The Dandenong Ranges will rival even the hottest arts and culture destinations for its abundance of galleries and studios, charming villages, fantastic food and walking tracks. Leave the city crowds behind and discover a pocket of Victoria steeped in history and a cultural hub for lovers of the arts, cuisine and nature.
Nestled in the heart of Upwey, Maria Café finds its culinary cues in Mexican influences, with top-notch coffee and chic, pastel-infused decor. The Café has a pooch and weather-friendly outdoor area, vegan and dietary menu options and insta-worthy cakes and cocktails. If you plan on walking the nearby 1000 Steps track, Maria Café offers plenty of priming nourishment to power you up, like their iconic Maria Benedict, which featured in the Brunch of Melbourne cookbook, with sweet potato and Oaxaca cheese croquette, lashings of chorizo ragu and a spicy capsicum jam.
If you love performance art, the Burrinja Cultural Centre is just a short ramble down the road and has a 400-seat, wheelchair friendly theatre. The centre plays host to a line-up of unforgettable productions, live music and exhibitions showing a mix of regional and contemporary art for you to enjoy. Refreshments are available at the licenced Foyer Bar and the centre's café, Tasty Az. For those looking to get their hands dirty, the Artist's Studio offers art, performance and cultural workshops throughout the year, with plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained.
When it comes to cultural experiences, you can't go past the magic of Puffing Billy. Few sounds capture the imagination like a steam train's rhythmic chug and cheerful whistle as it curls through lush rainforest, across iconic timber bridges and past towering Mountain Ash trees. Hop on board at Puffing Billy Belgrave Station and experience the thrill of swinging your legs out the open-side carriage window or step back into the old-world romance of a fully restored dining carriage. Tickets must be pre-purchased online, where you can also order a picnic pack or dining experience. Puffing Billy also has bicycle hire for those travelling to Lakeside.
A journey on Puffing Billy is a minimum of 2 hours. Make sure you allow enough time when mapping out your itinerary, or consider staying overnight to spread your activities out.
After your rail adventure, you might be ready for a spot of exercise to work off some steam (pun intended). Go from watching the trees pass by to bringing out your inner Tarzan. Treetop Adventure offers a range of courses to challenge you and get your adrenaline pumping! The estate spans eight hectares of bushland with over 100 aerial obstacles, 23 ziplines, tree rope courses and more! If heights aren't your cup of tea, the adventure park has plenty of zero-altitude options, including mountain bike hire and Segway tours. The suspended trampoline and oversized balls will be hours of fun for the little ones. No food is sold on-site, so bring snacks and drinks to keep your energy levels up.
By this stage, you might be ready to wind down with a stiff drink (or two). Killik Rum feels like a cosy home away from home with leather sofas and a seasonal cocktail list (think tropical Tiki-style for summer and winter margaritas with muddled ginger, chilli and pineapple). Killik is a family-run distillery that crafts premium rum for enthusiasts and casual tipplers alike. They embrace traditional Jamaican production methods and wild open ferments that give a unique funkiness and a certain je ne sais quoi in cocktails. If you're feeling peckish, their seasonal food menu features an abundance of local produce designed to complement your boozy-blend.
For artists and art enthusiasts, no trip to the Dandenong Ranges is complete without dropping into the Sherbrook Art Society. The gallery is run by a vibrant community of artists and is highly regarded among the local community. The gallery offers an acclaimed rotation of exhibitions, including the renowned Streeton Roberts McCubbin Exhibition, and displays over 300 artworks for sale. The Society was originally established to provide a place for aspiring artists and now runs workshops and art classes for adults and children.
Where to eat?
Where to sleep?
Juniper & Rye cottage, just moments from Belgrave township, combines modern facilities with old-world charm in a delightfully cosy cabin.
The Olinda Country Cottages offers two self-contained spa cottages and a two-bedroom family suite. Treat yourself to a luxurious king bed and an organic breakfast on the balcony.