A Victorian local has pieced together a stunning multi-day walk through the Dandenong Ranges, only 40km from Melbourne’s CBD.
Creating the Dandenong Ranges Trail
In 2016 I led a group cycling a section of the famous Camino Trail in Spain. It was a truly wonderful experience.
Something that really captivated me was how the Camino had evolved, an incredible network of support and services, all perfectly spaced out so that those walking the Trail could live and walk carrying very little, buying meals as they went and staying in accommodation along the way.
My tourism background led me to want to create something similar here in Australia. But what region had the beauty, history, culture, and importantly appropriate distances between towns to allow for a walking trail to be created?
The obvious answer was my home region of the Dandenong Ranges on the eastern edge of Melbourne.
With villages spread through the hills, a labyrinth of existing trails, and some of the most beautiful forest in the country, it was both obvious and perfectly suited to the design of a long distance trail.
Doing the Research
The best bit of the project began, going out day after day to walk the trails of the Dandenongs, often with the family, to piece together a long distance trail that would show the highlights, the lesser seen areas and really take people on a journey through this magic landscape that sits less than 40km from the centre of Melbourne.
The trail design flowed quite naturally with the hills and existing tracks organically leading the way.
In the end the 72km Dandenong Ranges Trail emerged, which takes walkers all the way from Gembrooke in the south through to Lilydale in the north. More than just a bush walk, the trail takes in the forests of giant Mountain ash and Fern tree gullies, lovely hills, towns, farming areas, gardens, and the art and history of this beautiful area.
There’s no camping in the national park but accommodation is scattered throughout the area, both traditional hotels and Airbnbs.
Highlights of the Dandenong Ranges Trail
There’s so much to see! Begin with a ride on the Puffing Billy to Gembrooke before you start walking. Delve into Wright Forest before emerging at Emerald Lake Park, the Nobelius Heritage Park and Emerald Village.
Follow the fern trees along Menzies and Sassafras Creeks via Monbulk to Kalista. Walk past the tall trees of Sherbrooke Forest, if you’re lucky you will hear the calls of the lyrebirds.
Visit the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens, beautiful with autumn colours, spring bloom, and the much photographed, iconic boathouse. Ascend to the top of the mountain range and the famous villages of Sassafras and Olinda.
Then see the Sanctuary of William Ricketts, an eccentric and controversial sculptor who lived here and sculpted Aboriginal figures into the natural forest landscape. Hike through Dandenong Ranges National Park to a track along an old aqueduct which takes you to Mt Evelyn town and finally, to Lilydale.
How To Hike It
It’s expected that most people will take 4 to 7 days to complete the Dandenong Ranges Trail.
A major part of the ethos behind the trail is for it to be low impact, grassroots travel that will support local businesses without adding to the congestion in the Hills.
Public transport runs throughout the area providing easy access. Belgrave and Lilydale are on the suburban train network and bus services all the villages, so you can get yourself to and from the trail easily without a car!
I’ve created a website with the core information on the route and logistics with more content to be added over time. I’m working on a guidebook that I hope to publish later in the year, but for now, there’s a Facebook page with regular updates and information.
While different to a traditional Australian hike, the Dandenong Ranges Trail is a great way to experience this beautiful part of Australia in a sustainable and enjoyable way that’s also accessible to less hardcore hikers.
I dream that it will grow into one of Australia’s iconic walks and receive backing from the local councils, Parks Victoria, and tourism bodies to allow the trail to thrive and become an important part of the Dandenong Ranges.
Read more: The 9 Best Multi-Day Hikes in Victoria
Feature Photo Thanks to Visit Victoria