William Ricketts Sanctuary, Olinda, Victoria
Think Australia is all beaches? Think again. Uncover Australia’s hidden treasures on an inland road trip through Victoria’s picturesque Yarra Valley, enjoying sublime local wines, chocolate and art along the way.
By Alissa Jenkins
What to expect
- Drop in at Victoria’s finest wineries
- Take a sunrise hot air balloon flight
- See native Australian wildlife up close
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 150 kilometres (93 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Melbourne
- Price: $$$$
Far from the beaches that Australia is renowned for, this sensory road trip begins in Melbourne but swiftly ventures into charming countryside, meandering past local food producers and some of Victoria’s most celebrated wineries, before finishing in Marysville, surrounded by forests and waterfalls.
Day 1: Melbourne to Olinda
From Melbourne, it’s a one-hour drive east along the M1 highway and Mt Dandenong Tourist Road to the charming alpine village of Olinda. Perched high in the Dandenong Ranges, Olinda is best known for its striking gardens that change with every season. Stretch your legs with a wander through the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, featuring thousands of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and daffodils, or visit the William Ricketts Sanctuary to find fascinating sculptures hidden amid the trees. Then indulge in a sweet treat at Only Mine Chocolate Factory, located in the heart of town, where you can watch chocolatiers create masterful morsels. Or take a short detour to the neighbouring town of Sassafras for a Devonshire tea at the quaint Miss Marple's Tearoom – an English Tudor-style cottage inspired by Agatha Christie.
Spend the afternoon moseying around the many antique and specialist stores in Sassafras, or return to Olinda to explore the local art galleries and studios, including Touchstone Craft Gallery, which sells artworks by more than 250 Australian craftspeople. If you have tiny travellers in tow, around the corner is Geppetto’s Workshop, stocked with a beautiful array of wooden toys and puppets, games and puzzles.
Then retire to The Loft in the Mill, a replica 19th-century bluestone English flour mill and award-winning boutique hotel, with nine grand guestrooms, each with log fires and double spa baths.
Day 2: Olinda to Healesville
Pack your camera for a day of memorable moments, beginning with a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary wildlife park, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Olinda. With more than 200 species of native animals and birdlife, you can spy reclusive platypus, feisty Tasmanian devils, or take a treetop boardwalk to see koalas.
Appreciate both local art and wine at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, where you can sample award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay along with seasonal exhibitions of contemporary art. Continue your wine tasting at the many revered cellar doors that surround Healesville, including Domaine Chandon, famed for its cool-climate sparkling. Here you can meet with winemakers, tour the property and learn how the history of French Champagne teams with Australian expertise.
Other leading local wine producers include Oakridge Wines and Giant Steps, both with impressive restaurants and fantastic cellar doors, as well as the more contemporary Innocent Bystander. For those who prefer spirits, visit Four Pillars Distillery and taste-test their internationally acclaimed gin.
Sweet tooth? Get your sugar fix from the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, where you can watch European chocolatiers craft a range of chocolate products – and enjoy free tastings.
For dinner, reserve a table at Eleonore’s Restaurant at Chateau Yering Hotel and work your way through the modern Australian fine-dining menu, paired with local wine. The best part? You can stay overnight at this five-star heritage homestead, with 32 suites overlooking 250 acres of gardens and sweeping valley views.
Day 3: Healesville to Marysville
Begin your last day in style with a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the patchwork of vineyards, farmland and forest that you’ve covered. After taking in panoramic views of the valley, return to earth for a champagne breakfast at Balgownie Estate Vineyard, featuring some of the finest local produce.
Then it’s time to explore nearby Yarra Glen, dotted with farm gates and other food producers. Discover the area’s agricultural roots at Gulf Station, Australia's oldest pioneer farm precinct, open to the public on the first Thursday of each month. Here you can see working horses, sheep shearing, butter made in traditional churns and woodwork without power tools. Stop for a hearty lunch at the heritage-listed Yarra Glen Grand Hotel, before stocking up on fresh artisan cheeses made from both cows and goats milk, from the popular Yarra Valley Dairy.
Enjoy the scenic one hour drive northwest to Marysville, surrounded by impressive waterfalls, lush forest and popular walking trails. Among them is the four-kilometre (2.5 mile) Cumberland Walk, which offers a glimpse into the region’s gold and logging history. Along the way you’ll encounter the gargantuan ‘Big Tree’ – a 400-year-old, 85 metre (279 feet) eucalypt. Another local landmark to visit is Steavenson Falls – its 84 metre (275 feet) plummet marks it as one of Victoria’s highest waterfalls.
Then unwind at Saladin Lodge, a tranquil retreat set on 68 lakefront acres, with historic roots but modern accommodation, complete with guest library and cosy log fires.
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