The best way to capture the highlights of both areas is to self-drive. There are numerous scenic tourist roads and circuits that will take the visitors on an exciting journey across the Yarra & Dandenong Ranges. One of the main reasons to come here are the local wines – the Yarra Valley is the best place in Victoria where you can sample Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or some award-winning sparkling whites while relishing the ultimate peace and quiet. The trip offers a perfect weekend-away for any traveller and holidaymaker.
Further east, as an extension to the Yarra and Dandenong greenery, there is a vast nature reserve, called Bunyip State Park – a great base for camping and multi-day trekking but also a part of the Aboriginal cultural landscape.
The Dandenong Ranges National Park is the prime destination around Melbourne for nature and outdoor lovers. Green is the signature colour of the region – that is for sure. The vegetation turns into a jungly wonderland that very much resembles rainforest. Apart from the woods, there are heritage tea rooms, historic art galleries and museums, old villages and trains, romantic picnic spots, drizzling waterfalls and refreshing creeks, most of which are surrounded by lush foliage.
The national park is only 1.5 hr drive from Melbourne, and it makes an ideal weekend destination for family picnics, bushwalking, hiking, cycling or scenic driving. Belgrave, Tremont, Olinda, Monbulk, Sassafrass, Kalorama, Mount Dandenong and Silvan are the areas with the majority of attractions within the national park.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN THE DANDENONG RANGES
BEST SHORT WALKING TRACKS IN THE DANDENONG RANGES
1. Olinda Falls (300 m) – this walks starts at the Olinda Picnic Ground. The walk leads to the top viewing platform across Olinda Creek as the steady flow of water cascades over the rocks. A further 140 m leads to the lower viewing platform and a small bridge crossing over the creek.
2. Kokoda Memorial Walk (1000 Steps) – at a length of 2.5 km one-way, this track combines the challenges of the famous 1000 steps walk with the Kokoda Memorial Walk, between Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground and One Tree Hill Picnic Ground.
3. Valley Walk This 6.5 km walk for more experienced walkers starts at the Valley Picnic Ground and connects to Eagle Nest Rd and picnic ground and returns along the Rife Range Gully Track.
4. Sherbrooke Forest Loop (4.8 km) – the loop starts at Sherbrooke Picnic Ground. Head north along Lloyds Track, continue along Monument Track, Hackett Track, O’Donohue Track and back to the picnic ground via Sherbrooke Track. You will pass through temperate rainforests, fern gullies and ancient towering Mountain Ash trees.
For more walks and nature parks visit the local government website:
YARRA RANGES & YARRA VALLEY
Heading from the Dandenong Ranges to the Victorian Alps, the first stop will surely be the Yarra Valley. The valley rolls along the beautiful Dandenong Range on one side and the Great Dividing Range on the other. A mere half an hour from Melbourne, the valley is famous for the best wineries in Victoria and charming countryside.
Yarra Valley`s tourist hotspots are the small towns of Healesville, with a lovely visitors centre, Lilydale and Yarra Glen. Many visitors come here via a tour to taste the finest local wines, as the region has a growing reputation for excellent restaurants attached to the historic wineries.
Yering Station is the oldest one, and their first vineyard was planted in 1838. The Yering Cellar Door has a restaurant (like many other wineries do) with a glass wall which allows spectacular views of the vineyard valley beyond. Whether you come independently or book a wine tasting tour in Melbourne, Yarra Valley will surely not disappoint.
The Yarra Valley is part of the large Yarra Ranges National Park that comprises of numerous nature reserves. The best way to explore the region is by the famous Black Spur Drive – a 30-km long scenic tourist route that takes the visitors from Marysville to Healesville.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN YARRA VALLEY & YARRA RANGES
BEST HIKING TRACKS IN THE YARRA RANGES
1. Lake Mountain Summit Track and Loop Walk (4 km) – the walk starts with the track to the summit then winds its way under pristine snow gum canopy, taking in three spectacular lookouts, lichen-covered granite rock faces and a small alpine bog. From the summit, the track leads to the Alps Lookout and continues via the rock platform of Taggerty Valley View, back to the summit and car park.
2.Steavensons Falls & Tree Fern Gully Track (7 km return) – this gently undulating shared trail links Marysville with Steavenson Falls Scenic Reserve and is the best way to approach the falls. Walkers and cyclists will pass through stands of tall Manna Gum, Mountain Ash and shady tree fern groves that surround the rushing Steavenson River.
3.Keppel Lookout Trail (11 km Return) – the challenging loop walk climbs up through Mountain Ash and Stringybark forest to visit four of Marysville’s best lookouts. There are spectacular views across Marysville, Cathedral Range State Park and Steavenson Falls. The trail is fairly uneven and steep in places, and walkers need to be self-sufficient with food and water and wear sturdy footwear.
4.Mount Donna Buang Summit (1250 m) – if you prefer walking rather than driving you can reach the summit of Mt Donna Buang from Warburton. The round trip takes about 6 hours (14 km return), and it features a steep climb that requires a good level of fitness. There are some stunning views at the summit platform.
5.Upper Yarra River Track – this extensive but very popular trail, starting at Warburton, follows an 80 km-long old vehicle track to the Baw Baw National Park and it can be walked in sections, or continuously as a 5-6 day trek (camping facilities available).
For more trekking options and information visit the local government website at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/yarra-ranges-national-park
The best way to travel in the Dandenong and Yarra Ranges is to hire a vehicle in Melbourne and self-drive (a railway is an option and quite scenic, albeit not very convenient). There are numerous wonderful scenic tourist drives in the national park.
Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges can be all-together easily driven in 2-3 days (or individually one day each). If you wish to explore the entire Yarra Ranges area, you should add two extra days to your itinerary. There are good accommodation options in both ranges,e.g. campground, holiday parks, B&Bs and 5-star hotels.
Suggested self-driving routes are:
1.DANDENONG RANGES LOOP (1 full day): Ferntree Gully-Belgrave-Emerald-Monbulk-Silvan-Mt Dandenong-Olinda-Tremont-Kallista-Ferntree Gully (both ways)
2.YARRA VALLEY WINE TOUR (1 full day): Lilydale-Yarra Glen-Healesville-Lilydale
3. BLACK SPUR DRIVE (1 full day): a popular scenic road thatlinks the Yarra Valley with the Yarra Ranges, from Marysville to Healesville (30 km)
4.YARRA RANGES BIG LOOP (3-4 full days): Lilydale-Healesville-Maroondah Reservoir Park-Marysville-Lake Mountain Alpine Resort-Upper Yarra Reservoir Park-Warburton- Lilydale
5.THE GREAT ALPINE CIRCUIT (5-7 full days): Melbourne-Dandenong Ranges (Belgrave)-Yarra Valley (Healesville)-Yarra Ranges (Warburton)-Baw Baw-Marysville-Eildon-Alexandra-Mansfield-Mt Buller-Myrtleford-Mt Buffalo NP(Bright)-Mt Hotham-Dinner Plain-Falls Creek (Mt Beauty)-Mt Bogong-Glen Valley-Lake Dartmouth (Mitta Mitta)-Tallangatta Lake-Colac Colac-Dartmouth-Omeo-Bairnsdale-Melbourne
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The best time to visit the Dandenong and Yarra Ranges is spring (November) and autumn (March).
Remember that the Australian school holidays (mid-Dec – early Feb and the Easter time) is the busiest time of a year with prices at their highest. The ‘cheaper time’ to visit is winter (June-Sep).
However, weather in Victoria is unpredictable, and it often rains throughout a year.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Melbourne.
Hire a vehicle and drive to Ferntree Gully (Dandenong Ranges) where you start the scenic drive.
If skipping the Dandenong Ranges and travelling directly to the Yarra Valley (Yarra Ranges) head off towards Healesville.
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