EDITORIAL: Road leads way to the Hunter

THE quest for better and bigger main roads means that many Australian inter-city trips are much quicker and safer than they were a generation ago.

The motorway between Sydney and Newcastle is an obvious example, as is the journey north of the Hunter River from Hexham, where the bypassing of Raymond Terrace, Karuah and Bulahdelah has taken each town off the main tourist map.

In a similar vein, the Hunter Expressway has revolutionised the drive between Newcastle and Branxton, which is fine for those wanting the direct route, but with wide-ranging implications for a number of townships in the Lower Hunter that are no longer receiving the amount of tourist traffic they once did.

With the economic futures of these centres in mind, Cessnock councillor Rod Doherty has proposed the creation of a new tourist route, the Hunter Valley Way.

For a modest amount, Cr Doherty says the Hunter Valley Way can be promoted, online and through signposts, from Freemans Waterhole at its southern end, on to Mulbring, Kurri Kurri, Weston, Abermain, Lovedale, Greta and Branxton, through to Broke Fordwich, Milbrodale, Jerrys Plains, Denman and Merriwa.

These towns – and a host of others on short drives down any number of side-roads and byways – represent a roll-call of tourist interest.

Even Kurri – which may not be the first place one thinks of in connection with tourism – has become a major word-of-mouth attraction thanks to the 50-odd wall murals that adorn the town.

History shows that a similar street signposting campaign was proposed in 2011, apparently without bearing fruit, and while Cr Doherty says the organising committee has most of the $7000 it needs for signs, a website and an initial run of tourist material, continued support will be needed to ensure a good idea does not wither on the vine.

Perhaps because of this region’s historical associations with steel and coal, tourism has sometimes struggled to make itself heard, and in some quarters, at least, the Hunter is still not seen as a major tourist destination despite an impressive cavalcade of attractions and a lifestyle that many find enviable.

Still, the stunning success of many vineyard destinations, especially, show the region is finding its feet when marketing itself as a point of destination attraction.

But Cr Doherty is confident that the creation of a Hunter Valley Way will play a key role in encouraging more travellers – who would otherwise drive through the region on the way somewhere else – to stop for a while and to see what’s on offer.

Here’s hoping it’s a case of the less-travelled road proving more interesting.