are that that increase is being sustained though they are suffering as others are in 2009.
Aided by its proximity to Sydney, tourists flock here in droves from the south. Surprisingly though, not much wine is grown here. Sure, there are a lot a vineyards and there are some classic local wines, particularly reds, but much of the wine comes from elsewhere, such as the Riverina district on the Murray where tourists don't flourish as the grapes do.

A potted history

Pokolbin is not a town, just a location name. There is no central shopping area, it is simply a district bisected by a number of roads along which are picturesque vineyards with a backdrop of Brokenback Range and a myriad of other attractions from ballooning to horse and buggy rides to take your hard earned dollar away.
Viticulture in the Hunter Valley is often considered to have commenced with James Busby. In the 1820s he studied oenology, wrote a treatise and guidance manual on the subject and briefly taught viticulture at a Liverpool farm school. In 1831 he took off on a tour of French and Spanish vineyards which resulted in two published journals of the trip. He returned with 700 carefully wrapped cuttings of European vines, sending half to the newly established Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney. The rest he took with him to the family estate of Kirkton, just north of Belford, another place without anything there, just north of Pokolbin. There he established what was probably the first vineyard in the district. Interestingly, he later departed for New Zealand where, as Government Resident of New Zealand, he established the famous Treaty of Waitangi.
The naming of Pokolbin has a somewhat convoluted history. Land north of Cessnock at what is now called Nulkaba, adjacent what is now Allandale Rd, was reserved for a church and school during the first surveys of the area in 1829. St Luke's Anglican Church was built there in 1867, the original slab-construction St Patrick's Catholic Church in 1872 and a school in 1877. Intended as an administrative centre for the district a village was laid out in 1884-85 as 'The Village of Pokolbin' but became known as Cessnock later in the decade. That name was transferred to the town now known as Cessnock in 1908 and the local name, Nulkaba, was officially adopted in 1927. By that time the farmland to the west had become known as Pokolbin and this is still the case.
The Drayton family established a vineyard at Pokolbin around the late 1850s and the Tyrrells Estate was set up in 1859 by a nephew of the first Anglican Bishop of Newcastle who produced his first batch of wine in 1864. After the Robertson Land Act was introduced in 1861 the way was opened for small landholders and more people began to settle in the Rothbury/Pokolbin area.
Vineyards really began to spring up from the late 1870s but the 1890s' depression dealt the industry a blow which was further crippled by the influx of cheaper wine from South Australia when customs barriers between the states were removed after Federation was declared in 1901.
It was not really until the 1960s that the wine industry of the Lower Hunter really began to boom due to the closure of some local mining operations and the reorientation of Australian tastes as European immigrants gave us a whole new palate after World War II. By the 1980s it had superceded mining as the centrepiece of the local economy though Cessnock still bears the unmistakable look of a mining town, despite recent development.

Moving along

There are different ways to attract tourists and music in the vineyards has become hugely popular. Artists as well know as Rod Stewart regularly put in appearances here in the summer and the music is broad spectrum from Jazz in the Vines, to classical, to pop.
Another idea is The Long Lunch whose title says it all. Let's face it, people come here to indulge!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Fabulous accommodation, quality eating, an epicurean's paradise
  • Cons:Can get hot in high summer
  • In a nutshell:If you like wining and dining, don't miss it.
  • Last visit to Pokolbin: May 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (37)

Comments (11)

  • aussirose's Profile Photo
    Aug 30, 2005 at 5:47 AM

    G'day Ian. Sarah certainly found herself a good winery. I liked Pepper Tree Wines too :o) Yes the Hunter Valley is certainly a great holiday destination!! Excellant write up matey!! Cheers, Ann :o)

  • aussiedoug's Profile Photo
    Apr 25, 2005 at 1:50 AM

    Gr8 intro & equally good tips Ian. We passed thru' buying some wine, on the way north then the girls & I stayed o/night on the way south. Had a gr8 day there on Sat, now all I need to do is get my pages built. lol!

  • sue_stone's Profile Photo
    Jan 5, 2005 at 1:54 PM

    Fabulous page Ian! I love this part of NSW. Will be there in March for a wedding!

  • keeweechic's Profile Photo
    Jan 4, 2005 at 5:40 PM

    Excellent background info. The Hunter Valley Gardens are fabulous..not just for the kids. I'd be smiling at the wineries too:-) What a treasure of a place.

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo
    Nov 23, 2004 at 5:33 AM

    More great photos and fascinating, witty commentary from the land down under. But to be truthful, this place may be a little rich for us. We don't mind a little dust on our pick-up truck. Grin! Stephen

  • craic's Profile Photo
    Nov 18, 2004 at 6:26 AM

    This is a great page. Wonderful water lily pic. But I must say it doesn't seem to be my sort of place. I may try to avoid it. But great page, ian.

  • CandS's Profile Photo
    Nov 7, 2004 at 1:19 PM

    Great page! I've never heard of Pokolbin before... It sounds/looks similar to the Margaret River area in WA though... ;)

  • mtncorg's Profile Photo
    Oct 29, 2004 at 2:17 PM

    I agree that those oenological highlights are usually to be found at the end of a dusty road .... minus the tour buses. Good of the South Aussies to ship there grapes up here though;-]

  • unravelau's Profile Photo
    Oct 26, 2004 at 3:09 PM

    Are you sure that it's called Pokolbin and not Rocheville? Now there's a name..LOL. What a great Australian ambassador you are Ian........simply magnificent pages of interesting and relevant info to go with your fantastic photography (with a tripod).

  • scotlandscotour's Profile Photo
    Oct 25, 2004 at 4:39 AM

    Hello - good to see you keep adding. Thanks for writing - I will reply in full later today - when I get time to think more. Monday at work with a sleepy head!!! Best wishes - Malcolm


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