In Yarra Valley you will find a high concentration of Victoria’s vineyards, lying beautifully nestled among hilly and lush landscapes, stretching out like a patchwork quilt made of grapevine fields. This is the connoisseur’s mecca, where good food and full-bodied wine is at the centre. Yarra Valley is just an hour’s drive east of Melbourne but lightyears away from the stressful urban environment. It is a popular weekend destination, especially for those who want to relax and get closer to nature without compromising on comfort. Here you can visit one of the cellars and sample various appetizing drinks produced in the region. Stay at a cosy bed and breakfast and wake up refreshed. Join in on an exciting tour of the region, led by knowledgeable and passionate guides. End the day at any of the restaurants that has taken the art of food to a whole new level. Take the opportunity to treat yourself when you are in the area. Pick and choose among handmade chocolates of the highest quality in Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery. If you have more room, there is also fresh ice cream. Then get an introduction to the Australian wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary. This is more of a sanctuary than a classic zoo. Here you can see the animals in their natural environment. The areas are large, and the cages few. Indigenous animals such as koala, platypus, kangaroo and the Tasmanian devil live here.
After all the good stuff, it’s time to move those legs or yours. Dandenong Ranges’ blue mountain ridges rest in a dense forest of stately eucalyptus trees and lush fern-dressed ravines. Enjoy the forest’s cool temperature and aim for a spot high up to get a beautiful view of Melbourne. The area can be discovered on foot by walking along one of the many hiking trails. See waterfalls and rippling streams and explore the local flora and fauna. Work your sweat up by following the murderous hard trail 1,000 Steps, a five kilometres walk going up and back. See more of nature from the train Puffing Billy running from Belgrave to Gembrook. Embark on the old steam locomotive and relax while it takes you on a journey through lush forests and over old wooden bridges while the smoke billows up towards the skies. Or do like the kids, let your legs dangle outside the wagon and hold on hard as the world swoops by in front of your feet. Make a stop in one of the Dandenong Ranges’ three villages where streets are lined with charming cafes and interesting antique shops to have a peek at. Spend your day sipping tea, munching scones and looking for bargains.
Sights and experiences
The Dandenong Ranges is a beautiful retreat with its fern-dressed tree trunks and mountains shrouded in mist. The three largest villages in the area are called Mount Dandenong Village, Olinda and Sassafras. Drive along Mount Dandenong Tourist Road and you’ll pass them all. Make a stop or two to enjoy charming little cafes and lovely restaurants with a mixture of old and new. One of the most famous cafés is Miss Marple’s Tearoom in Sassafrass (missmarplestearoom.com), inspired by Agatha Christie’s character with a penchant for solving murder mysteries.
A total of 3,500 hectares of Dandenong Ranges are protected as National Park (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/dandenong-ranges-national-park). The park’s vegetation varies from low shrubbery to temperate rainforest. There are several hundred different plant species and a variety of animal species that live in the park. Stay tuned for Wallabies and wombats. The network of hiking trails is in total over 160 km. In addition to walking on foot, you can also cycle and ride. Make sure you get a map from the Visitor Information Centre before leaving since many trails are connected and it’s easy to get lost.
A journey with Puffing Billy (puffingbilly.com.au/en) is a must in Dandenong Ranges and a highlight for many. The steam locomotive leaves the station in Belgrave several times a day and puffs its way through lush forests and past waterfalls, over old wooden bridges and over heaths. The end station is Gembrook but the train stops at several locations along the road where you can jump off. The ticket price includes a return trip. You can also travel first class and sit down in the historical wagon and be served a three-course menu. Sometimes they have themed evenings that combine the journey with good food and drink as well as live music. Alternatively, you can combine a ride with the steam engine with a visit to the charming Sassafrass and be served scones with tea (wotif.com/things-to-do/half-day-tour-puffing-billy-steam-train-ride.a228701.activity-details).
The best vantage point is the SkyHigh Mt Dandenong (skyhighmtdandenong.com.au) at 633 meters above sea level. From here you get sweeping views of the area and besides Melbourne you can see Phillip Bay and the Mornington Peninsula. Let the lactic acid burn in your legs as you walk along the Kokoda Memorial Trail which is also known as the 1,000 Steps. The steep steps lead you upwards and they seem to never end. Going back and forth takes about two hours. If you want to challenge yourself, you can try to run up the steps (good luck!), something of a love-hate relationship among exercise-enthusiasts that are often seen sweating up and down the trail.
Make a stop at the information centre before visiting Yarra Valley to ask for a map of the vineyards. Most are signposted from the roads and offer wine tastings. If you have no designated sober driver, it might be best to join in on a tour. You can travel like this all the way from Melbourne if you need (wotif.com/things-to-do/yarra-valley-winery-small-group-tour.a260243.activity-details) or for example, book in with Wild Wombat Winery Tours (wildwombatwinerytours.com.au) or Wine Compass Winery Tours (winecompass.com.au). Some vineyards worth mentioning are Giant Steps (giantstepswine.com.au) producing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot. Yarra Valley is well known for its sparkling wine. Dominique Portet (dominiqueportet.com) has some good sparkling wine and rosé.
After all that wine, maybe it’s time for something else. Four Pillars Distillery (fourpillarsgin.com.au) is a small distillery that produces gin. For a ten-dollar-note you get to taste five different kinds of gin made in the area. The premises are modern and lovely with black walls adorned with bottles of all kinds. If you are more of a dessert-lover, you are sure to appreciate a visit to Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery (yvci.com.au). They manufacture over 250 different kinds of chocolates by hand and have hired skilled personnel from Europe. To test is free but it is difficult to not go home empty handed. If you have more room in that stomach of yours, try one of their own ice cream types. If you want to treat your taste buds, you can of course test both wine, cider and chocolate, all in one day (wotif.com/things-to-do/yarra-valley-wine-cider-chocolates-tour-in-small-groups.a190807.activity-details).
Good to know
There is a Visitor Information Centre at 1211 Burwood Highway in Upper Ferntree Gully. They have lots of information about a trip to Dandenong Ranges and the area around Yarra Valley. Tuesdays to Saturdays they are open between 09:30 and 16:30. Sundays 10:00 to 14:00 and Mondays 11:00 to 15:00. There is also a Visitor Information Centre in Healesville on Harker Street, which is open from 09:00 to 17:00. Some helpful websites to take a closer look at are, for example, Visit Yarra Valley (visityarravalley.com.au), Visit Dandenong Ranges (visitdandenongranges.com.au) and Villages of Mt Dandenong (villagesofmtdandenong.com.au). For activities, you can also take a look at Wotif’s website (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Dandenong,%20Victoria,%20Australia).
Driving from Melbourne to Yarra Valley or Dandenong Ranges takes about an hour (wotif.com/Car-Hire). It is much more complicated to get here by public transport, but it is possible. Visit Public Transport Victoria (ptv.vic.gov.au) and use the trip planner to find the best route. For example, you can take the train to Belgrave or Upper Ferntree Gully Station and then change to a bus. You get a lot more out of the trip if you have a car.
Most accommodation options around Yarra Valley can be found in Healesville, a gateway to Yarra Valley. They have a generous selection of bed and breakfasts to choose from. By staying in Healesville you will also be close to many vineyards and nice restaurants. Tuck Inn (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Tuck_Inn_Yarra_Valley.htm) has five rooms that fit two people in each. There is a large living room where guests can gather and cuddle up in front of the fireplace. The owners Ozzie and Donia are very attentive and do their utmost to ensure you enjoy your stay. However, the property is only for guests over 14 years old. Another accommodation worth mentioning is Strathvea Guesthouse B&B (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Strathvea_BB_Guest_House.htm) at 755 Myers Creek Road. It is beautifully situated with picturesque surroundings. Can accommodate up to 22 people. They serve a wonderful breakfast and mainly use local ingredients.
For a list of local campsites, take a look at the website Visit Yarra (visityarravalley.com.au/activity/camping-yarra-valley). The sites that are free are located a bit outside Yarra Valley. Among other things, there are Feiglin Campground 25 km north of Healesville or Keppel Creek Camp six kilometres north of Marysville. If you are prepared to pay, one of the closest options is the BIG 4 Yarra Valley Park Lane Holiday Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/BIG4_Yarra_Valley_Holiday_Park.htm). In this holiday village you can rent a cottage with all the amenities or choose a grass site to put up your tent on.
Up in the mountains you can book in at Merrow Cottages (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Merrow_Cottages_Gatehouse.htm) at 21 Hume Lane. Soak up the peacefulness, the property is located amid the ancient forest but is also within walking distance to pubs and restaurants. Ask for a room with balcony so you full-out can enjoy being in the Dandenong Ranges. A luxurious B&B awaits at Gracehill Accommodation in the village of Olinda (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Gracehill_Accommodation.htm) at 28 Chalet Road. Here, both children and adults are welcome, and it is easy for a group of friends or a family to fit. Large gardens surround the property.