Mute mannequins adorned with Venetian carnival masks, multi-hued Tiffany lamps of all sizes, clusters of antique nautical instruments and polished timber boxes yearning to be filled with baubles and trinkets spill into the aisles like something out of a Harry Potter movie.
It started out as window shopping, but the lure of such loot drew me in like the proverbial winged insect. Mangana Arts & Crafts in Olinda certainly puts the curio back in curiosity shop.
The owner, John Ischia, has handmade these lamps for over 25 years, says Justin whos minding the store with partner Marnie while their ebullient assistant Tadei, resplendent in a glittering carnival mask, hums to herself while she dusts and tidies. Justin, it turns out, is a celebrated designer and decorator, while Marnie, sitting in the corner of the century-old emporium crocheting, is a star of the stage and screen. You never know what (or who) youll find tucked away in the Dandenongs.
The dazzling Dandenong Ranges are less than an hour east of Melbourne. From Chirnside Park to Lilydale, these little towns and villages reluctantly form part of Melbournes suburban fringe. Even so, these peripheral suburbs still retain abundant rural charm and rustic character, offering a refreshing retreat for city dwellers looking to escape the metropolis, if only for a weekend.
An escape into the countryside makes for a welcome change of scene, especially when you have the all-new Lexus
IS 350 F Sport to propel you into this rarefied territory. Powered by the trusted 3.5 litre, 24-valve quad-cam V6 with a more-than-ample 233kW on tap, a leisurely jaunt can quickly become a spirited affair.
To maximise our retail enjoyment, time spent between shopping forays can be safely minimised with a combination of careful throttle application and sports suspension selection. No kidding. The IS 350 F Sport allows the driver to select Eco, Normal or Sport mode to fully appreciate the impeccable road manners of this sophisticated sports saloon. Go one better and dial in Sport S+ to fully enjoy the perfect balance and adhesion delivered by independent double wishbones and late-shifting between the eight speeds of the new Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i).
Our first overnight stop is at Chirnside Park, where the lavish Yarra Valley Lodge is easily achieved if you choose to head out after knocking off a little early on Friday. Enjoy a spa, then cleanse the palate with a local Kellybrook pear cider before settling in at Bella Restaurant for a repast of local produce, like duck liver pt, handcrafted cheese and 12-hour lamb shoulder. Stay for a round of golf or head off early after a buffet breakfast.
Between the Dandenongs and the gentle hills of the Yarra Valley roads twist, turn, switch back and tighten like a whalebone corset. On this tortuous tarmac we can fully
appreciate the almost predictive power of the revolutionary G force Artificial Intelligence (G-AI) system integrated into the drivetrain. To say the car works with you is a dangerous understatement. It learns from you and adapts, evolving and conforming to match your own driving style.
Before long were into a comfortable rhythm, the 255/35R18 low profile radials barely murmuring as the nose is turned in tight at every hairpin, the perfect power application executed at each elbows exit. All the while our progress is overseen by the VDIM microprocessor sentinels governing traction, brake force distribution and stability. Theres no untidy oversteer
or white knuckles, just the symphonic induction note rising to occasional climax as the LFA-style tachometer swings toward the red line.
Along the Maroondah Highway, through Healesville and into the Yarra Ranges proper we are in territory brutally blackened by the 2009 bushfires. Now, thanks to lashings of refreshing rain, regenerated and revitalised vegetation is returning, slowly erasing the last remnants of the charcoal underbelly that reminds us of those savage, tragic days.
The Black Spur, as the road is known locally, is a true drivers road and one that must be approached cautiously,
To say the car works with you
is a dangerous understatement.
It learns from you and adapts to match
your own driving style.
1 Mangana Arts & Crafts in Olinda is a decorators delight.
2 The IS 350 F Sport puts the Dandenongs townships and villages in easy reach.
WORDS Rod EimePHOTOGRAPHY Nathan Duff
3 There are culinary pleasures aplenty in this gourmet region.
4 Abundant wildlife is among the areas many attractions.
5 The IS 350 F Sport clings to the tarmac on twisty bends.
LEXUS 31LEXUS 30
no matter the vehicle. We let the IS 350 F Sport remind us that with power comes responsibility, two qualities that can co-exist in true engineering harmony.
Just as the bush is bursting with new life, so is the hamlet of Marysville and, lured by the legend of the handmade butterscotch pecan fudge, we stop by Christine and Ashraf Doos Marysville Patisserie on Falls Road, one of the first hospitality businesses to return after the 2009 devastation. The sparkling caf and bar is a testament to their love of this resilient community.
Just a spurt up the way from Marysville is Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, the closest snow field to Melbourne. Even if you dont ski, the drive alone is worth it. Just before the ski season this challenging private road is closed for a round of the Australian Tarmac Rally Championship. Its a safe location to really explore the eight-speed Sequential Sports Programmed Direct Shift (SPDS) and try your hand at the paddle shift manual gear selection. Trust me, youll want to do it again.
But its time to let the ventilated discs ventilate and enjoy some of the fruits of our labour plus some of the local harvest. Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa at Yarra Glen is a perfect turnaround point to park the IS 350 F Sport, wander in the cellar door and try some of the wines on offer.
Were one of the few wineries who re-release our vintages, says Peter Windred, who spends most days observing the satisfied faces of customers in the tasting room, and this 2000 Bendigo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example.
He swills the glass against the late afternoon light, making sure I note the deep hues of this perfectly aged wine, then offers me the glass. Hints of cedar and blackcurrent reach my nostrils and the on my tongue the rich flavour returns. James Halliday gave this a 94, Windred announces, and his expression says it all. If you flinch at the $85 for this museum release, dont be too proud to try the superb Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.
After a sumptuous dinner at Raes Restaurant on site its but a short walk across the courtyard to the accommodation.
If youre an early riser, a balloon flight from Rochford is recommended or else head over to the TarraWarra Museum of Art at Healesville for an infusion of rare culture and fine wine. The list of iconic wine estates rolls off the tongue like a good Chardonnay and includes Yering Station, Domaine Chandon and St Huberts. If youve already ticked off these popular stops, try Punt Road, Helens Hill or Tokar instead.
Dont be afraid to linger past sunset and take a stroll around glorious Mount Dandenong. After all, Melbournes less than an hours drive away and why would you want to go home early?
6 The IS 350 F Sport eats up rising altitude to snow field territory.
7 Cellar door stops are mandatory in the verdant Yarra Valley.
8 The accoutrements of high performance: behind the wheel in the elegant cabin.