The Dandenongs are the long, low range of hills to the south-east of the Australian city of Melbourne. This lush antidote to the dry plains surrounding Melbourne makes a memorable, and uniquely Australian, place to visit thanks to the alternative, artsy vibe of the communities and the natural beauty of the area.
Here are my recommendations for things to do in the Dandenongs:
The giant stands of Mountain Ash and ferny gullies of the Dandenong Ranges embrace two quaint little villages – Olinda and Sassafras – both replete with quality cafes, as well as art and craft galleries and antique shops. There are a number of unique accommodation options here, perhaps go Australia glamping in Olinda?
My favourite café is Ripe in Sassafras – don’t miss the Lindt hot chocolate drinks and try the breakfast risotto. You can also pick up some snacks at the counter to eat later in the day. If you’re attracted by olde worlde charm visit Miss Marple’s Tea Rooms.
Visit Sky High on Observatory Road for views over greater Melbourne. There is a restaurant and various attractions to trap the tourists here but you can just pay a per car entrance fee of $5 and enjoy the views. There is also a pretty garden to wander through.
Further up the Mt Dandenong Tourist Road from Sassafras is the William Ricketts Sanctuary, a garden of fern-fringed glades that is the setting for 92 mystical sculptures. William Ricketts (1898–1993) was an Australian potter and sculptor of the arts and crafts movement.
In the 1950s he spent a lot of time absorbing the traditions and culture of the Aboriginal peoples of Central Australia and the influence on his sculpture is clear in the Sculpture Park here – a life-long project that reflects his deep understanding of the relationship between Australia’s natural environment and her indigenous peoples.
You can take an audio tour (or downloadable podcast) through the Sanctuary, which really brings to life the work and passion of William Ricketts. This place is truly magical.
The adjoining Yarra Valley wine region is the most famous wine region in Victoria and in fact the first established in the whole of Australia with the first vines being planted in 1838! This rich valley along the winding Yarra River benefits from the silt-rich flood plain and dry, sunny conditions. Read more about touring my favourite vineyards in the Yarra Valley.
While visiting in the Dandenongs make sure you spend a day at Healesville Sanctuary – one of the loveliest places to get up close to Australia’s amazing wildlife in a natural setting. Healesville is a tiny town in the heart of the Yarra Valley and is a lovely destination on its own but it is also home to one of Australia’s best wildlife centres.
It’s not a zoo but a conservation organisation dedicated to fighting wildlife extinction. It started out as a sanctuary where people could bring sick and injured wildlife for treatment and you can sometimes watch operations being carried out in the hospital.
Plan your visit around ‘the bird show’ (this runs at 12:00pm and 2:30pm) because Spirits of the Sky is a spectacular introduction to Australia’s magnificent birds from wedge-tailed eagles to glorious parrots. A new attraction is Tales from Platypus Creek – watching these mysterious creatures interact with the keepers is simply astounding.
By Natasha von Geldern