The Best of the Yarra Valley: Things to Do in Healesville on a Whirlwind Day Out
There are lots of good things about living in Melbourne (food, culture, bars, etc). One of the draw cards for me, is its close proximity to many very neat regional areas.
Victoria is not a big state by any means, but there is so much packed into it. And due to its not so bigness, many of the sights are a stone throw away from the state capital – making them perfect destinations for a single day out (or a weekend, if you fancy stretching out your time there).
One of the more popular destinations for a day trip, is the Yarra Valley. At just over an hour’s drive from the heart of Melbourne, it’s well worth making a trip out there if you fancy a bit of a city break.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to concentrate on the town of Healesville and surrounds. If you like good food, fancy yourself a connoisseur of fine wines, enjoy nature or really just like getting out of the house, then this is the destination for you. And if wine is indeed your thing, check out this list of wine regions in Australia.
Here are some things to do in Healesville, which you can easily pack into a single day.
Grab some sweet treats at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie
Warning – the contents of this article are going to be heavily food and beverage based. If you’re totally down with that, then make a point of heading to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie.
Here you can sample some sweet treats on arrival, before getting down to the serious decision of which precise chocolates you’re going to walk away with.
The store is massive and has a pretty decent choice of choc – your usual milk, darks and whites for sure, but also the strangest mixes. There are the beautifully packaged chocolates from their Gourmet series (which come with flavours such as Lemon Lime & Mint and the absolutely delightful sounding Praline, Coconut & Macadamia), hot chocolate sets, chocolate balls of all kinds of flavours and even chocolate infused lip balms, body oils and soap.
Something for any sugar lover, for sure.
And afterwards, you can let the kids burn off their sugar highs running around the outside garden, whilst you take in the view of the surrounding valley.
Visit the Healesville Sanctuary
I personally prefer to visit animal sanctuaries over most zoos (unless the zoo in question has a strong conservation program, which many in Australia do). In many cases, the animals in these sanctuaries have been injured in the wild and are often re-released, upon on their recovery. In other circumstances, they’re unable to be released and the sanctuary provides them with a home that’s as close to their natural habitat as possible.
Visiting Healesville Sanctuary is great fun, because you can book onto close encounters with several of its inhabitants. We got up close to rescue echidnas and wombats. ‘Twas good fun to see these unique Australian mammals (truth be told, most of my run ins with them have been passing them lying dead on the side of roads) and learn a little more about them.
Gem the wombat was quite cute in particular – orphaned at a young age and unable to be released back into the wild, she is rapidly approaching adolescence. As a baby, she’s unfazed by both keeper and audience, munching on sweet potato and grain while we pat her. Wombats are quite aggressive creatures and when she officially becomes an adult, it’ll be a different story altogether.
You’d probably need at least a couple of hours to do the sanctuary justice (especially if you spend as much time gazing adoringly at the birds as I do). If you’re childless, your best bet is to rock up first thing in the morning, or early afternoon to avoid the crowds of families in attendance.
Drink all the wine
And now for a far more adult activity.
You can’t visit the Yarra Valley without partaking in some wine tasting. Well, you can. I guess. If you’re not into that sort of thing. Personal preferences and all.
So, I’ll reword that. If wine is something you enjoy immensely, then you can’t come to the Yarra Valley and not do a wee bit (or a lot) of wine tasting.
The region is best known for its Pinot Noir, but never fear if you’re not a red drinker – there’s vino for everyone.
Do keep in mind that many of the vineyards along the main stretch of road do charge for tastings (criminal), but you’re refunded that amount if you buy a bottle off them.
One thing I do implore of you – if you are driving, then please be careful and don’t drink too much. Either share the driving with other members of your group, or seriously limit what you drink. Safety is sexy and all that.
If you don’t like wine, drink all the gin
If wine isn’t your thing (yet you can get in the spirit for spirits), head to the Four Pillars Distillery instead. Here you can partake in gin-tasting rather than wine and pick up some of their locally distilled gin.
You don’t have to travel far either – Four Pillars is conveniently located right in the middle of Healesville.
Eat some cheese, please
Wine and cheese do tend to go together just about as well as the characters in Grease: The Musical (Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong). I’ll stop with the “jokes” now, I promise.
Yet, if you are in the mood for something to complement your wine, head to the Coldstream Dairy for not only cheese, but a delicious array of chutneys, dips and oils as well.
There were five cheese on display when I visited – I left with samples from three. Enough said.
Have a picnic at Maroondah Reservoir Park
For a breather and a bit of nature, head to Maroondah Reservoir Park, known locally as the Maroondah Dam.
It’s the perfect place for a spot of bird-watching and a picnic. There’s a play area for children and some lovely gardens.
Those feeling a little bit adventurous or merely somewhat fit can also climb up the dam well, for panoramic views of the dam itself. It’s not a bad sight at all.
Explore the main street of Healesville
The Maroondah Highway intersects the town of Healesville and it’s worth spending a little time wandering around the main strip.
There are plenty of boutique stores, a bookshop and of course, bottle-o’s. You can also grab a bite to eat at any of the cafés, or have a drink in one of the incredibly beautiful pubs that align the street.
We had dinner at the aforementioned Innocent Bystanders restaurant/vineyard. They make a stellar pizza.
Where to Stay
So, keen to get out to Healesville and fancy making a weekend of it?
If you’re on a tight budget, why not spend a night in the beautiful Grand Hotel, right in town?
If you want to stay somewhere really neat, I’d go for The Old Mechanics (I am simply drooling over the front of house of these apartments).
And if you’re travelling as a group then consider booking out this four bedroom home.
So there you have it! Those are just some of the things to do in Healesville, in the Yarra Valley. It’s an itinerary which works for families, couples, friends or those who choose to fly solo, wherever they go.
Have you been to Healesville, or anywhere else in the Yarra Valley?
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