The Yarra Valley is well known for its food and drink offering, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit the region – and it’s also within reach from Melbourne for an easy weekend away.
A trip to the Yarra Valley will reward with scenic views, a purple paradise of lavender fields, activities to entertain young and old alike, and its food and wine offering will far from disappoint.
Bordered by the Yarra River, Badger Creek, Watts River and the slopes of Mount Riddle, the Yarra Valley delivers a picture-perfect setting for those in search of space to roam and lungfuls of fresh air. It is also home to the Wurundjeri people from the Kulin Nation, and you will find a vast number of Indigenous cultural experiences to enrich your time in the region.
If you’re not sure where to begin, consider this your introduction to the best things to do in the Yarra Valley.
Take a hike
With more than 250 kilometres of marked trails in the region’s lush forests, you’ll find a myriad of hikes that cater for every level of fitness. For the ultimate workout opt for the Kokoda Memorial Walk (aka the 1000 Steps Walk). The steep five-kilometre climb through dense rainforest is also a poignant reminder of the terrain Aussie soldiers endured in Papua New Guinea during World War II.
If you left your gym gear at home or just want an easy stroll, the 2.4-kilometre Sherbrooke Forest Falls trail is a memorable option. The trail immerses you in the grandeur of the forest. Walk past Australia’s largest tree species, the mountain ash. Colourful bark hangs from the trunks of the majestic trees that stand up to 100 metres tall, in stark contrast to the vivid green of the ferny understory. Although not high, the falls themselves are impressive, especially after rain.
The 1000 steps is steep five-kilometre climb through a dense rainforest
Peruse picturesque gardens
If you’re into formal gardens, there’s plenty on offer in the Dandenong Ranges. One of the most popular is Cloudehill Gardens in Olinda. Wandering the series of walled outdoor ‘garden rooms’ is beautiful at any time of year, but two highlights are the Japanese maples in autumn and the daffodil glade in spring. The indoor/outdoor Seasons at Cloudehill restaurant overlooks the gardens and serves scrumptious food for breakfast and lunch.
Meanwhile, Billy Connolly called the William Ricketts Sanctuary at Mt Dandenong, “the most impressive thing I’ve seen in Australia”. A place of tranquillity, the 90 life-sized sculptures carved into rocks and tree trunks are the life work of artist William Ricketts. Meticulous in detail, each figure is based on a real person and reflects the importance of the environment in Indigenous culture. Find them hidden amongst the ferns along the path throughout the property.
Cloudehill in Olinda is a popular formal garden in the region
Board the iconic Puffing Billy
This is certainly the ultimate activity for train enthusiasts, but anyone would be delighted at the chance to dangle their legs off a 120-year-old open-sided train carriage.
For more than a century, Puffing Billy has puffed its way along the same mountain track from Belgrave to Gembrook. In fact, it is the only survivor of the then Victorian Railways’ 1890s failed attempt at a series of narrow-gauge lines into remote and difficult to reach country.
The track cuts through the pristine forests and fern gullies of Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges. Rumbling across historic timber trestle bridges as you go. Make a day of it on the journey to Gembrook from Lakeside (a three-hour return trip) and enjoy a post-ride picnic and splash around at Emerald Lake Park, with its playground, wading pool and paddle boats for hire.
For more than a century, Puffing Billy has puffed through the Yarra Valley
Healesville Sanctuary is no ordinary zoo. This bushland oasis specialises in native Australian animals, with a longstanding history of breeding programs and preservation.
For example, it can be pretty difficult to spot a platypus in the wild, but at Healesville Sanctuary you and a friend can hop into the platypus pool for a swim and feed with the help of a trained animal keeper. Pretty special, huh? (Note: at time of publishing this experience was temporarily suspended due to coronavirus restrictions, check the website beforehand for the latest update.)
Or perhaps the corrobboree frog is more your thing. This alpine frog, endemic to the Southern Tablelands and Kosciuszko National Park, is under attack from a warming climate, frog-killing fungus, off-road vehicles, and the many damaging hooves of wild brumbies. Healesville is one of the only places you can see the vivid, liquorice allsorts-inspired black and yellow stripes, thanks to a successful captive-breeding program.
Open from 9am to 5pm daily, there’s a constant calendar of rotating events to keep you entertained.
Locals at Healesville Sanctuary
Explore a purple paradise
Warratina Lavender Farm is one of the Yarra Valley’s signature destinations. Renowned for the spectacular view of its seemingly endless fields of lavender flowers in bloom during December and January.
Back in 1991, owner Annemarie planted a small plot of lavender on land which had once been a cherry orchard. What began as a hobby soon transformed into a business, after people began forming lines down the driveway for a look at the purple paradise.
Ten-thousand lavender plants have been erected since. Visitors, who are welcome all year round, come to enjoy both Warratina’s Australian-made lavender products and the peaceful atmosphere of the lavender farm. Even outside of the flowering period, the estate is the perfect place to see the turning seasons reflected in the ornamental gardens, native bushland and contoured rows of lavender set against the striking backdrop of the Dandenong Ranges.
Warratina Lavender Farm is one of the Yarra Valley’s signature destinations
Engage with local produce
The list of where to eat and drink in the Yarra Valley is seemingly endless, but it would be remiss to come to the region without visiting the sources of this world-class produce.
Yarra Valley Dairy is a paradise for cheese and wine lovers. This picturesque farm pays homage to some of the traditional cheese styles of France and Italy with both goats and cow’s milk. Stop by for a tasting.
For more than 38 years Oasis Berry Farms have been growing blueberries that ripen from December through March. During these months, you can walk or picnic on their vast lawn areas, or take a relaxing stroll amongst ornamental pear and maple trees.
Yarra Valley Tea Company is a family-owned and local Australian Certified Organic tea manufacturer located in Coldstream, the gateway to the Yarra Valley. Visit for a firsthand glimpse into the tea-making process, or a cuppa at the tea emporium.
Silva Coffee Roaster holds guided, behind-the-scenes tours where you can learn about origins, processing methods and roast profiles of local brews. Take one from Thursday to Sunday.
Barrique Wine Store is the place to go to sample over 400 local and imported wines, including small hard-to-find and iconic local wines, in addition to craft beers, local and imported spirits and quality clean skins.
Sample a range of fresh cheeses from both cows and goats milk at Yarra Valley Dairy
Visit Four Pillars gin distillery
While it might seem excessive to give Four Pillars their very own subheading, take a trip and you’ll soon see why.
Since its launch in 2013, Four Pillars gin has become Australia’s number one craft spirit, receiving the highest possible accolades (and then some) at competitions around the world.
Cam Mackenzie heads up operations here, and he’s quite a superstar in the world of gin. With 10 trademark botanicals, including cardamom, lavender and star anise, you can’t go past favourites like Navy Strength and Rare Dry Gin.
But Four Pillars is as renowned for its limited-edition bottles as it is its standard range, and it’s the experimental nature at the heart of the business that has made it such a success. For example, the Australian Christmas Gin was created by adding actual Christmas puddings during the distillation process, which took place in Rutherglen Muscat aged barrels. Or perhaps you fancy the deep purple colour and sweet flavour of the Bloody Shiraz Gin, which pays homage to the surrounding Yarra Valley shiraz grapes.
An afternoon is well spent at their Yarra Valley distillery – and you can have a look behind the scenes at Wilma, the first of Four Pillar’s copper stills, named after Cam’s late mother.
Since its launch in 2013, Four Pillars has become Australia’s most famous spirit
Get your Gallery on
A place as beautiful as the Yarra Valley has got to be home to some equally beautiful artwork, right?
First up is the TarraWarra Museum of Art. Designed by acclaimed Australian architect Allan Powell, this boutique gallery presents stimulating and innovative exhibitions and events all year round. Stop by for both modern and contemporary art within a relaxed environment.
Next up is the Emma Jennings gallery, featuring the work of the local artist of the same name. The intricate collections feature paintings on handmade Japanese papers, which combine decorative pattern with botanical and figurative studies. Come and feel inspired by the natural science and oriental design behind Emma’s art. (Note: at time of publishing the gallery was in the process of relocating, so check details online before visiting.)
YAVA Gallery & Arts Hub is a non-profit, volunteer-based organisation that is considered the community face of Yarra Valley. It has become a creative home for artists of all genres – where exhibitions, workshops, live events and community gatherings take place in the heart of Healesville and surrounds.
TarraWarra Museum of Art presents stimulating and innovative exhibitions