Published: 16 Mar 2022
Just months after getting married, Ian and Leanne Neeland spotted an exciting gap for a tourism business in the Yarra Valley.
It was 2012. Melbourne’s outer east was still recovering from the Black Saturday bushfires less than three years earlier. But the newlyweds took a leap of faith and opened the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery in Yarra Glen.
And what a success it was! Business boomed and the Neelands were soon welcoming around 800,000 visitors a year.
After the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ian and Leanne are hoping to see those numbers return.
“Having just come out of two terrible years with the pandemic, we welcome anything that can help our recovery,” Leanne said.
A new trail, which will connect their business with people walking and riding by, tells the Neelands that brighter days are going to return.
The Yarra Valley Trail Northern Loop will include a 10.7km circuit to the north of Yarra Glen township. It’s part of a larger project that will see eventually see a 120km trail stretch connecting Lilydale, Yarra Glen and Healesville. Construction on the Northern Loop started in November 2021 and is due to be completed mid-2023.
“We’re very supportive of anything that brings extra day trippers and tourists, improves the economy and continues to help the Yarra Valley thrive,” says Leanne.
Currently, the only way for visitors to reach the popular wine region is by driving or on bus tours. There is no public transport, no rideshare drivers and only limited taxis.
“At the moment, it’s really tough,” she said.
“We have thousands of visitors every year asking how to get to the chocolaterie and other attractions.
“The trail opens up a broader audience for us and we are very excited.”
The Victorian Government through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning invested $3.35 million into the project. The project is supported by the Department of Jobs, Regions and Precinct’s Visitor Economy Recovery and Reform Plan, which aims to achieve $35 billion in annual visitor expenditure and support 300,000 jobs by June 2024.
Sandra de Pury is President of the Yarra Valley Winegrowers Association, which represents more than 80 per cent of wineries in the region. Sandra owns Yeringberg, a vineyard and farm in the nearby town of Coldstream.
“I think it’s a fantastic initiative and provides another way for tourists to experience the Yarra Valley,” she said.
“When you’re riding a bicycle it’s a very different experience to being in a vehicle moving faster. The whole concept of getting the Yarra Valley linked up via a bicycle and walking network is fabulous.”