On a sunny Saturday morning, I was driving up the long windy road that leads to the Dandenong Ranges. Through the big beautiful trees that line either side of the road, beams of light were shining through the branches. My window was down and all I could smell was the fresh damp air coming off the leaves. It was in that moment that I realised just how special it was be able to live in such a rare and beautiful part of Melbourne.
The Dandenong Ranges are visited by hundreds of tourists every day. For someone who has grown up living near such a special landscape, I think it’s important to highlight the hot spots for tourists, so they can truly understand the quirky beauty of the area.
Below are some of my personal favourite spots that will make your journey out in the Dandenong Ranges the perfect little day trip. You can also follow along on the story map I have created here.
Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens
Your first stop on your day out in the hills, the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens. Just before you hit the small town of Sassafras you can have a calm stroll through these delightful gardens, home to the famous lake and boathouse, arguably one of the most photographed places in the Dandenongs. Although there isn’t much to do, the quiet beauty of the grounds are what I find so appealing, as they are so calming and refreshing.
Burnham Beeches – The Piggery Cafe
If you’re feeling a bit parched or peckish after your walk, you can head next door to award winning chef, Shannon Bennett’s cafe, The Piggery. Here you can have gourmet meals such as Smoked Borrowdale Pork Belly with apple puree and potato rosti or you can just drop in for their house-blend coffee and my favourite, their breads and pastries, which are baked in-house.
This humble little cafe is one of the best places to visit in Sassafras. It is an organic cafe that mills its own flour, grows its own herbs and vegetables and even has its own bug house. Not only does it serve delicious hot pressed sandwiches, and fresh pastries, it also stocks an array of local produce such as cheeses, wines and chocolates. If you’d like to read more about Proserpina, head to the cafe profile I wrote on it a couple months back – here.
Sassafras Sweet Co
Isn’t there something nostalgic about going on a day trip somewhere and getting boiled candy? Well there is for me and even though I don’t head to Sweet Co often anymore, if you’re a tourist then I believe you cannot be in Sassafras without dropping past Sweet & Co and grabbing a jar of their yummy raspberry drops or fizzy coke bottles.
National Rhododendron Gardens
Once you’ve got your sweets, you can make your way up to Olinda where you will find the National Rhododendron Gardens. Spring is the perfect time to head to the gardens with the majority of the flowers and foliage blooming, making the grounds full of life and colour. A personal highlight of the gardens is their main lookout, that has breathtaking views overlooking Silvan Reservoir and even glimpses of the snow topped peak of Mount Baw Baw.
This store has been around for as long as I can remember. I grew up going to this shop all the time and I remember being constantly amazed at all the weird and wonderful things it had. Still to this day, this shop is a maze of knick knacks from all over the world from painting, to lamps, to jewellery. Even if you don’t feel like buying anything, it is a place in which you can get lost among all the unusual pieces.
Many tourists head to SkyHigh and pay entry to see the breathtaking views overlooking Melbourne. However, for a free alternative on the same view, head to Burke’s Lookout. Drive up the same road as if you were to going to SkyHigh, but turn left at Eyre Road and park your car at the big telephone pole. This is where you can walk your way down to the peaceful spot that overlooks all of Melbourne. I particularly love going during summer and setting up for a couple of hours over sunset. Some of the best sunsets I have seen have been here.