Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges are less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne and the gateway to an amazing experience which includes towering mountain ash forest, lush fern gullies, stunning gardens, quaint villages and a ride on a 100 year old steam train. Birdlife, wildlife, cafes and restaurants abound in the Dandenongs making it attractive for nature lovers and tourists alike.
The area has been popular with day trippers since the late 1800’s and was formed into the Dandenong Ranges National Park in 1987. The NP covers an area of 3215 hectares and has some 250 kilometres of walking trails.

Formed from a volcano eruption more than 30 million years ago the mountain range is a series of rolling hills now covered by temperate rainforest. After European settlement the tall timbers of the forest were sought after and a number of timber camps were established in the mid to late 1800’s. In the early days timber was taken out of the ranges by bullock teams.

During the depression of the 1890’s the Government allocated 10 acre farmlets to poverty stricken city folk on the basis that they cleared and farmed the land and lived there for 8 months of a year. Clearing the forest by hand was a back breaking job and I assume many didn't survive the hardships. 

Prior to European settlement the Dandenongs were on the boundary of the lands of the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people. The foothills provided a rich source of food and medicines. To find out  more about Australia’s Indigenous Culture.
You can also read some interesting dreamtime stories on the Emerald Primary School’s history of Emerald site. 

There are a range of beautiful gardens to enjoy in the Dandenong Ranges these include:
William Ricketts Sanctuary

Amongst the beautiful bushland of the Dandenong Ranges are clay sculptures of aboriginal people and native wildlife. William Ricketts blog  

The Sanctuary is open daily from 10:00am to 4:30pm daily (except Christmas Day).

A short drive from the township of Olinda this garden is internationally acclaimed for its rhododendrons and stunning views across the Dandenongs and Yarra Valley.  Set on 40 hectares the gardens also have azaleas, camellias, cherries and daffodils ensuring a colourful array whenever you visit.
The gardens have a gift shop that stocks a wide variety of items. There is also a cafe which operates during the spring months only.
Operated by Parks Victoria the gardens are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Christmas day. 
Alfred Nicholas Gardens

With a mix of native and exotic trees, picturesque waterfalls and an ornamental lake these stunning gardens are part of the Burnham Beeches Estate. Nicholas, who developed the Aspro formula with his brother, travelled throughout Victoria and to other parts of the world to find established trees for the garden. 
Kookaburras, king parrots and a range of rosellas are often seen in the gardens.

Now operated by Parks Victoria the gardens are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Christmas day.
George Tindale Memorial Gardens

Established by George and Ruth Tindale the gardens have a collection of rare and exotic plants and flowers set amongst tall mountain ash forest.  Ruth continued to work on the gardens after George died and her flair as an artist is evident in the walks and sculptures throughout the park.

Covering 2.4 hectares the gardens are now managed by Parks Victoria.
Mount Dandenong Arboretum

Set on 16 hectares the Arboretum has a collection of deciduous trees and conifers from around the world.  Eight specimens are listed on the National Trusts Significant Tree Register. You can now download an iPhone app from the National Trust Trust Trees

R.J. Hamer Arboretum

Set on 120 hectares the Arboretum has stunning views and numerous walking trails set amongst a collection of liquid ambers, maples and deciduous conifers.

Spring Festival      
Showcasing the best of the gardens the Spring Festival includes a range of open gardens, various flower and garden festivals, tours,, lectures and food and wine events.

Other attractions
Puffing Billy

Puffing Billy is one of the most popular attractions in the Dandenong Ranges with children and adults alike enjoying a ride through the Ranges on this 100 year old steam train.  Running on a narrow gauge heritage steam railway the Puffing Billy runs from Belgrave to Gembrook.

There are a range of stops along the journey including Lakeside which is a popular stop for a picnic or paddle boat ride on Emerald Lake.  A range of dining options can also be included on some trips.
Train services run each day but on a limited timetable so make sure you check times before travelling to the station. For information on timetable and fares.

The Sky High has a number of viewing platforms with stunning views of Melbourne, the Morning Peninsula, Port Phillip Bay and the You Yangs.  There is a cafe, restaurant and conference centre amoungst the extensive and well kept gardens which include a “secret garden”, English gardens and forest walks.

View from Sky High on a misty day

Popular with families as a picnic area there is a small fee charged on entry. (Currently $5 per car)

Now managed by Parks Victoria the area is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m.  to 10 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Walking trails
There are a range of walking trails from leisurely walks to energetic hikes available throughout the Dandenongs.
Kokoda Memorial Track

Named in honour of the Kokoda Track in New Guinea this steep 1,000 step climb is a popular destination for hikers.  The climb is a jungle like experience dotted with plaques providing snippets of the history of the trials and tribulations of Australian soldiers and their allies at the hands of their Japanese captors.
In recent years the Memorial Track has been used as a training ground for people intending on visiting Kokoda and following in the footsteps of Australian diggers.
Sherbrooke Falls Trail
A walk of 1.2 kilometres this is an easy walk on a flat track through mountain ash and sassafras some dating back more than 200 years.
This 17 kilometre track meanders across the cool and clear waters of Woori Yallock, Menzies and Sassafras Creeks. You will pass through the temperate rainforest of the Dandenongs including fern filled gullies, towering mountain ash on boardwalks and across bridges.

One of the many picnic areas found along the walking trails

1 or 2 day tours of the Dandenongs

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