Australasia / Victoria

Marvellous Melbourne: The Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges

Through a search on AirBnb, we were very fortunate to find this awesome farmstay opportunity on a working farm located in Wandin North, which is within the Yarra Valley and not far from Melbourne.

Aquila Acres Farm Stay and Equine Learning is run by Debs Parsons, who specialises in Equine-assisted therapy. Basically, she helps people with physical, cognitive and emotional issues to work through their problems by caring for and riding the horses and ponies on her farm.

The self-catering accommodation itself is a very comfortable two bedroom converted stablehouse, and is right next to where some of the horses and ponies bed down for the night. It is real treat to wake up and watch the miniature ponies gambolling in the surrounding fields. The kids certainly enjoyed getting up in the morning and then wandering outside to feed hay to the horses and ponies whilst still in their pyjamas!


Joining in the Farm School

Aquila Acres is also partnered with the School of Cultural Creativity, which operates a Farm School, an early learning programme focussing on creativity where preschool children are encouraged to participate in self-directed exploration through being in a natural environment and working with farm animals.

On our first morning at Aquila Acres, we asked if we could join in the Farm School activities, and the teachers were all very welcoming! J, Little E and Thumper all had a grand time playing with the other children, and preparing food for the animals. They even had a chance to take one of the miniature ponies for a stroll.


Walking the miniature pony

The kids loved feeding and brushing the ponies so much, it was a real treat. They also learned how to be firm but gentle with the pony, and get the pony to follow their lead.

We wanted to explore some of the Yarra Valley countryside, so we headed to the Paperbark Cafe at Mount Evelyn for some fresh locally sourced food. The food there was absolutely delicious! The portions there were more than generous, especially the kids menu offerings, and it looked and smelled so good that little Thumper begged to be allowed a taste!


Delicious lunch at Paperbark Cafe

Paperbark Cafe is located within the Kuranga Native Nursery, so after a hearty meal, we spent a little bit of time walking around the beautiful gardens by Olinda Creek. Thumper and Little E were entranced by the lovely display of local plants and insisted on inspecting every one of them.


Looking at Australian native plants at Kuranga Native Nursery

We then drove down the Lilydale Lake which boasted a large playground and a wide, well maintained walking trail that is stroller friendly.

Thumper by this time was pretty tired and had fallen asleep in the car, so I stayed with him whilst the Barn Owl took J and Little E to the playground overlooking the lake.


Lilydale Lake

We took a brief lakeside walk before returning to Aquila Acres where the Barn Owl and I made up a quick dinner consisting of rotisserie chicken and pasta salad. The kids chowed down their meal as quick as they could as we had made arrangements for them to go for a twilight pony ride!

Debs was very kind to take some time out of her busy schedule to take the kids on a pony ride. She started off by getting them to feed and groom the ponies so that they would get to know each other.

I was amazed at how quickly J seemed to bond with his dappled grey pony, Rafferty. He began talking to Rafferty in a quiet voice and taking special care to brush all the dust out of his coat. Little E just fell in love with Amber, her sweet natured miniature pony, and couldn’t wait to get on for a ride. Both kids helped place the blankets and saddles on the pony, and then they put on riding helmets (safety first!) before trying their best to get on board.


A twilight pony ride

Debs took them on a walk around the farm – she led Rafferty, whilst the Barn Owl led Amber. I followed alongside them carrying Thumper. Every so often, one or the other of the ponies would stop to graze, and would need a little coaxing to continue.

As the stars came out, we were guided by moonlight alone which shone dimly and turned everything to silver. Sadly, our ride was cut short by the distant roar of thunder, and we barely made it back in time before the first few drops started to fall. This didn’t stop J from giving his beloved Rafferty a final brush down and handful of hay, though!

The next morning, we planned to visit Grants Picnic Ground in Sherbrooke Forest on the way back to the Melbourne CBD. It was raining on and off, but we thought we might still be able to do a wet walk with hats and raincoats on.

Grants Picnic Ground is quite well known within the Dandenong Ranges National Park for being a great place to go birdwatching as large flocks of galahs, rosellas and cockatoos congregate there to feed. There are also a fair number of well marked, stroller friendly walking circuits that begin there.


Rainy morning at Grants Picnic Grounds in Sherbrooke Forest

Unfortunately, the walking trails were not well maintained and after J and Little E climbed over several tree trunks and other debris, we decided to give it up as a lost cause. We were able to spy quite a few birds flying back and forth in the treetops, but as it started to rain in earnest, we had no choice but to abandon the birdwatching altogether and drive slowly back to the city.

Aquila Acres Farm Stay and Equine Learning
22 Rodger Road, Wandin North, Vic 3139, Australia
Tel: +61 411 868 234
If you would like to book a stay with Aquila Acres, you can do so via AirBnb here

Kuranga Native Nursery and Paperbark Cafe
Open daily from 8:30 – 4:30pm (The Nursery closes at 5pm)
118 York Road, Mount Evelyn, Vic 3796, Australia
Tel: +61 9760 8100
For more information on Kuranga Native Nursery and Paperbark Cafe click here

Lilydale Lake
435 Swansea Road, Lilydale, VIC  3140
For more information on Lilydale Lake click here

Grants Picnic Ground
70 Monbulk Road Sherbrooke VIC 3789
For more information on Dandenong National Park and Grants Picnic Ground click here



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