Entering the Cudgegong Valley is a tonic in itself. There’s the sensual beauty of the vine-wrapped hills, fertile valley plains and, of course, the good and gracious town of Mudgee. This place -“ named by the Wiradjuri for moothi or nest -“ seems flawless, crisp as that first glass of local chardonnay with not a trace of over-ripeness or sickly sweetness.
For a weekend or short stay destination, Mudgee is ideal. Its proximity to Sydney (three and a half hours’ drive north-west of the ghetto), the lure of its 28 wineries and an abundance of high-country fresh air draws a steady stream of Sydneysiders throughout the year.
It comes as a surprise then to report that gay men and lesbians are somewhat thin on the ground around Mudgee. During a recent visit, I spied only one clutch of gay men at a cellar-door (lashing out on a crate of red) and a pair of lesbians in a 4WD buying cigarettes at a petrol station. Where are all the poofs and dykes? Busy at the Hunter Valley? Really, I’m here to report, it’s their loss.
Mudgee’s genteel town centre and wide, pristine streets tell of its inhabitants’ continuing wealth and its proud status as Tidy Town Award Winner. A stroll along Church and Market Streets reveals an outstanding collection of neat-as-a-pin heritage buildings. Apart from strolling, I’d recommend the visitor have a picnic under the mighty river gums in riverside Lawson Park followed by a movie at the massive art deco Regent Theatre with its CinemaScope screen (the widest in country NSW).
Outside Mudgee, the wineries are the first port of call, with most local producers clustered within 10k of the town centre. Generally smaller than their Hunter Valley counterparts, they offer a friendlier, more personalised service when it comes to cellar door tasting and sales. At our (obscenely) frequent tasting breaks, Dear One decided that the reds were far superior, but alas, I maintained my fondness for Mudgee whites and bought up big, with quantities of chardonnay, frontignac and semillon (generally around $12 to $18 per single bottle) flooding into our boot.
In the main district under grape north-east of Mudgee, I’d recommend a visit to Red Earth, Elliot Rocke, Lawson’s Hill, Mansfield and Miramar wineries for their choice locations amongst the vines, generous tastings and boutique plonk. Dominating this district is the Mudgee area’s oldest winery, Craigmoor, now part of the Poet’s Corner estate. Established in 1858, Craigmoor was also home to one of Australia’s first chardonnay plantings and now boasts a small museum. A trip to the west of Mudgee is also worthwhile, not only for the beautifully sited Thistle Hill and Burnbrae wineries but also for the sticky delights of the Mudgee Honey Haven on the Gulgong Road.
For those teetotallers among us, an alternative to a winery visit is a trip to the old gold-mining centres of Hill End and Gulgong. In the early 1870s, Hill End was the largest inland town in Australia before being largely abandoned when the gold ran out. It’s an easy, though dusty, day-trip on partially unsealed roads 70k from Mudgee. Twenty minutes’ drive north of Mudgee is Gulgong, remarkable for its almost intact main street of gold-era structures. Prominent among these is The Prince of Wales Opera House where Nellie Melba was paid for her services with gold nuggets.
Mudgee is slowly developing into a foodie town, but don’t come here expecting the latest in Thai noodles. Apart from your standard Chinese and Indian, your best bet could be pub grub -“ the Lawson Park Hotel has an extremely popular and reasonably priced grill and carvery. For people-watching, the recently opened Butcher Shop Caf?n Church Street is a grand spot. Recently, a number of eating ventures have opened up in the wineries themselves -“ including the Craigmoor restaurant at the Poet’s Corner estate -“ contributing to an ever more diversified restaurant culture in the area.
For accommodation, the Mudgee district offers a selection of atmospheric B & Bs, hotels and motels. For a luxurious B & B break, try Bellevue Park (6372 7698), set in six acres of gardens just outside town, or Beragoo Homestead (6373 3414) in the hills 19k from Mudgee. For a true wake-up in the vineyards experience, book a weekend at the self-contained cottage at Thistle Hill winery (6373 3546). In town, you can hire your own cute heritage house at Primo (6372 6990) or, for good value, stay at the Central Motel (6372 2268).
The Mudgee Tourist Office can help with accommodation and other enquiries on 1800 816 304 (freecall) or email [email protected] Check out the website at http://mudgee. nsw.gov.au.
Dominic O’Grady is a director of Gay Travel Guides P/L, publisher of the Gay Australia Guide and Qbeds.com.