For years a favoured retreat for Melburnians in search of rest and relaxation, the stunning Dandenong Ranges offers so much for visitors to enjoy.
Located just thirty-five kilometres east of the Melbourne CBD, the air is fresher, the soil is richer, the trees are noticeably taller, and the lush landscape is dotted with quaint towns.
Here are ten top things to do in the Dandenong Ranges that will transport you to another world – just a short drive from the city.
Walk the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk
In the beautiful Dandenong Ranges National Park at Ferntree Gully picnic area, people gather to test their fitness on the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk – also known as the 1000 Steps. It’s a challenging climb that pays tribute to Australian soldiers who fought in Papua New Guinea during World War II. On weekends it gets particularly busy; go on a weekday to meander up at your own pace.
Drive Mount Dandenong Tourist Road
Mount Dandenong Tourist Road is extremely popular for weekend drives. Stretching for 30kms from the access point at Upper Ferntree Gully, the route passes through lush greenery speckled with fragments of light. It makes its ways through small towns such as Sassafras and Olinda, and heads towards Montrose. The city views from vantage points at the top of the range are absolutely stunning.
Take a break at a traditional tea room
One thing the Dandenongs has in abundance is tea rooms. Sassafras, Olinda and Kallista all have gorgeous traditional cafes, turning over mountains of freshly baked scones, jam and cream throughout the day. The only problem is choosing which one to try. So don’t. Try them all!
Touch the sky at Skyhigh
Follow the signs to one of the most tranquil retreats in the region. Perched high on Mount Dandenong, Skyhigh offers a series of manicured gardens with picnic areas, a maze, and of course breathtaking views of the city and Port Phillip. There is a small fee to enter, but it’s well worth it if you come prepared with a picnic and plan to stay the day.
Take time out at William Ricketts Sanctuary
There are more than ninety sculptures set into rocks and tree trunks throughout the William Ricketts Sanctuary, which provides a thought-provoking portrayal of the effect of European settlement on Australia’s Indigenous people. William Ricketts created the sanctuary as a tranquil place, where visitors can reflect and be at one with nature.
Climb on board Puffing Billy
The iconic Puffing Billy steam train travels between Belgrave and Gembrook, giving those on board the chance to dangle their legs over the side and enjoy the passing landscape. The track was built in the early 1900s and is a much-loved landmark. Each year the ‘Puffing Billy Great Train Race’ sees thousands of people chugging alongside the track for 13.5 kilometres, trying to beat Puffing Billy to the station.
Eat your way across the range
There’s certainly no shortage of delicious things to do in the Dandenong Ranges! Treat yourself to an atmospheric lunch or dinner on board Puffing Billy as it winds its way up the range. Skyhigh Mount Dandenong also has a restaurant, which serves up amazing views of the city.
There are plenty of other great places to eat, including Parisian-inspired Café de Beaumarchais in Sassafras.
Explore Sherbrooke forest
After lunch, divert from the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road towards Belgrave and you will find yourself in the Sherbrooke forest. The forest is home to lyrebirds and wombats. It has picnic grounds, walking tracks and the impressive Sherbrooke Falls to enjoy.
Hike a family friendly trail
Speaking of walking trails, there are plenty of hiking tracks winding through the Dandenong Ranges that the whole family can enjoy. Try the 2.2km Grey Gum Track Walk, the 2.5km Living Bush Nature Walk, and for a slightly older crew, the 5.6 km Olinda Creek Walking Track.
Enjoy the nightlife
Many of the furry locals are nocturnal by nature, and there’s plenty of fun after dark for visitors too. Head to the Sooki Lounge in Belgrave, a Baroque-esque performance space which often has an impressive lineup of Australian artists, such as Josh Pyke and Ash Grunwald. It’s the perfect way to wind up a day in the Dandenongs, over cocktails and shared plates.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in the Dandenong Ranges? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Elle Vidovich is a freelance writer based in Melbourne with a love for travel, food and architecture. She has travelled to over 50 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe, eating the local food, drinking the house-made wine and generally trying to assimilate to the local culture. Elle believes that travel can change a person. It can open their eyes to different cultures, make them thankful for what they have, or inspire them to make a difference.