Mudgee magic

Historic Gulgong – Mudgee – Vineyards

In April 2019 Sigi and I, along with Anne and Harpur, flew down to the Mudgee wine district west of Sydney for a few nights. Sigi and I had stayed overnight at Mudgee on a previous trip and had been amazed at the number and variety of wineries within a short drive of the airport. Also, we’d been impressed by the natural beauty of the area, with the city nestled in a ring of hills and surrounded by rolling green fields and vineyards. On our previous stay we’d overnighted in the “Hangar House” a modern bed and breakfast located on the airport grounds and connected to the apron by a hangar, where we could park our aircraft. Mudgee is a very popular weekend destination for Sydneysiders however. It’s usually booked out on weekends and I hadn’t found any suitable accommodation in the Mudgee area for the Saturday we headed out of Redcliffe. Therefore our first night’s stop was Gulgong.

We flew IFR, taking off from Redcliffe into clear blue skies, and were soon passing over Amberley.

Not longer after that we flew right over Spicer’s Peak Lodge in the Scenic Rim. This luxurious accommodation is owned by the Flight Centre group and for $2000/night you can go hiking in the hills by day and enjoy some top quality food and wine at night time.

We passed the peaks of the Scenic Rim as we left Queensland behind us.

Over the Granite Belt we could see the damage from bushfires around Bald Rock.

As we passed Glen Innes there were numerous wind turbines dotted around on the ridges.

It’s about 2.5 hours to Gulgong so we decided to stop to stretch our legs at Tamworth.

We had hoped to find a coffee there but, as so often happens, the terminal cafe had closed just before we arrived. We really need to time our arrivals with those of the RPT aircraft. Not wasting any more time we took off again and were soon descending into Mudgee, but swung a right 25 miles out and tracked direct to Gulgong. On the way we passed over one of the coal mines that are located in the area.

About 40km northwest of Mudgee, Gulgong is one of the towns where Australian poet Henry Lawson grew up. That’s one reason why its streetscape was featured on the original $10 note. The other reason is that it has one of the best-preserved colonial town centres in Australia. Narrow streets wind between a variety of quaint old buildings and a few good pubs. An added feature, since 2018, is a 1000m long sealed airstrip. 

The airstrip was easy to spot to the north of and about 5km out of town. I’d rung the owner of the strip a few days before and he’d told me that he’d be out of town but just to leave the $10 landing fee in the honesty box at the “terminal building”. 

The accommodation selection had been pretty limited in Gulgong, as it’s also the fall back option for Sydneysiders who don’t get a room in Mudgee, so we’d settled on the Commercial Hotel in the main street, despite mixed reviews on Trip Advisor.

Kim, who ran the hotel, was more than happy to pick us up from the airstrip and drop us back. It turned out she was putting the hotel on the market after spending the past 13 years attempting to tart it up a bit. Husband Andy worked in one of the local coal mines and they apparently didn’t have the time or resources to restore the hotel properly so they’d really just scratched the surface. Our ears pricked up when Kim suggested on the drive in that we should probably stay at one of the B&B’s we passed on our next trip to town! Maybe we should have looked at the Trip Advisor reviews a bit more closely! The hotel at $80/night definitely needed work and had great potential for someone wanting a tree change. 

We had a good look around Gulgong that afternoon. The Pioneer Museum is very impressive with a huge range of articles and displays dating back to Cobb and Co coaches from the gold rush days. The town’s narrow, winding streets were originally bullock tracks, and apparently there are still cobblestones under the tarmac surface. We enjoyed the ambience of the old town centre and had a cold beer in the garden of the Prince of Wales Hotel, one of several watering holes that line the main street.

The most impressive building though was the Prince of Wales Opera House, graced by no less than Dame Nellie Melba on one occasion and by the Welsh National Men’s Choir in the week prior to our visit. Allegedly it’s the oldest music venue in Australia that is still used for its original purpose. 

After an interesting night with lots of noisy traffic echoing through the narrow streets at all hours and loud and jolly inebriated patrons being loaded into the free community bus at closing time, Sigi and I rose before dawn for a walk up to “Flirtation Hill”, the town’s highest point, to watch the sun rise and work up an appetite for breakfast. 

After breakfast at one of the cafes Kim drove us out to the airstrip. I pre-flighted the aircraft then went for a walk to the other end of the 1000m long runway. It was in very good condition and super smooth as you’d hope as it was less than one year old.

We took off and enjoyed the view of the green rolling hills on the six minute hop over to Mudgee. We passed one of several solar farms that are located near Mudgee and are a bit controversial because they use up valuable farmland. The coal lobby in town probably doesn’t approve either.

There had been just enough rain to turn everything green but not enough to fill the dams and soak into the soil so the locals called it a “green drought”. 

On landing we were met by Gary and Denise Chapman from the Mudgee Aero Club who Sigi and I met when we were in Winton two years before. They proudly showed us around the club house and accommodation the club hires out to visiting aviators. There are four rooms, including one family room that you can stay in for less than $100 per night. There’s also a common area and kitchen you can use while staying there.

Philip Van Gent, another aero club member, landed in his Piper Pacer and joined us for a chat. His family own one of the wineries nearby so we promised to drop in while we were in the area. Gary offered us the loan of the club’s Camry but we’d already arranged a hire car so said we’d consider the club car on our next visit. The local Thrifty franchisee handed over our hire car and we headed off to Robert Stein’s winery and the Pipeclay Pumphouse restaurant, about 5 km up the road, for a long degustation lunch. 

The Pumphouse is a local institution and well known by Sydney foodies for its epicurean delights. I’d heard about it from friends and taken their advice and booked a couple of weeks before and with good reason – it was full. We were impressed by the quality of the food and, although we had planned to visit another winery, by the time we’d finished the five course degustation with matching wines (Sigi was the designated driver so didn’t have the wines) and had a quick visit to Robert Stein’s vintage motorcycle collection next door, we decided it was time to head into Mudgee to check into our accommodation.

The Hangar House was changing owners at the time and hadn’t responded to my emails and calls so I’d booked us into a self contained cottage in town. The Tannery is a two bedroom colonial era cottage that was close to the main street and arguably a better base when spending a few days in the region than the Hangar House that is located out at the airport.

It was a great place to stay and very well restored.

We wandered into the town centre and had a good look at some of the magnificent old buildings. Chancing on the Mudgee Brewery, Harpur and I were forced to sample the local ales while Sigi and Anne enjoyed a local wine. 

Mudgee used to be a bit of poor cousin to the Hunter Valley but in recent years has taken off. The biggest question facing us as Monday dawned bright and blue was “How should we choose which wineries to visit?” We decided to talk to some locals over breakfast at one of the cafes downtown and note down their recommendations. With a few suggestions under our belt we were ready to hit the road. 

The first stop was the Lowe family winery, where they specialise in organic wines and follow Steiner rules like harvesting only by the full moon etc. They have a lovely wine tasting area with a view over the vineyards to the hills around Mudgee. It’s home of “Jodie”, Sigi’s favourite sparkling rosé.

After tasting a few of their wines (and making good use of the spittoons) we drove over to Rylstone, about 50km east where we dropped into the DeBeaurepaire Winery. The family has French heritage and they make Champagne style wines, including a Blanc de Blanc sparkling and a Botrytis Semillon that goes well with cheese. We had a good explanation of their wine making philosophy from one of the family members and stocked up on a few bottles that were shipped back to Brisbane by road. Then it was back to Mudgee to sample a few of the wines at Moojee Wines. This was a newer winery that has a very smart tasting room with a great view over the valley. Heading back into Mudgee we dropped the car at the Tannery and walked back into town to one of the many restaurants for dinner. 

Tuesday dawned as another fine blue sky day so we decided we should get some exercise before launching into further wine tasting. We drove about 40km north to the Drip Gorge, a great little one hour walk through the bush alongside a creek.

Returning to the car we drove a couple of km up the road to the Hands on Rock cave painting site and viewed the many Aboriginal hand paintings that date back thousands of years. 

Having worked up an appetite it was back towards Mudgee and a few miles north of the airport we dropped into Di Lusso Wines, choosing a crisp rosé to have with the light lunch they served in the gardens. Next we dropped by the Pieter Van Gent Winery (owned by the father of Philip the pilot) who specialise in ports including a couple of pleasant ones that we arranged to have shipped back home.

Next was Craigmoor (owned by Oatley) who make a very nice pinot grigio. Needless to say, we bought a couple of bottles to accompany the barbecue that we had on the back verandah at the Tannery that evening. 

Wednesday it was time to head home. After breakfast we dropped the car at the airport and boarded the plane for our first leg to Armidale.

We flew IFR again, this time tracking overhead Tamworth and then straight to Armidale.

A departing QLink Dash 8 waited for us at the holding point as we landed. By the time we had refuelled and gone over to the airport café it had shut until the next RPT arrival so we had to make do with coffee from the neighbouring petrol station. 

As we climbed out towards the north and headed for the dividing range the clouds gathered below us. There wasn’t a lot to see down below and soon we were in and out of cloud at 7000ft.

The forecast for Brisbane was for clear skies but we had a bit of cloud ahead of us so I obtained a clearance to climb to 9000ft and that put us above most of it. Still there was not much to see below with about 7/8 cloud. We did catch a glimpse of Mt Barney as we passed over it though. Descending into Brisbane we were back in IMC.

Emerging from the clouds

ATC vectored us to the west over the Brisbane Forest Park to avoid traffic from Brisbane International and we emerged from the clouds at 4000ft passing over Keperra. Arriving at Redcliffe we had the 12-15 knot crosswind on final all to ourselves. A fitting ending to a great trip. 


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