14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Dandenong Ranges
"Heading for the hills" of the Dandenong Ranges and the adjacent Yarra Valley is the ideal escape from the city – especially if you're seeking pure sensory indulgence. Only 35 kilometers from Melbourne, Victoria, this verdant region of rainforests and farms lures foodies, artists, and nature lovers with a bounty of diverse tourist attractions.
The Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges are known as "the food bowl of Victoria." Thanks to the region's rich soil and agreeable climate, European immigrants established farms here during the 19th century, many of which still operate today, and tasting their farm-fresh produce and artisan foods is one of the top things to do here. The Yarra Valley is also one of Victoria's oldest grape-growing regions.
Green thumbs will be in heaven. A bevy of beautiful gardens flaunt everything from rainbow-hued rhododendrons to fragrant blooms, and fiery fall colors. Nature lovers will enjoy mingling with the wildlife and exploring the Dandenong Ranges hiking trails. Other popular things to do include visiting evocative art galleries, exploring quaint country villages, and soaking up the stunning scenery on a historic steam train.
Traditionally, the Dandenong Ranges region is the Country of the Indigenous Wurundjeri People, and today you can learn about their rich culture during your visit.
For more than a century, the Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges has been one of the most rewarding weekend getaways from Melbourne. Learn more about the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in the Dandenong Ranges.
1. Healesville Sanctuary
Healesville Sanctuary is the perfect place to check out the full range of unique Australian animals in one compact place. Set in a typical Australian landscape, the 30-hectare park offers tourists the opportunity to see the animals up close and personal.
"Meet the handler" encounters include kangaroos, wombats, koalas, emus, dingoes, and platypuses, and they take place at various times throughout the day.
"Spirits of the Sky" offers a chance to see birds of prey, featuring the majestic wedge-tailed eagle, soar through the air.
You can also soak up some Aboriginal culture at Healesville Sanctuary. During the Indigenous cultural experience, you can gain insight into traditional uses for local plants, learn how to make a boomerang return, and listen to Dreamtime stories about local animals, all shared by a Wurundjeri Elder. These are held every Sunday, on public holidays, and every day except Saturday in the Victorian school holidays.
While you're in the area, save time to visit the town of Healesville. Here, foodies can feast on local delicacies at some of the best Yarra Valley restaurants and cafés.
Address: Badger Creek Road, Healesville, Victoria
Official site: http://www.zoo.org.au/healesville
2. Dandenong Ranges National Park
Exploring all the rewarding things to see and do in Dandenong Ranges National Park requires time and planning. Covering 3,215 hectares, the park is rich in walking trails, wildlife, lush fern gullies, and forests of towering mountain ash.
The best way to experience the gorgeous scenery of The Dandenong mountains and the park's abundant wildlife is on the network of scenic hiking trails. The easy hike to Sherbrooke Falls and the 1,000 steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk are among the favorites. You can also explore on horseback or by bike. Note, though, that in June, 2021, severe storms damaged some of the Dandenong Ranges hiking trails. Check for any closures before you visit.
Look for wildlife while you're here. Tree goannas, echidnas, and black wallabies are among the many animals that live in the park, and at night you might even catch a glimpse of feather-tail gliders or yellow-bellied gliders soaring across the forest canopy. Birding is also excellent. Keep an eye (and ear) out for the superb lyrebird, which mimics the calls of other birds.
Wondering where to get the best views in the park? Burkes Lookout is the most well-known Dandenong Ranges lookout here. Outside the park, SkyHigh Mount Dandenong lookout also offers panoramic views.
Picnics are another popular thing to do in the park. Grant's Picnic Ground is a must-see – especially if you love birds. Located in the heart of Sherbrooke Forest, the area is known for its dense population of native species, including many cockatoos, king parrots, and rosellas. Popular hiking trails also branch out from this area. Sherbrooke Picnic Ground is another picturesque place to visit for a picnic.
3. Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden is one of the most popular places to visit in the Dandenong area. Thousands of blooms in vibrant pinks, purples, blues, and reds greet you in these gorgeous gardens (formerly known as the National Rhododendron Gardens), about 500 meters from Olinda Village.
Camellias, daffodils, azaleas, and cherries and, of course, rhododendrons provide most of the color in the spring and early summer, but come in the fall to see the fiery reds and oranges of the changing leaves.
You can focus on one area of the garden if you feel like a gentle stroll, or hike the entire five kilometers round-trip through rock gardens, fern gullies, and sprawling lawns. The views of the Yarra Valley and its distant peaks are breathtaking.
Enhance your experience here with a visit to the sensory garden, where you can inhale the fragrance of fresh blooms, touch the textures of ruffled bark, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, and even taste some of the plants.
Changing with every season, the gardens are a delight for photographers and anyone who appreciates the colors of nature. The best time to visit is earlier in the morning, when the light is soft and it's easier to find a parking spot. Entry is free, and tours in an electric shuttle are available for a small fee.
Address: The Georgian Road, Olinda, Victoria
4. Dandenong Ranges Hiking & Walking Trails
Walking in the Dandenongs is a sensory feast. Listen to waterfalls splashing over slick rocks, pierced by the call of a crimson rosella. Inhale the earthy aromas of the rainforest, and look for wallabies, echidnas, or possums peaking through the leaves.
Wondering where to start? If you're interested in bushwalks, Dandenong Ranges National Park has some of the region's most famous hikes. One of the top hikes is the easy 2.4-kilometer round-trip trail to the fern-fringed Sherbrooke Falls. It's one of the smaller Dandenong Ranges waterfalls, but the lush forest trail offers a beautiful hike through towering mountain ash and stringy-bark eucalyptus trees. You can also hike to the falls from O'Donohue Picnic Ground.
If you're hiking with young kids, the park's Olinda Falls trail is an easy 25-minute out-and-back trail to another popular Dandenong Ranges waterfall. You can access it from the Olinda Falls Picnic Grounds.
Looking for more of a challenge? Follow the famous 1,000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk. This popular trail commemorates Australian troops in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War.
Note that storms in 2021 damaged some Dandenong Ranges National Park trails, and they are currently closed for reconstruction. Check before you head out.
Outside of Dandenong Ranges National Park, La La Falls is another popular waterfall hike. This moderate 3.2-kilometer round-trip trail pokes through dense forests near Warburton.
Short on time? For a quick walk near Warbuton, don't miss the Warburton Rainforest Gallery on the way to Mt. Donna Buang, where you can weave through thick forests of feathery ferns and mountain ash trees on a 350-meter-long elevated walkway. You can also stroll through towering trees on the Californian Redwood Forest Walk, a 15-minute drive from Warburton.
Up for a longer trek? Try the dog-friendly 17-kilometer one-way Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track from Emerald to Sassafras – if you're up to the challenge.
5. High Tea in the Dandenongs
What better way to complement a wilderness adventure than with an elegant high tea? Partaking in this time-honored English tradition is one of the top things to do at many of the Dandenong Ranges restaurants and cafés.
Hot scones topped with clotted cream and raspberry jam, finger sandwiches, and other petite treats are the main components, accompanied by a piping hot cup of tea, preferably in a fine china cup. Serve it all up in a cozy café, add a crackling fire in winter, and you have the perfect Dandenong Ranges high tea.
Figuring out where to indulge depends on your tastes. For a traditional high tea, the National Trust-listed Marybrooke Manor, bordering Sherbrooke Forest, is a great option. High tea is served here every Sunday from 1pm-4pm.
Mary Eats Cake in Montrose serves up treats in a cute-as-pie English cottage and garden, and Miss Marple's Tea Room in Sassafras is another English-inspired tea and scone experience in a charming Tudor-style building. Other popular high tea venues include Chateau Yering's Eleonore's Restaurant and Coombe Yarra Valley.
Looking for high tea with a twist? Olinda Tea House & Restaurant offers an Asian-inspired high tea, and if you're a die-hard chocoholic, the Chocolaterie High Tea at Yarra Valley Chocolatier is the place for you!
Note that bookings are essential for some of these high teas, as they are not offered every day of the week, and seatings can be limited.
6. Puffing Billy Steam Train
The romance of days gone by comes alive with a nostalgic ride through the Dandenong Ranges on the century-old steam train, Puffing Billy. Considered one of the best steam trains in the world, it runs every day of the year (except Christmas Day) along a 40-kilometer track under the steam of a large team of volunteers.
Traveling from Belgrave to Gembrook, the train chugs through spectacular scenery. Along the way, you'll pass through towering indigenous eucalyptus forests featuring the magnificent mountain ash trees, over historic wooden bridges, and through quaint villages. With open-air carriages, the fresh scent of eucalyptus adds another sensory dimension to this popular Dandenong Ranges attraction.
Address: 1402 Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road, Mt. Dandenong, Victoria
Official site: http://puffingbilly.com.au/
7. Coombe Yarra Valley
Ever wondered what it was like to be an Aussie diva in the 1900s? Now you can find out at this popular Yarra Valley attraction. The famously flamboyant Aussie opera singer Dame Nellie Melba once lived on this elegant estate, and you can gain fascinating insight into her life on a guided sightseeing tour of the serene seven-acre gardens and a gallery spotlighting artwork from her private collection.
Designed more than 100 years ago, the gardens are internationally inspired. Highlights include an Italianate garden; French-style rose garden; and, reputedly, Australia's oldest swimming pool, where Charlie Chaplin was said to have taken a dip–all bordered by a 10-meter-high cypress hedge.
The gallery provides the most revealing glimpse of the famous diva. Exhibits including her fashion, jewelry, and objet d'art, as well as paintings by Hans Heysen and Arthur Streeton.
Dame Melba was friends with the renowned French chef, Auguste Escoffier, who concocted the Peach Melba dessert in her honor, a sublime mingling of peach, raspberry, and vanilla ice-cream. You can taste this and other gourmet treats spotlighting fresh produce grown on the estate at the light-filled restaurant overlooking the gardens.
Tour packages include either a delicious Devonshire tea or a three-course gourmet lunch, and you can opt for a tour only–if you can resist the mouthwatering food.
Address: 673 - 675 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream, Victoria
Official site: https://coombeyarravalley.com.au/melba-estate
8. Olinda Village
In the "garden belt" of the Dandenong Ranges, Olinda is a great overnight stop for visitors. At 569 meters, this cute country town is the highest village in the Dandenong Ranges, and staying here puts you near some of the region's top attractions. In Olinda village, the narrow streets are filled with galleries, quaint bed-and-breakfasts, wonderful restaurants, wellness centers, day spas, and boutique shops.
And then there are the gardens! Nearby, you can visit the inspirational Cloudehill Nursery and Gardens and the magnificent Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. If you're looking for more green space to stretch your legs, you can hike the scenic trails and soak up beautiful views at the R.J. Hamer Aboretum, which is particularly lovely in the fall.
Olinda also has a flourishing arts community. It was once the home of the acclaimed Australian artist Arthur Streeton, who depicted the beautiful scenery in many of his paintings. Today, admiring some of the local artwork at shops and studios is one of the top things to do in Olinda.
9. Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden
Alfred Nicholas Gardens, named after its philanthropist owner, is the perfect garden for all seasons. Blanketed with rhododendrons and azaleas in spring, hydrangeas and native ferns in summer, vibrant foliage of beech and maples in autumn, and sometimes a dusting of snow in winter, the garden attracts more wedding photographs than any other place in the Dandenong Ranges.
In particular, the gardens are known for their evocative water features, including a fern-fringed lake with a boathouse and soft-flowing waterfalls. Paths weave around these features under towering mountain ash trees, and meandering through here with a special partner is one of the most romantic things to do in the Dandenong Ranges.
Address: Sherbrooke Road, Sherbrooke, Victoria
10. William Ricketts Sanctuary
William Rickett's Sanctuary is one of the best-kept tourist secrets in the Dandenong Ranges. It lies hidden from the world in a small garden of ferns, mountain ash trees, and rocky outcrops. Blending with the natural environment, more than 90 intricate ceramic sculptures representing the Aboriginal culture of the area are creatively displayed among the foliage.
The namesake creator of these gardens spent many years living with Aboriginal communities, and the gardens celebrate their deep spiritual connection with Mother Earth. Immersed in the cool, dark forest surrounded by the beauty of nature and art, you can't help but feel a sense of peace here.
This is one of the many rewarding free things to do in the Dandenong Ranges. Many tourists combine a visit here with a picnic and stroll at the nearby Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden.
Note that in June, 2021 William Ricketts Sanctuary was badly damaged by a storm. It's due to reopen some time in 2022.
Address: 1402 Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road, Mt. Dandenong
11. Yarra Valley Dairy
Rich, creamy cheeses are one of the specialty foods produced in the fertile Yarra Valley, and tasting some of these mouthwatering varieties is a must-do during your visit. At Yarra Valley Dairy, cheese tastings are available in the farm's delightfully dilapidated 100-year-old milking shed, right next to the cheese factory.
Both cow's and goat's milk is used for the signature range of cheeses. These include an Ashed Pyramid goat's cheese, marinated cow's milk cheeses with chili and saffron, and a Persian feta with thyme and garlic, all served with fresh-baked breads and crackers.
You can also order locally produced charcuterie items and award-winning jams and relishes to accompany the cheeses. After your tasting, stock up on local goodies from the gift shop to take with you.
Address: McMeikans Road, Coldstream, Victoria
Official site: http://www.yvd.com.au/
12. Cloudehill Gardens
With a history dating back to the 1890s, Cloudehill Gardens offer a magical experience for anyone who loves nature. On an eastern slope of the Dandeonongs, the gardens are laid out in a series of "garden rooms" separated by stone walls and finely-clipped hedges. Highlights include the vibrant copper beech trees, the flower-flecked meadows, and the Water Garden.
Photographers will find a world of beauty here to capture with their cameras. Paths meander by billowing shrubs; water features; and clusters of colorful calla lilies, tulips, and rhododendrons. Sculptures grace the gardens, and a dazzling array of birds, butterflies, and bees dart from bloom to bloom. It's easy to lose track of time here.
Although spectacular in every season, the ancient Japanese maples in autumn lure many tourists. Innovative sculpture exhibitions and musical performances are often held in the gardens, particularly in summer.
After your visit, stop by the little shop to buy rare seeds and green-thumb-related gifts, or enjoy a sweet treat at the little café.
Address: 89 Olinda Monbulk Road, Olinda
Official site: http://www.cloudehill.com.au/
13. TarraWarra Museum of Art
Specializing in Australian art from the 1950s onwards, TarraWarra Museum of Art is a stunning example of modern architecture, with beautiful views of rolling green hills from every window.. Blending with the environment, yet breaking new ground, the museum offers tourists the opportunity to view a permanent collection filled with iconic artists, such as John Brack, Brett Whiteley, and Russell Drysdale. Temporary exhibitions are also held throughout the year in a range of different mediums.
After viewing all the provocative modern art, spend some time exploring the building and lingering in the outdoor spaces here to really appreciate the picturesque, peaceful setting.
Address: 311 Healesville - Yarra Glen Road, Healesville, Victoria
Official site: http://www.twma.com.au/
14. Sassafras Village
Sassafras is a model village oozing charm and history. Every day of the week tourists delight in the collection of antique shops, cozy cafés, and art galleries. Taking in a morning or afternoon tea at Miss Marple's Tea Room is considered the quintessential Dandenong Ranges experience, and tea aficionados can stock up on supplies at Tea Leaves Australia, offering a wide range of teas and teapots.
Other top things to do in Sassafras include are Geppetto's Workshop, a quirky toyshop specializing in wooden toys, including a colorful collection of marionettes and hand puppets, and Sassafras Sweet Co., an old-fashioned candy shop.
If you'd like to stay in the area, you'll find plenty of charming Dandenong Ranges accommodation in the village and immediate surroundings.
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