The Dandenong Ranges and Knox Tourism Information Centre is located at 1211 Burwood Highway at Upper Upper Ferntree Gully, tel: (03) 9758 7522.
Emerald Lake Park
Emerald Lake Park lies just east of town at the end of Emerald Lake Drive (which runs off Beaconsfield Rd). This 50-ha heritage park is open every day (hours vary on a seasonal basis). It features old exotic tree species and expanses of lawn, amenities such as picnic and barbecue facilities, an Environment Centre, free trout fishing opportunities for those with a licence (children under 16 do not require a licence if accompanied by an adult), amenities, and a free and supervised swimming pool (open from mid-December to the end of March from 12.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. on weekends and public holidays and from 3.00 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. on schooldays, with hours extended on warm evenings). Paddleboat hire is available from 11.30 a.m. opposite the swimming pool and adjacent the Environment Centre (tel: 03 5968 5095). A lengthy waterslide operates on weekends and holidays from midday to 5.00 p.m., between mid-December and the end of March (providing the temperature is forecast at over 22 degrees celsius (tel: 03 5968 5113). A short, pleasant and easy-going walking track starts at the Lakeside Car Park on the western side of the lake. There are many other longer walks.
The Park's amenities - electric barbecues, tap water, picnic shelters, a children's playground above the pool, amphitheatres and clean toilets - are free of charge. The picnic shelters and amphitheatres can only be used if they are not booked out. For bookings ring the cafe-kiosk, tel: (03) 9754 6800.
This park was once part of the historic Nobelius Heritage Nursery which is still in operation, albeit on a more modest scale than at the outset of the 20th century, when it was one of the largest nurseries in the southern hemisphere with about two million trees on 180 ha and 80 employees. It was started by Carl Nobelius, allegedly a relative of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize awards. The lake was established in 1940 and named after W.H. Treganowan who took over the nursery after the death of Nobelius in 1921. On the hillside are six bas-relief murals depicting important features of local history such as Puffing Billy, goldminers and Carl Nobelius.
Accommodation is available at Emerald on the Lake (a B & B on Emerald Lake Rd), the Backpackers Lodge (Lake View Drive), and Wombat Corner offers camping and cabins. Other accommodation is located nearby.
Ring (1300) 131 683 for further information or go to http://www.emeraldlakepark.com.au or email: EmeraldLakePArk@cardinia.vic.gov.au
The Emerald Lake Model Railway
Also at Emerald Lake is the largest HO scale model display in the southern hemisphere. It features 2 km of track, detailed scenery, 370 working engines, 450 cars and trucks, 250 houses and buildings, street and platform lights, 1100 trees, 1500 people, and push-button participation. It is open from 11.30 a.m. Tuesday to Sunday plus all school and public holidays and is located adjacent Lakeside train station. For bookings ring (03) 5968 3455.
An antique steam train known as 'Puffing Billy', something of a symbol of the Dandenongs, runs between Belgrave, the station at Emerald Lakeside Park and Gembrook. It operates every day except Christmas Day. On entering Emerald Lake Park (end of Emerald Lake Drive), take the lower road to the left for the Puffing Billy parking area, barbecues, picnic tables and Lakeside train station.
The number of trains per day and the timing of their departure varies seasonally and there are always more trains running on weekends and public holidays. You can pick the train up at any of the three stations and travel to any of the others (one way or return). Prices vary according to the length of the journey you choose. To give you some idea, the cost of the longest trip (from Belgrave to Gembrook and return) is $39 for adults and $17.50 for ages 4-16 inclusive (under 4s are free if they do not occupy a seat). A family ticket (two adults and up to three children or one adult and up to four children) is $77 to Gembrook and return. All other standard journeys are cheaper.
There are also special night trains and the Luncheon Special which departs Belgrave at midday. It offers the choice of First Class travel in the dining carriage. All seats must be booked and paid at least 24 hours in advance.
The trip from Belgrave station to Gembrook takes in Sherbrooke Forest, several fine trestle bridges, Selby township, the landslide site, Menzies Creek station, the Steam Museum, Emerald, Emerald Lake Park, Wright State Forest, Cockatoo Creek Valley, Cockatoo township, Gembrook and a number of remote train stations in picturesque bush settings. The trek also affords panoramic views over farmlands, Port Phillip Bay, Westernport Bay, Cardinia Reservoir, Arthurs Seat, the Yarra Valley wine region and the Warburton Range.
Other special attractions are Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine Days, Commissioner's Inspection Trains, Wedding Trains, the Santa Special, Jingle Bells In June and July, The Great Train Race, the Valentines Day Special and other special events. Picnic and barbecue facilities are available and the tearooms at the station are open for all trains.
For recorded timetable information ring 1900 937 069 any time or ring the Belgrave office on weekdays from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 9754 6800. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org and the informative web site is http://www.puffingbilly.com.au
The Puffing Billy Steam Museum is located behind the Menzies Creek station. It houses a collection of Australian and overseas narrow-gauge locomotives, rolling stock and steam machinery. During the working week it is only open from 12.30 p.m. to 1.00 p.m., as it is intended for those aboard the luncheon train, although anyone else may visit it at that time. It is also open on Sundays and public holidays from 10.30 a.m. Passengers may break their journey at Menzies Creek to visit the Museum and then continue or return on a later train.
The Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook Railway first opened on December 18, 1900. A landslide caused the closure of the line until volunteers began the work of fund-raising and rebuilding. Menzies Creek was reached in 1962, Emerald Town in 1965, Emerald Lake Park in 1975 and Gembrook in 1998.
The Apple Pot Country Homewares has a large range of country crafts. It is located at Shops 7 and 9, 5-7 Kilvington Drv, tel: (03) 5968 5666.
At Shop 2, Kilvington Drv, is Lovejoy's Antiques which sell antiques, collectables, gifts and tin toys. They are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., tel: (03) 5968 5088.
Possums Cottage is a lovely old tearoom and gift shop at 348 Main Rd, tel: (03) 5968 6110.
Over the road, at 351 Main Rd, is Wombat Gully Plant Farm which is the home of BOXOZ, a fast growing hedge, tel: (03) 5968 5753.
Best Loved Books has over 7000 books from the last 100 years. It is located in Heroes Ave, tel: (03) 5968 6047.
Paternoster Wines is a boutique winery with organically grown wines and views of the valley south to Arthurs Seat (see entry on Dromana) and French Island. It is open weekends from 11.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5968 3197. To get there head south of Emerald on the Beaconsfield Rd for about 3 km then take the horrendously sharp left onto Paternoster Rd and it is a short distance along, halfway up the hill, to the right, at no.17.
Emily Hill Farm
About 5 km south of Emerald on the Beaconsfield Rd is Emily Hill Farm which sells pick-your-own organically-grown blueberries, raspberries and currants on a daily basis from December to March. There is also a tree nursery but interested parties should ring first, tel; (03) 5944 3971.
Sherbrooke Equestrian Park
A couple of kilometres west where the Gembrook Rd meets Wellington Rd, is Clematis. Turn left into Wellington Rd then, after a short distance turn right into Magpie Rd where you will find Sherbrooke Equestrian Park. It offers scenic trail rides in the Dandenongs on a daily basis. Rides range from one hour to a full weekend, tel: (03) 5968 4893.
Cardinia Reservoir Park
Cardinia Reservoir, located to the south and south-west of town, is Melbourne's largest water storage area. It has a shoreline of 56 km. There is a section of parkland on the south-western shore which has picnic-barbecue facilities and there are views of the reservoir from Duffys Lookout. There are also walking trails and kangaroos can be seen in the area. To get there head south-west along Wellington Rd for about 5 or 6 km and there is a signposted left turn to the park.
Bimbimbie Wildlife Park
Bimbimbie Wildlife Park features deer, wombats, kangaroos, emus and farm animals in walk-through enclosures. There is an animal nursery, a large drive-in picnic area with shelters and barbecue facilities and a kiosk/tearoom
From Emerald, head east along the Belgrave-Gembrook Rd for 5 km to Cockatoo then turn off, heading south along the Pakenham Rd for 6 km then turn right into Paternoster Rd and the park is 400 m along, to the right, at no.523. It is open daily from 10.00 a.m., closing at 4.00 p.m. on weekends and at dusk on weekdays, tel: (03) 5942 7238.
A more scenic but less comfortable route is to follow the Beaconsfield Rd south of Emerald for about 3 km then turn left into Paternoster Rd (unsealed) and follow it for about 5 km to the park.
The Australian Rainbow Trout Farm
The Australian Rainbow Trout Farm is located to the north-east of Emerald in the Macclesfield area. You can catch your own fish and picnic amidst the mountain ash and bellbirds. Tackle is provided and there are barbecue facilities, a kiosk and a playground. They are open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily, tel: (03) 5968 4711.
To get there head east along the Gembrook Rd for about 2 km and turn off at Avonsleigh, heading north along the Avonsleigh-Macclesfield Rd. After 4 km turn left onto Mulhalls Rd which leads past the farm then veers back southwards as Paton Rd which eventually rejoins the Avonsleigh-Macclesfield Rd.
Vegies With a View
If you do not turn off the Avonsleigh-Macclesfield Rd but continue north for a short distance there is a right turn into Stranges Rd where you will find Vegies With a View - an organic farm which produces eggs, honey, jams and preserves. There are walk-through gardens and spectacular views. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from midday to 5.00 p.m. Group tours are available by appointment, tel: (03) 5964 8243.
Gembrook is a small town of about 500 people located 12 km east of Emerald, at the eastern terminus of the Puffing Billy railroad line. It was named after the Gembrook Mining Company which extracted gemstones from the area during the mid-19th century. Settlers, drawn by reports of good timber and fecund soils, began to arrive in the early 1870s. Farming developed at Upper Gembrook and apple orchards at Lower Gembrook. No permanent settlement appeared on the present townsite until the narrow-gauge railway arrived at the turn of the century. It brought holiday-makers and awareness of the area led to further settlement and development. The Ranges Hotel opened to cater for the visitors. Gembrook became associated with scouting in the 1920s and Italian settlers arrived from 1935, becoming involved in vegetable cultivation.
Today Gembrook is largely a commuter area. You can enjoy a picnic or barbecue and the children's play facilities at Russell Park or a meal (and accommodation) at the Ranges Hotel. Gembrook Market is held in Gembrook station grounds on the last Saturday of the month (in December it is the last Saturday before Christmas).
Charlotte's of Gembrook is a tearoom (complete with singing waiter) which specialises in American Indian crafts. There is also a herb nursery. It is located at 97 Main St, tel: (03) 5968 1715.
You can watch craftspeople throwing, decorating or glazing hand-made pottery at Gembrook Pottery. There is a shop, a courtyard garden and a seconds shop. It is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. at the corner of Main St and Station Rd, adjacent to Gembrook station, tel: (03) 5968 1212.
At 77 Main St is the Motorist Cafe and Museum which has a heritage display of automobiles, including the Chamberlain Special - Australia's rarest car, tel: (03) 5968 1492.
Grandad's Treasure Trove sells antiques, collectables, furniture, white goods, old wares and bric-a-brac. It is located at 79 Main St, tel: (03) 5968 1726.
Gembrook Bike Hire offers guided mountain bike tours from one hour to the full day. Self-guided arrangements are available. The price, starting at $6 per hour, includes bike and helmet hire. Group discounts are available. They are at 72 Main St, Gembrook.
Bunyip State Park
Parks Victoria have a local office at Gembrook which overseas Bunyip State Park (16 600 ha), just to the east of the town. Featuring a diversity of flora and fauna and high landscape values, it is ideal for bushwalking, picnicking, horseriding, mountain bike riding, camping, 4WD and trail bike riding (seasonal closures of the relevant trails occur from mid-June to the end of October).
This land was once occupied by the Balluk-Willam clan of the Woiwurung tribe who believed that a frightening-looking creature called a bunyip (a manifestation of a spirit which punishes bad people) lived in the swamps of the Bunyip River and so they avoided those sites.
The first Europeans in the district were gold prospectors who also avoided pitching tent near a 'bunyip hole'. Timbergetting soon began and the first mill was built in 1898. A rail line from Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook was built in 1900 and tramways carried timber from the bush sawmills to Gembrook. Remnants of timber tramways and large sawdust heaps (one is opposite Dyers Picnic Ground) remain. Logging ceased in 1990 and the park was declared in 1992.
Swamp heathland covers much of the low-lying, poorly-drained ground. Prickly tea-tree and the southern emu wren thrive in these areas. The heath woodland is full of stringybark with an understorey of banksia, hakea and rare swamp bush-pea. Honeyeaters live in this ecosystem while tree creepers inhabit the foothill forests of silver and messmate. Thornbills and wrens live amidst the undergrowth. On the steep southern slopes are mountain ash (the tallest flowering plants in the world) and silver wattles where yellow-tailed black cockatoos live.
The park's possums, owls, bats and gliders are nocturnal although swamp wallabies and goannas can be seen in the daytime.
Camping sites are varied and dispersed throughout the Park. Facilities at the designated camping/picnic areas include tent sites (non-powered), drinking water, toilets, fireplaces and picnic tables. However, camping at picnic grounds will be slowly phased out. Bush camping is permitted at more remote locations although there are no facilities at these sites.
If you head east of Gembrook the bitumen soon runs out. You will come to a fork. To the left is East Beenak Rd (mentioned later in this entry) and to the right is Tonimbuk Rd. The latter leads to the Mortimer Trail Bike Unloading Area and the Mortimer Picnic-Camping Ground which is located on the site of the first sawmill in the area. It is the staring point for the Mortimer Nature Loop Walk (1.2 km) and the Mortimer Circuit (9.5 km).
If you wish to visit Four Brothers Rocks turn left off Tonimbuk Rd, at the Mortimer site, into Link Road then watch for the turnoff on the right into Burgess Rd. Four Brothers Rocks are a group of granite rocks offering sweeping views across the park.
If you ignore the turnoff into Burgess Rd and continue north along Link Rd it reaches a T-intersection with Black Snake Creek Rd. Turn right for the Black Snake Bush Camping Area, the Dyers Trail Bike Unloading Area and the Dyers Picnic and Camping Ground. The latter is the start of the Dyers Circuit Walk (11.5 km return) and the Four Brothers walk (17 km return). Another way to access these three sites is to turn left into East Beenak Rd instead of right into Tonimbuk Rd at the aforementioned fork, just east of Gembrook.
If you continue along Tonimbuk Rd, beyond Mortimer Picnic Ground and the Link Rd turnoff, you will come to the Mile Point Bush Camping Area and, a little further along, the Camphora Picnic and Camping Area and the Tonimbuk Rd Trail Bike Unloading Area. Just before you get to Camphora, there is a turnoff on the right into Camp Rd then an almost immediate left into Guide Rd. A very short distance along Guide Rd is the Old Tynong Camping Area. If you follow Camp Rd to its end then turn left it leads out to the Princes Freeway and Tynong which is another access route into the park, particularly its southern section.
The eastern section of the park is best accessed from Labertouche. From Labertouche you can access the Forest Rd which leads past a trail bike unloading area, then the Forest Road Picnic Ground and Rysons Creek Camping Area. A little further along Forest Rd is the start of the Lawson Falls Nature Walk (750 m one way) and the Lawson Falls Circuit (5 km return). Notes for the latter are available at the start of the walk.
If you continue along Forest Rd it eventually leads into Bunyip Rd which heads north-west to Seven Acre Rock and Powelltown. Note that some areas of the park are 4WD access only. Although there may be some dodgy moments and care must be taken, most of the roads mentioned in this entry should be navigable in a 2WD unless it is very wet.
Ring Parks Victoria on 131 963 if you want pamphlets or general information. The number of the Gembrook office is (03) 5968 1280. You can also visit the Parks Victoria website on http://www.parks.vic.gov.au which provides contact details for commercial operators in the park: Gembrook Bike Hire, Gembrook Tourist Transport, Owen Correa Outback Adventures, AAA Plus Surf Tours, Art Tracks (bushwalking), Bayview Park Trail Rides, Halls Outdoor Education (bushwalking and cross-country skiing), Off Road Cycling Adventures, The Climbing Mill (corporate training), Ventura Coach Holidays and YMCA Venturequest (bicycle riding, bushwalking and caving).
Kurth Kiln Park
Kurth Kiln Park (3500 ha) lies to the north and north-east of Gembrook. It contains a range of plant communities from mountain ash and other forest types to swampy heathland which supports a plenitude of flora including the rare long pink-bell. Wombats, echidnas, marsupial mice, bush rats and swamp wallabies can be seen while the possums and various gliders (which can glide for up to 100 m from tree to tree) are nocturnal. There are also plenty of birds including lyrebirds, parrots, kookaburras, honeyeaters, cockatoos, butcherbirds and currawongs.
Another attraction of the park is the Kurth Kiln which was built during World War II to make charcoal. The majority of the charcoal was used to produce a combustible gas which substituted for petrol during rationing. The nearby cottages originally housed workers and their families.
To access the Kurth Kiln Picnic and Camping Area turn off the main street of Gembrook (the Belgrave-Gembrook Rd) and head north along the Gembrook-Launching Place Rd. When the bitumen runs out take the road on the left (the West Beenak Rd) and, at the intersection with Soldiers Rd, is the picnic ground. There are fireplaces, picnic tables and toilets.
If you continue north along the West Beenak Rd it rejoins the Launching Place Rd and leads past Ewart Park which also has fireplaces, picnic tables and toilets. Ship Rock Falls are nearby. If you continue north on the Launching Place Rd it eventually reaches a fork. Both choices lead north to the Warburton Highway at either Woori Yallock or the Launching Place.
Ring Parks Victoria on 131 963 if you want pamphlets or general information. The number of the Gembrook office is (03) 5968 1280. You can also visit the Parks Victoria website on http://www.parks.vic.gov.au
The Butterfield Picnic Ground and Wildlife Reserve
The Butterfield Picnic Ground and Wildlife Reserve is located adjacent Woori Yallock Creek. Head north of Emerald on the Monbulk-Emerald Rd. After about 5 km there is a signposted turnoff on the right to the reserve.
Bunyip Byways Tourism Trail
The Bunyip Byways Tourism Trail is a self-drive tour which takes visitors through a range of attractions in the district, including historic sites and homesteads, natural landmarks, antique stores, golf courses and tea rooms. The trail is delineated by over 300 roadside guidance signs. It follows a circular route from Gembrook through Berwick to Tooradin). A guiding map was printed but it is currently a little hard to get although you can try your luck by ringing the City of Casey, tel; (03) 9705 5200.