The stunning gardens, cool forests and quaint townships of the Dandenong Ranges are an easy day trip from Melbourne.
By Sue Gough Henly
The Dandenong Ranges are the cool, green lungs of Melbourne. Explore the fern glades and soaring forests of mountain ash (the world's tallest flowering trees) by car, on foot or in a historic steam train. Wander through some of Australia's finest mature gardens and enjoy great country fare in pretty villages and rustic farm cafes.
- Ride the historic Puffing Billy Steam Train through forests and fern gullies
- Explore some of Australia's finest gardens
- Drive the scenic, winding Mount Dandenong Tourist Road and explore pretty villages
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Top things to do in the Dandenong Ranges
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.
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.
See wildlife in natural surroundings
There are so many ways to explore the Dandenong's beautiful natural environment. Feed colourful rosellas and noisy sulphur-crested cockatoos at Grants Picnic Ground. Go for a hike along the Eastern Sherbrooke Forest Walk or Sherbrooke Falls Walk, where you might see lyrebirds, wombats, swamp wallabies or brush-tailed possums in the mountain ash forests. Have a picnic and ride the paddle boats at Emerald Lake Park, one of the stops on the Puffing Billy Railway. If you are feeling particularly energetic, climb the 1000 steps of the Kokoda Walk to One Tree Hill, which honours the challenges faced by Australian soldiers on Papua New Guinea's Kokoda Track during World War II.
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.
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 and Mallalieu.
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 Orchards, Blue Hills Berries and Cherries, and Kookaberry Berry Farm.
How to get there
By car from Melbourne it takes about an hour to get to the Dandenong Ranges via the M1 freeway, Ferntree Gully Road and the Burwood Highway. The Dandenong Ranges are also accessible on the V-Line train service from Melbourne. There are many options for day tours and accommodation for longer stays.