Six reasons to visit the Dandenong Ranges

Orchid spectacular

''Flowers are essentially tarts,'' said Uncle Monty in the classic 1980s film Withnail and I. ''Prostitutes for the bees.'' Orchid expert Mark Finnigan, host of next weekend's Winter Miracles orchid show in Silvan, puts it in slightly different terms, saying ''orchids' exotic shapes, colours and perfumes are all of part of nature's design to attract the pollinators, insects, so that the species survives in its natural environment''. Orchid breeders enhance these characteristics to create even more visually exciting orchids such as the ''Gerald McCraith'', a stunning specimen with pale-green outer petals and a green and black striped lip. It was named after the much-awarded orchid enthusiast, World War II soldier and rabbit exporter. At the festival there's a chance to meet growers from around the region with truly spectacular orchids originally from Central America, Papua New Guinea and the Australian bush.
Winter Miracles, B&T Ferns and Orchids, 30 Wiseman Road, Silvan, July 20-21, free entry,

Walk in the park

Melbourne has an amazing network of bushwalking tracks right on its eastern fringe. Some of the closest to town start in the Ferntree Gully section of the Dandenong Ranges National Park. One of the best-known is the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, named in honour of Australian troops who fought in the Papua New Guinea jungle in World War II. Part of this mildly gruelling walk is a steep ascent called the Thousand Steps, recently made more popular by AFL clubs' pre-season training, which is part pilgrimage, part penance and part exercise. Also consider the Ramblers Track Loop Walk, a short 1.5km amble through the gullies of the Dandenongs, lined with tree ferns and surrounded by the mountain ash towering above.
For a comprehensive map of walking and bike trails, contact the Dandenong Ranges and Knox Visitor Information Centre at 1211 Burwood Highway, Upper Ferntree Gully, 9758 7522,


Nestled in a little valley, surrounded by gums and looking out along the Upwey Valley is Burrinja, a public gallery supporting artists and travelling exhibitions. Kati Thanda, the indigenous name for Lake Eyre, is an exhibition of large-format aerial photographs of Lake Eyre in drought and flood over the past five years, presenting a stunning landscape that is both alien and beguiling. It finishes August 11. From August 24 is Secret Ingiets, an exhibition of carvings from a secret men's cult of the Tolai society on the Gazelle Peninsula in New Britain, PNG. Despite being outlawed by the German colonial administration before World War I the cult was believed to exist in secrecy for decades thereafter. This is the first time these stone figures - some of men, some of animals, others of mythical creatures - will be on display.
Burrinja, corner Glenfern Road and Matson Drive, Upwey, Tues-Sun, 10.30am-4pm, exhibition entry $5, 9754 8723

Tea Leaves

This is a tea aficionado's heaven. A quiet little shop in the leafy village of Sassafras, it stocks more than 300 teas, including black tea grown in Australia, Dragonwell tea from China, chamomile tea, green tea, white tea and herbal tea. The stock is fresh with a high turnover due to online sales and shipments from India, China or Sri Lanka arriving every three weeks.
380 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, daily ,10am-5.30pm, 9755 2222,

Good food

Chef Ben Higgs learned to cook under Jacques Heraudeau at the erstwhile French restaurant La Madrague in South Melbourne, so expect a few French flourishes at Higgs' own restaurant, Wild Oak Cafe. It's smart, casual and oozing bush-cool with a corrugated iron roof and view out to the vegetable garden. This winter, expect tender wagyu oyster blade on potato puree and mushroom jus, or handmade fettuccini with roast pumpkin and parmesan. On weekends book ahead, as lunches can be busy.
Wild Oak Cafe, 232 Ridge Road, Olinda, lunch and dinner, Wed-Sun, 9571 2033

Forest for the trees

In the 1920s, Melburnians were undergoing a tree crisis. The Argus newspaper described Victoria as having a ''dearth'' of conifers, and local politicians cited the lack of northern hemisphere species as ''deplorable''. Our native trees were simply weren't up to scratch, so in 1928 seven hectares of native forest at Kalorama was cleared and introduced species were planted. The Mount Dandenong Arboretum was expanded and now covers 16 hectares offering sheltered walks through plantings of Himalayan spruce and maples, and is a beautiful place to explore on a crispy-cold winter's day.
Mount Dandenong, Melway ref: 52 G12