I’m on a hunt for Wonga Park’s rich and reclusive. Two things are for sure. The first: I won’t find them at The Village Centre. This small brown-bricked shopping strip once housed a butcher, a baker, a candle stick… Okay you get the picture.
Let’s make that a supermarket, post office, hair and beauty shop and the obligatory fish and chips shop. Now it’s an eerily abandoned strip. Printed letters, obviously posted hastily on the aforementioned doors, announce that their leases were up. It seems that suddenly, two years ago, the shopkeepers were forced outta there.
The second thing that’s for sure: the rich and reclusive are not hanging at Jumping Creek Reserve. The only person hanging around Sandy Bay Carpark midday mid-week is a possibly dodgy dude ringing my “don’t get out of your car” alarm bells. There’s no way I’m tackling the Jumping Creek Nature Trail (two kilometre, 30-60 mins return) and I quickly move on.
The Jumping Creek part of Warrandyte State Forest Park borders Warrandyte, while the other side of Wonga Park borders Bend of Islands. Croydon and the shopping mecca of Ringwood are not far away.
Warrandyte, Wonga Park and Bend of Islands have one thing linking them: the Yarra River. While Warrandyte’s village fronts the beautiful expanse of brown, Wonga Park’s access is a little more discrete.
So how do you find it? You can scout around aimlessly, past mansions hidden up driveways with grand, locked gates, only to come face to face with “no access to river!” signs, or you can ask someone who knows. “Turn left, and left again!” says Lisa from the warm oasis of Kellybrook Winery.
Kellybrook is one of the best surprises of Wonga Park. This winery is a blast of warmth on a cold day, a haven in a suburb that really doesn’t have too many highlights. Here you can taste an exhausting variety of wines, and pick up local foodie goodies for a picnic. They grow pinot noir, cabernet, shiraz, sav blanc, chardonnay and gewurztraminer on site, and have a ripping range of apple ciders, including apple brandy ($80 a bottle) for sale.
And they can tell you how to find the non-signposted Yarra. Immediately, Wittons Reserve feels like a special place. It’s traditional Wurundjeri Women Country, and a sign lets visitors know that this is a sacred spot and that a re-enactment of a traditional Women’s Ceremony was held here in 2014.
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There’s a gathering of other sorts here today: of BMWs and late model Volvos. Is this where the rich and reclusive come out to play? It’s the starting point of the Mt Lofty Hill Walk (five kilometres, one and a half hours, according to Manningham Council’s brochure) and I wish I’d brought my trail-running shoes. Others are out running, and walking, and being serenaded by kookaburras and currawongs.
Some way in, there’s a signposted swimming spot. The Yarra is churning up, flashing white water out of the brown. It’s quiet, no one’s around. Just the noise of the river, the background of old gums and tea-trees.
I ponder that this suburb is one of the few actually named after an Aboriginal leader (Simon Wonga). There’s something special, and dare we call, it, sacred, about this place, just forty minutes from Melbourne. Maybe this is the rich and reclusive we were looking for.
Five things you didn’t know about Wonga Park:
- Every fourth Saturday of the month (this Saturday) Wonga Park Primary hosts the Wonga Park Farmers Market. It’s on from 9am-2pm.
- Every last Sunday of the month (this Sunday) Kellybrook Winery has free music with a local band.
- Into the #waronwaste? Apiary Made is made in Wonga Park. As well as making medical-grade honey, they make pretty and reuseable food wraps from wax collected from bees that buzz around Kellybrook Winery.
- The Scouts have an almost 20-hectare property in Wonga Park called Clifford Park. It’s not all running and jumping in nature, though; they run electronics workshops for Scouting groups, too.
- Apparently permits have lapsed for renovations for The Village Centre, but goodies (and petrol) can be bought from the mixed business shop on Yarra Road, or the Foodworks on Jumping Creek Road.
*This article originally appeared on Domain.com.au