Only 40 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, Dandenong Ranges National Park offers a hidden (if not secret) escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. I’ve been hiking the trails of Melbourne’s surrounding parks long enough to remember a time when you could even find solitude at Upper Ferntree Gully’s 1000 Steps (aka Kokoda Memorial Trail) on a Saturday. These days you’ll be fighting for space on the narrow path. Fortunately, there are still Dandenong Ranges walks that aren’t teeming with people every weekend and, ironically, one of those trails starts at the base of the aforementioned steps – the Ferntree Gully Circuit walk.
It’s easy to see why everyone from tourists to local families and lycra-clad exercise junkies swarm the 1000 Steps every weekend.
A series of steep, rocky, uneven, and often slippery steps follow a trickling stream up through a lush gully under a canopy of tree ferns, Blackwood and Manna gum. Strangely, despite the hordes of people, it’s not uncommon to find the elusive lyrebird foraging in the undergrowth beside the track.
On a Saturday morning in the cold Melbourne winter, a thick fog hangs in the gully, and the sun struggles to peek through as it warms the place. It’s quite the vibe.
Beyond the 1000 Steps
Few of those thousands of people who huff and puff their way up the steps ever venture into the forest beyond. While it might be true that it doesn’t get much prettier than that ferny gully, those who do explore further will find a different kind of reward. At the very least, there will be fewer humans and a greater opportunity to encounter the incredible wildlife.
A track opposite the top of the 1000 Steps will lead you up to One Tree Hill Picnic Ground. From here, the trail heads steeply downhill to the northeast on the signed Tysons Track. As you enter the taller forest around One Tree Hill’s summit, you’ll likely hear the unmistakable laughter of kookaburras and the playful chatter of the colourful rosellas. A welcome contrast to the human chatter at the steps.
Need to Know
Length: 7.5 km
Time: 3 hrs
Park: Dandenong Ranges National Park
Public Transport Access: Belgrave Line – Depart at Upper Ferntree Gully Station and walk east, following Burwood Highway, to the park entrance (near the intersection with Mount Dandenong Tourist Road). On your left is the entrance to Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground.
Car Access: Fern Tree Gully Picnic Ground is at the Upper Ferntree Gully end of the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road (on the west side of the road).
Trailhead: At the north end of Fern Tree Gully Picnic Ground, you’ll find the start of the 1000 Steps to the left of the playground.
As you follow Tysons Track, you’ll notice that the drier mountainside forests, lined with Peppermint, Stringybark and tall Mountain ash, allow impressive views of the suburbs to the north of the Dandenong Ranges.
Turn right at the next T-intersection to join the very steep View Track. As the track descends across the western slopes, you’ll catch glimpses of the city skyline (hopefully, you’ll get a clearer day than I did on my last visit).
Don’t forget to keep an eye on your immediate vicinity, though. I’ve been lucky enough to find echidnas here and, on one occasion, a Lace monitor hissing at me from a Stringybark trunk.
Continue to the (usually dry) Blind Creek, and then it’s up again on Feather Track, The Boulevard, and Belview Terrace. It’s fascinating to watch the change in forest types and wildlife as you ascend and descend, and even the contrast between the north and south-facing mountainsides. Although the tracks in this southwestern section of the park come close to the park borders, this is one of the more isolated parts of Dandenong Ranges National Park. You’ll feel like you’re miles from the city.
My favourite memory from this part of the trail was on a cold and windy afternoon when, between the sound of the rustling leaves and the eerie creaking sound of tree branches rubbing together, I heard a shriek and looked up to see a group of elusive Yellow-tailed black cockatoos.
Side note: a group of cockatoos is called a ‘crackle’ but, as much as I love the word, I couldn’t just use it without acknowledging how awesome it is.
I failed at snapping a decent photo of the cockatoos, but there were certain birds that were (unsurprisingly) a little less camera shy…
The circuit ends with the pleasantly downhill Lyrebird Track, returning you to the Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground, where you’ll no doubt be welcomed by the Rainbow lorikeets that frequently visit in search of human food. Please, don’t feed the lorikeets. If you think they’re beautiful enough to warrant going to that effort for a photo, you should instead help to protect them.
With my little gripe out of the way, I’ll finish by recommending you stop at Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground for a picnic or barbecue, or even stop at the 1000 Steps Café for a coffee or a bite to eat. Your hike might be finished, but you’re unlikely to be in a hurry to leave this incredible corner of the Dandenongs.
What’s your favourite hike in Dandenong Ranges National Park? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
Exploring the Great Ocean Road?
You won’t see the best sights from your car. Get the definitive guidebook, featuring the 25 best walks in the area with detailed instructions and maps.