Puffing Billy Railway, Dandenong Ranges, VIC © Puffing Billy, Dandenong Ranges

Guide to the Dandenong Ranges

Piggery Cafe, Yarra Valley, VIC © Visit Victoria

Eat at a top Melbourne chef's country café and bakery 

Enjoy a hearty country breakfast or long lunch at the rustic-chic Piggery Café and Burnham Bakery, located in the restored stables and piggery of the historic Burnham Beeches estate in Sherbrooke. Outside tables overlook lawn bowls, croquet and bocce pitches popular with guests. Further afield are extensive vegetable gardens, a 500-tree trufferie and an enclosure for emus that supply eggs for the café. This is stage one of an ambitious project by Melbourne star chef Shannon Bennett, who plans to add Australia's longest chicken run, a 16-cow automated dairy plus a steakhouse, microbrewery and luxury retreat all designed according to sustainable principles.

Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges, VIC © Visit Victoria

Discover the Dandenong Ranges' colourful cool climate gardens

The Dandenong Ranges are home to many established cool climate gardens that are particularly spectacular in spring and autumn. Wander amid huge rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and daffodils in the National Rhododendron Gardens and enjoy an ornamental lake surrounded by mountain ash, gingko, maple and liquid amber trees at the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens. Ponder Aboriginal spirituality as you discover the sculptures of Aboriginal people tucked among the ferns of the tranquil William Ricketts Sanctuary. Admire the kaleidoscope of colour at the Tesselaar Tulip Festival (early September to early October) and check out the 20 English “garden rooms” of Cloudehill Nursery and Gardens. You'll find a patchwork of 150 species of native and exotic trees at the RJ Hamer Arboretum, and kids will love the hedge maze at Sky High Mount Dandenong, which also has fabulous views over Melbourne.

Puffing Billy Railway, Dandenong Ranges, VIC © Visit Victoria

Go for a ride on the Puffing Billy steam train

Breathe in the cool mountain air through the open-sided carriages of one of the world's finest preserved steam railways as it wends its way for 24 kilometres (15 miles) through the tall mountain ash forests and fern gullies of the Dandenong Ranges. Puffing Billy trundles along timber bridges, stops at historic, small-town railway stations and offers views of farmland all the way to Port Phillip Bay. You can even dangle your legs over the side of the open carriages (kids love it). There are also special train journeys including lunch and dinner in fully enclosed, first-class dining carriages.

Cherryhills Orchard, Yarra Valley, VIC © Cherryhill Orchards

Go fruit picking

The rich soils of the Dandenong ranges are perfect for growing fruit. You can join in the fun by going fruit picking in season at Cherryhill OrchardsBlue Hills Berries and Cherries, and Kookaberry Berry Farm. Don't forget your camera; the vibrant fruit and rows of trees offer ample opportunities for photographers.

Miss Marples, Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges, VIC © Visit Victoria

Explore pretty villages

Drive the winding 30-kilometre (19-mile) Mount Dandenong Tourist Road through soaring mountain ash forests and leafy fern glades, stopping to explore the pretty villages of Olinda, Sassafras and Belgrave. Maybe it's the cool mountain air, but there's a fascination with Devonshire teas in these parts. In Sassafras, Miss Marple's Tearoom is a standout and Tealeaves sells some of the finest loose-leaf teas in Australia. Also in Sassafras, kids will love the toys and puppets at Geppetto's Workshop. In Olinda, check out carefully curated homewares and clothing at Mangana

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