For years a favoured retreat for Melburnians in search of rest and relaxation, the stunning Dandenong Ranges offer so much for visitors to enjoy.
Located just thirty-five kilometres east of the Melbourne CBD, the air in the Dandenongs is fresher, the trees are noticeably taller, and the lush landscape is dotted with quaint villages and towns.
Here are ten top things to do in the Dandenong Ranges.
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 1,000 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.
Mount Dandenong Tourist Road is extremely popular for weekend drives. Stretching for 30 kilometres 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.
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!
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 for the day.
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.
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.
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. In Olinda, you’ll find Cuckoo Restaurant — a popular German-style eatery, and Kelly’s Bar and Kitchen — a rustic colonial log cabin conversion.
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.
Speaking of walking trails, there are plenty of hiking tracks winding through the Dandenong Ranges that the whole family can enjoy. Try the 2.2-kilometre Grey Gum Track Walk, the 2.5-kilometre Living Bush Nature Walk, and for a slightly older age group — the 5.6-kilometre Olinda Creek Walking Track.
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 hosts Australian musical 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
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. 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.