I grew up in the Dandenong Ranges; hills and mountains have always been a part of my life. As a kid, the Dandenong Range’s and their iconic spires seemed gargantuan in size, but as I grew up I realised this was not the case.
Travelling to New Zealand rekindled my childlike wonder of mountains. That country is blessed with an abundance of peaks with incredible character. Upon returning home, I was determined to discover the character of the peaks in my own backyard. Driving to work one day, up the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, was the first time I noticed the hazy silhouettes of the Yarra Ranges. Australian mountains are usually subtle in nature, but that doesn't mean they have any less personality.
My Dad regaled me once with a tale of heading up to Mount Donna Buang as kids to enjoy the closest snow to Melbourne. I have only vague memories of going up there and was determined to go check out this beast as an adult. The drive from Mount Evelyn to Warburton is my favourite Yarra Valley drive, Ben Cairn, Donna Buang and Mount Victoria loom as the road winds towards Warburton.
Half way up Donna Buang you’ll find yourself at the Rainforest Gallery, the observation platform sits 15 metres above the ground amongst the canopy and gives a great birds eye view of the forest floor below. Down on the ground level Cement Creek meanders it’s way down the mountain and into the Yarra River. My brother and I spent an afternoon down on the forest floor with our cameras once, very little light is able to make its way past all the trees which makes for great long exposure photography of the cascading Cement Creek.
On snowy days the summit of Donna Buang is a great place for families to enjoy tobogganing and snow play. When I head up there with my camera I’m usually the only person about, the view from the 25 metre tower and the native sub-alpine flora provide excellent photography opportunities. I recall one unusually misty summers day I headed up to the summit to find one of the snow gums had shed it’s bark, revealing a blazing red trunk. The photo I took that day hangs above my bed, I’ve been to the same spot in all seasons of the year and am yet to see a tree as beautiful.
Another mountain synonymous with snow play that’s close to Melbourne is Lake Mountain, named not for any lake in the area, but for George Lake who was the Surveyor-General of the mountain. Lake Mountain was ravaged in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, and the mountain has been described by people there on the day as “the doors of hell”. If you head up to the summit of Lake Mountain (as I often do) you’ll find a stark and alien environment, ghostly-white leafless snow gums creak and sway in the wind. They are a haunting reminder of the 2009 bushfires, and a fascinating subject for photography.
As you meander your way about the Lower Yarra Valley you’ll constantly be in the shadow of three giants. Mount Riddell, Mount Juliet and Mount Saint Leonard. Three of the photos here were taken of the sprawling Lower Yarra Valley featuring these mountains as the backdrop. My photo of Mount Saint Leonard taken in spring always evokes a Japanese-like feel (at least to my eyes). The Yarra Valley really flourishes in spring, the vines are green and the rivers and creeks are full.
The Mountains and Ranges of the Yarra Valley are the beacons that initially drew me to the area, but since that time I have enjoyed what is an endless bounty of photographic opportunities.