Have you heard of the Dandenongs? If you’re thinking ‘Dande-what?’, or worse, of a bulbous sea animal (that’s a dugong, by the way), you’re probably not too familiar with Melbourne, and you might want to brush up on your marine biology.

The Dandenongs, or the Dandenong Ranges, are a set of mountain ranges just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, offering a perfect weekend getaway from the trendy Victorian capital. Within the area’s lush borders are dramatic rainforests, villages oozing old-world charm, peaceful waterfalls, impressive gardens and plenty of Devonshire Tea.

Here’s our pick of what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in the Dandenong Ranges.

What to do in the Dandenong Ranges

Visit the Dandenong Ranges’ gardens – Time to stop and smell the rhododendrons! At the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Gardens, you can treat your senses to 15,000 rhododendrons, as well as thousands of azaleas, camellias and daffodils. One of the Dandenongs’ best attractions, this 104-acre garden is stunning in springtime bloom, naturally, but serves up a colourful treat in Autumn too. If your Melbourne weekend getaway does fall in Spring, you may want to plan a trip to the Tesselaar Tulip Festival for yet another impressive display of spring flowers – five acres of tulips, to be exact.

The Alfred Nicholas Gardens is another gem of the Dandenongs not to be missed, though it’s not as well known to tourists, so many people do. This nature lovers’ paradise blazes gold and red in Autumn and is tastefully embellished with ornamental lakes and waterfalls, perfect for that new profile pic.

Ride the Puffing Billy Railway – It’s probably the best-known Dandenong Ranges attraction, and we must agree that no Dandenongs trip would be complete without a ride on the iconic Puffing Billy. This finely preserved, century-old steam train continues to wind its way through the southern parts of the mountains on its original 24-kilometre track. Breathe in the decadent fresh air from your open-sided carriage as you puff through lush fern gullies and over charming trestle bridges. Or, you may like to lose yourself in one of Puffing Billy’s themed experiences such as Murder on the Puffing Billy Express or, perhaps slightly less macabre, A Day Out with Thomas. (Yes, the Tank Engine.)

Explore the many walks of the Dandenong Ranges – At 3,500 hectares, the Dandenong Ranges National Park has a lot to offer us keen bushwalkers. It’s an absolute playground of enchanting flora and fauna – think majestic mountain ash trees, lush fern gullies, and sassafras pines – together with waterfalls and native wildlife. Try and spot the Superb Lyrebird (its actual name, not just an adjective!), as well as kangaroos and koalas.

Who’s up for stairs? There are a thousand of them waiting for you at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, built to commemorate the fallen Australian soldiers at Kokoda. Wondrously, many people are up for stairs, it would seem, as the track tends to get super busy during the day. Best get there early lest your lack of athletic prowess be on show for many people to see…

Where to eat in the Dandenong Ranges

  • SkyHigh Mount Dandenong – This award-winning restaurant is set among exquisite gardens on top of Mount Dandenong. At an elevation of 630 metres, it’s easy to see the dazzling Melbourne skyline from here – and it’s easy to see why this stylish venue is one of the most popular places to eat in the Dandenong Ranges.
  • Two cafés, a bistro and an upper function room with floor-to-ceiling windows makes SkyHigh Mount Dandenong perfect for almost any occasion, from a scone and a pot of tea to an indulgent Valentine’s Day dinner. Plus, you can always lose your date in the living hedge maze after your meal, if you must.
  • Dine aboard the Puffing Billy – Yes, we’re not quite done with this Dandenong attraction! The Puffing Billy’s decadent dining offering is worth a mention here, too. Indulge in a seasonal three-course menu or a grazing platter packed with meats, cheeses and Devonshire Tea, all the while enjoying a two-hour train journey in first-class cabins.
  • Sassafras Café  – If you’re keen to skip the more touristy of tearooms (we’re looking at you, Miss Marple’s), we recommend checking out Sassafras Café. Here, the coffee, tea and scones are utterly delightful, and you’ll feel right at home in their cosy setting.

Where to stay in the Dandenong Ranges

You can’t go wrong in the Dandenongs when it comes to finding the perfect B&B to call home for a night or two. Most offer a tranquil getaway surrounded by nature’s finest – and a spa bath (essential). Here’s our pick of the best Dandenongs accommodation.

  • Linden Gardens Rainforest Retreat – Linden Gardens mixes antique charm with modern elegance to offer a luxurious, yet cosy, countryside retreat. Set among three acres of rainforest and woodland gardens, this 5-star Dandenongs accommodation boasts breakfast daily, gas log fires, two-person spas, king beds, coffee machines, Wi-Fi and more. Linden Gardens is minutes away from Mt Dandenong, Olinda and Sassafras villages, and fringes the internationally renowned William Ricketts Sanctuary.
  • Olinda Twilight Cottage – Front-cover magazine material, Olinda Twilight Cottage may very well be the definition of elegant countryside comfort.  Nestled among the lush landscapes of Olinda, this beautiful cottage offers breakfast daily, a fireplace, luxurious king beds, a private courtyard, a fully equipped kitchen and more. As if spa baths weren’t already good enough, there’s a glass ceiling above the spa here, so you can marvel the night stars as you relax.
  • Clarendon Cottages Sassafras – Another idyllic country getaway in the Dandenong Ranges, Clarendon offers charming one- or two-bedroom cottages nestled among beautiful gardens. You can very quickly get comfortable in this peaceful, delightfully rustic space: gas log fires, spas, fully equipped kitchens and private decks are but a few of many features here.

For more accommodation options in the Dandenong Ranges, see here.

Discover the Dandenong Ranges with the most affordable car hire in Australia. Talk to the friendly team at Alpha today for great rates at 11 locations nationwide.