As we think about travel opportunities closer to home this year, Melbourne is an inspiring destination, especially when you head to Olinda in the Dandenong Mountains. A hip hang-out for Melbourne’s weekenders in search of delicious dining, the pretty village is a boutique shopping and nature-hit all in one, and can be reached within an hour’s drive of the city centre.
A low range of forest-clad mountains, the Dandenongs are cloaked in tree-ferns and majestic eucalyptus, and are a haven for colourful native birds. The journey into the hills follows the winding but well-sealed Dandenong Tourist Road which meanders past several hamlets until reaching Olinda, a town of 1,800 residents.
Originally a logging settlement, Olinda grew to become a dairying and horticultural centre, and before the popularity of motor traffic, it was a sought after spot for those who could afford a holiday home away from the heat of Melbourne’s summers. Those who now visit Olinda tend to make the return trip back to the city at the end of the day, but there are still a host of sweet holiday cottages half-hidden in the trees, and as nothing beats waking up to a dawn chorus of lively parrots, an overnight stay is recommended.
When planning a visit, it pays to note that day-tripper numbers swell from midday, so to secure a table at any of the more popular eateries, book ahead or set out early. One of the most delicious dining experiences can be found at Dudley’s, an indoor-outdoor establishment serving casual Italian fare, and specialising in the crispiest of wood-fired pizzas and piled-high bruschetta. Right on the corner of the main street, and sheltered by overhanging trees, it is also the perfect people-watching spot.
When browsing the village shops, you’ll soon discover Olinda loves nothing better than to show off its local artisans. Only Mine, a handmade chocolate crafting establishment is a double-destination offering not only the opportunity to sample gorgeous, glossy chocolates, but the fun of watching them being made – all via its glassed-in chocolaterie which fronts onto the shop. Pure Aussie fragrances meet you at the door of SoapOpera Australia which specialises in luxurious handcrafted bathroom soaps and lotions (we couldn’t pass by its ‘Lemon myrtle and lime soap balls’). This little boutique is a must-see, especially if you’re looking for a quintessentially Australian gift to take back with you.
For sheer browsing pleasure, Magana offers a range of old-world furniture and housewares, and is just one of many shops in the Dandenongs which specialises in antiques. For a more modern take, Arvy’s Gallery, just around the corner, features Australian arts and crafts to remind you of your visit.
When you’ve had your shopping fix, it’s time to head to one of the many nature trails that leave close to the town centre. Olinda Falls (just over 3km from the shops) is a favourite and offers two options – a short 350 stroll to a viewing platform, or a 10-15 walk to the falls themselves, and the amber-gold stream that flows out from them.
If you have more than a day in the Dandenongs, consider yourself fortunate, but even a half-day away from busy central Melbourne is a treat worth seeking out, and if you don’t have a car, public transport via train and bus is an option.