The device itself may look like a regular GPS navigation device, but from the moment you pick up its oddly shaped yellow carry case it's obvious that this is something a little bit different.
Unlike a regular navigator from TomTom, Garmin or Navman, the Yellow Brick Guide isn't a device where you pick a destination and ask it to guide you there. Instead, you select an audio tour you wish go on and as you travel around you're regaled with a local's take on your holiday locale. It's much like being on a tour bus, except that you're the bus driver and there's no random trying to hit on your girlfriend.
The tour guide sounds a lot like Stephen Fry from his narration work on LittleBigPlanet — for the curious, the host is Andrew Masterson — and he's accompanied by a different local guide for each tour. Each unit is pre-tuned to broadcast audio on an empty FM frequency, so sound quality is good. The banter is interesting and underlayed with a suitably becalming weekend-away guitar soundtrack, which, if you concentrate, is a bit repetitive.
On a regular GPS there's a road map overlaid with next turn instructions and a path of where you're meant to be heading. With this guide, though, there's just a simple road sign with your next turn written on it in large font. Should you skip an attraction that the guides wish you to visit, the system will continue on the tour as if you had.
That is, of course, unless the tour route doubles back on itself, in which case you'll be gently told that you're off-course and that commentary will resume when you get back on it. This means that during the course of our review we had to perform a few u-turns, which is a mite annoying. According to Ronny Zulaikha, Yellow Brick Guide's director of technology, the company is considering having maps installed on its devices.
Thankfully, the tour we took — the Lovedale Loop, if you're curious — was entertaining and informative, with details about local landmarks and topology being particularly interesting. As far as food and wine stop-offs go, there were some excellent recommendations, but there was also the odd bum choice, especially in the food department.
Currently there are three tours of NSW's Hunter Valley wine region available: Mount View Vistas, Heart of Pokolbin and the Lovedale Loop. According to Zukaikha, guides for Daylesford and the Yarra Valley in Victoria are the next cabs off the rank, although there's no concrete date set yet. According to the Yellow Brick Guide website other tours being worked on include Kakadu in the Northern Territory, and the Tamar Valley and Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania.
The Yellow Brick Guide is available from the Hunter Valley Visitors' Centre, a number of cellar doors and the Sebel Pier One in Sydney. The unit costs AU$39 to rent for the duration of your trip; if you're planning on touring the Hunter for more than one day, your rental location will issue you with multiple unlock codes that are valid for 24 hours.
If you're heading to the Hunter Valley and want your own personal tour guide without the bus-full-of-passengers experience or wallet-draining pain, the Yellow Brick Guide is an excellent travel companion, although some rudimentary maps would be nice.