Tim Richards heads for the green hills on the edge of the city.
Where to next? I'm standing high on a slope within the Dandenong Ranges National Park and the walking track I've been following is blocked by fallen trees. This sort of thing happens every time I visit Olinda. Having left the concrete jungle of the Melbourne CBD, I get excited by the prospect of bushwalking, neglect to obtain a proper map and end up on a walk that's more difficult than I'd expected.
But the good thing about this national park is you're never far from a craft shop. After spotting some rosellas and startling a wallaby with my heavy-footed presence, I break through to a track running alongside the golf course. Before long I'm back in Olinda, praising its proximity to the wild and preparing to tuck in to some local produce. Well, a pie.
Olinda started out as a forestry and farming town. In the late 19th century it became popular with tourists as an excursion destination and tourism is now the prime money-spinner for the community. Famous residents included artist Arthur Streeton.
Forest and gardens
The number one attraction of Olinda and its immediate vicinity is greenery and there's lots of it throughout the Dandenong Ranges National Park. For a guide to walking tracks through the park, pick up a brochure at the Dandenong Ranges and Knox Visitor Information Centre (1211 Burwood Highway, Upper Ferntree Gully, phone 1800 645 505).
Within walking distance of Olinda township are the National Rhododendron Gardens (The Georgian Road), 40 hectares of rhododendrons, azaleas and other species in a beautiful setting. Its latest development is a sensory garden featuring plants that can be touched, smelled, heard, admired even tasted.
Other gardens tended by Parks Victoria include the attractive Pirianda Garden (Hacketts Road), featuring a diverse selection of plants from across the globe; the R. J. Hamer Forest Arboretum (Chalet Road), with a spectacular view across the Yarra Valley; and the quirky William Ricketts Sanctuary (Mount Dandenong Tourist Road), featuring statues of Aborigines literally blended with the landscape.
An impressive privately owned garden open to the public is Cloudehill (89 Olinda-Monbulk Road, phone 9751 1009), established by the Woolrich family in the 1890s.
- Wild Oak Cooking School. Learn the gentle art of food preparation. It also runs food tours of the region (232 Ridge Road, phone 9751 2033).
- Olinda Health and Spa. This day spa offers a neat contrast to the nearby shopping and dining options (1606 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, phone 9751 0662).
- Olinda Golf Course. The cafe is worth dropping in to for its views across the greens to the forest beyond (75 Olinda-Monbulk Road, phone 9751 1399).
Olinda's busy shopping strip, crowded on weekends, is flush with shops selling homewares, furniture and craft items.
Here are a few of its more memorable places to browse.
- Treasures of Istanbul. Packed with brightly coloured ceramics, including some hand-painted tiles, and Turkish rugs up to 20 square metres in area (6 Parsons Lane, phone 9751 1406).
- Freyja. A pleasant surprise among the lace and bookshelves, this fashion boutique is an outlet for successful local designer Tamarind Croft. (45 Olinda-Monbulk Road, phone 9751 0755).
- Herbicious Delicious. Great range of cookware from across the world, along with Yarra Valley produce and Herbie's Spices. If you thought ras el hanout was a James Bond villain, pick up the Moroccan spice and become enlightened (10 Parsons Lane, phone 9751 0026).
- Idyllism. An unusual range of New Age items, along with jewellery made of rare stones such as larimar and gaspeite. In good weather, palm readers, tarot readers and clairvoyants give readings on the grass outside the shop. Yes, you do have to book for the clairvoyant (10 Parsons Lane, phone 9751 0058).
- Olinda Sweet Company. An old favourite, stocked with chocolates from across the world, including the strangely salty Dutch variety of liquorice. Surprisingly, there's a shelf of naughty sweets for hen parties and the like. You'll be pleased the edible candy bra pack contains the relevant nutritional information (37 Monash Avenue, phone 9751 1788).
Where to eat
- Pie in the Sky. It's cheap, it's cheerful, it's packed with tourists but it does make very nice pies. Flavours range from the usual suspects through to the Asian excursions such as beef rendang and chicken korma (43 Olinda-Monbulk Road, phone 9751 2128).
- Immerse. A relatively new arrival, serving Olinda's best coffee and dishes with lots of local ingredients. Includes a produce shop and a cellar door for the winery of the same name (17 Olinda-Monbulk Road, phone 9751 0466).
- The Ivy. Big, breezy restaurant on a street corner with plenty of space and sunshine. Mostly serves Italian dishes in a modern interior with a touch of retro stonework (540 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, phone 9751 2388).
- Credo. Roomy eatery serving Mediterranean-inspired food in a refreshingly minimalist interior (543 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, phone 9751 1844).
- SkyHigh. Though it hasn't entirely cast off its 1970s Sunday drive feel, the bistro at the top of Mount Dandenong has been renovated impressively in recent years. Its menu caters deftly to every price range and demographic known to humanity. The view across Melbourne by night is as fantastic as ever, so book at least a month in advance if you want one of the five tables placed right up against the window (26 Observatory Road, phone 9751 0443).
Where to stay
- Lochiel. Its leaflets provocatively assert "No olde worlde! No lace!". The decor of these cottages facing the forest is indeed very contemporary (1590 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, phone 9751 2300; see lochielaccommodation.com).
- The Loft in the Mill. This is B&B accommodation in a mock-medieval style. The King Arthur room, for example, is dominated by a replica of Excalibur, which is situated in a nook above a black spa bath (1 Harold Street, phone 9751 1700; see loftinthemill.com.au).
- Candlelight Cottages. Compact, comfortable cottages within walking distance of the shopping strip. The decor is traditional without veering into the floral (7 Monash Avenue, phone 1300 553 011; see candlelightcottages.com.au).
- Delvin Health Retreat. A 1970s guesthouse-style place with an added bonus the proprietor is a qualified masseur and offers massage, facials, yoga instruction, meditation and counselling. Oh, and dinner (25 Monash Avenue, phone 9751 1800; see delvin.com.au).
- Como Cottages. Six cottages spread over two locations, including a century-old house on the shopping strip (1465 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, phone 9751 2264; see comocottages.com).
- Hanami, the cherry blossom day at the National Rhododendron Gardens, September 20.
- Spring Floral Festival, National Rhododendron Gardens, August to November.
Infrequent route 694 and 698 buses head to Olinda from the Belgrave and Upper Ferntree Gully stations on the Belgrave line, some continuing to the top of Mount Dandenong. From the north, bus 688 to Olinda departs from Croydon station on the Lilydale line. Check timetables (phone 131 638; metlinkmelbourne.com.au) in advance.
By road from Melbourne, Olinda is an hour's drive along Burwood Highway and Mount Dandenong Tourist Road.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.