by Gerran Wright
Whatever your motivation for walking, the Dandenong Ranges has plenty of opportunities to be active and explore some of Melbourne’s best hidden gems. As a local, and now retired, I am aware that 'if you don’t use it you lose it' so I set myself goals. Having done a few iconic walks in Tasmania, New Zealand, Western Australia and about to hit the Camino in Spain, I have done all my training for these walks in the Dandenong Ranges. On these walks I have discovered a pocket of paradise on the edge of Melbourne.
Most of my walks start in Upwey, where I live. The walks can take from two to six hours and can cover a variety of terrain, including local streets, urban rail trails, national/state forests and open farmland where the sound of traffic is replaced by the sound of birds and the wind in the trees and lowing of cattle. The walk described below is about 23 kilometres long, starting and finishing in Upwey and walking to Lysterfield Lake, which took me about six hours. There is also a shorter walk of approximately two hours.
My wife Deanne and I usually start our walks by picking up fresh salad rolls from my favourite Cambodian baker to put in our backpacks with our water and usual gear to protect us from the elements. The first part of the walk starts at the Upwey shops and is along an undulating footpath on Morris Road (starts at the roundabout near the Upwey CFA station) and then go up over the hill to Upwey South, where it joins Glenfern Road. Here the countryside starts, and you leave behind suburbia.
Turn left at Glenfern Road and walk a short distance to a bend in the road where it meets Nixon Road. Be careful when you cross Glenfern Road as the sight lines on the bend are quite short but on the other side, you will be rewarded with lovely views of the Glenfern Valley and Melbourne to the west.
Walking down Nixon Road, you pass a farm known to locals as Preston’s Dairy, although the former dairy and chicken farm closed many years ago. The old dairy is now used as a photography studio/office. Pedestrian access continues past the old farm down a rather steep track to the Monbulk Creek at the bottom of the hill. Stop to admire some lovely views of the Lysterfield State Park, the valley and some lovely mature gumtrees before you get to the creek.
Melbourne Water has constructed a large water retention basin here, and you can proceed straight through Lysterfield State park to Lysterfield Lake or take a shorter option via a track to the left and discover another hidden gem locals call Birdsland Reserve. You can loop around Birdsland Reserve along well-constructed paths around lovely lakes beside Monbulk Creek before retracing your steps back to Upwey. Spend a little longer exploring Birdsland Reserve, a conservation area with toilets and a BBQ area at the other end of the Reserve, an environment centre and plant nursery and some lovely wetland areas where platypus have been found. There is plenty to see at Birdsland Reserve, exploring a beautiful environment that locals appreciate, often walking their dogs and feeding the ducks.
Proceeding straight past Monbulk Creek into Lysterfield State Park, you follow Dargon Track, a well-graded undulating track through what was once old farms and now a mixture of open grassland and forest to Wellington Road. There is a high chance of seeing kangaroos here, and you feel like you are in the country with little birds fluttering through the bushes beside the track. Looking carefully, you will find evidence of old homesteads along this track.
Take care crossing Wellington Road, which is the only other road you will cross and can be busy sometimes. Opposite on the other side of Wellington Road is Logan Park Track which takes you through to Lysterfield Lake. Many years ago, I learnt to drive my Dad’s HR Holden along here, but now, thankfully, it is just reserved for walkers, bikes and horses. I often see kangaroos along this track.
Lysterfield Lake is another gem with a large picnic area with BBQs and toilets; however, it can get hectic on weekends. Unfortunately, I found the Coffee shop is now closed, but it is still a lovely picnic area beside the lake where we ate our salad rolls. The lake is beautiful in summer with its sandy beach and sailing boats. Many mountain bikers frequent the area because of the many specialised trails constructed as a legacy of a Commonwealth Games mountain bike event.
The walk includes a 5 km loop across the dam wall and around the Lake along a well-constructed trail with glimpses of the lake through open forest. You are guaranteed to see kangaroos feeding, largely unconcerned with the human traffic. In summer, you could also encounter a snake, so be wary. There are many tracks throughout the Park, and you could make another day of exploring them. You can shorten the walk by leaving out the loop around the lake. The Lake track eventually brings you back onto Logan Park track which takes you back towards Upwey, retracing your original route.
Cross Wellington Road again (with care) and follow Dargon Trackback to Monbulk Creek. Climbing back up Nixon lane to Glenfern Road can be testy, especially as the legs are a bit tired by now. Stop for a rest and admire the views; however, ahead is another little gem that can give you that added incentive to keep going.
At the top of Nixon Lane, instead of heading back to Upwey along Morris Road, turn right on Glenfern Road and walk up the hill to Burrinja. Once the old Shire of Sherbrooke municipal offices, locals lobbied heavily opposing plans for its sale and successfully retained it as an Arts and Cultural Centre now known as Burrinja. International quality performances, Indigenous Art displays, and Art and craft workshops now occupy the redesigned and refurbished building, including a 400-seat theatre.
After a long walk, treat yourself to a lovely coffee and cake in their cafe before returning to Upwey along Glenfern Road and Mahony Street, where your day started. Upwey has become a gastronomic delight with many opportunities for fine dining, wine bars, cafes, bakeries and traditional takeaway shops. There is something here to tempt you to load up your carbs for your next adventure.