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You need to get there first
The Yarra Valley welcomed us as though we were it’s worst enemy. Freezing cold winds, rain and gray skies greeted us as we stepped off our Tiger flight from Brisbane to Melbourne. Thank goodness we were ready for it to throw down the weather gauntlet and were suitably rugged up with our big coats and scarves. Give it your best shot Melbourne, we are ready for you! We were here to get the best out of the Yarra Valley and some errant weather wasn’t about to stop us.
We had gone out on a bit of a limb and flown Tiger for the first time. As Qantas frequent flyers, this was going to be interesting and I was prepared to encounter an issue given some of the feedback I’ve heard previously. The ride was uneventful, the staff fabulous, and the big ticket item – timeliness – well it passed with flying colours with no delays at all.
Here’s a BIG tip for anyone flying Tiger from Brisbane in particular. Every and I mean every item that you are planning on taking on board will be weighed. You may remember from a previous post Crackdown on Cabin Baggage, that I support airlines that have limits, provided their policies are well documented and supported by all staff, to ensure consistent application of the rules. Tiger Airlines (Brisbane) are not rule benders in any way. Before boarding, everyone must line up to have all their luggage weighed and their boarding pass noted. Failure to comply with their cabin limits of 7kg (unless you have pre-purchased cabin space of 12kg) will have the Tiger staff member whipping out her credit card machine faster than you can say “takeoff”. And the fees are hefty. Several people had to outlay $53 for a kg over the limit. We had such cheap fares that the excess charge would have cost more than our seat. Another reason why we carry digital luggage scales with us everywhere we travel, and also why we adhere to the limits. As such, there was no drama for us.
We picked up our hire car from Europcar (a Nissan Micra much to my husband’s disgust). Apparently I’m not allowed to choose hire cars anymore 🙂 I figured we were only here for a few days and the distances we were driving didn’t warrant anything fancier. I possibly could have thought a little more about the fact that he stands over 6 foot and a little more leg room might have been nice.
We were heading to Dixon’s Creek in the gorgeous Yarra Valley and pretty soon we were on our way. The drive from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport is simple, and Google Maps is always your friend on these occasions.
It’s a beautiful drive, through small towns and winding mountain roads. Before long, we found ourselves right in amongst the Yarra Valley at Yarra Glen. By this stage it was nearly 3pm and our stomachs were telling us it was time to pullover. Yarra Glen is a beautiful town and home to Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company, a pub housed within the former Colonial Bank of Australasia. They’ve got a great menu and an even better ambience inside the pub. We chose to sit in the front room that would have been a manager’s office complete with working fireplace and located on the other side of the vault. We were pleased to be inside and sitting in front of the toasty fire. Drinking beer by the fire is not something that is common for us, but we were happy to play the part on this occasion. Hargreaves Hill is best known for it’s craft beer and has it’s brewery offsite.
Lunch is served
Lunch arrived fairly quickly as we were the only ones dining here by this late stage of the afternoon.
Now somewhere to stay
With our insides now warm from the great food, and our outsides warm from the fire, it was time to brace ourselves for the 4 degrees that my iphone told me was waiting for us outside.
Next stop, our fantastic accommodation at Dixon’s Creek, just a little further down the Melba Highway from Yarra Glen.
The Yarra Valley is one of those places that hasn’t been overwhelmed by big hotels. Sure, there are some in the bigger cities nearby but by and large, it is home to B&Bs and smaller accommodation facilities located at the wineries.
Our choice was very independent, extremely unique, and an absolute ripper of a place to stay.
Welcome to The Church Yarra Valley a privately owned property at Dixon’s Creek, and right next to one of Australia’s largest wineries, De Bortoli. Our abode, the former Dixon’s Creek Uniting Church was a fabulous place to lay our heads for a couple of nights. See Yarra Valley | Unique Accommodation for a more detailed insight into this great place.
Itinerary for a day in the Yarra Valley
There’s lots to see and do in the Yarra Valley, but not all of it needs to include spending your days at the wineries. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this either, but for us, we welcomed the opportunity to get away from the grapes and immerse ourselves in some other local activities.
Take a drive. It’s a beautiful drive where ever you go. Winding roads make their way through the beautiful forests, many of which were devastated by the Black Saturday Fires that occurred all around here in February 2009. There is still evidence of the devastation here with blackened trees, and constant other reminders of the hell the people who live here had to endure.
The area is flush with great produce stores and it’s hard to resist many of the goodies they sell there as well. Thank goodness I didn’t have enough capacity in my cabin bag this time. It’s nice just to randomly pull up the car at any of these that you see along the way and check them out. This one had a fully covered strawberry farm out the back where you could pick your own and take them home with you.
The Dandenong Ranges are closeby and should feature on your itinerary. It’s too pretty to miss. Tiny little hamlets sit hugging the edges of the mountains which afford many of their residents spectacular views. It’s colder up here, more misty in the winter mornings, and definitely sees it’s share of snow from time to time. We were here only a couple of weeks after a cold snap came through and evidence still remained of the snow that fell, leaving wet, muddy puddles in it’s wake. There are walks that you can go on up here, lookouts to peer from and cafes and restaurants to warm your bodies when the chill takes over.
We headed to Sassafras for our morning stop for no other reason initially than I liked the name. We attempted to stop at Miss Marple’s Tea Room, located in a gorgeous old building on the main road. It didn’t open till 11am so unfortunately Miss Marple missed out on our business, such was my need to sip on a hot chocolate and warm myself up.
“Ripe”, the cosy cafe tucked away in this cute building was the eventual winner. It was a) open b)had an awesome open fire and c)excellent food and hot chocolate.
The strawberry cheesecake was a change from the usual suspects. Homemade on site, with an unusual but extremely delicious polenta base.
The little town of Sassafras has a few interesting stores and for us, a gourmet providores store packed to the rafters with locally made goodies.
By the time we made our way back from the Dandenongs, the Yarra Valley Dairy was open for business. This business resides on the home of the former working dairy. Butter and cheese is still made on site but the farming is done elsewhere. This was one of my favourite places to visit and I could have quite literally sat in there and ate their delicious goats cheese all day. Lucky we had other places to be or else you might have still found me perched on one of the tables just inside the window overlooking the farm, stuffing my face with cheese.
I’m not just saying this……the Yarra Valley Dairy goat’s cheese was the best I have ever eaten. Even the ash covered one was wonderful. We’ve now found a stockist of this cheese back in Brisbane so we are happy little campers. From straight up four day old goats cheese, to the ash covered, to labne, fetta, and fromage frais, they’ve got an excellent range. You can buy to take home, or eat on site with a glass of wine. Definitely hard to resist.
Chateau Yering is worthy of a visit also, with it’s historical house and gardens and several restaurants. The house, constructed in 1854 is now a hotel and conference facility, but remains largely intact, save for some renovations and alterations.
Out on the Melba Highway, just out of Yarra Glen, is the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie. Here you will find the chocolate lovers of all kinds who have made a pilgrimage to all things chocolate. Occasionally you will find the odd person who could take or leave this vice of many tagging after their chocolate loving friends. Even they would find it hard to go past the giant bowls of tasters at the front counter, the cafe serving chocolate in many ways or the icecream counter down the back. If they were completely averse to chocolate I am sure they would make someone’s day by picking up a gift from the enormous range to take home with them. Whatever your thoughts about chocolate, you can’t escape it here, so why not join in the fun. There’s even a windowed area in the store that allows you to watch the chocolatiers work their magic.
We chose to eat at Yarrawood Estates, one of the few wineries open for lunch. It’s a smaller winery with great views over the vineyards and over to the more luxurious establishment of Balgownie Estate. The service was personable, the food good whilst not being overly complicated and the glasses of vino right on the money.
At Coldstream, not far out of Yarra Glen, The Coldstream Brewery is making it’s mark with the production of locally brewed craft beers and ciders. I’m a bit of a cider fan but have to admit on this occasion, their crisp apple cider didn’t appeal to me. It’s definitely crisp, but to me it lacked the true flavour of apples.
We capped off a great day by a return to Healesville, another gorgeous little town, to hang out at the Innocent Bystander. We had been here for drinks the night before and thought it good enough to come back to try out their super-duper wood fired pizza oven. A pizza and a pint for $25 on a Tuesday night made it even better!
The standout was the share plate we had first which consisted of goats cheese, baby carrots and beetroot, prosciutto and sourdough. It was really delicious, and a different way of eating goats cheese. Eating it with the vegetables allowed for the real flavour of the cheese to shine through. As good as the cheese was though, I have to admit to being disappointed that they weren’t using the goats cheese from the local Yarra Valley Dairy where we had been earlier. I think that in the Yarra Valley all the local businesses should be supporting each other as much as possible.
The Innocent Bystander is a brewery come restaurant, come deli, come bakery, and they do this all in a really nice environment. Despite the rather industrial looking facade, the internal furnishings are soft and inviting, and the braziers and pizza oven pump out plenty of warmth too.
So as you can see, so much to do and usually so little time. You can’t do everything in the area in one day, but if that’s all you’ve got, consider visiting at least a few of the places I’ve mentioned. You won’t be disappointed.
We travelled in August which is a fairly quiet time for the Yarra Valley, with some wineries even closing up to have well earned holidays.
Monday-Thursday is also very quiet and you will find a lot of places aren’t open.
If you are planning on dining out for lunch and dinner here, I would recommend checking to see if they are in fact open. We found that most wineries restaurants and independent restaurants were not open for lunch until at least Thursday. Some only open on the weekends. Dinner is similar with many restaurants only opening Friday to Sunday.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.