My next goal was the perennial favourite, the National Rhododendron Gardens, set tucked away on a hillside at the back of Olinda. I deliberately used the word “perennial” because many people mistakenly think that the only time to visit is in spring when a stunning array of rhododendrons is in full bloom. My advice is to visit whatever the season for there is so much more to the gardens; the lush greens of summer, the dramatic textures of autumn, the exotic lilies, the reflective lakes with their reed beds and the weird trees and shrubs. To walk there anytime is a pleasure as I discovered while talking to a local who comes here every day for her daily stroll. She described in vivid detail the changing of the seasons and what they bring to the garden.
Started in 1960 by a branch of the then Ferny Creek Horticultural Society who got a grant of 20 hectares from the Forestry Commission and a further 20 hectares in 1974 it outgrew the labours of volunteers. These days it's another of the fabulous gardens that are run by Parks Victoria that you and I can view for free; one of the great bargains of Australia.
If you’re into walking then I’ve also done the Sherbrooke Falls walk although at less than 45 minutes this is more of a short stroll than a full on bushwalk. A good track for beginners or those who want to experience the forest without much effort.
Nonetheless, at the popular picnic area where you park, you cannot fail to be impressed by the mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans a.k.a. swamp gum in Tassie). You pass through these at the start of the walk and drift along until you loop around the falls over a bridge. Best viewed after rain if you want to see plenty of water, it is an easy track to follow and walk on with offshoots to other, more serious, trails.
The falls themselves aren't anything to get excited about, just a streamlet trickling beneath a bridge but pretty nonetheless.
However, that magnificent garden is but the tip of the iceberg. Next time up I went to William Ricketts Sanctuary, an iconic attraction whose creator originally named it the Potters Sanctuary, to revisit the wooden and stone sculptures of aborigines, a race that William had a special affinity for after spending time with them in the outback. He felt that their spiritual values regarding the land should be adopted by all.
I met an ex-German lady who had come because her mother in Germany had read an article on them and wanted to know why she hadn’t been.
No less a well known figure than Billy Connelly said it, “..was the most impressive thing I’ve seen in Australia”. Ricketts died in 1993, aged 94, but there’s a self portrait of him among the sculptures. Every face carved is of someone, they are all original and, while you’re there, try and discover the spiritual meaning of the concentric circles, a theme revisited many times throughout the park.
The Germans used to have the formula for aspirin but it was "misplaced". Alfred rediscovered it and made a fortune. A fair percentage of that fortune went into a most wonderful garden in the Dandenongs that was ultimately bequeathed to the state. These days the National Parks and Wildlife look after it and the great news is that it's free.
You can wander around this scenic wonderland at your leisure and view the magnificent eucalyptus regnans (mountain ash, swamp gum) with a sprinkling of flowers
I was shocked to learn that this garden, whose boatshed features on every second publication about the Dandenongs, was free to the public. The winding pathways that lead up and down the hillside ultimately finish up at the most delightful pond in the Dandenongs area. It took an English gardener and 80 assistants to render what you see today after Alfred bought 20 acres in 1929.
My Upwey Page
This village, where I live, is on the lower slopes of the Dandenong Ranges, and is a pleasant place to live but it is not exactly tourist orientated.
No pub, just an RSL, no accomodation.
But because the Burwood Highway by passes the town the main drag is peaceful and there is plenty of parking (and public toilets) by the supermarket or by the skate park.
And it is a little charmer of a main street with three cafes and an assortment of eclectic shops.
So if you need a coffee break, or even lunch, just the place to stop off.
Or if you need some supplies from the supermarket, or a post office, well, just the place for you.
Our service station is out on the Burwood Highway across the railway bridge.
I can imagine a scenario - you are on your way to do the Kokoda Track 1000 Steps in Upper Ferntree Gully, just down the road. And you need a pit stop. Well, Upper Ferntree Gully has cafes and public toilets etc, but it is not nearly as cute and villagey as Upwey. Poor Upper Ferntree Gully has taken as its model Malltown.
There is one touristy event. The Billy Cart races the town holds in February. They close off the main street and the little kids do their thing. I love the way a couple of cops turn up with speed guns to check how fast they are actually going.
Update - There are now four cafes in Upwey. We are truly a cafe society.
My Gembrook Page
This charming little town with its lovely pub is actually in Gippsland but the Puffing Billy ends its run from Belgrave here - so I'll include it as a Dandenong Ranges Town To See.
It's got everything you need for a stop over, maybe have lunch, browse the small but eclectic collection of shops, have a walk in the Bushland reserve, see if you can spot a wombat or a lyrebird.
The people are really nice, the pace is slow. What a pity their market has just closed down because of public liability problems.
For people using public transport the good news is there is a bus (695) which runs out here from Belgrave. It's not frequent but with planning a day trip here by bus is possible.
News Flash - The market has just been revived. 9-3 fourth Sunday of the month. It is a Makers Market.
We were very impressed by the large carved tree at SkyHigh. This was carved from the trunk of a large tree growing in situ, not brought here for erection. The second photo shows the placard giving the background and details of the artist responsible. I suspect that he’s well-known in Victoria, similar tree carvings are found on the foreshore at Lakes Entrance (see my Gippsland Lakes page). That Wedge-Tailed Eagle (photo 3) almost looks ready to head skyward, doesn’t he?
At some time, the Victorian Parks department has chosen to lease the lookout at the top of Mt Dandenong to a company called SkyHigh. There now is a relatively token charge of $4A per car for a visit, but the facilities and view make that worthwhile. Well, OK, the view when we visited was somewhat affected by weather, but given the changes of weather in Melbourne, there is the chance it will be visible at some time during the day you visit! Through the sea mist in the heading photo, with some imagination you can vaguely discern the outline of central Melbourne, some 40km away (telephoto). For a more representative view, look at the panorama in Photo 2
The company has developed a large function centre (photo 3) on the site of the lookout, where you also can attend a bistro for lunch and dinner throughout the week, or just have cake and coffee. There is a public BBQ, bushwalks, an English Garden and a maze.
Opening times are (with slight variations to closing times) 1000 – 2200 weekdays; 0800 – 2200 weekends. Full details on the website.
I guess attending a wedding must top my “things to do”, as it was the very thing which brought us there – along with many other family members from distant parts of the country!
The Dandenong Ranges have several reception centres used for weddings, we went to Marybrooke Receptions. When built, back in the 1930s, it was one of the gracious old Guest Houses which were fashionable at the time. Typically, in those days, people would have travelled by train from Melbourne and then by courtesy car, for a weekend of socialising and tennis.
Now the former tennis court has been converted to lawn, with pergolas for wedding ceremonies and for musicians (photos 2,3). I guess there’s some continuity there – “love” is a tennis score, as well as the main reason for marriages …!
Yes, the wedding went well and, returning indoors, we had drinks in the very well equipped bar area with warm fires burning. Note (photo 4) the massive adzed Mountain Ash posts – you won’t see that in newer buildings! That helps explain why this building is National Trust listed. Later we had an excellent dinner and music.
Marybrooke offers limited accommodation, but the few rooms were taken by the bridal party. If you review the Marybrooke website, you’ll find that you can visit for Devonshire Teas and à la carte dining on Fridays and weekends, so waiting for a wedding is not necessary!
If you are in for a good long 2 hour walk that will test your strength, and you do not mind very steep conditions, then the Kokoda walk is for you.
The Kokoda Walk is a very steep track walk consisting of 1,000 steps. Along the way are plaques depicting the lives of those who fought and died on the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea in World War II. The physical effort required to complete the climb gives walkers a sense of the exhaustion experienced by the Australian soldiers following the trail during the Kokoda campaign in 1942.
Along the way see tree ferns, and manna gum and blackwood towards the top of the hill. This walk is not recommended for those with medical conditions that restrict physical activity.
There are some beautiful views of Melbourne from the Sky High Vantage point atop Mount Dandenong. There are several viewing stands, and the view from the parking lot is just as stunning.
The building itself recently went through a $3M rennovation, and there are plenty of little activities to see. Nature walks, an English and Secret Garden, and several vantage points are available.
Monday to Thursday
10.00 am till 10.00 pm
10.00 am till 10.30 pm
8.00 am till 11.00 pm
8.00 am till 10.00pm
Monday to Friday
Lunch & Dinner
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Monday to Friday
10.00am till 10 pm
8.00 am til 11.00 pm
8.00 am til 10 pm
Cars are $4 AUD, Busses $10
A BBQ is a very Australian way of life. BBQ like this one are freely available in most picnic & beach areas. Take your own food, cook in on the BBQ and enjoy the beautiful outdoors. These are electric BBQ, but in some areas you can get firewood and do the "real" thing! Some BBQs take a 20c coin to start it, others are free of cost.