Just an hour from Melbourne lies a green swathe of mountain ranges, wineries and tranquil walking tracks. In partnership with Visit Victoria, here’s our guide on where to eat, drink and stay in the region.
The Dandenong Ranges are something of an anomaly on the outskirts of otherwise flat Melbourne. They’re the result of a huge volcanic eruption that occurred more than 300 million years ago. Over time, volcanic ash in the area broke down to create fertile soil, which started the growth of the cool rainforests, luscious bushland and picturesque ferntree gullies we know and love the area for.
The Ranges are a region of low-set mountain ranges and winding roads surrounded by towering Mountain Ash trees, populated with quaint villages such as Sassafras, Olinda and Belgrave. Originally founded in the early 1900s to facilitate timber farming, these small towns have become a haven of organic food, experimental hospitality, gardens and luxurious accommodation.
Start your trip to the “Dandenongs” in Belgrave (home of historic steam train Puffing Billy) and drive all the way up to Mount Dandenong, which peaks at 633 metres. On the way, stop by Proserpina Bakehouse (a bright sourdough bakery in Sassafras that mills its own organic flour) and RJ Hamer Arboretum (a botanic garden with acres of “mini forests” and native flowers).
With a half-hour drive north-east you’ll find the Yarra Valley: Victoria’s oldest wine region, with its first vines planted in 1838. Famous for cool-climate vineyards and incredible artisan cheese (see: Yarra Valley Dairy), visit Four Pillars’ distillery to taste its award-winning namesake gin, and Sir Paz Estate for woodfired potato pizza with a view of the Yarra Valley from the expansive al fresco deck.
Here’s our guide for what to eat, drink, do and where to stay in the area.
Welcome to Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges
Organic Victorian sourdough, thali plates of south Indian street food and farm-to-table fare from chef Shannon Bennett.
The Yarra Valley rightly has a reputation for producing incredible wine, but there’s sour beer, hand-crafted rum and award-winning gin to try, too.
Explore tranquil walking tracks and picturesque natural bushland (or ride through it on a historic steam train).
Puffing Billy is synonymous with the Dandenong Ranges. A historic steam train that runs from Belgrave to Glenbrook through the region’s dense rainforest, bushland and ferntree gullies, it was established in the early 1900s to give Melburnians a way to access the region for day trips and weekend holidays in the hills. It closed for commercial use in 1954 after a landslide blocked the tracks, but from 1962 parts of the line began to reopen. The nearly two-hour journey now runs between Belgrave and Gembrook, with the full track maintained by over 600 volunteers. Breathe in the fresh air through the train’s open windows as you travel over the railway’s iconic wooden Monbulk Creek trestle bridge from Belgrave station. Depending on where you arrive or alight, a Puffing Billy train journey can last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
RJ Hamer Arboretum
Stretching for over 120 hectares, the RJ Hamer Arboretum is a botanical garden near the town of Olinda with over 200 species of trees and countless native plants. In 1970, after the native bushland that occupied the area was destroyed by bushfires, a proposal to establish the area as an arboretum (a botanical garden containing living collections of woody plants) was approved, and a selection of less-flammable trees was planted as part of a fire plan to protect nearby villages on the mountain. This peaceful expanse of “mini forests” is free to enter and punctuated with walking trails and picnic grounds.
Grant’s Picnic Ground
One of the most popular outdoor picnic areas in the Dandenong Ranges, Grant’s Picnic Ground is a peaceful pocket of cool, temperate rainforest on the edge of the lush Sherbrooke Forest. Surrounded by the region’s native mountain ash trees, it’s bird-life and native animals galore: lyrebirds, cockatoos, crimson rosellas and rainbow lorikeets often flit through the tall trees. Multiple walking tracks start at Grant’s Picnic Ground and wind through the surrounding area (depending which trail you choose, you can walk from 20 minutes to two hours). If you don’t want to carry your own picnic, there’s a small cafe (Grants on Sherbrooke) in the area where you can grab simple meals like wraps and sandwiches, as well as alcohol, coffee and scones.
Sleep among the towering mountain ash trees in accommodation surrounded by natural bushland.