Yarra Valley, Victoria

Less than one hour’s drive from Melbourne’s bustling center is the calm wine-growing region of the Yarra Valley and the tranquil hills and valleys of the Dandenong Ranges.
This is a region in which to take it slow. You could spend your day soaking up the spectacular scenery, saying “g’day” to the native wildlife, walking in idyllic gardens or climbing aboard a steam train. Make sure you end your day with a dinner of fresh local produce and a glass of one of the region’s world-renowned wines.

One of the best ways to take it all in is to join a sunrise hot air balloon flight with Global Ballooning. On your one-hour flight you’ll drift over vineyards, float over villages and fly above the mountains on a carbon neutral journey before returning to earth for a delicious champagne breakfast at Rochford Winery. There’s no better way to get an overview of this beautiful region.

The Yarra Valley is the place where winemaking in Victoria first started and you’ll find the cellar doors of numerous venerable institutions here.

Yering Station was Victoria’s very first vineyard, established in 1838. The winemaking facilities here can be seen from the viewing platforms and there are numerous wines to sample, including examples of Barak’s Bridge, Yering Station, Yarra Edge and the critically acclaimed Yarrabank. Every third Sunday of the month you’ll also find the regional farmers market here.

Another vineyard well worth a visit is Fergusson Winery, a 40-year-old vineyard at the northern end of the valley which produces chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. The vineyard has been in the same family for decades and today visitors can sample the cuisine of chef Louise Fergusson in the on-site restaurant, where seasonal cuisine based on local fresh produce is served.

A day of wine exploration can be completed with pit stops at Innocent Bystander where you’ll find approachable wines made with grapes both from the Yarra Valley and from vineyards beyond, and De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate which offers tastings of the estate’s cool climate wines and a cheese maturation and tasting room. The dessert wines are particularly good here and the restaurant is the ideal place for either lunch or dinner.

Ballooning, Puffing Billy Steam Railway and a wombat, Victoria. Photos from Victoria Tourist Board
The vineyards of the Yarra Valley may bring visitors to the area but none are as popular as Healesville Sanctuary, one of Australia’s best and most visited wildlife attractions. The sanctuary is world-renowned as one of the best places to see Australian native wildlife and, arranged over 30 acres of natural bush setting, is home to more than 200 different species. As usual, the headliners are the ever-popular koalas and kangaroos, but it is the less famous Australian animals which really steal the show, including the slow and short-legged wombats, the painfully shy platypus and the unique-to-Australia wild dog, the dingo.

Be sure to allow plenty of time for your visit here, and don’t leave until you’ve seen the Spirits of the Sky free flight show which features Australian raptors such as the wedge-tailed eagle swooping overhead.

Over in the Dandenong Ranges the main attraction is Puffing Billy Steam Railway, Australia’s oldest and one of the world’s best preserved. This narrow gauge railway was built at the turn of the 20th century and travels 24 kilometres through the tranquil forests and fern gullies of the Dandenongs on its original mountain track from Belgrave. You’ll travel through mountain ash forest, over creeks and timber bridges and past expansive views of Port Phillip Bay and Paradise Valley, as well as crossing the famous trestle bridge, which travels 300 feet at a height of 42 feet.

The train terminates at the once-busy timber town of Gembrook where it stops for an hour or more to allow visitors to explore before the return journey back to Belgrave.

Alfred Nicholas Gardens & Yerring Station, Victoria. Photos from Victoria Tourist Board
The Dandenongs are also famous for their gardens, with six beautiful examples making up the Great Gardens of the Dandenongs, all of which are open year-round and are free to access. The Olinda area is home to three of the gardens. The National Rhododendron Gardens are located on a hilltop and are home to 15,000 rhododendrons, as well as 12,000 azaleas, 3,000 camellias and a whopping 250,000 daffodils. The best time to visit is either in the spring or the autumn but the rock gardens and fern gullies are enjoyable at any time of the year and there are stunning views of the Australian Alps.

Pirianda Gardens were designed to take advantage of the steep slopes in this area and feature a range of botanically important trees set beneath a canopy of large blackwoods and mountain ash.

Autumn is the best time for a visit here, when the leaves begin to change colour. The RJ Hamer Arboretum is also a good place to see a variety of trees, including both native and exotic species.

In Sherbrooke you’ll find two more gardens worth a visit. The George Tindale Memorial Gardens were created by the eponymous scientist and feature a unique collection of exotic plants, while the Alfred Nicholas Gardens are known for their extensive water features which include waterfalls and an ornamental lake.

The final garden, William Ricketts Sanctuary on Mount Dandenong, is home to a range of sculptures, half hidden amid the ferns. These are kiln-fired clay sculptures of Aboriginal people and are an expression of the eponymous gardener’s belief that we all must act as custodians of our natural environment in the way that the Aboriginal people have done for centuries.

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