Northeast of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley stretches out towards the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, with Yarra Glen and Healesville the targets for excursions into the wine country and the superb forest scenery beyond. To the east, and still within the suburban limits, the cool Dandenong Ranges have been a popular retreat for city folk for over a century, with quaint villages, fine old houses, beautiful flowering gardens and shady forests of eucalypts and tree ferns. To get to all these destinations and to have a good look round, you really need your own vehicle.
Like the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, the Dandenong hills are enveloped in a blue haze rising from the forests of gum trees here. Rain ensures the area stays cool and lush, while fine old houses and gardens add to the scenery. Easy bushwalks in the Dandenong Ranges National Park start from Upper Ferntree Gully, accessible by train or by car via the Burwood Highway. The most picturesque route is along the winding Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, lined with mountain ash trees and quaint little villages, many with small cafés, galleries or craft shops that make for a pleasant pit stop.
HEALESVILLE is a small, pleasant town nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. The town's main attraction is the renowned Healesville Sanctuary, a bushland zoo with more than two hundred species of Australian animals and a refuge for injured and orphaned animals, some of which are subsequently returned to the wild. It's a fascinating place in a beautiful setting, with a stream running through park-like grounds, dense with gum trees and cool ferns, and 3km of walking tracks. The informative "meet the keeper" presentations are worth joining, especially the one featuring the birds of prey ("Spirits of the Sky").
Just half an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is home to around eighty of Victoria’s best small wineries. Wine country starts in outer suburbia north of the Maroondah Highway just before Lilydale (turn-offs are signposted). North of Lilydale, you can check out wineries (again, all signposted) along or near three routes – the Warburton Highway to the east, the Maroondah Highway to Healesville, and the Melba Highway, heading north past Yarra Glen.