Australia, Camping, Travel, Walks

Yarra Valley and Surrounds

We don’t often holiday within our own state of Victoria but with the uncertainty of recent times and possible border closures we decided it was our best option. Turns out it was a great decision as Victoria placed a hard border on NSW just days before we were due to leave.. Many people who were travelling within or through NSW were forced to race against the deadline to get home before having to hotel quarantine. Holidays are meant to be stress free, sadly that’s not the case right now.

You may be wondering why we don’t holiday regularly within Victoria, especially when there are so many must see destinations here. There’s no main reason, like many people around the world the least places visited are often on your doorstep.

We travelled with our caravan to Doon Reserve Caravan Park located in Yarra Junction just 66kms east of Melbourne.

The caravan park has a number of powdered and unpowered sites some of which are located alongside the Yarra River. The facilities include two amenity blocks, a camp kitchen, a laundry and a kiosk. The facilities are immaculately kept and the beauty of this caravan park is the easy access to the river for swimming and kayaking. Be warned the water is icy cold even in summer!

There are numerous options to keep oneself entertained in the Yarra Valley, no matter what your interests there’s something for everyone to enjoy. We had three full days to explore the area, this is how we spent our time:

Day 1 – Fine Food and Drink

You really can’t visit the Yarra Valley without tasting it’s rich offerings. The rolling green pastures and its cool stable climate creates a perfect haven for food and wine producers. It is considered Australia’s oldest wine region, dating back to the 1830s and is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There s an abundance of local produce from trout and caviar to cheeses, dairy and preserves. As a family we chose to visit three local producers:

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery

When children (and big kids) are involved there is no way of avoiding a visit to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. The scenic drive to get here is breathtaking, from the moment you first arrive you are drawn into the immense landscape. All ages will enjoy exploring the vast lawns, gardens, wetlands and orchards.

Ok let’s be honest, you’ve not come here to look at the views, did someone say chocolate and ice cream? To be exact there are over 250 chocolate products all of which are hand crafted. The whole process can be watched behind a glass window and there are information boards explaining each step in production.

Within the complex there is an all-day cafe serving breakfast and lunch as well as a large shop and toilets and did I mention that there is delicious chocolate to be enjoyed!

Who can resist a metre long chocolate bar?

Yarra Valley Dairy

If you are a cheese lover like myself then you must make a visit to the Yarra Valley Dairy. They have been producing a variety of fresh artisan cheeses from cows and goats milk for many years. The shop is located in the 100 year old milking shed adding to the charm and is open from 10.30am-5pm Thursday through to Monday.

Unfortunately due to recent health considerations, tasting of the cheese is not possible, but rest assured it is delicious. We purchased the renowned Persian feta and the Yering soft cheese, both of which were incredibly delicious and consumed very quickly.

Yering Station Winery

In the Yarra Valley a person is spoilt for choice when it comes to wine tasting, in fact it can be a difficult decision to decide which winery to visit. We had read that Yering Station Winery had stunning grounds, tranquil gardens, a small art gallery and a sculpture terrace as well as great wines. My whole family loves looking at works of art so Yering Station got our vote.

The cellar door is located in the original winery building dating from 1859 and in itself is worth the visit. There is a $10 fee per person to taste the wines that can be offset against a purchase. The cellar door is open 7 days a week, 10am -5pm Monday to Friday and open until 6pm Saturday and Sunday. Even if you’re not a wine drinker it is worthy of a visit for the rich historic and cultural experience.

For some, visiting a winery can be quite tiring!

Day 2 – Exploring Noojee

Noojee is a small town located 44 kilometres south east of Yarra Junction making it a perfect destination for a day trip from the Yarra Valley. This historic timber town perched on the banks of the LaTrobe River amongst dense towering mountain ash trees boasts the tallest surviving wooden trestle bridge in Victoria.

The trestle bridge, built in 1919, sits within a eucalypt and fern forest as part of the old railway used to freight timber outside of the district. Upon entering the car park below the bridge it is hard not to be impressed by the 100m span. To the right there are steep steps leading to the top of the bridge where you can walk across and proceed along the rail trail walk into town.

The walk takes you along the original railway line through the looming mountain ash trees for 2.2 kilometres into Noojee.

When we visited the weather was being particularly unkind to us, it rained for the entire walk.

Not to be deterred we donned our raincoats and set off through the impressive mountain ash forest.

It is an easy flat walk and took us about 30 minutes to complete.

At the end of the rail trail you will arrive at the Noojee Railway Precinct.

Noojee Railway Precinct

The Noojee and District Historical Society run by volunteers was formed in 2006 to undertake several projects to restore and bring to life the regions timber and railway history. With the help of local donations, grants and volunteers they have created a Heritage Centre, restored a steam locomotive, QR wagon and a railway goods shed. There are information boards located around the precinct for those interested in the railways past. The Heritage Centre is open on weekends and public holidays from 12noon-4pm.

Day 3 – Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges located within a 40 minute scenic drive of Yarra Junction offers a plethora of attractions to suit everyone. Nestled among valleys and hills the area consists of dense temperate rainforest and a carpet of ferny undergrowth. Scattered throughout the region are charming villages with tranquil gardens, boutique shops, gourmet restaurants and galleries. The biggest attraction being the Puffing Billy, one of the world’s finest preserved steam railways that runs from Belgrave through to Gembrook.

William Ricketts Sanctuary

We were expecting a brighter day weather wise but sadly the grey sky persisted and the clouds continued to drizzle. I guess when you are in an area with dense rainforest a little rain is to be expected. Our first stop for the day was William Ricketts Sanctuary, a garden consisting of 92 striking sculptures created by artist William Ricketts. Such an inspirational gentleman who had lived with aboriginal communities in central Australia. He created the sanctuary as a place for quiet reflection and for replenishing the spirit. He believed that all Australians should adopt aboriginal philosophies and respect the spirituality of all living beings. The drizzly misty rain actually added to the magical atmosphere of this extraordinary place.

The garden is now maintained by Parks Victoria and admission is free. There is a gallery featuring additional artwork and information on William Ricketts life as well as a souvenir shop near the entrance.

Kyeema Track and Aircrash Memorial Site

Come rain or shine we were determined to do a walk whilst in the Dandenong Ranges. As the weather was proving quite unpredictable we opted for a shorter walk with a twist of history.

We started the walk from the small car park at the end of Osprey Road. The track to the right is 1.5kms and is fairly steep in places. We chose to follow the track for 200 meters to the left taking us to Burke’s Lookout. At 628 meters above sea level the lookout rewards you with magnificent views towards the skyline of Melbourne. Despite the gloomy grey skies and misty air we could just about see the outline of the city.

The faint outline of the city of Melbourne
Burke’s Lookout

The Kyeema track is named after the Australian National Airways Douglas DC-2 airplane that tragically crashed into Mt Dandenong on 25th October 1938. Sadly all 18 people on board perished.

On 25th October 1978 marking the 40th anniversary a memorial cairn was unveiled by the Mt. Dandenong Historical Society. Later in January 2003 another plaque was added at the site naming all the people who perished.

The memorial cairn and information board

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden

Fortunately there was a slight break in the weather, just enough time for us to explore the beautiful Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Formerly known as the National Rhododendron Garden, this cool climate garden is part of an Aboriginal cultural landscape in the traditional Country of the Wurundjeri People. Covering an area of 36 hectares displaying eye capturing rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, native and exotic trees among many other plants.

The gardens are open from 10am – 5pm and are free to enter.

Monbulk Trestle Bridge

A photographer’s delight, the Monbulk Trestle Bridge is not only artistically engineered but it makes for a perfect picture as the Puffing Billy traverses the narrow gauge rails above the valley.

We chose to stop by in the late afternoon to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary sight but sadly it wasn’t meant to be as the Puffing Billy was not operating due to the Pandemic.

The Yarra Valley is sure to please every type of traveller with so many attractions on offer. This was our second visit and I feel that there is still so much more to be explored. I’d love to hear what you love about this must see region, share you experience in the comments.

Australia, Walks

Yackandandah Gorge Walk

With the recent restrictions on travel it has forced us to discover our ‘own backyard’ and boy are we lucky to live in the north east of Victoria. As a family there’s nothing we love better than being at one with our natural surroundings and walking through stunning scenery, so it is surprising that there are so many walks within our locality that we haven’t experienced. That is up until now.

Having dropped our son at a friends house for the day and not being able to convince our fifteen year old daughter to accompany us we were child free!

A Place Steeped in History

Yackandandah is a historic town located 308km from Melbourne and is situated close to the New South Wales border. At the time of writing this article we are unable to go across the state border without a permit! Yackandandah is Jiatmathang country and the Aboriginal word for the town is Dhudhuroa meaning one boulder on top of another at the junction of two creeks. European settlement began in 1824 and the with the discovery of gold in late 1852 there came a surge of alluvial miners settling in the region. From then on Yackandandah became a thriving town and many of the original buildings and disused mines from that era are still in existence today.

The Gorge Walk

This is a gentle, easy track that meanders alongside the Yackandandah Creek. The walk took us around 90 minutes to complete (with frequent stops) starting and finishing at Yackandandah High Street. For more details on the walk visit Explore Yackandandah’s website.

Map of Walk
Map of the Gorge Walk

To start the walk turn left on Wellsford Street at the top of the High Street, cross the bridge over Yackandandah Creek and immediately turn right onto the path. You will see a sign and information board explaining the historic significance of the walk.

Gorge Walk Sign

At the beginning of the walk you will pass tennis courts and the sports ground on your lefthand side. This part of the trail is suitable for prams and bikes. I have read that there is a resident Platypus in the creek here, sadly we didn’t see it.

Start of Walk

There are times when the path forks and you’re not certain which route to take. We found that both ways would take you to the same place but one path just took you closer alongside the creek. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and watch the water racing down the creek and I can only imagine how beautiful and refreshing it would be to take a dip in the hotter months of the year.

Yackandandah Creek

There are several information boards along the route that are worth taking the time to stop and read.

To save you the effort of climbing a hill unnecessarily, as we did, make sure you take the pathway on the right shortly after the bird information board. You will see another information board further along the path so you know you’re on the right path.

Take this path
This is the correct path

A short time later the bushland opens up and you will reach the miners gorge. Before you cross the bridge over the creek take sometime to sit on the rocks and listen to the sound of the energetic water rushing along.

Walk onto the bridge to observe the incredible gorge and you will realise why this place is so special. The 100 metre gorge was created by miners in 1858 so they could sluice gravel and sand in the hope of finding gold. They cut through the granite using only picks, shovels and blasting powder, it’s an impressive achievement.

Gorge bridge
Gorge Bridge

Gorge
The Narrow Gorge

After crossing the bridge the path gets fairly steep and slippery and extra care needs to be taken when it is wet.

Steeper part of the walk

Continue along the path for a few hundred metres and you will arrive at the dam wall. The dam wall was built to divert the creek and is believed to have powered a water driven timber mill. At a later date in 1859 a tail race was constructed when the miners deepened the gorge with the use of dynamite.

Shortly after the dam wall you will come across a wooden stye that doesn’t look like it goes anywhere. Being the curious people we are we decided to scramble over the stye and check out the other side. There were lots of blackberry bushes on the side of the path so care needed to be taken not to cut ourselves on the thorns. We discovered the path ended abruptly just around the corner so you won’t miss anything if you don’t go over the stye.

Stye

To return to the High Street you can either walk along Bells Flat Road (about 2kms) or return back the same way as you came.

Yackandandah Township

Yackandandah is an attractive, quaint town with many historic buildings from the gold mining days. A considerable number of these buildings have become boutique shops or eateries. The town became better known when the film ‘ Strange Bed Fellows’ starring Michael Caton and Paul Hogan was filmed on location in the High Street.

The town also has a very strong community and it shows in many of the initiatives undertaken. One such example is Totally Renewable Yackandandah, a 100% volunteer run group with a goal of powering the town with 100% renewable energy and achieving energy sovereignty by 2022.

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining in Yackandandah with two pubs, numerous cafes, an asian restaurant, a bakery and our favourite Gum Tree Pies. We couldn’t visit Yackandandah without enjoying one of their delicious pies, go and google them and you will see the positive reviews from all around Australia.

Gum Tree Pies Photo

To finish off the perfect day we soaked up the beautiful winter sun with a hot drink at Sir Isaac Isaacs Park. The park is named after Sir Isaac Isaacs who was born in Yackandandah in 1855 and was the first Australian born governor-general. The park has an excellent playground, public toilets, electric barbecues and plenty of picnic tables.

cuppa in the park

Next time you are able to visit North East Victoria be sure to spend a day in the beautiful town of Yackandandah. You won’t be disappointed.

Let me know about your experiences in Yackandandah.