Yarra Valley, Victoria.
We had found an AirBnb for the Yarra Valley. We needed a spot to be for a few days, to base ourselves to see this area. I have to admit, the Yarra Valley wasn’t high on our list of destinations, but we were curious since many raved about how pretty it was. The Dandenongs were nearby and where we stayed was right on the edge.
When we arrived at our stay, it was the downstairs on a house and tucked around the back, so the views looked out onto the hills. It was a lovely spot. When we walked inside, we were overwhelmed by the MASSIVE television that was installled on one wall. It took your eye right away. But once you got over the shock of that monster, the place was really lovely. It was set up with their guests clearly in mind. This host, a lovely woman from Manchester , had really though of everything, down to some home baked goodies and a bottle of red wine (or white in the fridge if you preferred that instead).
We’re actually starting to wonder if IKEA has an agreement with AirBnb because it seems that every play we stay is outfitted with stuff from IKEA. It doesn’t matter where it is, but it always seems like IKEA has been used to outfit the places. You can tell right away but with this place, it was done in style. And practicality of course.
This place was definitely being put on our Top 10 Airbnbs in Australia list. We loved it so much that we actually ended up extending our stay an extra day.
What surprised us was there was a lot to see in the Yarra Valley. Our host went through some highlights, recommended some places and it all sounded great.
We planned our time while we were there.
Mount Dandenong was on our list. After exploring the area in the morning, we ended up buying lunch at the local bakery there which was so yum. We ended up settling in for a while, just taking in the local atmosphere. We were tucked into a corner, eating our chicken paninis with really strong flat whites, and we watched people come and go. It was definitely a local favourite. We stayed long enough to get a second coffee and a housemade apple strudel. I only wish I could buy every single day – OK, maybe not. That would be bad but MAN it was good.
We drove around the mountains, looking for an overlook of the city and could only find one where you had to pay to see the views.
From what we could determine, through our trusty TripAdvisor app, this was a great place to see the views from but I refuse to pay $12 (for two of us) just to look at a view. We decided to head to another village and get a coffee instead.
We stopped in at Warrandyte and it was a great place to wander. Lots of shops to poke in and out of and great coffee to keep us wandering. (Can you see the trend starting?!)
The best part though was the river that ran the length of the town. It was so picturesque. People sat on benches along the way, catching up with friends. Some played with their kids, throwing pebbles into the water. Others, like us, just wandered, watching how the light caught the water, or the trees… it was a lovely and very relaxing place to be.
Over the course of a few days, we explored alot. Day one just gave us a taste.
Upon the same recommendation of our hostess, we discovered an art colony, Montslavat. It looked straight out of the French history books. It had such amazing character. Every nook and cranny had something interesting. The church may have held 20 people at the most, and it looked to be used primarily for weddings. But add in a Bride and Groom and this place would be standing room only quite easily.
The reception hall, or great hall, held great fascination for us. Upstairs held an art gallery, with pieces from the creator of the art colony. His art was simplistic, paintings of everyday things. Honestly, I believe his talent lay in architecture or set design at the very least.
You see, downstairs held something like Harry Potter’s mess hall. Long wooden tables lined up under massive candelabras. It was dark and oppressive almost, but my minds was ablaze with what it could be, what functions would be held. That’s when I saw the leftovers of what looked to be a wedding reception. Perfect spot I thought, until I looked closer and noticed it was for a very upmarket baptism. As in, there were seating charts and high end favours, there were gorgeous floral arrangements. It was so over the top. I laughed at how over the top it was. The amount it would have cost – for a baptism. Ridiculous But, that’s just me.
We wandered the gardens, saw artists laying about the lawns sharing lunches, comparing canvases, sketchbooks. I’d love to do that for an afternoon. Sit and sketch. I know…there’s there’s no reason I can’t. I actually have a sketchbook and some pencils with me. Yes, it’s another creative part of me that isn’t revealed too often.
But, writing and photography have my interest right now. I don’t want to get distracted by drawing, because when I draw, I draw for hours. As in, get sucked in to what I’m working on and won’t move until I get it right.
There’s a blogger, Candace Rose who does this. She sketches the places she sees. Her work is amazing. She works in watercolours. I would love to do something like that at some point but it takes time that I can’t seem to find yet.
I’m digressing I know. I am finding it challenging being on the road and trying to find time to do everything I want to do. Most of my writing in the journals is while we’re on the road, while Rich is driving. I generally have my iPad out, typing away. It’s a good thing I can touch type so as to not miss anything. It’s also a good thing that I go back and edit!
ANYWAY, getting back to our explorations around the Dandenongs. We found ourselves returning to the hills every day, finding something new. Since we’re not to the wineries, which was much of this area, we were drawn more to nature, quirky shops, delicious lunches and ice creamies.
If you’ve been following us a while, you’ll know we are on the search for the best ice cream/gelato in the world.
We found a chocolateria in Yarra Glen, which makes their own ice cream. Challenge accepted. Despite it being winter and despite it being 4pm, the place was absolutely packed. We wondered if it was school holidays. It wasn’t but it seemed like this place was a favourite in the area with the after school crowd and tourists alike. And there were a lot of tourists in there.
Yes, yes, like us. But I don’t see myself as a tourist. To me there is a huge difference between a tourist and a traveller. A tourist hits the highlights and visits all the gift shops along the way. A traveller immerses themselves. I think that’s why we like AirBnbs so much. We get to be a part of a community for a while. We get to know the owners a little, learn more about the area, rather than from the binder on the table.
I think that was one of our favourite parts of the Yarra Valley – our Airbnb stay. We were gearing up for our two month housesit, which was right on the heals of this exploration and we were savoring not having any responsibility before we were to have a load, looking after a 5acre farm.
We were tempted to stay in the Yarra Valley but I knew that Rich would get a kick out of seeing Ballarat. It’s steeped in Australian history, being the epicenter of Victoria’s gold rush. So, I suggested we have a stop there, before heading down to the Bellarine.
We stopped for lunch at a place that TripAdvisor reviewers RAVED about, after spending a good half hour trying to find it. They didn’t say clearly it was tucked around the back of a museum.
Still, we found the Saltbush Kitchen, which specializes in meals using Australian native ingredients. I ordered the warm winter salad which was a mix of roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and an aniseed myrtle balsamic reduction, with a Gum-smoked tomato on top. Rich had the Wattleseed Quinoa. It had (duh) quinoa, watteseed camelised fennel and light vegies, with goat cheese and bush spiked chicken. Both were absolutely divine so we bought some bush spices while were there and I’m eager to buy more on our return after Western Australia. After having them on roasted vegetables, my mind went nuts.
I’m finding on this trip, that with our travel mantra of “try something new” which is something I started with Nat when she was a finicky tween, it is opening up whole new experiences. Rich had never tried fennel before. I was eager to try native ingredients and now I have they make total sense in cooking! We may not “try something new” EVERY day but when faced with what we would normally order and something different, we go for something different every time.
We were staying in another AirBnb in Ballarat, but this one was bizarre. We drove down the street and the house we had booked had a For Sale out the front. Um… I contacted the owner, as we sat in the car outside, to inquire. They had apparently bought the house a month before and the real estate agent swore they’d be taking the sign down that week. Riiiiight.
Finding the key, we unloaded what we’d need for the next two nights and researched our following day. It was getting darker, which put a broody feel to the place. It was cold and wet. The AirBnb was okay. It lacked character, which was ironic since it was an older house that had recently only been renovated. It also lacked practical furniture, but the one thing it did have was a washing machine and dryer, which we made good use of. Another reason we love Airbnb while we’re on this massive road trip.
The following day started early and after packing a picnic lunch, we went off to Soverign Hill. They already charge an absolute fortune to get into the place so a picnic was a good money saver.
Sovereign Hill is all about Victoria’s gold rush. It shows what life was life, from the living conditions, to how the shops were set up etc. It really is quite fascinating, especially when they’ve kept it real by also telling the stories of the Indigenous and the Chinese community’s involvement, both of whom were massively taken advantage of. At least they’re honest about it (now).
Sovereign Hill is like stepping into a page out of history. The only thing really that brings you back to reality is their app advertisements telling you that it will show you ‘secret’ things about what you’re seeing. I found this to be both interesting (like Disneyland and it’s hidden secrets) and offputting. I’d rather an authentic experience. But, I know enough about how younger generations work and the need to keep people engaged. It’s not enough anymore to hear the stories or listen to the acts they put on.
We tried panning for gold. Sovereign Hill actually puts gold into the creek, so that it is possible to find gold when panning. We were hopeless at it. We had three ‘residents of the town’ try and show us how to do it effectively. We were still hopeless. We did find gold though but it was so minute that even my reading glasses wouldn’t pick it up.
We only stayed two nights in Ballarat. We had washing to get done. We also wanted to walk around the town, see what it was about. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t in our favour. It was raining hard during our stay, so while our intention was there, our inclination to fight the weather was not. Mother Nature convinced us to stay in, rest, catch up and be ready for our two month housesit, which was on the heels of Ballarat visit.
We were excited to start the housesit. We’d been on the road for 3 months and we had some ‘housekeeping’ to do. We needed to get some work done. We need to get the car serviced. We needed to plan our next leg.
But the exciting part was being in a new place, looking after three dogs we’d heard so much about via email already. I was excited about having some chickens to look after.
The goats would be interesting.
We couldn’t wait to spend two months in Drysdale.