Hidden away in the foothills of the Dandenongs lies one of Melbourne's best kept secrets. Follow the Puffing Billy Train Line as it takes you through gorgeous villages, stunning scenery and amazing regional food and wine. With rich red volcanic soils feeding tall Eucalypt forests and cropland, through to valley soils supporting grazing and heathy foothill forests, the variety of the patchwork landscape is known as the Eastern Dandenong Ranges and Puffing Billy Country.
So close to Melbourne yet a world away, our village towns are artful, and physically and spiritually nourishing. If you are travelling via public transport, grab the train from Melbourne City to Belgrave, then take the 695 Bus that travels between Belgrave & Gembrook or jump on Puffing Billy and see the hills from its unique perspective whizzing through the trees.
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For many their journey to the Eastern Dandenong Ranges starts at Belgrave with a ride on Puffing Billy through to Emerald Lake Park & Gembrook. Belgrave is 36kms east of Melbourne and popular entertainment area to soak up some live music at the Sooki Lounge or take-in a film at the Cameo theatre. There are lots of eateries to choose from, shops & funky street art with an urban feel to enjoy.
Kallista township is halfway between Belgrave & Monbulk and 12min from Emerald. The drive from Belgrave to Kallista is truly magnificent. The tiny township boasts some great cafes and local artisan shops.
The village of Cockatoo lies 48 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD. Between the Eastern Dandenong Ranges townships of Emerald & Gembrook to the east, and Mount Burnett & Pakenham to the south. Picturesque, Cockatoo township is home to exploring the Wright forest and boasts magnificent views and walking trails. Originally settled in the late 1800’s by gold prospectors and timber merchants, it is now a charming residential township in the Hills.
The Ash Wednesday Bushfire’s hit Cockatoo Victoria pretty hard and there has since been an Education Centre built which is located in the Alma Treloar Reserve and well worth a visit.
The surrounding area provides the perfect setting and outlook to learn more about the area, enjoy a family picnic and explore the region.You will find the Cockatoo Country market on the 1st Saturday of every month at Treloar Reserve located in the heart of Cockatoo.
The beautiful village of Emerald lies roughly halfway between Belgrave & Gembrook along the Puffing Billy train line. It is the largest of the Hills villages, providing essential services to the oldest township in the Dandenong Ranges. You’ll find small cafes & eateries, restaurants, bars, gift shops, gallery and clothing shops located in Kilvington Dve and at the Lakeside precinct area roundabout to Emerald Lake Park.
Beautiful Emerald Lake Park is an easy 20 minute walk from Emerald village. You can take the walking trail which starts at the end of Kilvington Drive where Puffing Billy crosses on its journey through to Cockatoo and Gembrook.
The ANZAC Walk & Emerald Heritage Walk provide a great insight into the local history as does a visit to the Emerald & District Museum located in the magnificent Nobelius Heritage Gardens in Emerald Lake Park.Why not bring your family out for a picnic in their stunning grounds of Emerald Lake Park and then take a ride on the Lakeside Paddle Boats.
Small gems were originally found in the creeks and watercourses around Gembrook Victoria back in the late 1880’s. Giving it its enchanting name. Also rich in agriculture and well-known for its potato growing, Gembrook was settled in 1873 for farming and timber.
Much of the township has an historic feel of the past and bestows patchwork landscape views surrounding this charming village in the Hills. Gembrook is the last stop on the Puffing Billy steam train line and home to Kurth Kiln Regional Park, The Motorist Museum, Gembrook Park and the market held on the last Sunday of every month. It’s adorable main street will make you think of years gone by but with modern high quality restaurants and cafes for lunch and dinner dates. Catch the Gembook Market every 4th Sunday.
Take one of the 30 minute walks in Gembrook Park, or take the kids to the Gembrook Leisure Park where there is an amazing adventure playground with a flying fox and BMX and skate park.
Gembrook is also the gateway to the great forests of the Victorian Central Highlands’ southern reaches. Gembrook’s sawmill town beginnings run deep and now those magnificent forests, reserved as parks, beckon visitors and locals alike. Kurth Kiln Regional Park, Bunyip State Park and beyond that the Yarra State Forest are Gembrook’s backyard - follow the tracks into the forest and begin your adventure in nature.With all types of different accommodation available Gembrook is perfect for a weekend getaway from Melbourne.
Monbulk is a short 5min drive from Kallista and is one of the starting points to make your way up to Olinda, Sassafras and Mt Dandenong, known as the villages of Mt Dandenong from the Eastern Dandenong Ranges.Heading south from Silvan is the Silvan Reservoir and nearby Silvan & Seville wineries.
Upper Beaconsfield is 45km from Melbourne and a 15min from Emerald taking in views across Cardinia Reservoir. On your way to you’ll pass the turn-off to Paternoster winery and just around the corner from the Upper Beaconsfield Golf Links and tucked away the Pine Grove Hotel & Carlei Estate winery.