A day trip heading into the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria will give you just a taste for this region and have you wanting to come back for more. It’s only an hour out of Melbourne but it feels like a world away from the city and even in winter, or maybe especially, it has a charm to lure you back.
Make a stop in the village of Sassafras and drop into Miss Marples tea rooms if you can find space. Unfortunately for us, our visit was on a Saturday and the typical looking English cottage was bursting with customers so obviously it’s a must do on a lot of people’s itineraries. You can browse in a lot of antique and specialty shops and buy gourmet food from across the road at Proserpina Bakery and café. A great spot to pick up some goodies and take away for a picnic lunch (weather permitting).
Another fascinating place to look at is the Chojo Feature Trees Bonsai Gallery and nursery. Easily found by its red Japanese Gate (Torii), it’s free to view the outstanding bonsai collection but you can also buy pots, tools, wire and small bonsai trees to have a go yourself. The people behind the nursery are there to give you advice and tips too. It’s a really peaceful place to wander through as you crunch your way around the gravel path and you’ll probably find you will spend more time there than you expect.
Next stop is the town of Olinda and what a warm and welcoming village it is. Definitely a destination to park the car and go and explore on foot with so much on offer. It’s hard to know where to begin but if you’re hungry there is Pie in the Sky to dine in or take away. Get in early if you hope to get a table in winter.
Then wander over the road to the ‘Only Mine’ chocolate factory for glossy, handmade chocolates with an incredible range of flavours, which make beautiful gifts if you are strong enough to give them away. They also make gluten free and vegan varieties and a hot chocolate drink which is worth the drive alone.
Then there is the Faraway Tree bookshop. My idea of heaven. Another warm and welcoming shop with timber floors and space to move around, so many books which are beautifully displayed and best of all, a kelpie wandering in the shop accepting pats from everyone and coming back for more. Perfect for a rainy day outing.
A cosy lunch stop can be found at the Pig and Whistle Tavern in Olinda. This is a typically English looking pub offering a good selection of wines and hearty beers and the best slow roasted pork belly for hitting the spot on a cold and drizzly winter’s day. So good but we almost had to roll ourselves out the door after the generous servings.
The final stop and a perfect way to walk off the food is to visit William Ricketts Sanctuary. A stunning four acre rainforest full of tree ferns and luscious greenery dotted with the most amazingly lifelike sculptures of Aboriginal people and wildlife.
The sanctuary can have you confused as to whether it’s a sanctuary of botanical, anthropological or spiritual significance, but whatever you take from it, it is peaceful and brilliant in its scale and art.
William Ricketts was amongst other things, a sculptor who lived from 1898 to 1993. In the 50s and 60s he spent a lot of time living with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte Aboriginal communities in Central Australia. As a result, he adopted their philosophies and respect for the natural environment and was inspired to create this sanctuary where he lived in the Dandenongs.
He lived on the property until his death at the age of 94 and his ashes are interred in the garden which is now owned and managed by Parks Victoria.
As you walk along the paths through the forest of ferns the detail of the many sculptures are breathtaking in their features which are all modelled after the likeness of real people that William (Bill) met. Some of the pieces seem very dark in their meanings with obvious statements as to the greed and destruction that white settlement had on the aboriginal people. The integration of the sculptures with the natural rock and trees is a poignant reminder of the connection aboriginal people in particular, have with the earth.
There are over 90 sculptures to be found in the sanctuary as well as his original log cabin and cottage studio but the magic is in exploring the grounds with it ferns, tall trees and grottos and finding his magnificent work high and low throughout.
We visited on what turned out to be a bit of a rainy day but actually I think there is something pretty perfect about seeing a rainforest in the rain!
Happy weekend wanderings