After spending three days in Melbourne city, we decided to head to the outskirts of the city to be nearer to the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley, which are both well known for beautifully scenic countryside and boasting well maintained National Parks.
One of the best ways to view the Mountain Ash forests of the Dandenong Ranges is onboard a steam-powered locomotive travelling on the Puffing Billy Railway. Choo choo!
Puffing Billy travels from Belgrave to Gembrook station (with a few stops in between) going slowly through wooded countryside and wide open farmland, and over wooden trestle bridges.
The whole journey from Belgrave to Gembrook is about 2 hours long, with a round trip taking 5 hours in total, so it is completely possible to make a whole day trip out of a visit to Puffing Billy.
We decided to stop by the Puffing Billy Railway on the way to the farm where we would be staying. Our original plan was reach Belgrave early, then take the first train out to Lakeside station (about an hour’s journey away) where we could walk at the nearby Emerald Lake and have a picnic lunch.
A return journey from Belgrave to Lakeside is about 3 hours in total and is slightly cheaper to boot.
Travel Planner’s tip: If you are travelling with kids, check out the discounted family fares and consider a shorter trip to save money and book your tickets online to save time waiting in the queues. Kids under 4 years old travel free!
Unfortunately, I did not account for the fact that we would not be able to find parking at the Puffing Billy railway station itself, and after driving through several carparks, we ended up had to park some distance away! So by the time we found a parking space and walked to the station, we missed our train. Fortunately, there were still places available on the next train but it was still an hour’s wait.
Travel Planner’s tip: Parking is a problem at Puffing Billy, especially if you are at Belgrave or Gembrook, so make sure you allow at least 30-40 minutes for finding a parking spot and walking to the Railway station!
When the train finally arrived, we were more than ready to get on board. The kids were hungry by this time, so we let them eat their picnic lunch on the train whilst enjoying the scenery.
The carriages are designed such that all the seats face the windows, but the best way to experience the train ride is by perching on the window ledge and dangling your feet over the side of the carriage.
The kids were a little wary of doing this at first, but by the end of the trip, they were all swinging their feet in the air and yelling out the window like yahoos, occasionally stopping to rub specks of soot off their faces.
The train does a few short stops (about 5-10 minutes) Menzies Creek and Emerald station, long enough for you to hop out and snap a few pictures, but not long enough to visit the toilet.
Travel Planner’s Tip: There are no bathrooms on the train, so do make sure your kids go before the start of the journey. Additionally, the carriages are quite narrow with narrow entryways so do make sure that your stroller can be collapsed to fit under the seats.
At Lakeside Station, the train stops for much longer and you might even have to change trains to get to Gembrook, so this is where most passengers stop for a toilet break. We stuck around for a little while to talk to the steam locomotive driver, a lovely young lady who was happy for us to come up and take a little peek at the engineer’s cab! A fair number of the staff working at the Puffing Billy railway are all volunteers who just love trains, and this young lady was one of them.
Although we were hoping to walk around the nearby Emerald Lake, by this time it was searing hot in the early afternoon, and we were all sticky, thirsty and tired. So, we decided to enjoy a relaxing ride back to Belgrave instead.