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Olinda, VIC

Beautiful town at the northern end of the Dandenong Ranges famed for its glorious gardens

Olinda - the highest village in the Dandenongs - is a small and rather beautiful settlement noted for its cafes and its many art, antique and handicraft galleries. With easy access to the National Rhododendron Garden, the William Ricketts Sanctuary, the R.J. Hamer Forest Arboretum, the Cloudehill Nursery and Gardens, and the Pirianda Gardens, the area is known as the heart of the Dandenong gardens.


Olinda, the highest village in the Dandenongs, is located 49 km east of the Melbourne CBD via the M3.


Origin of Name

In 1858 a creek in the area was named Olinda after Alice Olinda Hodgkinson, the daughter of Victoria's Acting Surveyor General, Clement Hodgkinson. It was a short step for the settlement to be named after the creek. 


Things to See and Do

The Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden (formerly the National Rhododendron Garden)
Located only 500 metres north of Olinda along the Olinda-Monbulk Road, the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden is set in a natural amphitheatre of mountain ash, oaks, maples and beeches which are an integral part of a 42 ha garden which is home to 15,000 rhododendrons, 12,000 azaleas, 250,000 daffodils and cherry tree groves, all of which blossom in spring. The 3,000 camellias are best seen in winter and there are also proteas, magnolias and Japanese maples. Birdlife includes the superb lyrebird, king parrots, crimson rosellas and peacocks. There is a self-guided walk which covers 5 km of winding tracks and can take three hours. Shorter sections can be taken. The paths offer views of the Australian Alps and beyond Silvan Reservoir Park. There is also a year-round Garden Tour in a 13-seat people mover which leaves every thirty minutes between 11.00 am - 3.00 pm in summer and winter and between 10.30 am and 3.30 pm in spring and autumn.
There is the Cafe Vireya (open Saturday and Sunday and seven days a week from 14 September to 24 November from 10.30 am - 4.00 pm), an information centre, a gift shop, a gatehouse, a nursery, gazebos, grassed picnic areas, moorlands, rock gardens, fern gullies and toilet facilities. In spring and autumn there are special garden tours, talks and demonstrations. The Gardens are open from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm daily and entrance is free. Tel: (03) 8427 2087 (the gift shop) or Parks Victoria on 131 963. There is an excellent map and detailed brochure which can be downloaded at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/315705/Park-note-National-Rhododendron-Gardens-spring.pdf.

R.J. Hamer Forest Arboretum
Lying to the east of Olinda, the R.J. Hamer Forest Arboretum (100 ha) has an outstanding collection of over 200 native and exotic tree and shrub species from around the world, including maples, liquid ambers, ash, elms, birch, conifers and oaks. Historically it was set aside in 1970 (after much of the forest had been destroyed by the bushfire of 1962) for recreation and relaxation. In 1976 60 ha were set aside adn over 100 different species were planted. It has a number bush walking tracks through the arboretum. There are also picnic and barbecue facilities. The site is open daily and entry is free. Tours are available by appointment, tel: 131 963. Access from Olinda is via Monbulk Road and Chalet Road. There is an excellent map and detailed brochure which can be downloaded at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/315794/Park-note-RJ-Hamer-Arboretum.pdf

Cloudehill Nursery and Gardens
Located at 89 Olinda-Monbulk Road, is Cloudehill, award-winning formal gardens described on the website as "Made on an easterly slope at the top of the Dandenongs, Cloudehill is at an altitude of 580 metres. The garden has deep volcanic loam soil and 1.25 metres of rainfall. This falls most of the year, though February, March and April are drier. There is little frost, more snow than frost in fact. These factors go to explain why the Dandenongs is one of the outstanding places to garden worldwide." The map at http://www.cloudehill.com.au/about.html describes twenty places of interest in the gardens, describes the best times to experience each of the places and is a vital resource for everyone wanting to experience the full beauty of this remarkable garden.
For example: "C The Commedia dell’arte Lawn - cut out sculpture figures float above strips of rough grass which are full of South African bulbs flowering in spring and early summer. Two glorious and rare Japanese shrubs, Enkianthus perulatus, flank the steps at the base of this meadow. These were imported from Japan in the ’20s."
This is a garden which deserves hours of careful enjoyment and regular visits through the different seasons.
Cloudehill's formal gardens are surrounded by woodlands of maple, beech, magnolia and rhododendron which feature fields of bluebells, daffodils, nerines and grape hyacinths. The trees date back to the earliest days of the Woolrich Nursery and are now quite historic.
Cloudehill is open daily from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm. There is an admission fee, tel: (03) 9751 1009. There is a detailed description and an excellent map available at http://www.cloudehill.com.au/about.html.

Pirianda Garden
Located on Hacketts Road off the Olinda-Monbulk Road is the 11 ha Pirianda Garden which has been managed by Parks Victoria since 1995. A sign at the entrance explains: "At the turn of the century Pirianda Garden was selected and cleared with the exception of tree ferns and Blackwood Wattles in the gully. In 1910 the property was purchased by Mr Crooks who planted many exotic trees including the eleven Copper Beech situated on the slope below the present house site. Later the land was sub-divided and leased for carrot and potato production. Harvey and Gillian Ansell purchased the 23 acre Pirianda property in 1959. The word 'Pirianda' is believed to mean 'sufficient' or 'enough' in Aboriginal and was chosen by Mrs Ansell because she believed this property would be sufficient for them to occupy for the rest of their lives."
The park notes explain that "As you enter the garden, you will pass through a grassy area containing many northern hemisphere trees rarely cultivated in Australia. Below this top terrace the bog garden leads past finely terraced walls built from local stone during the Ansell’s time. At the base of the garden, the natural fern gully is dominated by Blackwoods and Soft and Rough Tree Ferns, providing a shady haven during summer." The steep slopes are terraced and walking tracks pass through fern gullies where currawongs, crimson and eastern rosellas, butcher birds, honeyeaters and kookaburras make their homes. The Garden features plant species otherwise unknown in Australia and it is particularly beautiful in autumn when the exotic trees are at their finest. Pirianda Garden is open daily from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm from June to September and 10.00 am - 5.00 pm during the rest of the year, tel: 131 963. There is no admission fee and there is an excellent map and detailed brochure which can be downloaded at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/315718/Park-note-Pirianda-Garden.pdf.

William Ricketts Sanctuary
Located north of Mount Dandenong on Mount Dandenong Tourist Road is the William Ricketts Sanctuary which features a series of kiln-fired clay sculptures (made of clay and fired at 1200°C) created by William Ricketts who bought the land in 1934. From 1949 to 1960 he made numerous trips to Central Australia to live with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte Aboriginal people whose culture and traditions inspired his sculpture. From 1970 to 1972 he lived in India where he experienced a spiritual affinity with the Indian people. While there he spent some time at an ashram in Pondicherry. Ricketts continued to live and work on his four-acre plot until his death, at the age of 94 years, in 1993.
Ricketts' works were inspired by the attitude of the Aboriginal people towards the land. The clay sculptures of Aboriginal people articulate his view that all humans should follow the example of Aborigines and act as custodians of the natural environment. There is a circular walk around the gardens which have moss and lichen-covered rocks, waterfalls, tall mountain ash, ferns and shady paths. They are positioned so they appear to be a part of the natural environment. The ambience is that of a peaceful sanctuary and this is reinforced by titles like "Tree of Life", "Life Harmonious" and "Everlasting Home". There are toilets, a visitor centre, a gallery, a kiln display and a log cabin visual display. Car parking is available opposite the sanctuary. The sanctuary is open from 10.00 am to 4.30 pm daily. There is excellent information at https://www.dandenongrangespoint.com.au/attractions/william-ricketts-sanctuary.


Other Attractions in the Area

Dandenong Ranges National Park
Dandenong Ranges National Park (3,540 ha) was declared in 1987 when the Ferntree Gully National Park, Sherbrooke Forest and Doongalla Estate were amalgamated. A decade later the Olinda State Forest, Mount Evelyn and Montrose Reserve were added. The park, which stretches from Kalorama in the north to Belgrave in the south is primarily a place for walking, sightseeing, picnicking, nature observation and car touring. More than 350 plant species have been recorded in the park, including the rare cinnamon wattle and smooth tea-tree, 130 bird species, 31 species of mammals (most are nocturnal), 21 reptile species and nine amphibians.
Parks Victoria has divided the park into four distinct areas:
* Olinda Area
* Doongalla Area
* Ferntree Gully Area
* Sherbrooke Area
Each has its own attractions and they can best be explored by:
(a) check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/dandenong-ranges-national-park and downloading the specific Visitor Guides for each section.
(b) checking out Aussie Towns specific entries on Belgrave, Dandenong, Emerald, Upper Ferntree Gully, Kallista, Kalorama, Monbulk, Pakenham and Sherbrooke.

The Olinda and Doongalla Area
The northern section of the park, known as Olinda and Doongalla, extends from the town of Olinda north to the town of Kalorama and east towards Silvan Reservoir Park. It is characterised by relatively undisturbed habitat. The gang-gang cockatoo, superb parrot, lyrebird and wedge-tailed eagle, possums, bats and gliders (all nocturnal), swamp wallabies and the rare broad-toothed rat are all found in this section of the park which consists primarily of dry forest of messmate and narrow-leaved peppermint eucalyptus, although there are wetter gullies where tree ferns, manna gum, mountain grey gum and swamp gum can be found.
There are eight picnic areas in the Olinda section.
* Olinda Falls Picnic Ground
* Eagle Nest Picnic Ground
* Kalorama Park
* Mount Dandenong Aboretum
* Valley Picnic Ground
* Doongalla Stables Picnic Area
* Doongalla Homestead Picnic Area
* Silvan Reservoir Park

See https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/695865/DRNP-visitor-guide-north.pdf for two good maps.

Walking around the Doongalla and Olinda Sections
This is an ideal area for bushwalking. The best walks start from the picnic areas and range from from a 1.2 km walk to a 6.5 km walk. They range from easy to challenging. Parks Victoria recommend five walks of differing difficulty.
* Olinda Falls – 1.2 km, 30 minutes circuit - this walk starts at the Olinda Falls Picnic Ground and includes viewing platforms over Olinda Falls and Olinda Creek as well as a pleasant walk through thick forest. It returns to the Picnic Ground.
* Eagle Nest Walk – 3 km, 60 minutes circuit - this is an easy to moderate walk which starts at Valley Picnic Ground, proceeds to the Eagle Nest Picnic Ground and returns to Valley Picnic Ground. It passes through a range of forest types (mountain grey gums, fern gullies and dry bushland
* Valley Walk – 6.5 km, 3.5 hrs circuit - this is a steep and rocky walk for experienced walkers which starts with the Eagle Nest Walk (ie from the Eagle Nest Picnic Ground) and continues via Barges Road to Predator Track and back to Valley Picnic Ground.
* Doongalla Stables Track Loop – 1.9 km, 45 minutes circuit - this walk starts from the Doongalla Stables parking area and follows the Stables Track, has a short steep climb uphill until it joins Camelia Track and then joins the Doongalla Forest Road and heads back to the car park and picnic area. The gullies along Dandenong Creek support mountain ash while the drier more exposed slopes are characterised by long-leaved box and red stringybark communities. Birdlife in this section of the park includes pardalote, mistletoe birds, ravens, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, thornbills, eastern yellow robins, New Holland honeyeaters, whipbirds, golden whistlers, boobook and powerful owls. Goannas, grass skinks  and echidnas can be seen in the daytime although most of the park's mammals are nocturnal.
* Channel 10 Track/ Camelia Loop – 3.6 km, 1.5 hour circuit This long walk starts at the Channel 10 Track at the Doongalla Homestead car park and provides panoramic views of Melbourne to Port Philip Bay and the You Yangs, detour via Zig Zag Track to Burkes Lookout, and, if you are keen for a longer walk, to Mount Dandenong Observatory and the Sky High Restaurant

Mt Dandenong Observatory and Sky High Restaurant
The Mount Dandenong Observatory is 621 m above sea-level (the highest point in the Dandenongs) it offers spectacular views of Melbourne, Port Phillip Bay, the You Yangs and Mt Macedon.
SkyHigh, basically a wedding venue and restaurant, is located near the Observatory and enjoys impressive views across Melbourne. It offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in the restaurant we well as landscaped gardens with views over the city, a maze and a short bushwalk. Check out https://www.skyhighmtdandenong.com.au for more details.



* Prior to European settlement the area was home to the Woiwurrung Aboriginal people.

* The forests drew timber getters in the early days of European settlement who supplied a growing market in Melbourne.

* The first European in the Dandenongs was botanist Daniel Bunce in 1839. Guided by a party of Aboriginal people he climbed Mount Corhanwarrabul (628 m) and Mount Dandenong (633 m) - the two highest peaks in the ranges.

* The first European settlers in the Olinda area were the Holden family who camped on the slopes from 1855 and felled mountain ash until the turn of the century.

* Official settlement began in the 1870s and fruit-growing accompanied timber getting. * Guest houses and tea rooms were established to encourage tourists when fruit prices fell.

* By the mid-1890s ten acre lots were being sold in the district.

* Olinda was the only settlement in the hills to be formally laid out thanks largely to the efforts of John Dodd who opened the first shop in the main street in 1893.

* Between 1900 and 1906 the settlement gained a post office, a school and a number of churches.

* By 1910 sections of the district had been cleared and were being used for vegetable growing and orchards.

* After 1910 dairying took over as the dominant local industry.

* A Mechanics Institute was built in 1913.

* Distinguished Australian artist Arthur Streeton bought a house here in the 1920s.

* Famous crime novelist Arthur Upfield stayed at a lodge on Mount Dandenong in 1938 and used the area as the setting for two of his detective novels, The Devil's Step (1946) and An Author Bites the Dust (1948).

* After World War II the area became a commuter suburb for Melbourne


Visitor Information

Olinda Visitor Centre, 5 Main Street, Olinda


Useful Websites

There is an official site. Check out https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/olinda.

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