River Haus, Morpeth, Hunter Valley review: New stay in delightful tourist town

Our rating

4.5 out of 5

THE PLACE

For many, the Hunter Valley is primarily known for its vineyards (though some are deterred by their commercialism) or pockets of its coastline like Nelson Bay and Forster. But the region's renewed and reinvented Newcastle, NSW's second biggest city, is an emerging destination which has helped generate interest in other parts of the Hunter. Take the delightful 200-year-old village-cum-town of Morpeth with its population of under 1500 and, specifically, The River Haus, its newest accommodation offering. This charming 1950s-era two bedroom cottage was recently converted into chic accommodation by Sheriden Rhodes, a travel writer who contributes regularly to this title (the spelling of "Haus" is a subtle reference to her distant Germanic roots).

THE LOCATION

The white-washed cottage is conveniently tucked away across from the heritage-listed St James Anglican Church, close to Swan Street, the main drag of historic Morpeth. This was once a thriving 19th-century inland river port. Based on our weekend stay, it is today a still thriving, though fortunately not overwhelmed, tourist town. A section of the 300-kilometre Hunter River flows more or less parallel to and sensibly well below Swan Street, the main thoroughfare flanked by heritage buildings. Nearby Maitland, of which Morpeth is actually a suburb, is famous for its devastating 1955 flood which saw waters reaching above 12 metres, an event memorably recreated in Newsfront, the 1978 Australian feature film.

THE LOOK

Poacher turned gamekeeper Rhodes, in tandem with husband Tom, has clearly utilised much of her on-the-road "learnings", as they say these days, from her own extensive travels. The meticulously-refurbished house (sorry, haus) is decked out, as it were, in suitably nautical touches such as a ship's rope, a steamship trunk coffee table and weathered wooden boat oars. Two prints of steamships, typical of the type of vessels that onced plied the Hunter between Morpeth, Newcastle and Sydney, decorate the living room walls. (History buffs are advised to check one of the drawers in the main living room's antique cabinet for some historical background on the town and its river port heyday). Let's dub it riverine chic, shall we?

THE COTTAGE

That fresh all white exterior extends inside where the centrepiece of the open plan living area, which includes a fully-equipped kitchen, is a wood-fire which, come the advent of the chillier times, will come into its own. Meanwhile, enjoy the warm weather on the front verandah at sunset or atop the deck out the back lit by festoon lights. Both identically-sized bedrooms include queen-sized beds clad in indulgent linens. A third bedroom has been turned over to a work space with desk, office chair and fast Wi-Fi (perfect for a workcation). For longer staying guests, next to the attractive bathroom with its herringbone bricklet tiling is a small laundry, complete with a washing machine, dryer and a bonus loo.

THE FOOD

If you only have one meal in Morpeth, or the whole immediate surrounding region, make it dinner at the outstanding Boydell's Cellar Door and Restaurant, a product of the eponymous local winemakers. Little more than a 100 metre  stroll from The River Haus, the cellar door is built inside a restored ironbark slab hut with the main restaurant artfully attached at the rear. Back at River Haus, each booking thoughtfully receives a complimentary bottle of Boydell's best, a loaf of local sourdough, your milk of choice and a special Hunter edible treat.

STEPPING OUT

There's a surprising array of attractions in this undervalued corner of the Hunter with floodplains, pea-green lush from recent plentiful rains, encircling Maitland and Morpeth and providing an unexpectedly gorgeous bucolic setting. Pop into the rewarding Maitland Regional Art Gallery, take a tour of the decommissioned but still scary Maitland Gaol and wander up to and below the imposing late 19th century timber and trestle Morpeth Bridge.

THE VERDICT

The River Haus is really worth discovering, along with Morpeth itself. But hurry. We half-jokingly remarked that we could live in this commodious cottage and someone may well one day provide Sheriden and Tom with a too-good-to-refuse offer for their reborn riverside gem.

ESSENTIALS

A stay costs $428 a night for up to four guests. The River Haus, High Street, Morpeth, NSW. Phone: 0421 045 435. See riverhaus.com.auvisitnsw.com

HIGHLIGHT

The cottage is gorgeous and luxurious but the combined and unexpected delights of Morpeth and Maitland and the surrounding countryside contribute to a pleasurable short break.

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LOWLIGHT

It's a shame that there is no uninterrupted pedestrian access to a large section of the Hunter River foreshore immediately below the township.

OUR RATING

★★★★½

Anthony Dennis was a guest of Destination NSW and River Haus.