The 1000 Steps circuit in the Dandenong Ranges takes me about 45 minutes to complete, and it involves a lot of hill- climbing. The fire trail to the left of the 1000 Steps is my usual starting point so I can complete the first half of the circuit with enough space and breathing room without feeling crowded by the crowds of hikers. The actual 'steps' to the right tend to get very busy with hikers during peak times on any given weekend, so an early start matched with a steep high-climb is the best game-plan. Afterwards, I love to refuel at a few favourite eating spots nearby. By the time I'm back at my car, I'm ready for replenishing vegan meal that rejuvenates my energy levels quickly. One spot, with 30 years of experience in the health food industry, is Wholefood Merchants.
A five-minute drive to Wholefood Merchants has nourishing salads in their takeaway cabinet, packed with tasty, high-energy ingredients. Pulses, seeds and nuts add to the energy punch that 1000 Steps post-hike hunger can only be tamed by. Salads brimming with nuggets of almond feta, shredded red cabbage and chunks of marinated tofu are served up in generous portions at prices as marked daily. Green rocket and spinach add to the crunch factor and the fact that these instantly served salads can be munched on within minutes is the perfect hunger pleaser. You can opt for one salad or a mix of two.
Rather than taking away, save on disposable crockery and enjoy bowls packed with energy at one of the wooden tables among Wholefood Merchants' dine-in area. Rest-time is soothed by the subtle flow of the centrepiece water fountain by the window where sun washes through the seating space on a sunny day. For extra nutrition and to give my body a boost, I choose one of the mixed, freshly squeezed juices available on request; a refreshing beverage after a high-intensity workout morning.
A sneaky slice of raw "Turkish Delight" gives me a little sweet treat without feeling like I've undone all the good work from 1000 Steps. On previous visits, a steaming pot of peppermint tea goes well with any one of the raw slices on offer, though my quick, fruit and veggie fuelled lunch proves to be more than a pleasing meal after such an invigorating weekend hike. Just be sure to pack enough cash in your wallet if you find yourself wandering the grocery aisles afterwards.
Grab a quick vegan lunch at Wholefood Merchants for yourself. 3/794 Burwood Highway, Ferntree Gully Victoria Australia 3156. 03 9752 2772.
Justine de Jonge at Fire & Tea paid for her own food and beverages for the purpose of this review.