Although I have been to Melbourne many times, I had never before visited the Dandenong Ranges that are just east of the city. There was no real reason for not going there before, it’s just that Melbourne is a very vibrant city, and I was always too occupied to venture more than a few kilometres from the CBD. Deciding that it was time to make amends, I headed up into the hills, not really knowing what to expect, and discovered a region that is both utterly gorgeous and full of things to do.
Melbourne is famous for its unpredictable weather, so it seemed appropriate that on a rainy summer’s day the best place to go would be the mountains.
My route took me past Ferntree Gully to Upwey and Belgrave. I was amazed at just how quickly I reached Belgrave, until I realised that it was just 40 kilometres from Melbourne on a good road. Belgrave has a really welcoming village atmosphere, but its main claim to fame if for being the terminus of the Puffing Billy Railway. This is now a tourist railway that is operated on a narrow gauge line that was built to service the mountain communities in the early 1900s. It is Australia’s most famous steam railway, and I did poke around the station and other buildings, but time was against me and I just didn’t have time to ride the train; that will occur at another time.
From Belgrave I followed the winding road to the town of Emerald. Stopping here at the local bakery for coffee and delicious pastries, where I enjoyed a bit of people gazing in this charming town, I couldn’t help noticing that dreadlocks seem to be the hairstyle of choice for many of the locals; indicating to me that Emerald is a place which welcomes those who wish to lead alternative lifestyles.
Some of the scenery that I passed between Belgrave and Emerald had been spectacular. The road seemed to follow the ridges of mountains and I enjoyed lovely views over valleys that were sculptured by farmers planting a plethora of various crops.
From Emerald I drove directly to the town of Monbulk, and this road was steep and curvy. Much of the land was natural forest comprised almost entirely of towering Mountain Ash trees, which rise ramrod straight from the valley floor to search for the sun’s rays, and they are under-planted by luscious ferns which are thick and heavy reminding me just how ancient this temperate rainforest really is.
From Monbulk the road climbed, seeming forever, to Olinda, another of The Dandenong’s charming villages. Like most of the towns here, it perches to the side of the mountains, and is crowded with interesting craft shops, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses where Melburnians can seek solace from the bustling city.
From Olinda, I continued along mist-shrouded roads to Sassafras, before taking the very steep Mountain Highway to the plains below.
Heading down the steep incline it was impossible not to notice the cyclists, and they were many, struggling up the hill, defying gravity as they slowly headed towards Sassafras and, no doubt, a well deserved rest.
And that’s what I’ll do next time I head into the Dandenongs. Not cycle up the hill! But to seek solace in one of the many charming establishments which are dotted all over the mountains, so that, next time, I can enjoy the mountains at a much more relaxed pace.