An Australian bucket list item on everyone’s visit to Melbourne is a day trip drive through the Dandenongs. Why? Well it is a spectacular trip that has plenty to see and do for everyone in the family, from kids to adults. So if you are after discovering some great hikes, boutique shops and quaint cafes topped with spectacular views over Melbourne, Port Phillip Bay to Mount Macedon, then you definitely need to take a road trip through the Dandenongs.
Some Terminology First
You will hear different terms when referring to this part of outer eastern Melbourne. Here’s a quick explanation so you don’t get confused what is what when working out your visit to the Dandenongs.
- The Dandenongs – a group of small hills and mountains left behind by a volcanic eruption. They form the beginning of the Great Dividing Range which is along most of the East Coast of Australia. And they are at the base of Melbourne’s famed Yarra Valley wine region.
- Mount Dandenong – often referred to as Mount D by the locals is the largest mountain in the Dandenongs.
- Dandenong Ranges National Park – Most of the Dandenongs are covered by the Dandenong Ranges National Park.
- Mount Dandenong – small suburb with a village on Mount Dandenong.
- Mount Dandenong Tourist Road (C415) – the tourist road through the Dandenongs.
Where are the Dandenongs?
The Dandenongs are 35km (22 miles) East from Melbourne’s CBD and Mount Dandenong, the highest point of the Dandenongs stands some 633 metres (2077 feet) above sea-level. You cannot miss it as you drive towards it with its TV and radio transmission towers soaring above it. In fact, you may think you are in France! A friend’s daughter once had a friend over and while driving saw the transmission towers and asked ‘is that the Eiffel Tower?’ To which was explained they are the TV and radio transmission towers for Melbourne sitting on top of Mount Dandenong. The friend was a little disappointed that France wasn’t as close as first thought!
How to Get to Mount Dandenong from Melbourne
There are bus services that will take you to around the mountain but you will need to adhere to its timetable. You have two options:
- Catch a train to Croydon Train Station then take Bus No. 688 taking you to Kalorama, Mount Dandenong, Olinda, Sassafras, Ferny Creek and to Upper Ferntree Gully.
- Catch a train to Belgrave Train Station for Puffing Billing Train Station. Take bus number 694 to Sherbrooke, Kallista, Sassafras and Olinda.
I think it is best to visit Mount Dandenong by car because you will have more flexibility to go wherever you want without relying on the buses. If you don’t have a car then you can rent one. Get pricing and availability here.
Or you could go on an organised day tour. Check them out here.
When is the best time to visit the Dandenongs
Anytime is a good time to visit the Dandenongs as it aint going nowhere. However, if you are going for the spectacular views, go on a clear day so you get to see the view. A clear day can be in any season however, during summer, it can be very hot and you need to be aware of any bushfire restrictions. And then in winter, because the mountain is high, it can get snow and sleet with a bitter wind.
What to See and Do in the Dandenongs
Get Great Views at SkyHigh Mount Dandenong
The premier tourist attraction in the Dandenongs is SkyHigh Mount Dandenong which is privately leased land from Parks Victoria. The entrance fee of $10 covers its maintenance. Here you will find the Sky High Restaurant, a cafe, picnic areas with BBQs and great English gardens to stroll through and for the kids to run around in. There is also a maze to make your way through, a wishing well and tree, Percy Possum’s House and the Giant’s Chair. But the piece de resistance is the view. On a beautiful clear day you can see across Melbourne’s eastern suburbs over to Port Phillip Bay and beyond to the Macedon Ranges. You will see much of this view in the replica of Arthur Streeton’s ‘Storm over Macedon’ painting located on the terrace.
You can spend a few hours here at SkyHigh Mount Dandenong and it is well worth it!
Great views of Melbourne to the Macedon Ranges from SkyHigh Mount Dandenong
Go on a Walk through the Dandenongs
As Mount Dandenong belongs in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, you can image it has many trees, lush fern gullies, bushwalking tracks, picnic areas and waterfalls. In fact, Mount Dandenong has some 32 wonderful walks to undertake through different terrains. They vary in length from under 1km to about 20km and range from easy to moderate to hard. They all vary and some are kid-friendly, pet-friendly and or wheelchair friendly.
The most popular is the 1000 Steps which is a memorial to the Kokoda Trail in PNG. One of my favourites is the Olinda Falls Walking Track as I am treated to a fabulous waterfall to take a break from walking at. Another good one is to Burkes Lookout for great views over Melbourne. It is also one of the most popular places people go on New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks over Melbourne. For more walks check out Explore the Dandenongs.
Please note: Some of the walking tracks are still closed due to storms that hit Mount Dandenong in June 2021.
Plenty of walks through trees in the Dandenongs
Enjoy a meal in one of the Quaint Towns
If you didn’t bring a picnic lunch or had a meal at SkyHigh Mount Dandenong then there are a number of options. The small townships and villages of Olinda, Mount Dandenong and Sassafras on Mount D have some great coffee shops and restaurants to enjoy a meal. I particularly like the pies from the Olinda Pie Shop. There are also some picnic spots where you can cook a BBQ or enjoy food you brought from home. There was a Mount D institution – the Cuckoo Restaurant. This was a German-themed restaurant in Olinda that not only had great food but great German entertainment too. Unfortunately, the pandemic was not kind to the Cuckoo Restaurant and it closed.
Plenty of cute coffee shops to enjoy a cuppa
William Rickets Sanctuary
William Rickets Sanctuary is named after the talented Australian potter of the same name who also lived and worked at Mount Dandenong from 1934 until his death in 1993. He spent some 50 years creating the 92 ceramic sculptures of animals and people depicting the Aboriginal Dreamtime. You can visit this beautiful and tranquil place where you can walk along a ferny pathway amongst these mystical sculptures. Kids of all ages love it!
Mount Dandenong Arboretum
The Mount Dandenong Arboretum is an area where you will find 16 hectares of deciduous trees and conifers. Arboretum is a Latin word meaning a place for trees, and you will see many trees here. Go for a walk through them or simply enjoy a picnic amongst them.
Kalorama Recreational Reserve
The Kalorama Recreational Reserve is a large sporting field surrounded by tall, and I mean tall trees. The sporting field is in use during the year with both football in winter and cricket in summer. I can attest to this as my son played cricket here one Friday evening. There is also a playground, skate park and it is home to the Karwarra Australian Plant Garden. You can go on a walk here through the trees that is only 2km in length, but is quite steep.
Puffing Billy Railway
Puffing Billy Steam Train is fun for everyone
Further afield in the Dandenongs out at Belgrave is the famous Puffing Billy Railway. Most Melburnians have taken a ride on this special steam train whether it be for a school excursion or weekend treat. It is a time-honoured tradition for passengers to sit on the carriage sills while Puffing Billy chugs through rolling hills, Sherbrooke Forest with its native ‘Mountain Ash’ trees, open farmland and across the iconic Trestle Bridge. Such a cool experience for all ages. I think I squealed in delight more than my kids!
Suggested Touring Routes through the Dandenongs
There are three roads that take you to the Dandenongs from Melbourne and others from the other side of the mountain range. Here are my suggested touring routes to make the most of your time touring around Mount Dandenong and the Dandenong Ranges.
Route 1: Follow Maroondah Highway and turn right onto the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road (C415). Stopping at:
- Kalorama Bowl (on the right)
- SkyHigh Mount Dandenong
- 1000 Steps Trek
- Ferntree Gully then back along Burwood Highway to Melbourne.
- Or turn left and follow (C412) to Belgrave for Puffing Billy Railway.
Route 2: Follow Burwood Highway to Ferntree Gully. Vear left onto Mount Dandenong Tourist Road (C415). Stopping at:
- 1000 Steps Trek
- SkyHigh Mount Dandenong
- Kalorama Bowl (on the left)
- Continue along tourist road and follow back to Maroondah Highway.
Route 3: Follow Burwood Highway to Ferntree Gully. Vear right and follow road (C412) to:
- Belgrave for Puffing Billy Railway
- Follow further for towns such as Emerald or return and follow Route 2. Or from Belgrave follow (C404) to Kallista, to Olinda and SkyHigh Mount Dandenong.
Where to Stay in the Dandenongs?
Extend your stay in the Dandenongs by spending a night or weekend here. There a number of unique and quaint accommodation options for all budgets. From hostels to B&Bs. There are plenty of options on Booking.com.
Are You Ready to take a road trip through the Dandenongs?
The Dandenongs are an easy day trip from Melbourne. If you are looking for something to do, taking a drive through around Mount Dandenong is a great way to spend a day or two.