The gateway to the Yarra Valley wine region, Healesville is a classic country town with an exceptional Australian animal sanctuary.
By Susan Gough Henly
Offering not only a great opportunity to interact with Australian wildlife but also to enjoy fine food and drink offerings, the pretty town of Healesville is the gateway to Victoria's renowned Yarra Valley wine region, just an hour drive northeast of Melbourne.
- Wander through the Healesville Sanctuary to interact with Australian wildlife in natural surroundings
- Visit winery tasting rooms and a gin distillery
- Explore a terrific Australian country town
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Top things to do in Healesville
Sample art and wine in a striking contemporary building
There are many Yarra Valley wineries lining the Maroondah Highway as it heads into Healesville, as well as in the hills and valleys around the town. The enormous, curving rammed earth and concrete structure of TarraWarra is a particularly interesting venue close to town. It is divided into the TarraWarra Estate winery and the TarraWarra Museum of Art, Australia’s first privately funded public art museum, which houses an impressive collection of Australian contemporary art. After looking at the art, stroll across the courtyard to the wine bar café to taste excellent Pinot and Chardonnay and savour Yarra Valley seasonal fare on the sleek terrace or in front of the fireplace.
Enjoy an urban winery and café experience
Named after jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s first solo album, Giant Steps injects a little bit of urban chic into Healesville. The glass-sided winery is in the middle of a large warehouse where you can watch every step of the winemaking process while you taste their single vineyard wines, purchase local products at the provedore, and sit down to delicious dining in the restaurant. Across the car park, Innocent Bystander offers tastings of more affordable wines as well as wood-fired pizzas.
Explore a low-key Aussie country town
Walk around Healesville to discover some local gems. Look out for The Wine Room, an edgy tasting room and wine bar of Mac Forbes Wines, one of Victoria’s renowned boutique wineries; Morris et al, which has great gifts, home wares and Australian-designed clothing and accessories; and Silvermist jewellery gallery and goldsmith’s workshop, which also displays local glass and ceramic art. Pick up baked goods and coffee at Habituel bakery and roastery and check out the eclectic Alchemy which sells Scandinavian shoes, clothing and home wares in addition to its casual café and sushi bar offerings. Spend some time at the Healesville Hotel where you can enjoy smoked bacon and free range eggs or a handmade pie at its Harvest Café, hang out with the locals in the pretty hotel garden, or eat gourmet meals in its charming dining room. K&B Kitchen and Butcher, just next door, stocks local charcuterie, cheese, handmade jams and relishes.
Pat a wombat and tickle a platypus at Healesville Sanctuary
Get up close and personal with Australia’s native animals at Healesville Sanctuary, set on 32 hectares (79 acres) of bushland outside the town. Learn fascinating facts from the wildlife rangers as you pat and pose with a wombat, step into waders to hand feed and tickle a platypus, and wander along the wallaby and kangaroo walk. You can also experience close up encounters with koalas, dingoes, emus, echidnas and even pythons. Don’t miss seeing the Spirits of the Sky, a free flight presentation with Wedge-tailed Eagles and colourful parrots. There are three terrific cafés, all serving food from local Yarra Valley producers, and you can even pre-order picnic hampers and barbecue packs to savour in the natural setting.
Taste modern Australian gin at a hip distillery
Visit the tasting room of Four Pillars Distillery located in a re-purposed timber yard in Healesville. Learn all about gin botanicals and the distilling process over a guided tasting of five neat gins. You can also enjoy a paddle of four gins served with Fever-Tree tonic or a terrific gin cocktail with a cheese board. Check out their award-winning Negroni marmalade made with oranges left over from the distilling process. Private distillery tastings are also offered to groups of nine or more.
How to get there
Healesville is about 63 kilometres (39 miles) north east of Melbourne. By car it takes about an hour to get to Healesville via the M3 tollway and the Maroondah Highway. V-Line trains also go to Lilydale with connecting buses to Healesville. There are many options for day tours and accommodation for longer stays.