The Dandenong Ranges are located in East Melbourne only an hour drive from the CBD. I started discovering the Dandenong a couple of years ago on a day-trip from Melbourne.
On my last trip in Australia I had the opportunity to explore more of the Dandenongs. On this post I show some of the best places in the Dandenong Ranges, where you can get active in the outdoors and enjoy unique landmarks in Melbourne surroundings.
These places are one hour travel distance from the city, you will need a car to visit the Dandenong on multiple day-trips from Melbourne. If you instead plan to visit the Dandenongs over a few days along with the Yarra Valley and more attractions, then you are better off to rent a car in Melbourne and check out this list of Dandenong Ranges accommodation.
The Dandenong Ranges Attractions
When I first visited the Dandenong Ranges in 2014 I went to the SkyHigh Mount Dandenong to see Melbourne Skyline from the most popular lookout of the region. The nearby William Ricketts Sanctuary, with the striking sculptures carved into rocks, is another popular attraction for locals and travellers. But what I got to see at that time is only a small fraction of the Dandenongs.
The Dandenongs stretch between Lilydale, located in the upper north, to FernTree Gully in the southern part and from Belgrave outh-east to Gembrook.
It will not be possible to tour the entire Dandenong Ranges on one day, so, if your time frame is limited this list of destinations – I recently checked out on my last trip to Melbourne – will help you pick the places you want to visit on or your itinerary trip.
The Dandenong Ranges – Best Outdoor Activities
If you ask Melburnians about their picks for visiting the Dandenong Ranges, the first thing that would probably come to their mind is the 1000 Steps Walk and Puffing Billy. But there are more places worth seeing, like the Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Sherbrooke National Park and more.
So now let's dive deeper and take a closer look at each individual spot and outdoor activity.
Take a ride on the Puffing Billy from Belgrave to Gembrook
Puffing Billy is the most popular heritage steam train in Australia. This is an old steam train that rides on the original mountain track for 25 km. It takes nearly 4 hours to do the whole circuit, but you can get on and off where you want to. I went on a Puffing Billy ride from Lake Emerald to Gembrook. It takes a 45 minutes to go one way. Despite the cold winter temps – 6°C – I really enjoyed sitting in the open carriage, dangling my legs over the side of the carriage, leaning out and taking as many photographs as I could of the amazing mountain landscape.
Gembrook is a lovely small village with a Sunday markets and nice coffee shops. Riding on the Puffing Billy train isn't cheap, a return-ticket from Lake Emerald to Gembrook will cost 49 dollars, prices vary depending on the train route you choose. I really had fun on this train, is not only for family with kids, it's a unique experience and worth your money.
This Puffing Billy route offers more things to do along your way. From Lake Emerald you can go on a paddle boat ride and do some of walking tracks. There is a picnic and BBQ facilities and I found the area very photogenic. I can recommend adding it to your explorations of the Dandenongs. I hope I can go on the Puffing Billy again, in summer it must be really gorgeous, but very busy with tourists though. The train also offers a luxury first class dining and special events, as well as various kind of functions.
Walk 1000 Steps – the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk
The 1000 steps track is one of the most popular spots of the Dandenong Ranges. Locals simply love it. Among outdoor and fitness lovers is regarded as one of the top landmark in Melbourne's surroundings for jogging and training. This 3 km track is an old track that was initially created in 1900 by soldiers who died on the real Kokoda Trail in Papua Guinea. Originally made with trunk of tree ferns it was then replaced by concrete and wooden steps. The track is quite steep, but anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can walk up.
Once I reached the top I came back through the Lyrebird Track which goes parallel down to the 1000 steps. The vegetation is amazing, you will find yourself in the fern gully, surrounded by different shapes of tree ferns and also manna gum trees. To walk the 1000 steps track you need 1 hour. I went on a Saturday winter afternoon and it was very busy. In summer it's much worse. So be prepared for it. Parking your car can be a struggle. I have seen a long queue of cars parked alongside the road for over 1 km. So avoid weekends, if you can, and the busiest time of the day, which is in the morning.
Do the Sherbrooke Falls Walk
The Sherbrooke Falls Walk is another great and easy walk, that you can do in one hour, not far from the 1000 steps track. Start your walk from the Sherbrooke Picnic Ground and walk through the beautiful forest to marvel at the tallest flowering Eucalyptus in the world, the Mountain Ash. I happened to be there just after rain, and the smell of the wet hardwood was so fresh and intense. In the Mountain ash forest you can spot swamp wallabies, wombats, brush-tailed possums being the perfect habitat for lyre birds, there are good chances to see and hear these amazing birds mimicking other birds' singing.
Visit the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens
When you drive back from Sherbrooke National Park make sure you don't miss the parking on the left-hand side and the free entrance to these beautiful and picturesque gardens with – I dare say – the most beautiful ornamental lake I have seen in Australia. The Alfred Nicholas gardens are spread on two levels with a nice walk through native and exotic flowering shrubs and trees. The most iconic place is the ornamental lake with the Boathouse, a very tranquil and romantic place, ideal for taking photographs and enjoy a kaleidoscope of colours. Furthermore this is a great spot for seeing birds like Rosella, King Parrots and hearing the laughing Kookaburra in the treetops. There are many gardens in the Dandenongs, but I think this place is special and really worth checking out.
These are my top picks for visiting the Dandenong Ranges. While you can combine a trip to these destinations with a visit to the nearby Yarra Valley, or Healeasville Sanctuary, north East of Melbourne, you can visit these destinations over various day-trips from Melbourne too.
The Dandenongs is a very beautiful region of Melbourne, I highly recommend checking out, it makes it to a great destinations for both, as a solo traveller and/or with a companion. They are all easy road-trips that you can do from Melbourne CBD.
How to organize these day trips from Melbourne
The best way to organize your day trips from Melbourne is to hire a car. I do prefer self-driving than guided day trips. But if you are alone, on a tight schedule, or just want to sit back and relax then maybe a guided-tour is the best option for you. Here below some of the tools I use:
For self-driving tours you can book a rental car from this comparison website
For guided-tours you can check out these day-tour options from Melbourne
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