With three kids aged five and under — two of whom are toddlers — in tow between two families, a trip to Hunter Valley during our recent vacation to Sydney seemed all but possible. Weeks before our departure Down Under, I’d resigned myself to coming within around 80km near of Australia’s award-winning wine producing region, perhaps enjoying while in Port Stephens a bottle from an esteemed Hunter Valley estate but not actually doing any wine tasting — so near yet so far. I mean, which respectable wine drinker doesn’t step foot in the Valley during a trip to Sydney? Oh right… the one with three young kids in tow….

Things got a little more rosy, when my husband and I decided — it was really just me — that we would just dash over to Hunter Valley for a night after the Port Stephens jaunt anyway, without the other family, our cousins with the five-year-old and the near-two. And for a few days the mood was generally akin to having received a good vintage — you are over the moon and you can’t stop talking about it. It triggered a lot of preparation; perhaps we could finally stay in a vineyard, something we’ve never done previously in places such as Napa Valley and Central Otago. And then there had to be a specific plan for winery-hopping since time would be limited. So little time, so many choices… bring on the wine (whine?).

A few days before we jetted off, our plans took a turn again. We’d been intending to do a farmstay around the Port Stephens area but were unable to secure availability at the shortlisted ones. The cousins then found one right inside Hunter Valley… oh, the jubilation!

It was a bit of a twist though — it wasn’t the typical farmstay, where you will spend plenty of time ‘helping out’ around the farm, feeding chickens, tending to grazing herds or grooming stallions and mares. Our accommodation, a cabin for up to two families, was part of a working alpaca farm. There was no daily schedule to adhere to, everything was mostly free and easy and there were no rules to follow, save for commonsensical ones such as closing the gates whenever you move from compound to compound.

I must admit, I was quite skeptical initially. A farm was not quite on my mind when it comes to accommodation in a place like Hunter Valley. But it bought us an extra night there, so I wasn’t about to complain. In the end, we couldn’t have made a better choice. After we checked in in the late afternoon the first day, we were able to leisurely check out the farm and found a bin of food pellets to feed the alpacas with. It turned out to be a big treat for the kids; even the adults had fun. And it was off to the nearby grocery store for a bout of stocking up. That night, we had a lovely barbecue on the verandah and after the kids were in bed, actually had some energy to admire the amazing blanket of stars in the vast night skies. I don’t recall in any of my previous holidays where I actually felt so overwhelmed by a starry sight — so crystal-clear even though there was some ambient light — and the best part was, no alcohol was involved.

Well rested the next day, we strolled around the farm again in the morning and said hello to more alpaca mates. The friendly ones were the whites, who formed the majority. The black and even-rarer brown alpacas, mostly shied away and were cautious about accepting food from human hands, preferring instead to nibble on the grassland. Then, armed with hunger and thirst, we took off for cellar doors such as McGuigan and De Bortoli, and specialty stores such as olive oil, cheese and chocolate, stopping enroute to a perfect lunch spot tucked within the picturesque Lovedale area. Over the course of the day, there was some frenzy buying and a whole lot of contentment.

Before we left Hunter Valley, we even managed to complete a fine-dining meal at Margan’s, no mean feat when children are involved. (You parents will know what I mean.) There was not enough time and cooperation to visit more wineries or to even go on vineyard tours, but we spent quality time in the ones that we did stop at and it was definitely a win-win for the children and the adults. Hunter Valley, a family destination? You bet.