Traversing the Dandenong Ranges
This article provides some general information on visiting:
William Rickett’s Sanctuary
There is nothing like getting out of the city and finding yourself surrounded by the kind of nature that has inspired painters, sculptors, and poets. To stand amongst trees that would rival the city skyline, to breathe in the crisp and clean air, to smell a distant fireplace burning through the green forest. It is places such as these that make me feel truly at home, and why I will always be an Australian at heart.
Luckily for my fellow Melbournians we are not short of opportunities to get back to nature and just shy of 50k’s out of the CBD we have the Dandenong Ranges. However you choose to make your way, be it public transport (there are a number of buses that traverse the ranges depending on which direction you are coming from), by driving up the winding roads and feeling the wind in your hair, or by joining the ultra fit few who ride up the Ranges, I am sure you will not be disappointed. Let me share a few of my favourite sites to catch up with friends, show out-of-towners, or just get away from it all on my own.
Nothing quite says day trip to the mountains like Devonshire Tea, at least in my book anyway, and the Ranges isn’t short of opportunities to indulge in some warm home made scones with locally produced jam and cream. Perhaps one of the most famous spots to delight in this and other delectable dishes is Miss Marple’s Tea Room, a restaurant situated in an old Tudor style house paying homage to one of Agatha Christie’s most famous detectives (and one of my favourites!). Personally, I have never eaten a main meal here as I am always too distracted by the dessert menu! The portions are always huge and I’ve never been disappointed. The atmosphere is cosy, and particularly welcome on a cold, wet day in the Ranges. Be prepared to wait though. The popularity of Miss Marple’s means that it is not uncommon to wait up to an hour for a table. If you are not willing to wait I can also recommend the Sassafras Cafe, just a little further up the road on the left; this unassuming building hosts some incredibly delicious foods and amazing scones, and also has a small seating area out the front to catch the most of the nicer weather when we have it. Otherwise, just outside of the main village of Sassafras you will find King Henry’s Arts Cafe. If you are coming from the Burwood Highway it will be on your right before you enter the township, its white walls standing out in the sea of green it is surrounded by. A wonderful place to stop for a bite to eat, sitting out on its deck amongst the forest is the kind of experience we travel to the mountains for. The food is great, the staff are lovely, and they are also dog friendly. For those with their hearts set on Miss Marples though, the wise day trippers tip is to put your names down as soon as you arrive in Sassafras, and then spend the time exploring the township.
Sassafras is a beautiful little village, one of the first you will encounter if coming from the Burwood Highway, and is definitely worth the stop for the stores alone. The main street is full of unique shops selling everything from gourmet food items, original and boutique homewares, skin and beauty products, and even a store selling every type of tea and teapot you can imagine. If you need to buy a gift for someone typically hard to buy for, I can honestly recommend a day trip to Sassafras to find that something special, although be warned, you may end up with a few things for yourself as well!
If you were to continue up the Mount Dandenong Tourist Route you will soon find yourself in the village of Olinda. Another of the Dandenong Range’s quaint and unique offerings, Olinda makes a great lunch destination, with a number of restaurants, cafes, and pubs to pick from it tends to be able to seat larger groups in a more comfortable setting. Pie In The Sky, an aptly named popular restaurant offering a large selection of pies (including vegetarian) to eat in or takeaway does tend to get busy on the weekend and public holidays, so you will need to be prepared to wait here if you want a seat. Otherwise most other places are able to accommodate you immediately. I often spend a lazy Sunday afternoon out the back of Olinda Cafe with Tiffany our Border Collie, and am always able to find something on the menu as a vegetarian. Alternatively, Dudley’s across the street also has a nice offering of food, is also welcoming to dogs, and has live music on the deck on Sundays. A stroll down Olinda’s main street will take you past old fashioned sweet and candy shops, unique gift and home-ware stores, and boutique clothing and jewellery, although if you are all shopped out you can head only 500m away to the stunning National Rhododendron Gardens to walk off your lunch in the beautiful surrounds of these free gardens.
William Rickett’s Sanctuary
It would be remiss of me to write about the Dandenong’s without mentioning one of my favourite places to visit, William Ricketts Sanctuary. If you continue along the Mount Dandenong Tourist Route past Olinda, after a short time you will see the sign for this beautiful site. Parking is on the right if you’re coming from Olinda, and the entrance will be across the road to the left. William Ricketts was a potter and sculptor, who had lived with Aboriginal communities in Central Australia for some time. Inspired by the Dreamtime and the interconnectedness Aboriginal people have with nature and the spirituality of Mother Earth, William Ricketts created this sanctuary in the hopes to inspire others to adopt these philosophies and respect the natural world around us. It truly is a beautiful and emotive place, and one that artistically expresses through clay sculpture enmeshed with the natural environment just how incredible and inspiring the first people of Australia are. You cannot help but be humbled in these surroundings and question how it is you interact with the world around you. The ideal place for personal reflection, you can easily spend time wandering the grounds alone if you find yourself wanting for some quiet time. William Ricketts Sanctuary is free to enter, but I do encourage you to donate anything you can when you visit to ensure the ongoing upkeep of the site.
Now by no means is this an exhaustive list of the things to see and do in the Dandenong Ranges. There are more villages, more restaurants, more parks and gardens, more everything just waiting for you to explore! These are just a few of my favourite places to encourage you to spend the time traversing the Dandenong Ranges and all the beauty that we are blessed to have around us. So please, feel free to follow the links in the text to get further information on any of these great spots, and get out there!
Until next time.