A short while ago I had blogged about the Hunter Valley and that I was headed there for the Conference that the company I work for had put together. I tried filming when I could but I wasn’t able to capture enough footage in order to make a video about all things Hunter Valley, however I did go on a helicopter ride and I filmed that and I've blogged about it too! But because I wasn’t able to capture enough footage, I wanted to try and write an elaborate blog on Hunter Valley and all the things I experienced at my first ever Conference.
We made our way up to the Hunter Valley on the 10th of May. This was the first time I was meeting some of the international committee members. Basically we hired a van so we could carry all of our boxes that had materials for the Conference and our luggage. By the end of it, it was a 12-seater van that could comfortably only fit about 5 of us. Yes that’s how much we were taking with us from Sydney to Hunter Valley. I was very anxious as I was going to be in a van with some new people and I didn’t really know what to expect. Needless to say it was rather daunting. A coffee run was done and yes I was the only one who spilt hot chocolate in a rented van. Clearly I just wanted to disappear into thin air.
The drive to the Hunter Valley is rather smooth. Just about two hours long and you hardly feel it. We were under a lot of stress as we arrived, as we were trying to organise some last minute admin stuff. Once all the admin tasks were sorted, we went to our rooms and freshened up before heading out to dinner. By this point I had met all the international committee who were attending the Australasia conference. We went to dinner at Circa 1876. We could choose between a two or three-course dinner. Most of us chose two courses, probably because we were all tired from the travelling and the exhausting day. Growing up as a Hindu, I’ve mostly eaten very particular things. Yes over time I’ve opened up and eaten other things in the comforts of my family. However this time round I was completely by myself with not a single recognisable food option in the menu. I decided my stomach was going on an adventure. I decided to go ahead with the Barramundi for the main and (if my mommy is reading this she’ll be so proud) a vanilla ice-cream with cut strawberries and a sizzling brownie. I know, I ate strawberries. Miracles do happen. It was a good experience for my stomach and me for sure. The Hunter Valley is a lot more ‘open’ than Sydney, which in comparison to the Hunter Valley is crowded with skyscrapers. So, walking back to our van after dinner, we enjoy a wonderful walk under the shining stars. This is quite common in New Zealand. Sorry I had to put that out there.
The next day, Wednesday, is when some of the delegates start to arrive, especially the international ones and the speakers. This is also the first day the registration desk is open. It is a rather daunting place, the registration desk, especially when you’re new and you don’t necessarily know what to say or how to best explain things. But that’s where training comes in. After months of preparing for all the delegates, you do tend to remember some names. You can then use this as great customer service for when these delegates arrive and give their last name and you literally just say their full name before they even have a chance. Good times. But first before all of that happens, we are given a walkthrough of the venue so you know which room is located where and you know where to direct people to go. As Hunter Valley is a two-hour drive from Sydney and most international flights arrive in Sydney, we’d organised a number of shuttles for our delegates (both international and local). All these shuttles were to arrive on this day!
After the registration desk closed and all the scheduled shuttles had arrived it was time to relax once last time before the conference kicked off. Everyone from the team had arrived and checked-in. Yes we all had our individual rooms, not that we were in there much. But yes we had deluxe rooms to ourselves. The first social function was taking place as we were in the Committee room being treated to some fine wine and canapés. During the conference you hardly get to socialise with your colleagues and thus most of the socialising happens once all of the day’s activities have concluded, which is usually around 9 or 10pm at night. This is the fun part!
Thursday 12th May is the first official day of the Conference. The delegates arrive in hundreds and the staff at the registration welcome them and assist them so they can make it to the start of the conference. It’s a pretty full on day. After a day full of sessions, we joined the social function. We made our way to the Lovedale bar at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, which was the venue for this social function. A couple of drinks down and the interesting conversations begin. Please note the content of these said conversations will not be discussed in this blog. But jokes apart, moments like these give you a chance to bond with your colleagues in a social setting, get to know them outside of work (even though technically you are still working!). At around midnight we called it a night at the social function but made our way to our other colleague’s room to continue bonding. To the best of my memory I went to sleep at 3am that night!
Friday, the second day or the halfway point of the conference. It really doesn’t feel so when you’ve been at the venue for almost a week by this point in order to set up. After a day full of sessions, the social function on this day is done offsite. This night’s social function was held at the Hope Estate. We’d organised for shuttles to transfer us from the hotel to Hope Estate. It’s a very short drive, just about 10 minutes on the bus and you’ve arrived. As we’d sent our delegates first, the beer tasting and wine tasting had already begun. Hope Estate is one of the local wineries in the Hunter Valley. A rather cold and chilly night, and everyone wanted warmth. We were quickly directed to the dinner venue at Hope Estate. The drinks had already commenced so all that was left was the food! Fast forward to after everyone’s hunger being satisfied, we made our way back to the hotel for more socialising.
The last and final day, Saturday. The registration desk on this day is operational for a shorter period of time. The sessions also tend to finish earlier so that the delegates have to time to prepare for the Gala Dinner. The Gala Dinner is the formal ‘closing ceremony’ of the Conference. It is a sad time having to say goodbye to all the people you’ve just met over the past week, but first it’s time to draw a close to the Conference by announcing winners, serving an amazing 3-course meal and by hitting the dance floor.
This is the night that we get to dress up as well. Fear not, none of us left any stone unturned in dressing up. About 2 minutes before the Gala Dinner began, I found out that I was going to be summoned on stage. At that point I wasn’t sure why I was going up on stage, all I knew was it is part of the initiation. I received the signal of going up on the stage and all I had to do was draw out a winner, well draw out a card and the person on that card was going to win an iPad mini. I made my way back to my seat. After the prize distribution ceremony finished, we had a band that kept us entertained singing quite a few hit songs whilst we devoured our 3-course meal. Best steak I’ve ever had (sorry mommy!).
Even though the Conference officially ends on Saturday for the delegates, it doesn’t end for us just yet. On Sunday we had the last session of certification exams that I was proctoring and the Committee de brief began at 10am and I missed part of it. Nonetheless, once I did make my way to the de brief, I participated for the rest of the session. To my surprise, I was gifted with a voucher to use at the Ubika Spa at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley. Yes I know, my job is better than yours. I joke, no but really. We made our way down to the spa, as you do, and booked our appointment. I chose a facial. What did I learn from this facial experience? It is very difficult to stay awake during the process. You cannot fight it, and if in the case you are me, who has only slept a few hours in the past week, you snore…. Really loudly. I didn’t know I had this ability in me, to snore really loudly. It was so loud it woke me up that should say something.
On Monday, first we check out then we engage in the Committee Day activity. As I mentioned earlier, the Committee Day activity was a helicopter tour. These helicopters were small helicopters and hence didn’t require a full-fledged helipad to take off and land. The take of took place right outside the Crowne Plaza, prior to which we were given a briefing of the dos and don’t’s. A total of 4 people were in the helicopter including the pilot. The flight over the Hunter Valley lasted about 15 minutes and we landed, in a spot conveniently located by Bistro Molines. This is a fantastic place to have lunch. They also do wine tasting. In my opinion this was the best place to end our stay at the Hunter Valley. I highly recommend making your way to this place for lunch if you happen to be visiting the Hunter Valley.
Overall, this was a really great first conference for me. The late night socializing, meeting new people, tight deadlines, amazing food and drinks were all amazing experiences. I cannot wait for more of these. If you want the definition of work hard play hard, this is it.
Until next time,