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, the wind in the trees and lowing of cattle. The walk described below is about 23 kilometres in length, 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 favorite 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 some 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 have a choice to proceed straight ahead through Lysterfield State park to Lysterfield Lake or take a shorter option via a track to the left and discover another hidden gem which locals call Birdsland Reserve. You can do a 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 lovely environment area that locals appreciate, often walking their dogs and feeding the ducks.
Proceeding straight ahead 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 forrest 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. If you look 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 at times. 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 very busy 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. In summer, the lake is particularly attractive 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 forrest. 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 through the Park and you could make another day out 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 Track back 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 to admire the views, however, ahead is another little gem which 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 were successful in retaining it as an Arts and Cultural Centre now known as Burrinja. International quality performances, Indigenous Art displays, 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 back to Upwey along Glenfern Road and Mahony Street to where your day started. Upwey has now 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.