Choose your own adventure: Exploring the You Yangs & Moorabool Valley

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

They say life is all about balance, a bit of yin with your yang, so to speak. We all know that getting outside to blow away the cobwebs is not only good for the body, but it’s also good for the soul. We’ve rounded up a host of activities in the Moorabool Valley and You Yangs area to get you out and about and sweetened it with some treats for afterwards.

Walking MelbourneYou Yangs Regional Park

You’ve definitely seen them from across the bay, or perhaps from the city’s outskirts, those hills on the horizon. The You Yangs (Wurdi Youang) are a group of 24km long granite outcrops an hour southwest of Melbourne near the town of Little River. Time to pay them a visit!

Topping out at 319m is the park’s highest point, Flinders Peak. Those who make the 3.2km one-hour return walk will be well-rewarded with stunning views across the volcanic plains back towards Melbourne or south to Geelong.

From the eastern lookout, the eagle-eyed will also spy the geoglyph of Bunjil, creator spirit of the Wadawurrung people, traditional custodians of the region. Artist Andrew Rogers utilised 1500 tonnes of granite and limestone rock to form the wedge-tail eagle geoglyph, in recognition of the Wadawurrung people’s connection to the land.

Iconic Australian painter Fred Williams was known to spend much time painting en plein air in the region. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to create your own masterpiece?

Bike Riding MelbourneIf you’re the type who likes to get the blood really pumping, you might like to bring your mountain bike and hit some of the 50km of purpose-built trails across two dedicated zones. Maybe horse riding, orienteering, rock-climbing, abseiling or bushwalking is more your speed? If so, there are dozens of trails from the family-friendly through to the more challenging to choose from.

If that all sounds a little exhausting, you could always try your hand at some birdwatching or perhaps a gentle stroll to one of the nine designated picnic areas.

The You Yangs Regional Park is open every day from 7am and closing at 5pm (6pm from Daylight Savings). Access to the park from the Princes Freeway is signposted via Lara. Facilities include picnic areas (barbecues, tables and toilets available) as well as drinking water available from the Visitors Centre.

Serendip Sanctuary Wildlife Park

Melbourne wildlife
© Barbara Dawn

Only 10 minutes further south is the Serendip Sanctuary. Soak in the serenity or explore some of the 250ha of wetlands and grassy woodlands. Experience your own close encounter with some native wildlife on one of the popular and wheelchair-accessible nature trails. Spot a mob of emus, Eastern Grey kangaroos or even a Tawny Frogmouth from one of the many bird hides.

With an emphasis on education, the sanctuary offers a Junior Rangers Program for families during school holidays as well as downloadable DIY activity sheets. Discover how some of Victoria’s most threatened species are being protected at the sanctuary’s education facility, old school and screen-free.

Serendip Sanctuary is open every day except Christmas Day & Good Friday from 8am until 4pm. Facilities include picnic areas, barbecues, tables, toilets and drinking water.

Brisbane Ranges National Park

National Parks MelbourneDrive half an hour west and you’ve arrived at Brisbane Ranges National Park and Steiglitz Historic Park. Ten points if you time your visit for spring’s magnificent wildflower displays including the rarely seen Velvet Daisy-bush and Brisbane Ranges Grevillea.

But first let’s start the adrenaline racing with some rock-climbing, abseiling, horse riding, kayaking/rafting or bushwalking (trails range from a couple of hours to several days). Camping areas with tank water and pit toilets available, bookings required. Picnic areas include wood barbecues, tables and toilets.

As with any visit to the great outdoors, best to check forecasted weather as well as location conditions. Visit Parks Victoria for more information.

Reckon you’ve earned a reward or two?

Farmers Market MelbourneFortunately, an area so rich in outdoor activities is also blessed with a cornucopia of food and drink choices.

Golden Plains Farmers Market is held the first Saturday of every month and is the ideal place to begin. If you miss that, no matter; the region is well placed with a slew of farm gates and providores.

Moorabool Valley Chocolate Pick up some handmade truffles made with the freshest ingredients from this family-owned small business.

Meredith Dairy The Cameron family have been responsibly and sustainably farming sheep and goats since the early 1990s, creating one of Australia’s most iconic farmhouse cheeses which are now exported to the world.

Inverleigh Bakehouse An old-school country bakery is a thing of beauty and this converted 1868 homestead doesn’t disappoint with artisan breads as well as tempting pastries and cakes.

Clyde ParkBread cheese and chocolate – tick! Now you need something to drink. Thankfully this cool climate wine region offers boutique wineries, renowned cellar doors and winery restaurants both large and small, so you’re sure to find one to suit.

Clyde Park Vineyard and Bistro Step into the cellar door and secure a spot by the fire before tasting through their award-winning wines whilst taking in sweeping views over the Moorabool Valley. This family-friendly bistro is open daily offering everything from a quick nibble through to a three-course meal.

Del Rios Wines Enjoy a long, lazy lunch centred around their estate-grown produce (including Black Angus beef) complemented by an extensive wine portfolio.

No doubt this has whet your appetite to explore the region. You’ll only wonder what took you so long.

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Jala Jala, very good chocolate & 100% Aboriginal owned

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

Jala Jala founder Sharon Brindley is a Yamatji/Noongar woman living on Bunurong/Boon Wurrung country where she runs the only Indigenous café on the Mornington Peninsula, the Cooee Café. Sharon’s passion for native flavours stems back to her childhood days in Kalgoorlie with her grandmother, where they would spend time in the bush living off the land. As well as the unique flavour profile native foods bring to her creations, it is also their health properties that appeal.

‘I like to incorporate Indigenous ingredients into everyday cooking and showcase to the world the incredible qualities of native plants through delicious treats,’ says Sharon. Though Jala Jala chocolates hit the market in 2020, they’d been some time in the making. ‘It wasn’t meant to be a Covid project. It’s going to be a longevity family business for me. It started with chocolate but I will grow that space. Having a café and losing all our catering certainly gave me time … to ramp it up and bring out the chocolates.’

Jala Jala means ‘very good’ in the Wajarri language and her tight range of chocolate blocks certainly fit that requirement, carefully balancing high-quality cocoa butter with the vibrant tastes of Australian bush foods: Davidson Plum White Chocolate, Wattleseed Mylk Chocolate (vegan) and Finger Lime Dark Chocolate.

‘I wanted to bring out chocolates first to show the amazing flavours we have.’ Future plans include a dessert lime vodka as well as a few health food lines including wider distribution, though the process is anything but swift.

Underneath the sweet story of chocolate though lies a darker thread many a chocolate lover might miss at first glance. The issue is ‘blackcladding’ which as Sharon explains is where an Indigenous person is used by a company so it appears to be a legitimately Indigenous business. Often the Indigenous person is unaware of the subtext for their employment (access to funding/particular markets). Sharon’s top tip when looking for the veracity of a business’s credentials is to look at their ‘about’ section.

‘We proudly say what mob we’re from – that would be my first go to. For example, I’m Yamatji/Noongar. There are so many different chocolate companies out there that resembled being owned by the community through artwork and marketing ploys,’ she explains.

Dot work always sells. I was actually fooled myself by two businesses at the very beginning, thinking they were Indigenous businesses, by how their marketing was structured. That’s why my products say at the very top – 100% Aboriginal Owned Business.

‘I’ve learnt that you are your business and that shines through, whether they’re Indigenous or not, you can tell a business by reading what they’re about. Doing a little bit more homework really helps and I honestly think Covid has made people more aware of what’s happening around them, where things are produced and how they’re packaged.’

Other hurdles she’s experienced are more location-related. ‘In the pandemic, I’m actually classed as metro but pre-Covid, one of the first things I noticed was that people think we’re so far away. People are hesitant when dealing with me because I’m based in Rosebud and they’re based in the city. I had to fight harder to get their business and prove that I can still be there. For me coming up to the city it’s a two-hour round trip with tolls to be able to be just as competitive. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be delivering there but it is challenging time and money wise. ‘

Jala Jala is a brand you can buy first with your heart, but re-purchase with a mind at ease.


WHAT: Jala Jala Treats and Cooee Cafe
WHERE: 1/7 Thamer St, Capel Sound
MORE INFO:  Jala Jala

We wish to acknowledge the Bunurong people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Striking it lucky with a delicious golden ticket

Words by Della Vreeland
Photography by Christopher Puro

It’s a well accustomed moment. The moment the barista yells out your coffee order name, but doesn’t quite get it right.

For Jade Davidson, it was at this very moment, in a coffeehouse in New York, that she had her epiphany.

“When my husband Lachie and I were in New York travelling, we ordered coffees and they took our names,” Jade recalls.

“They then started yelling out “Lucky and James?!” After quite a while we realised they meant us.

“I thought – ‘hey that could be a strong name one day!’ I wrote it down in my phone and when I decided to go into business, I knew that was the name.”

Jade is Ballarat’s first chocolatier, having just launched her indulgent handmade chocolate venture Lucky + James in 2020.

“I’ve always had a strong love of chocolate, from when I was little sneaking extra Milo and Nutella, to when I was a grown-up travelling the world and visiting every chocolate shop I could find!” she says.

But it wasn’t until she was 21 and saw an advertisement for a chocolate apprentice that she decided to “take a chance” and turn her culinary love into a career.

Working 15 years as a chocolatier, Jade has spent over a decade at some of the most renowned Melbourne companies including Cacao Fine Chocolates, Koko Black and Monsieur Truffle.

After having her two girls, she took some time off before harnessing those years of craftsmanship, talent and passion into a business of her own.

I just wanted to make good, old-fashioned, delicious chocolate. No fussy flavours, just chocolate that people want to come back to again and again.

But making chocolate isn’t simply a pursuit of passion for Jade. It is a mindfulness regime.

“I love that making chocolate forces me to slow down and be patient.

“If you rush chocolate it won’t cooperate. I suppose it’s my form of mindfulness practise. I missed it terribly when I wasn’t doing it.”

Jade and her hubby first moved to Ballarat from Melbourne two and a half years ago.

Having always wanted to open her own chocolate business, the move to Ballarat made Jade realise the potential inherent within herself and her newfound community.

“After moving here, I quickly noticed how kind and incredibly supportive Ballarat was to local business,” Jade says.

“I knew I had to move quickly if I wanted to be the first chocolatier in Ballarat, and after the slight delay of a second baby, here we are!”

Lucky + James boasts a range of simple yet decadent flavours including fruit and nut, honeycomb, rocky road, cinnamon pecan crunch and cookies and cream.

With its signature gold and blue packaging, unwrapping your chocolate is truly like discovering your own lucky golden ticket – a ticket to cocoa heaven.

Using chocolate from Felchlin, a premium couverture from Switzerland, Jade’s products feature inclusions that are sourced locally (produced in Australia and overseas), with the exception of the honeycomb and cookie which she makes herself.

Transforming her own home kitchen into the Lucky + James factory, Jade says producing chocolate while maintaining the work-mum-life balance can be quite the challenge.

“I do a lot of my production during nap time and at night when the girls are asleep as my three-year-old always wants to help me,” she says.

“It’s pretty special to be able to do this around my kids though. I do wonder whether they will look back and appreciate having a mum who made chocolate at home while they grew up.”


WHO: Lucky + James Handmade Chocolate


Outcast Episode #7 – Mandy Bishop from Platypi Chocolate

Catch the latest episode of ‘Outcast’ with Mandy Bishop from Platypi Chocolate who is an artisan chocolatier located in Forrest in the Otway Ranges. Mike chats to Mandy about all things chocolate, chocolate making and she even share her secrets to making a perfect hot chocolate.

Six Regional Artisan Chocolatiers Delivering to your Home

Images Supplied 

Put away that store-bought chocolate block now and treat yourself to locally produced artisanal sweet treats instead. Here are six Victorian producers of chocolate that you need to know about because now more than ever we should all be supporting local businesses and these boutique makers are producing quality chocolate that will make you turn your back on those big brands.

Platypi Chocolate

Great Ocean Road #twohoursoutPlatypi Chocolate Artisan Great Ocean Road

Platypi Chocolate came to life after the founders Mandy & Michael were inspired by a small artisan chocolate maker while taking a holiday in W.A, 30 years ago. Based in Forrest in the Otway Ranges, their chocolate factory and cafe has become a central part of the local community and in usual times is a popular tourist destination.

All their small-batch chocolate is hand-made onsite from coverture chocolate and natural products.

Buy from OHO Markets or direct from Platypi

Atelier Chocolat home of Pain et Chocolat

Trentham #oneandahalfhoursoutAtelier Chocolat home of Pain et Chocolat Artisan

Atelier Chocolat started production three years ago and is a central part of the community in Trentham.

Their bars are made with Felchlin boutique couverture chocolate, manufactured in Switzerland and they also produce small batches of chocolate made from scratch with organic beans from Panama or Peru to give you high percentage bean to bar.

When you can get out and about again, a visit to their shop is a worthwhile adventure but in the meantime, you can shop online.

Head here to choose your favourite

Only Mine

Olinda #onehouroutOnly Mine Chocolates

Jason & Anya started out from their home kitchen and sold their first chocolates in 2016. Now they operate from a boutique factory in Olinda where you can usually watch the action happening in the factory from their store and dessert cafe.

Their handcrafted chocolates are produced with flavour in mind, they pick the best ingredients and let the taste do the talking.

Check out their range here

Cabosse & Feve Chocolates

Castlemaine #oneandahalfhoursoutCabosse & Feve Chocolates Castlemaine

Husband and wife team Thomas and Freya handcraft their products using carefully selected quality ingredients from around the world. They ensure they deal with farmers who receive more than the average Fair Trade wage in the market and are passionate about environmentally friendly packaging.

They offer an extensive range of chocolate treats and also have a vegan range with fourteen products.

Head this way

Indulge Chocolates

Bendigo #twohoursoutIndulge Chocolates Bendigo

Hayley and her team started out in 2008 opening the Indulge Cafe, in Bendigo. With the business growing The Indulge Chocolate Lab was opened in September 2015. They specialise in moulded chocolates and chocolate bars, made with Belgian Callebaut chocolate, sourced ethically from around the globe.

With 30+ varieties to choose from and some amazing gift boxes you won’t leave their online store without a purchase.

Shop here

Echuca Chocolate Company

Echuca #threehoursoutEchuca Chocolate Company

Echuca Chocolate Company produces hand-made chocolates, truffles and a range of chocolate liqueurs. Everything is made on-site with speciality ingredients to craft a unique and flavoursome product range.

For now it’s online only, add their chocolate store to your road trip list once restrictions are eased.

Take look here