Posts Tagged ‘Dandenong Mountains’

We did it!  We climbed the infamous 1,000 Steps in Ferntree Gully.   Not only did make it to the top, I’m pretty sure we did it in record time.  Well, that is, not counting the runners and joggers and the 5 minute break we took half way up.

The One Thousand Steps, or the Kokoda Walk, is a 2.8km climb in Ferntree Gully.  It’s a popular destination for tourists and locals, as we found out one sunny Sunday.  We’d heard of the walk so often that we figured it must be worth doing.  Now that we’ve done it, we’re happy to say that we made it to the top.  But also happy to say that we’ll never need to do that again.  And  here’s why:


  • As alluded to earlier, the track is crammed full of people.  It’s hard to get any real momentum going because you’re stopping and starting and dodging the crazy runners.
  • Speaking of the crazy runners, there are crazy runners who go up and down the stairs at break-neck paces.  No matter what they say, this is dangerous.  Especially on the day we were out when the stairs were wet with dew.  Someone is bound to get hurt.  Oh wait, maybe that’s why the ambo and paramedics are parked at the bottom of the hill just waiting for an accident to happen.  That doesn’t give one, who is about to start the climb, much hope.


  • I love that Australians remember their service men and women through various memorials throughout the nation.  The Kokoda Walk (to get to the stairs) has a very nice memorial and info centre regarding the armed forces.
  • The scenery through the Dandenong Ranges is spectacular.  I love the smell of the mountain ash trees and you can’t really beat the fresh air that high up.
  • There are plenty of picnic areas to enjoy a meal before or after the climb and really make a day of it.
  • Ok, yes, it’s a good workout and there is a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve reached the top.


  • The view at the top (One Tree Hill) is less than spectacular.  I didn’t even take a picture.  You’ll see much better views at Sky High

Bottom Line: It’s worth doing at least once but be sure you have plenty of time or choose a time when there won’t be a ton of people to maneuver around.

The Fern Tree Gully Picnic Ground is the stating base for the walk/climb.  You can take the Belgrave Line train (get off at Upper Ferntree Gully Station) and walk East on Burwood Highway for 1 km to the park entrance.  Or by car it’s at the end of the Mount Dandenong Tourst Road (on the west side)
Opening Hours: The gates to Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground are open between 6am and 9pm.

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We’ve recently had visitors!  My mom, two aunties, an uncle, and my (second) cousin came to visit us in Oz and we had a blast!  Since their stay was only a short nine days I crammed our schedule full of activities.   We hit up the regular tourist spots, of course, and also enjoyed a few things that Ryan and I had not yet done ourselves.

The Puffing Billy Steam Train had been on our list of “to-dos” for some time so we were happy to have the chance to experience it with our family.  According to the website, ‘the railway was one of four low-cost 762mm gauge lines constructed in Victoria in the early 1900s to open up remote areas’.   The train and the stations still have the old-time feel.  In fact, I applied an “antique” filter in my photo editor to some of the photos and it’s not too hard to imagine the train in the 1900’s.

We hopped aboard the line at Belgrave towards Lakeside, through the Sherbrooke forest, over the Trestle Bridge, on to Selby, to Menzie’s Creek, to Clematis, on to Emerald, through Nobelius, and ended in Lakeside (Emerald Lake).  The total train-time was two hours but we also stopped in Lakeside for a quick a coffee and icecream.  Next time I could see bringing a picnic and staying in Lakeside for an afternoon.

The train chugs–albeit rather slowly–through the Dandenong Mountain Ranges so our visitors were able to see the beautiful fern gullies and forests, so different from the mid-west landscape of the US.  Another thing that makes this train special is that you’re allowed to hang your legs outside the carriage.  Side note: As an American I think it’s safe to declare this a major safety hazard, aka liability, as I was regularly poked with branches and could see how losing an eye or a limb wouldn’t be beyond imagination.

As we climbed some of the hills I could almost hear the rhythmic I think I can I think I can I think I can of the train’s engine.  This takes on a whole new level of significance when you’re one of the passengers with legs and arms hanging about, dangling on an old wooden bridge above what looks to be an uncomfortable landing zone.  Still, I joined the others in the experience…when (and only this one time) in Oz, right?

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Our Oz experiences have come in many packages but all of them have been memorable.  Recently, we were fortunate enough to participate in a Dinner at Pirianda, and that experience can only be described as magical.

Pirianda is a beautiful 28-acre garden in Olinda and the owners of Cream at Sassafras*, Mark and Leenah Johnston, host regular dinner-parties (and other customized events) from the gardens.  A few weeks ago, we attended one of their special seven-course degustation dinners. 

There were so many wonderful things to recount about the evening but I’ll highlight our top 5.

5.  Amazing surrounding scenery – the Pirianda Gardens are lovely and like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

4. Beautiful dining setting – There is an adorable little house where the dinner takes place, including a wonderful fireplace and a lovely deck from which to view the gardens.

3. Fun and interesting way to dine – The tables are set up so everyone dines together.  It’s a great way to meet people and for us, was a great way to learn more about Australia.  It felt like such an intimate dining experience.

2. Wine, wine, and more wine – Each of the courses is paired with at least one wine.  We loved tasting the fine wines, many from the Mornington and Yarra Valley vineyards right here in Victoria.  That night our cup over-floweth and in more ways that one.

1.  Seven “heavenly” courses – The seven dishes were delectable and a perfect balance of flavors.  Ryan’s favorite from the evening was the first main course which included baked Tasmanian salmon with a tamarind crust served with Mesclun salad tossed with an Asian dressing.  He boldly stated that it was “the best salmon he’s ever had”. 

If you’re interest is officially piqued,  you can attend one of the upcoming dinners.  We had a lovely time and it was such a unique experience that I deem it a “Melbourne-Must”. 

*Disclosure: I do a bit of Social Media Marketing work with this company. 

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It’s hard to pick the best thing about Cream, our favorite ‘lil gourmet store.

Could it be that it’s set in the lovely little town, Sassafras, tucked away in the beautiful Dandenong mountains?

Or is it because of the famously fun owner, Mark Johnston, who greets every customer like a friend? Or is the fact that you can taste every product in the store…literally…you can try everything!

Or could it be the fact that all the products are fresh and/or natural and/or local?

Or is it the cute and contemporary décor that feels worldly and small-town at the same time?

Well, it’s all of those things that make it wonderful but it’s the AH-MAY-ZING-curl-your-toes-Meg-Ryan-pie-eating Cunliffe & Waters Summerberry Jam that keeps us coming back.   Exhibit A: On our last visit, I nearly wiped out the entire stock.

You may note that, in this case, gourmet = expensive.  But if there’s one thing we’ve learned as we’ve grown in our cooking and taken a serious interest in our food, you can’t put a price on good ingredients.  And that’s saying nothing about the great, personalized customer service.  It’s truly top-notch.

Places like this are rare gems and we’ll always do what we can to support them; because there is no substitute for the quality, because it feels good to support local businesses…and because I go through severe withdrawal without the Summerberry jam.

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There’s something about seeing a place through the eyes of someone discovering a place for the first time.  My dad visited this past week and I loved watching him fall in love with Melbourne in the same way we have.  I took him to the National Rhododendron Gardens and used the opportunity to snap some pics of the flowers a-bloom. 

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When in Oz I highly recommend a visit to the National Rhododendron Gardens.  We discovered this gem because it was close to our B&B in Olinda but we are so glad we did.  It was free to enter and while the B&B owner told us it could take a half a day to walk through it, we only had two hours to enjoy the paths and flowers.   We definitely were keeping a quick pace and I wish we had had more time to enjoy it.

I also wish we had done a better job documenting the names of the flowers but I guess that just gives us a good excuse to go back and it also lets the pictures speak for themselves.  Enjoy!

The groundskeeper told us that most of the fall colors were gone save for the Ginko Baloba tree.  There was no way in the world we could’ve missed this tree.  It was brilliant bright yellowish/orange surrounded by green.  WOW.

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It’s the low season here in Melbourne.  Tourism and temperatures are low.  Or so they tell us.  To us mid-westerners coming out of winter, 50-60 degrees (F) is darn near balmy.  Apparently we’re in the minority with this way of thinking.  More to come on this.  During our weekend getaway, we visited to two hotspots in the Dandenong Ranges.

One is Sky High , a beautiful cafe, garden, and lookout over Melbourne.  Our internal clocks had us up at 5AM so we thought we’d be romantic and head up to Sky High to watch the sun come up over the city.  Two problems with that:

1.  The sun doesn’t rise over the city…at least from where we were at and 2.  The sun rises around 7:30 and Sky High opens at 8

We improvised, ate some brekkie and headed back to Sky High after 8.  The views of the city were decent but a thin layer of smog still hung in the air.  I imagine the panorama and fall colors we saw doesn’t even compare to the views in Spring or Summer.

That said, I’ll share a small version of a photo Ryan took that day in hopes that we’ll return when it’s a bit warmer to capture better photos of the city.

Being up there and overlooking the city was so peaceful.  It may have had something to do with the fact that we were the only people there enjoying the view.  Except for a small group of mountain bikers and another couple enjoying some coffee, we were the only ones there.  We didn’t mind it.  In fact it just added to the tranquil nature of the experience.

From there we headed to Olinda Falls where we were the only two souls within several miles.  Literally…

We hiked down a path and a few smaller inclines.  I think the path was rated “medium” but we were outfitted in our “I’m a tourist” jeans, tennis shoes, and t-shirts — complete with Ryan’s Northface jacket — and did just fine on the hour-long path. Note that I’m giving no credit to the handrails that were around the stairs and bridges.  We were true explorers, mountaineers, if you will.

The walk was beautiful and it gave us a great opportunity to play around with our new DSLR that we bought as our wedding gift for each other, although, the term “falls” may be slightly generous for what we encountered…just sayin’.

It was still a lovely sight to see and we could see why it’s a tourist attraction for all ages.  Truly, we have no complaints.  Our goal for the weekend was to de-stress after the past few months, explore, and enjoy time with each other.  Check.  Check. And Check.

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Our first official blog post!  It’s been a long-time coming but given the past few months, it’s taken us awhile to recharge enough to get this going.  I thought it worthwhile to give a quick snapshot of the past few weeks to kick off our blog.

Friday, May 20 – Ryan traveled back to the US.

Saturday, May 28 – We were married – HOORAY!  Happiest day of our lives.

Sunday and Monday – We packed for Australia, moved rooms in our apartment, said goodbye to family and friends who had come for the wedding, and fit in a graduation party for cousins.  Unfortunately there wasn’t a ton of time to bask in the glow of newlywed-ness.

Tuesday – We returned rented items to wedding vendors, finished packing and moving, and left Des Moines for our twenty hour (and then some) journey to Melbourne.

Thursday – We arrived in Melbourne as true time-travelers.

Friday – We headed up to the Dandenong Mountain Ranges, less than thirty minutes from our house.  These mountains are covered in rainforest – yes, rainforest!  Side note:  We drove through the town Ferntree Gully to get into the hills and I was quite positive there was a Disney movie about an Australian rainforest with a similar name so I googled it.  Now  I’m convinced Disney’s FernGully is based on this rainforest near us…let me live on this delusion.

We stayed at a lovely B&B and throughout the weekend we visited the beautiful little towns, ate at a couple of quaint cafes, saw some magnificent views of the city, and hiked some of the many trails.  I took this picture of the Olinda forest during one of our hikes through the hills.

The picture in the header of the blog is from our half-day at the National Rhododendron Garden.  A blog post and pics from the garden are forthcoming.

I’m sure there will also be future posts about the little towns in the hills but it’s all too much for just one post (or one weekend, for that matter).  We couldn’t possibly explore it all.  And that had nothing to do with the fact that we took five-hour naps during the day.  We were not impervious to jet lag as we so hoped.

Nevertheless, the first weekend in our new city was the perfect beginning to our adventure in Oz.

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