Kristin Lee discovers a hamlet with fine food, wood craftsmanship and the calls of the lyrebird.
Surrounded by imposing forest, the pint-sized village of Kallista appears to be one of those places on the way to somewhere, namely Monbulk, Belgrave or Sherbrooke.
And while Grant's Picnic Ground draws day-trippers, linger for long enough and you soon realise that this is a special little nook.
The owner of Vintage Cookbooks, Barbara Russell, moved from nearby Ferny Creek 12 years ago. "Kallista has a real foodie kind of culture, where people can appreciate good food amid the forest," she says.
"It's a friendly village, where we all get along really well and shopkeepers refer people on to each other. It's rare to have such a good selection of genuine specialty shops in such a small area."
Originally known as South Sassafras, a competition was launched and it was renamed Kallista, a derivative of the Greek word for "most beautiful". From 1867 the area was extensively logged, with most of it exhausted by the early 1900s. The land was then released for agriculture and settlement.
This tree-filled pocket has drawn some notable artists. Poet C.J. Dennis camped out in an old horse-drawn tram to complete The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. Meanwhile, infamous Heidelberg School painter Tom Roberts resided at Kallista for almost a decade.
Originally built as a community hall in 1900, the Kallista Mechanics Hall has been a multi-purpose venue, including the site for the township's first school classes.
Sherbrooke Forest was declared in 1958 and now forms part of the Dandenong Ranges National Park. It's known for its significant lyrebird population.
After a chance sighting at Kallista in 1918, nature enthusiast Tom Tregallas camped inside an old log and initiated the observations of this timid bird.
Today, the Sherbrooke Lyrebird Survey Group has recorded more than 150 superb lyrebirds in the area. With a handful of walking tracks throughout this breathtaking section of the national park the best chance of sighting the elusive bird is visiting between June and August.
Some accessible walking trails can be reached from Grant's Picnic Ground (70 Monbulk Road), where visitors and buses tend to flock on weekends to hand-feed the equally numerous crimson rosellas or cockatoos.
Leading off the car park is The Margaret Lester Forest Loop Walk, a 300-metre boardwalk through mountain ash and tree ferns that also has wheelchair access.
Hardy Gully Nature Walk is an easy 700-metre walk through the cool, lush rainforest, while for ardent bushwalkers the Eastern Sherbrooke Forest Walk is a steeper and longer trail at about 7.1 kilometres.
Just outside of the Kallista village on Perrins Creek Road, is a secluded and tree-fern-lined picnic ground. Access is via the footbridge that crosses Sassafras Creek.
Johns Hill Reserve on Ridge Road offers a panorama of the broad green valley and surrounding ranges to the north. Grazing land and Cardinia Reservoir can be seen to the south.
To get there follow Kallista-Emerald Road from the roundabout, turn right at Grantulla Road and then left into Ridge Road.
Vintage Cookbooks (79 Monbulk Road, 9755 3890) is full of rare and pre-loved literature on gastronomy and wine, including that of renowned chef and author Julia Child.
Check out speciality bookseller Barbara Russell's insightful blog on tried and tasted recipes at vintagecookbooks.com.au.
Two doors down is Wilga. This ladies' clothing boutique occupies a former butcher's shop, has its own label created by owner-designer Tamarind Croft, plus other quality made and handpicked items (83 Monbulk Road, 9755 3855).
Near the roundabout is the snug indoor Kallista Biodynamic Market. Known locally as "Fred's", it sells a good range of reasonably priced biodynamic and organic produce, meats plus groceries (77 Monbulk Road, 9752 0150).
Immediately behind the biodynamic shop, via the gravel driveway is the enchanting Epoche.
Specialising in organic and natural-made Steiner-inspired products it has an assortment of toxin-free children's toys such as eco-play doh, plus an interesting selection of books and gifts on offer (9755 1952, epoche.com.au).
From 9am to 1pm on the first Saturday of the month (except January), the long-running Kallista community market is held in the village square on Church Street. It has plants, seedlings, bulbs, foods, handmade goods and crafts, plus tarot readings and art.
An unexpected find among the trees is the Gaudi-inspired Wood Alchemy gallery.
Built by local artist Yanni Rigos, the former carpenter has crafted more than 40,000 exquisite boxes in the past 20 years.
These encompass jewellery, pen and document boxes, plus his elaborate fable-like sculptures that are made from rare native Australian woods. Gallery visits are by appointment (9755 2722, woodalchemy.com).
Where to eat
Consistently mentioned in The Age Cheap Eats guide, the Kallista Deli is a compact cafe that offers fortifying gourmet fare for breakfast and lunch (78a Monbulk Road, 9755 2887). Two doors along, The Mad Raven Pizza Deluxe creates fabulous organic and contemporary flavoured pizzas on a sourdough base. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 5.30pm, bookings are essential if eating within its diminutive space (78c Monbulk Road, 9755 2911).
Somewhat of a local institution, just down the road is the Kallista Tea Rooms; a distinct art deco building that was constructed in the mid 1900s.
Today, the interior has a slightly retro feel, is family friendly and offers simple, home-style cooking, a good selection of cakes plus Devonshire teas and their flavoursome homemade berry jams (103 Monbulk Road, 9755 2659, kallista-tearooms.com.au).
A former general store and kiosk, Cook's Corner Cafe and Food Store sits at the picturesque junction of Kallista-Emerald and Grantulla roads, right next to the national park.
Amid the weatherboard country house-style setting, it serves ambrosial lunches and dinners, plus boutique pantry type goodies such as its decadent Cacao chocolates (9752 1380, cookscornercafe.com.au).
Where to stay
Katrina Lodge Bed and Breakfast has a two-storey self-contained cedar chalet set amid verdant forest, with a king-size spa enclosed by timber and glass. Alternatively, there is the more intimate Sunrise Suite in the main house.
The chalet is from $220 a night mid week, while the suite is from $130, including breakfast provisions (76 Sassafras Creek Road, 9755 3375, katrinalodge.com.au).
A lesser-known place to stay is Briserenia Gardens, set on 1.6 hectares with extensive mountain and valley views. Accommodation is provided in its selection of cosy self-contained cottages, suites and apartments. It costs from $179 a night mid week (35 Kallista-Emerald Road, The Patch, 9756 7837, shortstays.com.au).
Kallista is an hour's drive east of Melbourne via Burwood Highway and Monbulk Road. Regular trains run to Belgrave station, from where bus No.663 heads to Lilydale via Kallista. See metlinkmelbourne.com.au.
The Dandenong Ranges Visitor Centre, 1211 Burwood Highway, Upper Ferntree Gully, phone 97587522, see dandenongrangestourism.com.au.