The Dandenong Ranges are found thirty-five kilometres east of the Melbourne CBD and are a quick getaway if you feel like escaping the city and getting back to nature. The Dandenong Ranges are spectacular, with lush forests, plunging fern gullies and plenty of beautiful gardens to explore. There are quaint shopping villages to spend an afternoon browsing and lots of fantastic hikes waiting to be tackled. The “Dandenongs” (as us Melburnians like to call them) have something to keep every nature lover happy.
How to get to the Dandenongs from Melbourne?
The easiest way to get to the Dandenongs is by car. You can hire a car from the CBD and it’s a quick drive (about fifty minutes from the city centre), driving along the Burwood Highway and the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road. Self-driving will let you see so much more in one day. While trains and buses can still get you to the most popular destinations, you will have less freedom and it will take a lot longer.
If you don’t like driving or are unable to drive, there are many guided tours that leave from the city centre.
What to do in the Dandenong ranges?
Experience the Puffing Billy railway
Puffing Billy is the most popular attraction in the Dandenongs. This old heritage steam train still travels along its original mountain track that spans the twenty-four kilometres between Belgrave and Gembrook. Along the way, it passes through the beautiful forests and fern lined gullies of the Dandenong Ranges. The train’s old carriages are open on the sides, letting you fully appreciate the stunning views and enjoy some fresh air along the way. If you feel like it, you can even dangle your legs out over the side of the carriages!
You can start the journey at Belgrave Station or in Emerald Lake. It is around a four-hour return trip if you choose to do the whole journey (from Belgrave to Gembrook), but you can also hop off at any of the stops along the way to go exploring.
- Belgrave to Gembrook (return) AU$75.00
- Belgrave to Emerald or Lakeside (return) AU$57.00
- Emerald or Lakeside to Gembrook (return) AU$57.00
Hike the popular 1000 Steps Kokoda Memorial Track
The thousand steps Kokoda Memorial Track is a popular spot for Melbournians. It’s a great place to head to burn off a few extra calories! You’ll see many fitness enthusiasts walking or running up those steps, particularly on the weekend (try to visit during the week to avoid the crowds).
As you make your way up the steps, you are surrounded by Tree Ferns and Manna Gums. This three-kilometre track was built way back in the early 1900s. It was originally made from the trunks of tree ferns and those were eventually replaced by concrete and wooden steps. Along the track, you’ll find plaques depicting the lives of the soldiers who fought and died on the real Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, during World War II. It’s a pretty steep track but even if you are not super fit, it’s not that hard to complete. Just remember to do it at your own pace.
Tip: If visiting in the peak of summer, be sure to start really early in the day and bring lots of water with you.
Length: 3 kilometres
Time: 1.5 hr return depending on fitness level
Start/Finish: Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground (under the Kokoda Memorial Archway)
Visit the National Rhododendron Gardens
The National Rhododendron Gardens is a 36-hectare botanic garden located in the small town of Olinda. Its beautiful grounds are wonderful to explore at any time of the year. Each season has something different to show you. It’s set at the foothills of the blue Australian Alps, providing you with some beautiful scenic views in the background as you walk around the gardens.
Entrance is free.
Go for tea and scones at the Miss Marple’s Tea Room
Miss Marple’s Tea Room in Sassafras, is a popular establishment in the Dandenongs. They are famous for their traditional Devonshire Tea and scones, served with yummy jam and thick cream. The only downside is that it’s incredibly popular, such that it’s almost impossible to go straight in. It’s quite common to have to queue for a while!
Visit the William Ricketts Sanctuary
The internationally renowned William Ricketts Sanctuary is nestled in a peaceful ferny glade. It’s a lovely, serene place to explore.
As you wander around this open-air sculpture gallery, you’ll come across ninety-two clay sculptures representing Aboriginal culture, lifestyle and spirituality.
The Australian sculptor William Ricketts created this sanctuary after spending a few years living in Aboriginal communities. He was inspired by their way of life and their love for mother nature and he wanted to inspire others.
Entrance to the sanctuary is free.
Check out the view at SkyHigh Mount Dandenong
On a clear day, the SkyHigh Mount Dandenong will give you the best-extended views all the way to the concrete jungle of Melbourne’s city centre, the Mornington Peninsula, Mt Macedon and Port Phillip Bay. You will also find a restaurant, gardens and a maze for the kids to get lost in.
After sunset, the view changes into a carpet of lights!
Bear in mind that there is a steep $7 fee to park at the SkyHigh Mount Dandenong. If all you want to do is snap off a quick photo, the $7 is not worth it. If that’s the case, head instead to the Burke Lookout, a few minutes down the road. The Burke Lookout offers pretty much the same view with free parking and it’s only a short twenty-minute return walk.
Do some shopping in Olinda
Olinda is a quaint little village in the heart of the Dandenong Ranges. It is home to an array of antique stores and craft shops. You could spend hours looking for treasures in Olinda’s many stores and boutiques. Be sure to visit the old-fashioned sweets store!
Where to stay in the Dandenong Ranges?
If you fancy an overnight stay, Olinda is a great base for any stay in the Dandenongs. There are many wonderful B&Bs, both in and around the village. You can find contemporary or classic style accommodation along with some more luxurious ones.
This is a beautiful B&B accommodation located opposite Olinda Village, It provides everything you might need, including breakfast every morning. Their rooms are stunning and each is individually decorated. If visiting in winter, book one with a fireplace. It’s walking distance to all the local amenities and it’s close to some great food options. Room start at AU$260/night. Click here to check latest prices.
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The Dandenong Ranges are really close to the Yarra Valley, If you have some spare time, why not combine the two together! A little bit of wine tasting (or maybe a lot!) mixed with the great outdoors is an excellent combination, I reckon!