In terms of good driving roads close to Melbourne, naturally, your best bet is to head out to the Yarra Ranges and look on a map for the squiggliest lines you can find. On a recent trip, I did exactly that, and stumbled across one of many decent stretches of road.
Starting in the valley town of Healesville, a right turn on the west side of town takes you on to Healesville-Kinglake Road, a roughly 40km road through the Toolangi State Forest and the town of Kinglake – as the name suggests – before leading on to St Andrews before sending you back in the direction of the Victorian state capital.
The car we elected to do this drive in is the 2023 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. I’ve already discussed what it’s like to drive in greater length in an in-depth review, so I’ll cut to the chase. Powered by a 375kW twin-turbo V6 through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, the Ferrari-derived magic made this a Nürburgring lap record holder for the fastest SUV around the circuit upon its first release.
3.8 seconds is all it takes for this versatile machine to get from naught to 100km/h. That’s properly rapid. Pair that with Alfa Romeo’s expertly crafted slip-preventing Q4 all-wheel-drive system, and you get a great car for sitting firmly around sweeping bends in all conditions. Considering all that, it’s clearly more than capable enough of handling a drive like this, and it works even more perfectly for if you also have to ferry a family or friends with you.
There are actualy two roads that this drive traverses – C724 Healesville-Kinglake Road and C746 Heidelberg-Kinglake Road. Both these roads are similar in name, but vastly in contrast to one another in format.
From Healesville, the beginning of the drive takes you through a relaxing cruise through the valley. Many driveways and offshoots flick gravel onto the road, so do take some caution to look out for loose patches and take the care you’ll need to have along this section as preparation for the main event.
After passing Chum Creek, the road opens up. The valley turns into woodland and in come the yellow signs reminding you that corners exist. You’ll begin to notice the scenery change, as the trees slowly envelope the road from above as you head into Toolangi.
The road is fairly smooth and the corners are well cambered when driving toward Kinglake, gripping the tyres well. There are a few technical sections, but little to catch a well experienced driver off guard. Just don’t forget that due to the lack of sunlight throughout the day, some sections can remain damp long after the last rainfall. This poses no issue to the Stelvio, though, as despite its high power output, its all-wheel drive system makes light work of these wetter sections as it responds quickly to mitigate any slippage.
Little to no traffic meant that despite an 80km/h speed limit the entire way, some fun could be had through the corners. Ample overtaking spots mean that you’re unlikely to get stuck behind other motorists anyway.
It will take a little over an hour to get out to the Yarra, so we would suggest making the most of the driving roads in the region by first heading out towards Warburton and Woods Point road, also known as Reefton Spur. Returning via Marysville will take you through the iconic Black Spur before arriving at the start of this drive.
If you’re keen on taking a more direct route from Melbourne, take the Eastern Freeway to the Ringwood Bypass, before turning onto the Maroondah Highway towards Lilydale. Following this road will take you right to the township, where you will take a left turn onto Healesville-Kinglake Road. Avoiding toll roads is best done by GPS, taking any Eastern Freeway exit from Doncaster to Springvale and following various main roads towards Healesville.
Upon exiting the state forest, a gentle cruise into Kinglake is followed by the most technical and unforgiving road in the valley. Welcome to Heidelberg-Kinglake Road, a stretch of tarmac so dangerous that it has been labelled by members of the police force as the “most dangerous” road in the region.
A twisty and extremely narrow mountain pass, don’t expect to go fast along here. If the 60 speed limit doesn’t slow you down, other motorists sure will. We found ourselves stuck behind cars that weren’t macho enough to even sit near the meagre speed limit, and with little to no overtaking opportunities, this serves as a vast contrast to the earlier half of this drive.
Recent campaigns by local politicians and council have been urging the state government to make significant safety improvements to the road, eliminating sharp blind bends and constructing road safety barriers to prevent out-of-control vehicles from sliding down the hill’s edge. However, progress is slow and minor, and the difficulty of the road remains.
After the short twisty stretch – a small descent with views of Melbourne’s skyline on the horizon – you are taken back into the countryside for a gentle cruise towards Hurstbridge before finally entering civilisation in the form of Melbourne’s outer suburbs once again.
Although these two roads form a fantastic drive, it’s not solely them that make the region exciting. Rather, it’s the fact that a keen motorist could spend an entire day in the Yarra Ranges, travelling brilliant roads like the well known spurs, and end with this run from Healesville to Kinglake and back towards Melbourne, perhaps with the daylight fading away by that point.
Despite the heavy traffic and substandard road design, the second leg of this drive isn’t about speed like the first. Instead, it serves as a cooldown lap after the race; some time to reflect on the day. As for reflecting on the Stelvio Quadrifoglio? What a fantastic car to embark on the adventure with.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle provided by Alfa Romeo Australia for six days with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author. A special thanks to Will Reynolds-Smith for assisting in the creation of this article.
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