A Guide to the Hunter Valley Highland Games

A Guide to the Hunter Valley Highland Games

Mar 12, 2024

Welcome to a captivating journey into the heart of the Hunter Valley, where the spirit of Scotland meets the prestige of one of Australia's most renowned wine regions. Imagine yourself standing amidst rolling vineyards, the air filled with the sounds of bagpipes and the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd. Here, every year, the Hunter Valley Highland Games paint a picturesque scene of tartan patterns and traditional Scottish games, all set against the lush backdrop of this famous wine-producing area.

As you prepare to dive into this unique cultural experience, let us guide you through what to expect at these extraordinary games. Whether you're a fan of robust competition, a lover of fine wines, or simply in search of a day out that promises something out of the ordinary, the Hunter Valley Highland Games are not to be missed. This event not only showcases the thrilling athletic prowess familiar to Scotland's historic highland games but also offers a taste of the local hospitality and vinicultural excellence that the Hunter Valley is known for.

So grab your hat, don your most comfortable shoes, and join us as we explore the Hunter Valley Highland Games, a festival where ancient traditions and modern celebrations blend seamlessly under the Australian sun. Get ready to be enthralled by the power of athletes, enchanted by the grace of dancers, and feel the spirit and pride of the bagpipes. This is your invitation to a day that promises to be as enriching as it is entertaining.


What Are the Hunter Valley Highland Games?

The Hunter Valley Highland Games celebrate the rich traditions of Scottish culture, transplanted into the fertile heart of Australia’s premier wine country. This annual event, held amidst the picturesque settings of the Hunter Valley, draws both locals and tourists who come to witness a spectacular array of traditional Scottish sports and cultural displays.

Origin and History

These games trace their roots back to the historical Highland games in Scotland, events that have celebrated Scottish culture and athletic skill for centuries. Introduced to the Hunter Valley by Scottish immigrants, the games serve as a bridge between past and present, allowing Australians and visitors from around the world to connect with Scottish heritage.

Annual Timing and Venue

Typically held in the lush spring months, the Hunter Valley Highland Games take advantage of the region’s pleasant weather, providing a comfortable backdrop for both competitors and spectators. The games are set in the expansive grounds of one of the local vineyards, where the natural amphitheatre adds to the grandeur of the occasion.

The Atmosphere

Expect a day filled with lively music, robust laughter, and the spirit of friendly competition. From the moment you enter the gates, you'll be swept up in a festive atmosphere. Bagpipers in full regalia play traditional Scottish tunes, setting the soundtrack for a day of cultural celebration. The aroma of Scottish and local fare mingles in the air, inviting you to indulge in a culinary adventure. 

At the Hunter Valley Highland Games, you’ll find yourself among enthusiasts dressed in kilts and tartans, cheering on athletes as they compete in events that test strength, endurance, and skill. It’s a family-friendly environment, with a warm welcome extended to all, whether you’re there to participate or just soak up the vibrant atmosphere.

By attending the Hunter Valley Highland Games, you not only witness a spectacular showcase of athleticism and culture but also partake in a living tradition that continues to grow and evolve far from its Scottish origins. This is a day to revel in the heritage of Scotland and the community spirit of Hunter Valley, all wrapped up in the convivial charm that this region is famous for.


Traditional Scottish Events at the Games

As you immerse yourself in the Highland Games, prepare to be amazed by a series of traditional Scottish events, each rooted in centuries of history and cultural significance. Here's a closer look at the thrilling competitions and performances you can expect:

Heavy Athletics

The heart of the Highland Games lies in its athletic competitions, which are as awe-inspiring as they are ancient. Key events include:

  • Caber Toss: Perhaps the most iconic of all Highland games activities, the caber toss involves flipping a tall, heavy log so that it turns end over end. The aim is not just strength but precision, as the caber must land straight away from the tosser in a 12 o'clock position.
  • Hammer Throw: Athletes swing a large hammer (consisting of a metal ball attached to a long handle) around their head and throw it over distance. It’s a remarkable display of power and technique.
  • Shot Put: Known traditionally as "putting the stone," this event uses a heavy stone instead of a metal ball and challenges participants to throw it as far as possible using one hand.
  • Weight for Height: Competitors throw a heavy weight over a horizontal bar above their heads without crossing the throwing line. The bar is raised after each round, pushing athletes to their limits.



Piping and Drumming

No Highland Games would be complete without the stirring sound of bagpipes and the rhythmic beat of drums. Competitions in piping and drumming are a staple at the games, with solo and band performances judged on technical proficiency and musical expression. These melodies are the soul of the event, evoking the Scottish highlands and adding to the festive atmosphere.

Highland Dancing

Highland dancing is another highlight, showcasing a blend of agility, strength, and dance skill. Dancers, both male and female, compete in traditional dances such as:

  • The Sword Dance: Dancers perform intricate steps over two crossed swords, careful not to displace them.
  • The Highland Fling: This lively dance simulates the victory dance of a stag, featuring precise, quick movements.
  • The Seann Triubhas: Translating to "old trousers," this dance symbolises the Scots' disdain for the English-imposed ban on kilts.

These events are not only a test of athletic and artistic skill but also serve as a living exhibition of Scottish cultural heritage, brought to life in the Hunter Valley’s picturesque setting. As you witness these competitors in action, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the endurance, skill, and dedication required to master these traditional disciplines. Whether you're a first-time spectator or a seasoned attendee, the energy and spirit of these events are contagious and offer a rich, cultural tapestry that enriches the experience of the Highland Games.


Saltire Estate Winery's Role and Participation

At the heart of the Hunter Valley Highland Games is the Saltire Estate Winery, a cornerstone of the event, seamlessly integrating Scottish heritage with the renowned winemaking tradition of the region. Here’s how Saltire Estate enriches the games with its participation: 

Scottish Heritage and Winemaking

Saltire Estate, with its roots deeply embedded in Scottish culture, proudly showcases its heritage during the Highland Games. Named after the St Andrew's Cross, the national flag of Scotland, the winery reflects its Scottish lineage not just in name but in spirit. The vineyard offers a perfect backdrop, reminding one of the rolling hills of Scotland, albeit with a distinctly Australian flavour.

Special Events and Sponsorships

Saltire Estate goes beyond by actively participating in and sponsoring various events at the games. Whether it’s sponsoring the main stage where live bands play Celtic music, or backing the caber toss, Saltire Estate’s involvement is evident throughout the festival. They also host meet-and-greets with the athletes and performers, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the traditions and skills displayed at the games. 


Community Engagement

Saltire Estate’s participation in the Highland Games exemplifies their commitment to community engagement and cultural exchange. By providing a venue that merges Scottish traditions with local hospitality, they create a welcoming atmosphere that encourages visitors to return year after year. 

Through these initiatives, Saltire Estate Winery not only enhances the experience of the Hunter Valley Highland Games but also fortifies the cultural bridge between Scotland and Australia, making the games a not-to-be-missed event for anyone interested in Scottish culture and history.


Other Attractions and Activities

The Hunter Valley Highland Games offer far more than traditional Scottish athletics and musical performances. The festival atmosphere is enriched with a variety of attractions and activities that cater to all ages and interests, ensuring that everyone has a memorable experience.

Food and Drink Stalls

Indulge in an array of culinary delights as you wander through the festival. Food stalls feature a mix of traditional Scottish fare—think haggis, neeps, and tatties—alongside other popular event delicacies. 

Artisan Crafts and Shopping

The Highland Games also serve as a showcase for local artisans. Browse through stalls featuring handmade crafts, including Celtic jewellery, traditional kilts, and tartan fabrics. Art lovers can enjoy exhibitions of Scottish and Aboriginal art, which highlight cultural storytelling through painting and sculpture.


Planning Your Visit

As you plan your visit to the Hunter Valley Highland Games, here are some practical tips to ensure you make the most of your experience: 

Best Times to Visit: Arrive early to catch the opening ceremonies—a spectacular display of Scottish pageantry.

Accommodation: Hunter Valley offers a range of accommodation options from luxury resorts to cosy bed and breakfasts. Booking early is advisable, as the games attract a large number of visitors.

Transportation and Parking: Ample parking is available on-site, but consider using the shuttle services offered from major points in the region to avoid any hassle. These services are a convenient way to travel.

By planning ahead and knowing what to expect, you can ensure your visit to the Hunter Valley Highland Games is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. This event not only promises fun and entertainment but also a deep connection with Scottish culture, right in the heart of Australia's wine country.


What to Bring and What to Wear

Attending the Hunter Valley Highland Games is an exciting opportunity to engage with Scottish culture and enjoy outdoor festivities. To help you prepare for a day filled with activities, here are some suggestions on what to wear and what essentials to bring along.

Appropriate Attire

Dressing suitably for the Highland Games can enhance your experience, allowing you to comfortably enjoy the day’s events: 

Weather-appropriate Clothing: The weather can be quite variable in the Hunter Valley during the games. It's wise to wear layers that you can add or remove as needed. A lightweight, waterproof jacket might come in handy for unexpected showers.

Comfortable Footwear: You will likely do a lot of walking, so durable and comfortable shoes are a must. Consider closed-toe shoes to protect your feet from the elements and the crowd.

Tartan Accessories: Embrace the spirit of the games by wearing tartan. Whether it’s a full kilt, a tartan scarf, or a sash, incorporating these traditional patterns can make the experience more festive and immersive.


Must-Bring Items

To ensure you have everything you need to enjoy the games without any inconvenience, pack these essentials:

Sun Protection: Sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen are crucial to protect against the sun, especially during the midday events.

Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is important, especially if you are spending the whole day outdoors. Bring a refillable water bottle.

Camera or Smartphone: You’ll want to capture the vibrant atmosphere, the competitions, and perhaps the stunning scenery of the Hunter Valley. Make sure your camera or smartphone is charged and ready.

Cash and ID: While some vendors may accept cards, having cash on hand can make transactions smoother. Your ID is essential for any age-restricted activities.

Portable Seating: If you prefer not to sit on the grass, consider bringing a foldable chair or a picnic blanket for comfort during longer events.


Planning for Families

If you're bringing children:

Snacks and Activities: Pack some snacks and small games or books to keep them entertained during downtime.

Child Identification: Events can be crowded, so consider using wristbands with your contact information, just in case you get separated.

By packing wisely and dressing appropriately, you can ensure that your day at the Hunter Valley Highland Games is both enjoyable and comfortable. Whether you’re participating in the athletic events, savouring the local cuisine, or simply soaking up the festive atmosphere, a little preparation goes a long way. Enjoy your adventure into Scottish culture and Hunter Valley hospitality, guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.



As the sun sets over the verdant landscapes of the Hunter Valley, your day at the Highland Games draws to a close, leaving you with a heart full of memories and perhaps a camera full of photos. The blend of traditional Scottish events with the charming hospitality of one of Australia's finest wine regions creates a truly unique festival atmosphere, one that resonates with cultural significance and convivial spirit.

The Cultural Blend

This event exemplifies how traditions can travel and adapt, finding new homes and new audiences far from their origins. The games underscore a deep respect for Scottish culture while highlighting the inclusiveness and diversity of the Australian spirit. It's a place where ancient customs meet modern enjoyment, and where every visitor, regardless of background, can find something to appreciate and enjoy.

Invitation to Return 

Whether this was your first encounter with the Highland Games or you're a seasoned attendee, there’s always something new and exciting to see. Each year brings subtle changes and additions, ensuring that the experience remains fresh and engaging. The warm welcome of the Hunter Valley community and the chance to delve deeper into Scottish culture and local wines provide ample reason to return.

Encouragement to Explore Further

If today’s adventures have sparked your interest, consider exploring more of what the Hunter Valley has to offer. Renowned for its wineries, gourmet dining, and stunning landscapes, the region is perfect for weekend getaways or longer stays. The vineyards, historical sites, and vibrant arts scene are just waiting to be explored, offering more opportunities to create lasting memories.

A Lasting Impression

As you leave the Hunter Valley Highland Games, take with you not only souvenirs but also stories of strength, skill, and community. It's an event that invites participation, celebrates diversity, and fosters appreciation of cultural heritage. We hope your experience has been as enriching as it has been entertaining and that the echoes of bagpipes and cheers accompany you until your next visit.

Don’t forget to check the official Hunter Valley Highland Games website for upcoming dates and events. Subscribe to our blog for more updates on local events, wine releases, and cultural festivals. Your journey into the vibrant tapestry of culture and community in the Hunter Valley is just beginning, and we look forward to welcoming you back soon.

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