Dandenong Ranges: Experience the Hills
Three villages sit along the ridge of the Dandenong ranges and offer a chance to try some iconic Victorian country cuisine and discover the exquisite gardens and forested walks that surround them.
Travelling from Montrose and taking the tourist road, the first stop in the hills should be at Kalorama. This small settlement is the perfect place to enjoy the vista of the valley below. Surrounded by forest and cherry orchards, the Silvan reservoir at the base of the hills is picturesque in any season. Visit the Five Ways Gallery before enjoying some delicious refreshments at the Kalorama Kitchen café in the elbow of the junction were the food is freshly made, like the perfectly baked Devonshire scones.
From Kalorama one road leads to the Mt Dandenong Lookout, the highest point in the ranges. Here the view is of the city’s Eastern suburbs and on a clear day it is possible to see Port Phillip Bay and the Mornington Peninsula. Note the wooden pole carved out of eucalypt by artist Lee Conkie, or enter into the maze to work up an appetite for the bistro with the best view. Continue toward Olinda and stop at William Rickett’s Sanctuary for a stroll up a ferny hillside sculpture park. Rickett’s Aborigine figures blend into the trees and rocks of the garden, creating a sense of an ancient world.
Other places to eat:
- Lady Hawke
- The Pig and Whistle Tavern
Amongst the many choices for lunch in the Dandenongs one of the best known is Pie in the Sky at Olinda. This country styled restaurant attracts people who come especially to experience a mouth-watering pie, such as their multiple medal winning ‘Aussie meat pie’, or something a bit different such as a ‘beef and Guinness pie’ cooked with Irish stout, or a ‘pie floater’.
The shops around Pie in the Sky are great for fossicking around and finding special crafts or a unique gift for someone. Unexpected finds are pearls from Tahiti, or New Zealand confectionary in the lolly shop behind Pie in the Sky.
Wandering along the road at Olinda, the strip of small shops sell specialty toys, gifts, Victorian linen and tantalising perfumed hand creams. You can spend more than an hour in Mangana Arts and Crafts. The owners have collected furniture, jewelry, art and objects of intrigue from all over the world, like the brass telescopes, sextants and compasses.
It pays to search all the hidden corners in these shops. Some have rooms within rooms, packed with collectibles and unique items. Behind the street is another group of shops with fine glass, pottery, Turkish rugs, ceramics and a wonderful shop brimming with anything a keen cook may desire.
Olinda has attractive bed and breakfast accommodation. Charming cottages and inns hide in pockets all through the Dandenong Ranges. Some are basic and inexpensive, while others have every luxury expected of a private retreat. In Olinda, arriving at the village in winter, a stone building stands out with the chimney sending a signal of open fires in the individually decorated, romantic rooms inside. The bed and breakfast establishment called ‘A Loft at the Mill’ is an icon of this village, adding medieval charm.
Next to the stone accommodation is another well-known place to enjoy a weekend retreat. The Como Cottages create a romantic image; dreamy cottages with names such as, ‘Forget-Me-Not’, ‘Lavender ‘or ‘Cotswald’.
Other places to eat:
- Olinda Tea House
- Snooty Fox Restaurant
- Ranges At Olinda
- Credo Restaurant
- Cuckoo Restaurant
- Kelleys Bar and Kitchen
A short drive from Olinda, following the main Tourist Road, brings you to Sassafras. The shops in this quaint village are good for beautiful handcrafts, plants in Sassy Nursery, or something unique in one of the clothing boutiques or gourmet food stores.
At the top of the village, the well-known Fortnums Restaurant is popular as a wedding venue. But Fortnums also serve a delicious lunch menu in the attractive dining room styled on an English conservatory.
Miss Marples in Sassafras is always busy and has captured an atmosphere of old England with their distinctive Tudor building. Here staff in traditional uniform consistently serve high quality, old-fashioned food, such as ‘Miss Marple’s fingers’, delicious, filling morsels of toast with traditional toppings. Or ice-cream sundaes like the unrepentant, decadent, ‘Vicar’s folly’, best shared by two!
No bookings are taken at Miss Marple’s, so hopeful diners arriving in the busy time will need to put their names down and take a wander around the village of Sassafras. Right next-door is a shop where your waiting time can be well spent stocking up on some exquisite teas like the delicious Scottish breakfast or an infusion of fruit flavoured teas. If you are looking for something novel, classic or unique to brew your tea in, the huge selection of pots, cups and saucers will delight any collector.
Melburnians enjoy escaping the heat in summer and enjoying the mists and cozy accommodations in winter, often with rooms complete with an open fire. Many have their weddings in one of a number of venues, with ideal picturesque settings for perfect photos. Poet’s Lane is one of many and more than one venue has a chapel on the premises, so there is no need to drive anywhere after the ceremony.
Guests can stay at wonderful bed and breakfast lodgings set amongst the tall mountain ash and English trees. Rooms range from comfortable and cozy with affordable rates, to exclusive and superbly high quality with personal spas and private space.
Other places to eat:
- Flippin' Pancakes
- Cafe de Beaumarchais
When the season is right, the rhododendron gardens are spectacular and the Sherbrooke Forest has many trails where anyone, of any age or fitness can enjoy discovering the flora and fauna particular to these hills. It is not unusual to hear the song of the Lyrebird or see king parrots or crimson lorikeets alighting close enough to admire the shades of red and blue of their feathers.
Ricketts Sanctuary is perhaps the best known of the gardens in the Dandenongs, but a hidden gem is the Alfred Nicholas gardens. With an enormous fortune made from producing Aspro, Nicholas developed this magnificent property. If you can overcome the realisation that going down means a hike back up, make the effort to go down the slope to find the still pond and landscaped garden. It is magical, almost surreal and often seen on calendars, and few regret seeing it in reality.
The Puffing Billy train begins from Belgrave. Suburban rail brings you to Belgrave and the vintage rail track is a short walk from the station. Many spend a day taking the slow and interesting train trip to Lakeside or Gembrook, and enjoy a picnic and country walks around the lake.
The road from Sassafras to Kallista takes you down a windy, fern-fringed lane to the village of Kallista. This is the start of the journey around the base of the Dandenong hills. If you have taken the good advice to visit the Alfred Nicholas gardens on the journey from Sassafras, you may be ready for excellent Devonshire scones at the Kallista Tea Rooms. This is a favourite place with the rounded retro windowed dining area, designed for the corner location.
The magnificent old tree overshadowing the tearooms entices many birds, creating a very pleasant experience for visitors who can drink tea and enjoy the wildlife. To get even closer, Grant’s picnic ground attracts many birds and it is not unusual for them to join your picnic at close quarters.
Along Monbulk Road there are shady picnic grounds and gardens, and it is here that Dutch families settled. Today it is known by gardeners as the place to buy spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. Every year, an impressive tulip festival is held at Tesselar’s tulip farm.
If you are adventurous, leave the main road and head down into the narrow lanes and you will be sure to stumble upon cherry farms and strawberry fields and the start of some of the Yarra Valley vineyards. If fruit is in season, you can pick from the orchards, finding not only cherries but also peaches and nectarines. You can fill a punnet with handpicked strawberries, some to take home and some to gorge on for the journey back.