Visitors to Melbourne are spoilt for choice for stunning natural landscapes to enjoy — but at just an hour's drive from the CBD, the Dandenong Ranges are one of the easiest to access. Here's a handy checklist of top things to do in this magnificent part of Victoria.
For years a favoured retreat for Melburnians in search of R&R, the stunning Dandenong Ranges offer so much for visitors to enjoy.
Located just 35 kilometres east of Melbourne, the air in the Dandenongs is fresher, the trees are noticeably taller, and the lush landscape is dotted with quaint villages and towns. Here are ten of the best things to do in the Dandenong Ranges.
1. Walk the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk
In the beautiful Dandenong Ranges National Park, people gather to test their fitness on the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk — also known as the One Thousand Steps. It’s a challenging climb that pays tribute to Australian soldiers who fought in Papua New Guinea during World War II. The walk is always busy on weekends, so go on a weekday and meander up at your own pace.
2. Drive Mount Dandenong Tourist Road
Stretching for 30 kilometres from the access point at Upper Ferntree Gully, the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road offers a delightful drive through lush greenery speckled with fragments of light. It makes its way through the quaint towns of Sassafras and Olinda, before winding up in Montrose. The city views from various vantage points at the top of the range are absolutely stunning.
3. Take a break at a traditional tea room
One thing the Dandenongs has in abundance is tearooms. Sassafras, Olinda and Kallista all have gorgeous traditional cafes, which turn over mountains of freshly baked scones throughout the day. The only problem is choosing which venue to try. So don’t. Try them all!
4. Touch the sky at Skyhigh Mount Dandenong
Follow the signs to one of the most tranquil retreats in the region. Perched high on Mount Dandenong, Skyhigh offers a series of manicured gardens with picnic areas, a maze, and of course breathtaking views of the city and Port Phillip. There’s a small fee to enter, but it’s well worth it if you come prepared with a picnic and plan to stay for the day.
5. Lose yourself in the William Ricketts Sanctuary
There are more than ninety sculptures set into rocks and tree trunks throughout the William Ricketts Sanctuary, which provides a thought-provoking portrayal of the effect of European settlement on Australia’s Indigenous people. Sculptor and potter William Ricketts (1898–1993) spent almost 60 years creating the sanctuary, and today it inspires many moments of quiet reflection.
6. Ride Puffing Billy
The iconic Puffing Billy steam train travels between Belgrave and Gembrook, giving guests on board a glimpse of the golden age of rail travel and a unique way to enjoy the forested landscape. The track was built back in the early 1900s and today Puffing Billy is one of Victoria’s most popular attractions.
7. Eat your way across the range
There’s certainly no shortage of delicious things to do in the Dandenong Ranges. Treat yourself to a picnic lunch of fresh baguettes and gourmet sandwiches on board Puffing Billy as it winds its way up the range. Skyhigh Mount Dandenong also has a restaurant, which serves up amazing views of the city.
There are plenty of other great places to eat, including Olinda’s Cuckoo Restaurant (a popular German-style eatery) and Kelly’s Bar and Kitchen — which is housed in a rustic colonial log cabin conversion.
8. Explore Sherbrooke Forest
After lunch, divert from the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road towards Belgrave and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in the beauty of Sherbrooke Forest. This tranquil mountain ash and stringybark woodland is home to lyrebirds and wombats. It has picnic grounds, walking tracks and the impressive Sherbrooke Falls to enjoy.
Many of the region’s furry locals are nocturnal by nature, and there’s plenty of fun after dark for humans too. Head to the Sooki Lounge in Belgrave — a quirky performance space that regularly hosts Australian musicians like Josh Pyke and Ash Grunwald. Wind up your day in the Dandenongs over cocktails and share plates.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in the Dandenong Ranges? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Elle Vidovich is a freelance writer based in Melbourne with a love for travel, food and architecture. She has travelled to over 50 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. Elle believes that travel can change a person. It can open their eyes to different cultures, make them thankful for what they have, or inspire them to make a difference.