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Dandenongs

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Travel Guide Oceania Australia Victoria Dandenongs

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Introduction

Australian Gums

Australian Gums

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Lush eucalypt forests harbour the villages nestled around the Dandenong Ranges, a national park an hour outside Melbourne. Given their easy access from Melbourne, the Dandenongs are one of the favourite getaways in the areas, for tourists and Melburnians alike. The major draw card here is the setting: gorgeous forests whose sight denies the drought that has plagued Victoria over the past decade, where you can observe native wildlife in their natural habitat. The area is the home to many birds, including rosellas, kookaburras and cockatoos.
The natural bounty gives villages such as Sassafras and Olinda their stunning backdrop, but it also offers the opportunity to see native wildlife in their natural habitat, a number of bush walking trails, and simply a great place to go for a Saturday picnic. The area around Sheerbrooke Forest is covered in thick rainforest, including a bounty of fern trees.
The Dandenongs is also the home of the century-old steam train Puffing Billy, which offers trips in their open sided carriages from Belgrave to Lakeside and Gembrook return.

This unique area has been very popular with visitors for over 100 years. In the 1800s, the region was used as a way to escape the city. People would travel up to the area to picnic and walk though the forest. In 1882, the Minister of Agriculture set aside 168 ha for public recreation. Then in December 1927, 227 ha were declared as the Fern Tree Gully National Park, which was Victoria’s second largest National Park at the time. The Sherbrooke Forest and Doongalla regions were added in 1987 and the area was renamed the Dandenong Ranges National Park. The area is perfect for nature-lovers!

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Geography

Colloquially referred to as 'The Dandenongs', the Dandenong Ranges National Park comprises of five main forest regions: Sherbrooke, Doongalla, Olinda, Upper Ferntree Gully and Mount Evelyn. The National Park stretches across 3,215 hectares and includes both native forest and urban areas.

  • Sherbrooke covers the southern area of the National Park from Selby in the south to Sherbrooke in the north. The largest section of Dandenong Ranges National Park, Sherbrooke occupies over 800 hectares and includes One Tree Hill and the towns of Sassafras, Ferny Creek, Belgrave and on the northern border, The Basin;
  • Doongalla is the steeply sloping area at the foot of Mt Dandenong and encompasses the township of Mount Dandenong and Silvan;
  • The Olinda section of Dandenong Ranges National Park covers 790 hectares between the towns of Olinda, Kalorama and the catchment of Silvan Reservoir;
  • The Upper Ferntree Gully region of the park forms the south-western corner and includes the towns of Upper Ferntree Gully, Boronia, Upwey, Tecoma, Selby;
  • Mount Evelyn is the most northerly region of the park and includes the township of Mt Evelyn.

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Towns

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Tourist Information

A fantastic Tourist Information Centre is located at 1211 Burwood Hwy, Upper Ferntree Gully, right next to the Upper Ferntree Gully Railway station. The Dandenong Ranges Tourist Information Centre holds a wide range of brochure material and provides on the spot information for anything from accessing local attractions via public transport to identifying the level of difficulty associated with the abundance of walking tracks in the Dandenongs. They also provide on-the-spot bookings for local accommodation and sight seeing tours. The center is open from 9:00am - 5:00pm 7 days per week.

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Sights and Activities

Scenic drives through the Dandenong Ranges are extremely popular, as is stopping to enjoy a picnic at one of the many picnic grounds scattered throughout the park. Scattered throughout the townships in the park are coffee shops and restaurants, bed and breakfasts, craft shops, antique shops, gardens and the historic Puffing Billy steam train from Belgrave to Gembrook. Numerous walking tracks are excellent for short strolls or longer hikes.

National Rhododendron Gardens

Open year round from 10:00am - 5:00pm these beautiful gardens located in Olinda are home to the Australian Mountain Ash - the world's largest flowering tree. You'll also see a huge range of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas and daffodils set around a gorgeous lake. The National Rhododendron Gardens host an annual festival when the flowers are at their best - the last weekend in October.

Sky High Mt Dandenong

Sky High offers viewing platforms with stunning 360-degree views that sweep across Mornington Peninsula, Melbourne city and Port Phillip Bay. Along with the amazing views, Sky High also features an exquisite English garden, Adventurous SkyHigh Maze and links to trail walks in the Dandenong Ranges National Park.

The Thousand Steps

From the Upper Ferntree Gully entrance to the Park is the Thousands Steps Walking Trail leading to One Tree Hill. The very steep walking trail includes over 700 steps and commemorates the battle for the Kokoda track in Papua Guinea during World War II. The walk is approximately 2.5 kilometres long, takes approximately 1-1.5 hours (one way) and is medium to strenuous. There are 13 commemorative plaques located along the walk which aim to provide an insight into what it was like in 1942 during the battle at Kokoda Trail, and to explain significant events at different points along the track. These plaques were installed in 1992 and are replicas of those that can be found along the original Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.

The Thousands Steps Walking Trail is a popular destination for both sightseers and fitness enthusiasts alike - Saturday and Sunday mornings are a particularly busy time for fitness training on the steps. During the AFL pre-season (March-April) a number of Melbourne Australian Rules football teams run their players up the steps to promote team fitness. There is no specific creation date of the thousand steps, however they are believed to be built during the early 1860's when they provided the only means of accessing the One Tree Hill Summit through thick natural bushland.

Puffing Billy Steam Railway

Puffing Billy

Puffing Billy

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This historic steam train runs from Belgrave to Gembrook along it's original narrow gauge railway line. Puffing Billy was one of four railways constructed in the early 1900s to open up rural areas of Victoria. Now a major tourist attraction, Puffing Billy runs daily transporting hundreds of passengers in its open-air carriages to the lakeside, forest and picnic destinations along its line. The Railway depends on the tireless efforts of hundreds of volunteers who give their time freely to help Puffing Billy. Fares from $26 for adults, depending on distance traveled. A full time table and fares for all distances are available on Puffing Billy's website.

You can hang your legs out of the side of the daily Excursion Trains, or if you want you can 'Wine and Dine' on the 'Steam & Cuisine Luncheon Train' which departs daily at 12:30pm. The 'Steam & Cuisine Luncheon Train' includes a three hour train journey in Puffing Billy's enclosed dining carriages and a choice of either a three course meal or the lighter Natter Platter. The 'Dinner & Dance Train' operates most weekends and also includes dining in the historic Nobelius Packing Shed. Events at Puffing Billy include themed dinner trains such as Murder on the Puffing Billy Express, Jazz on Puffing Billy Railway and the 'Steam & Cuisine Wine Train', as well as the ever popular 'Day out with Thomas' and the annual Great Train Race, now in it's 31st year.

Trees Adventure

Trees Adventure is an excellent eco-adventure located close to Puffing Billy in Belgrave and situated in a beautiful heritage garden. You can zip-trek high above the ground and take on the thrilling tree-top obstacles. There are also twelve mammoth flying foxes and 65 aerial challenges ranging from beginner to intermediate and the black diamond extreme course that features a giant aerial skateboard and a 100-metre flying fox. This activity can easily be combined with a trip on Puffing Billy and is only a 5-minute walk from the Belgrave train station.

Emerald Lake Park

Emerald Lake Park is situated in Emerald, and a good place for a picnic on the weekends. Activities in the Park include walks, paddle boat rides and picnic facilities. Emerald Lake Park can be accessed by car via Emerald Town and Emerald Lake Road. Parking is available in the park (parking fees apply). The Park can also be accessed by travelling on Puffing Billy and alighting at Lakeside Station.

William Ricketts Sanctuary

The William Ricketts Sanctuary is a sculpture garden and the life work of William Ricketts, who created the sculptures here over a period of 60 years. Visitors can wander through the lush gardens, discovering interesting sculptures around every corner. Many of the sculptures feature Aboriginal figures and their placement serves as reminder that we are custodians of our natural environment. It is well worth a visit not only for the sculptures, but also the beautiful setting. It is located along the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, near Mount Dandenong. Entrance fee is $7.10 for adults and free for children under 15. It is open from 10:00am to 4.30pm every day except Christmas day.

Burrinja is situated in Upwey, just fifty minutes from central Melbourne. The gallery exhibits Indigenous and contemporary art works and hosts the annual Hillside Film Festival which celebrates young film makers through short films. Burrinja is the winner of the 2010 Best Small Museum Award.

Gardens

Apart from the aforementioned National Rhododendron Gardens and William Ricketts Sanctuary, there are numerous other gardens to visit in the Dandenongs. These include the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens and the George Tindale Memorial Garden in Sherbrooke , the Mount Dandenong Arboretum in Mount Dandenong and the Pirianda Garden in Olinda.

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Events and Festivals

  • During late September and early October, spring heralds the annual Tesselaar Tulip Festival. See more than half-a-million tulip bulbs flowering in riotous colour as you "tip-toe through the tulip fields".
  • 'Thomas the Tank Engine' visits Puffing Billy's Emerald town station twice a year; in October and November (Spring season) as well as February and March (Autumn season). This event is a great day out for families.
  • Emerald Market takes place the 3rd Sunday of every month, with stall holders selling goods as diverse as local honey, fresh fruit and veggies, quality clothing, knits and handcrafts, dolls clothes, potted herbs, soaps, dog biscuits, plants and fresh flowers, handmade jewellery, water colours and gift ware.
  • Gembrook Market takes place the 4th Sunday of every month. This market promotes sustainable living and only allows stallholders to sell genuine home-made products. They are also running a plastic bag free event.
  • On the first Sunday in May, the annual Chestnut Festival is held at the Kalorama Oval.
  • On the same day, Puffing Billy Railway hosts the Great Train Race Fun Run.

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Weather

The Dandenongs is predominately a sub-tropical rainforest area. Temperatures in the mountain townships tend to be 2-5 °C cooler than Melbourne CBD. During winter it's not uncommon to get light snow fall, heavy fog and icy roads.

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Getting There

With the vast expanse of the Dandenong Ranges, the park can be entered from numerous points. Most common 'gateways' to the park include: Upper Ferntree Gully, Belgrave, The Basin and Mt Evelyn.

By Train

Trains from Melbourne's CBD depart regularly from Flinders Street Station along the Belgrave and Lilydale metro lines.

Take the metropolitan Melbourne train from Flinders Street station along the Belgrave line to either Upper Ferntree Gully or Belgrave train station. Trains on this line are operated by Metro and run approximately every 20 minutes between 7:00am and 7:00pm Monday - Friday. On weekends and public holidays you may need to wait up to 40 minutes for the next train. Check the Belgrave Line Train Timetable for more information. Ticket prices are available on the Public Transport Victoria website.

Alight at Upper Ferntree Gully or Belgrave and take a local bus to the more scenic areas of the hills.

By Car

The 40 to 50-kilometre drive from Melbourne via Burwood Highway or Canterbury Road is approximately 1 hour. Easy freeway access is along the M1-South Eastern Freeway (to Ferntree Gully Road) or the Eastlink (to Canterbury Road). For driving directions visit the Whereis Website.

By Bus

Day Tour Companies such as AAT Kings, Gray Line and Australian Pacific Touring (APT) offer day tours from Melbourne CBD that includes Dandenong Ranges National Park, a trip on Puffing Billy, a visit to Sherbrooke Forest, morning tea and quaint villages such as Sassafras.

By Plane

Melbourne is serviced by Melbourne International Airport, also known as Tullamarine Airport, northwest of the Melbourne CBD. Additionally, some domestic flights is serviced by from Avalon Airport which is situated southwest of the CBD towards Geelong.

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Getting Around

By Train

Suburban trains only travel as far as Belgrave, which is at the end of the Belgrave Line from Melbourne CBD. Puffing Billy Steam Railway (see above) is a century-old steam train which used to service the villages of the Dandenongs. You can catch Puffing Billy from their Belgrave Station which is just a few hundred metres away from the Belgrave Metro Train Station. From there, you can go on a return trip to Emerald, Emerald Lake Park or Gembrook. Puffing Billy operates daily except Christmas Day.

By Car

Driving through the Dandenongs by car is an enjoyable experience and gives maximum flexibility when it comes to experiencing the area. Drive your own car or rent one from a car rental company. The Dandenongs are about an hour drive from Melbourne CBD, and the villages and attractions of the Dandenongs are in easy driving distance during the course of a day.

By Bus

There are local buses servicing the Dandenong Ranges, including Belgrave, Gembrook and Olinda. Check out the Metlink Melbourne website mentioned under 'By Train' for more information on buses to the area you want to visit.
Day Tour Companies such as AAT Kings, Gray Line and Australian Pacific Touring (APT) offer day tours from Melbourne CBD that includes Dandenong Ranges National Park, a trip on Puffing Billy, a visit to Sherbrooke Forest, morning tea and quaint villages such as Sassafras.

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Eat

The Dandenongs are known for their many gourmet options including cafes, restaurants, pubs, vineyards, delis and berry farms. You can drop in for afternoon tea or visit one of the many local markets.
Dining in a Dandenongs restaurant often comes with the added bonus of stunning views of the forests and fern gullies of the Dandenongs. Many tour companies take in a lunch at the world famous Cuckoo Restaurant. The Cuckoo serves a delicious smorgasbord and entertainment which includes a unique Bavarian atmosphere! This restaurant welcomes tourists from all over the world.
You can also have lunch or dinner aboard Puffing Billy, which includes a steam train journey in the Railway’s dining carriages through thick forest. If choosing the Dinner Special, you will enjoy a three course dinner at the historic Nobelius Packing Shed which formerly served the once-extensive Nobelius & Co. nursery. From here, seedlings and plants were dispatched by rail to all parts of Australia and the world. However you do need to pre book these services so plan ahead if you’d like to go with this option.

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Drink

You can enjoy food and drink at the many restaurants, cafes, pubs and boutique vineyards in the Dandenongs.

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Sleep

The Dandenongs doesn't have many budget accommodation options, but does offer an array of B&Bs and cottages as well as boutique hotels and motels. Spending a night or two in the Dandenongs gives you the opportunity to explore the area in depth, take a stroll down the street for an evening meal and wake up to the freshness of the hills!

Accommodation in the hills can be booked through the excellent Dandenong Ranges B&B Booking Service which offers accommodation in Sassafras, Olinda, Silvan, Mt Dandenong, Belgrave, Menzies Creek and Boronia.

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This is version 61. Last edited at 20:35 on May 19, 13 by Sander. 7 articles link to this page.

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