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Dandenongs Drive

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Being so close to Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges are perfect for day trips and Sunday afternoon drives. There is so much to see and do, however, the Dandenongs are really worthy of more time. Indulging in a Devonshire tea is almost essential when you're there and there are plenty of places serving them. You will see native animals and birds, and possibly even the elusive lyrebird. Gardens present endless blooms of rhododendrons and azaleas set among native and exotic trees.

The SkyHigh Observatory on the uppermost reach of the Dandenongs was first established as a survey point in 1861 and gives wonderful views across greater Melbourne from Port Phillip Bay to the You Yangs on the southern horizon. It is an area of cool fern glades and lush towering native forests and there you can fire up a public barbecue, spread a picnic rug or enjoy a meal in the bistro. There are links to trail walks, an adventurous maze and an exquisite English garden.

Olinda is one of the Dandenongs' highest villages. Refreshingly cool in summer, it has the odd light snowfall in winter. It is home to the National Rhododendron Gardens, and there are many other exquisite gardens, public and private, including Cloudehill and William Ricketts Sanctuary. There are also many galleries showcasing works of local artists and artisans.

John and Judy Ischia moved to Olinda from Tasmania 25 years ago and set up Mangana Arts & Crafts. They deal mainly in antique replicas and have wonderful rugs and lamps from the United States, Morocco, China, Turkey and India. John's specialty is stained glass lampshades in the Tiffany style. It's an Aladdin's cave of beautiful things, and chances are you will find that special piece you can't live without.

Most Australian towns claim to have "the best pies in the world", but Pie in the Sky in Olinda certainly has something to boast about. Their pies have won nine gold medals, seven silver and two bronze medals, and our crew said their floaters were the best east of Adelaide!

Sculptor William Ricketts was a solitary man who created a fascinating sanctuary, inspired by his travels in Central Australia where he met the Pitantjarra and Arrente people. He began to mould ceramic sculptures depicting the legends of Dreamtime in the forests around his home. There are 92 of them dotted through the undergrowth of the temperate rainforest, often half-buried in ferns or carved out of the earth itself. It is a thought-provoking place, and you can linger over a cup of tea in the licensed cafe as you put your own interpretations of the spiritual sculptures.

Sassafras is a village alongside Sherbrook Forest, one of the best known among several making up the Dandenong Ranges National Park. It has been a popular weekend destination since first settlement in 1894, and has retained its charm as a place of cafes, restaurants and tearooms, antique shops, boutique accommodation, gardens and scenic drives.

Amina and George Andrikopoulos own Ripe, a deli specialising in fine local produce. Jams, honey, cheese, ice cream, venison and buffalo are some of the gourmet goodies which can be purchased there. The weatherboard cottage is a warm and welcoming place for a delicious breakfast or lunch. Choose from a wide variety of food, much of it local and organic, and wine is available to accompany your meal.

Location

One hour east of Melbourne.

Cost

SkyHigh gate entry is $4 for each car.

William Ricketts Sanctuary entry is $6.50 for adults and $3 for children.

Virgin Blue has flights to Melbourne.

One-way fares

  • From Adelaide: $95
  • From Sydney: $115
  • From Brisbane: $145
  • From Darwin: $199
  • From Perth: $229

There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares are one-way on the net. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at August 30, 2007 and are subject to change.

Prices correct at August 30, 2007

For more information

SkyHigh Mount Dandenong
20 Observatory Road
Mt Dandenong 3767
Ph: (03) 9751 0443
Fax: (03) 9751 0442
Website: www.skyhighmtdandenong.com.au
Email: info@skyhighmtdandenong.com.au

Mangana Arts & Crafts
29-41 Olinda-Monbulk Road
Olinda 3788
Ph: (03) 9751 1780
Website: www.manganaolinda.com.au
Email: shop@manganaolinda.com.au

Pie in the Sky
43 Olinda-Monbulk Road
Olinda 3788
Ph: (03) 9751 2128

William Ricketts Sanctuary
Mt Dandenong Tourist Road
Mt Dandenong 3767
Ph: 13 19 63
Website: www.parkweb.vic.gov.au

Ripe Café
376 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road
Sassafras 3787
Ph: (03) 9755 2100

Virgin Blue
Ph: 13 6789
Website: www.virginblue.com.au

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