Take the winding Dandenongs Tourist Road through towering forests to the stunning Dandenong Ranges, just half an hour east of Melbourne, to explore the great outdoors at its best.
Get back to nature on an easy trek through the Dandenong Ranges National Park to lush Sherbrooke Falls or soar through the treetops along flying foxes, tight ropes and obstacles at Trees Adventure, where you will find exciting ropes courses to suit all ages. Make the descent through the shady canopy of Mountain Ash trees down to the picturesque lake and pretty boathouse at Alfred Nicholas Gardens at Sherbrooke, or visit the William Ricketts Sanctuary to find the mysterious clay sculptures that have been hidden amongst the trees.
One of the area’s most iconic attractions is Puffing Billy, a century-old steam train that runs along an original mountain track from Belgrave through forests, fern gullies and farmland to Gembrook. Highlights of the journey include the magnificent 15-span wooden trestle bridge over Monbulk Creek, a visit to the carriage repair workshop at Emerald and a stop at the picturesque Emerald Lake to enjoy a paddleboat ride.
Animal lovers should head to Healesville Sanctuary to spot Australian animals in their natural habitat and visit Warroock, a 100-year old working farm, for encounters of the farmyard kind.
Stop at the charming village of Olinda for a Devonshire tea or pie and chips at the award-winning Pie in the Sky. And at Sassafras, kids will love Geppetto’s Workshop, a quaint toy shop specialising in wooden toys including marionettes and hand puppets, spinning tops, wooden puzzles and games.
With heritage, nature, art, fine food and more to enjoy in the Dandenongs, here are our top recommendations
Take a road trip, stopping to soak up views. Let the kids stretch their little legs in gorgeous gardens and along some of the safe forest trails. Stop at farm gates to gather and taste the freshest and best local produce and pick bucketsful of berries and cherries. Then stop to enjoy the spoils on a family picnic surrounded by flower gardens or forests of towering trees.
Explore the charming villages of Sassafras and Olinda for a babycino and snacks from the bakery, and be sure to take your tots to explore Geppetto’s Workshop, a traditional style toy shop full of the charm of yesteryear and overflowing with wooden trinkets, toys and puppets.
A ride on Puffing Billy, a century-old steam train that chugs its way from Belgrave to Gembrook, will have Thomas the Tank Engine loving tykes in a tizz.
Rising to 633 metres at its highest point – The Dandenong Ranges is always a little cooler than nearby Melbourne. But no matter what season you visit, the forest, towns, communities and attractions are superb.
There are four distinct seasons offering an array of things to see and do. In summer temperatures can reach a staggering 40 degrees Celsius, while Spring and autumn are the most colourful time to visit with gardens and parks bursting into an array of glorious shades as the seasons turn. Winter is generally mild and wet, and it is known to snow on the mountain top a few times during the season, so prepare to layer up the winter woollies, especially if you are planning to head out at night. Regardless of the mild temps, winter is still the best season for tackling some of the area’s longer hikes.
It is all about high-quality produce within the Dandenong Ranges. You’ll find everything from fine dining and contemporary cuisine, to restaurants and cafes offering a range of international cuisine and traditional fare. Often with magnificent views or hidden down pretty streets.
Some of the best spots for families include The Piggery Café, housed in a restored piggery and stables at Burnham Beeches, while the Cuckoo Restaurant, which opened in 1958, is renowned for its fun Bavarian atmosphere. Bam Bam Italian is another excellent choice for kids. Open for breakfast lunch and dinner, it even boasts a children’s playground. And if you like a little mystery with your meal, Miss Marple’s Tearoom plays tribute to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. And be sure to stop in at Pie in the Sky at Olinda for one of Australia’s best pies.
Grants Picnic Ground is a great spot for a picnic amongst the birds. Located in Sherbrooke Forest, access to bird feeding costs $4 and provides a perfect way to finish off a family picnic.
March – The Herb and Chilli Festival
Held at Wandin, this family festival includes exhibits, stalls, a chilli cook-off and loads of fun activities.
March - Cloudhill Festival of Flowers
Hosted by Cloudhill Gardens, stop to smell the flowers, meet growers and garden experts and enjoy workshops.
April - PAVE Festival
Held over eight days, including Easter, in the town of Emerald, enjoy music, dance, exhibitions, stalls and much more.
April - Great Train Race
A fabulous event for all the family where you can race the famous Puffing Billy.
May - Dandenong Ranges Open Studios
Meet talented artists of many genres as they open their studio doors to share their creativity with the public.
September- Tesselaar Tulip Festival
See the varied colours of the tulips bursting into flower at the Tesselaar Nursery in Silvan.
October – Stringybark Festival
A festival revolving around sustainability held at the Rowville Community Centre with a little something for everyone.
Can you hear the call of the wild? From zoos and animal encounters to the great outdoors, go wild over Australia’s natural offerings for families.
Stuck at home these holidays? Travel anywhere you want without leaving your living room with these kid-friendly staycation activities.
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