By Tilly Smith Dix

The warmer season is spreading its sultry kisses across our Yarra Valley & Ranges, with vivacious shades of cerise and powder pink rhododendrons, pink peonies, lavender wisteria, and bright white jasmine bursting from the constraints of their spring buds. The bees are lazily sampling nectar from this smorgasbord of heady fragrances lingering like a gossamer mist. The parrots, red wattle birds, thrushes and cheeky ravens are chorusing their joy.

We’ve entered the daylight saving phase of the warmer seasons, and identifying the different bird calls in our garden, from the sweet whistle of the crimson rosellas to the joyful chirp of the little black thrushes, the choc-choc of the red wattle birds and the demanding cawing of a juvenile crow, this happy cacophony makes for a spectacular daybreak.

Clockwise from top left: crow feeding in our garden; pink peonies at Art at Linden Gate garden; cerise rhododendrons in our garden.

The young crow is always demanding treats from its bustling mother at the bottom of the garden, which makes for all-day comic relief as it has such a feisty personality. Testing its running skills around the little fish pond, it has taken command of this small territory. Unafraid, it will even try to chase our cat, to her obvious and often vocal irritation. If this pushy juvenile had attempted such antics on our Cathy some years ago when she was younger and more agile, it might have been missing an eye by now.

As I have mentioned at nauseum, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic meanders and just as our long winter was coming to a close, we embarked on a drive on a rainy day for a long overdue visit to the picturesque town of Marysville. The late snow on the nearby slopes had already melted and the drive through vineyards and forestry via Healesville, past the postcard-perfect Maroondah Catchment Lake was magical.

The historic little town of Marysville was rebuilt after a devastating fire some years ago and has managed to reclaim and maintain its alpine village charm.

Clockwise from left: burgundy pot pie at Fraga’s Cafe in Marysville; Steavenson Falls; the road from Healesville to Marysville.

After a delicious lunch of burgundy beef pot pie with golden fries and a fresh garden salad, accompanied by a glass of Yarra Valley bubbles for me and a local cider for himself at a cosy eatery called Fraga’s Café,  we drove to nearby Steavenson Falls. Described as one of Victoria’s most imposing cascades, we were not disappointed.

Interestingly, the falls light itself by night by driving a small hydro-electric turbine which provides power to the floodlights. How neat is that?

The Steavenson River starts its life at an elevation of 350m on the crest of the Great Dividing Range. The forested catchment ensures a year-round flow, resulting in a captivating tourism attraction.

The falls and the river were named in the early 1860s when the Victorian Assistant Commissioner of Roads and Bridges, John Steavenson, set up a base in Marysville, which he named after his wife. From here, he supervised the construction of the road to the Woods Point Goldfields.

Having previously flown over part of the Great Dividing Ranges from Coldstream Airport, it was a treat visiting Marysville by road. Locals are friendly and welcoming, resulting in many visitors from near and far returning to this delightful locale.

Art in our valley and ranges comes in many forms as this certainly is an ideal location for anyone with a creative bone in their body.  The enveloping beauty and prolifically defined seasons would bring out the creative in the most dyed-in-the-wool accountant – no disrespect to bean-counters intended, just saying…

Tarrawarra Museum and gallery in Healesville.

Attending a Yarra Valley & Ranges Tourism presentation at nearby Tarrawarra Museum proved an enlightening evening. The vistas of vineyards, hills, woodlands, dam, wood-ducks and impressive architecture of the museum, not to mention delicious food and wine, made for a most convivial event. The captivating art created by local artists were a perfect diversion during a busy week. My next visit will include sampling lunch in the restaurant to further explore the chef’s culinary alchemy as the catering on the night was a triumph.

During the effervescent tourism presentation, and yes, we had delicious bubbles, I met another art gallery owner, Reggie Clark, who manages Art at Linden Gate, a short drive from Tarrawarra on the Yarra Glen-Healesville Road.

No arm-twisting was required for me to pay a visit to her gallery after a quick lunch at a Yarra Glen bistro a few days later. The property offers self-catering accommodation which has been popular with city folks wishing to savour panoramic country life, the fruits of the vine, art, vineyards, cheese, cuisine and spectacular birdlife of the region.

Clockwise from right: Leaving the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel Bistro; views, sculpture and gallery at Art at Linden Gate near Yarra Glen.

Horses and cattle can be seen in the meadows through the gallery windows and from the room decks by day, whilst kangaroos, wombats and other wildlife complement the post-card charm of Art at Linden Gate by night.

Reggie’s father is the highly acclaimed sculptor Ernst Fries, who transforms stainless steel into art with meaning and enduring emotion.

Naturally, my (often) better half would feel ignored if I did not mention aviation in my review. A 40-minute flight from Coldstream Airport to Lake Eppalock to attend a fly-in to a private airfield named Unusual Attitudes on a bright sunny day, offered superb visibility over our valley of plenty.

Clockwise from top: cloud clearing over Coldstream; Coldstream Airport rural vista; Nanchang CJ-6 at Unusual Attitudes airfield.

The glorious tapestry of life never ceases to amaze me as not only did this bring-your-own-barbeque-picnic prove an intimate gem of a day but new friendships were forged.

While the boys played with and admired each other’s (winged) toys, the gals clustered and chatted like happy hens, known as chooks here in Aussie. Over an ice-cold bottle of Yarra Burn Brut, I met a South African couple who has survived heartbreak and hardship, some of which were covered on Carte Blanche, the actuality television news programme in South Africa some years ago. They are now happily settled in Melbourne and I salute them for their determination to overcome a ‘hard yard,’ as they so bravely describe their past journey.

Stories of woe improve when accompanied by crisp bubbly and a chop or two from the barbie and it did not take long for laughter to once again lift our spirits to remind us that this, despite its ups and downs, is a good life indeed.

Sharing heart-warming stories with a bevy of like-minded women, who treated me like one of their own, resulted in contact details being exchanged and this newbie feeling like she belonged.

Naturally, we admired the aviation demonstrations, of which the Chinese replica of a Soviet Yak, the Nanchang CJ-6, is a real beauty, mate, before resuming our ya-ya sisterhood bonding.

Cheers to the good life, here’s to a fabulous season, wherever you are…

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