Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our First Great Melburnian Road Trip: Sassafras and Healesville Sanctuary

Friday, June 16, 2017

Our First Great Melburnian Road Trip: Sassafras and Healesville Sanctuary

up in the mountains and down in the bushland
Tullamarine International Airport
On Friday, June 9, Bill arrived in Melbourne to join me. It so happened that Monday, June 12, is the public holiday known as the Queen’s Birthday. The second Monday of June is considered fine weather during the first month away from all the other traditional holidays and deemed fit for celebrating a Monarch’s birthday even if the sitting Queen’s birthday may actually be on a different date. In fact, the current Queen’s is in April. Thus, Bill chanced upon the only long weekend during our entire vacation.

We put the weekend to good use, regardless of Bill’s jet lag! April and Clint had not been to Sassafras in the Dandenong Mountain Range and the Healesville Sanctuary in the Yarra Valley. The duo became our first great Melburnian road trip. Before heading up to Sassafras, we passed by the home of my friend from elementary school days. There the famous brand of Filipino hospitality was on full display. The Filipino/American brunch was bountiful and they even packed all the leftovers for us!

outdoor cafe, specialty stores, bonsai garden, tea room in Sassafras

Sassafras is just under a half an hour away from their house and an hour’s drive from the Melbourne Central Business District which is only 15 minutes from April’s apartment. It is a township with a population of less than a thousand, located at an altitude of over 1,500 feet, near the top of the Dandenong Range ridgeline, a couple of miles south of Mount Dandenong, the highest peak. It was opened to small-scale farming in 1893. Today, the small village is a bustling tourist destination.

There are several boutique stores
where we browsed antique, art, craft
Sassafras specialty stores and our takeaway souvenir!
and specialty goods that are hand-picked and hand-crafted quality items, from wooden toys to potted flowers, fragrant candles, and natural fiber clothing. April fell in love with and brought home a top made from Austrian beechwood.  Bill and I found a book we will cherish, “In Your Seventies…and Still Having Fun.” And we had the traditional afternoon tea of scones, bread pudding, coffee and tea at the must-visit Miss
Maples Tea Room where we had to go back after an hour and a half for our reservation.

If it were not that cold, we could have just bought some ready food hamper at the delis for a gourmet picnic in the Village Green, visited the nearby Alfred Nicholas and George Tindale Gardens, hiked the 5-mile Sassafras Creek Forest Trail, or biked to the Skyhigh Observatory at the Peak. But, since it was a pretty chilly winter afternoon, although we were so fortunate it was sunny and not partly cloudy as forecasted, we simply drove the serene forest roads and occasionally ventured out to take photos.

Healesville Sanctuary

We drove down to about 9 miles to a foothill suburb of Melbourne and stayed for the night at the Ferntree Gully Hotel. The Healesville Sanctuary is just an hour’s drive from the hotel through the famed Yarra Valley, one of Victoria's beautiful wine regions. Over the long weekend, the specialty zoo teamed up with the giants of the Valley and staged “Wine and Wildlife,” featuring the best of Australian food and wine at the place where twenty-one threatened local species of wildlife are being saved from endangerment or extinction.

event spaces in the Sanctuary; Kyrie asking for more wine!

From 11 am to 4 pm on each of the three days of the long weekend, five event spaces showcased local wineries, craft breweries, and winter food while roaring open fires raged to the sound of live acoustic music. We had our fill of all the wine and beer tastings, free with the admission of A$32, plus samples of specialty chocolates. There were different dishes available for buying but we zeroed in on the grilled lamb chops with its sauce oozing into the specialty bread. We also wanted the braised beef and Thai chicken pies but they were sold out when we came up in line so we had the last three roast lamb pies!

a baby kangaroo in Mama kangaroo's pouch, a baby koala, dingos,
an Australian pelican, and lovebirds in the wild

But the best part of the day were the Australian native animals that are being nursed in the Sanctuary backdrop of the bushland setting. Kyrie loved feeding the hungry Emu, threw a tantrum when his parents banned him from mingling with the many kangaroos romping around, some carrying little ones in their pouches, and scared away many a colorful parrot by his eagerness. I had a heyday taking photos, including those of koala bears napping on the tree branches, the kookaburras on the old gum tree, the rock wallabies, echidnas, possums, dingos, pelicans, reptiles, the Tasmanian devil, and other Aussie wildlife. 

Such was my first weekend with Bill in Melbourne. It was a hugely exciting two days, the first of three great road trips we had planned on making together here in Down Under’s version of the Land of Oz!   

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