Last weekend I decided to “go for a walk” in the Dandenong Ranges; after studying the map for a while I decided to follow the Western Trail, which connects the Mount Dandenong Observatory to the Upper Ferntree Gully picnic grounds. This decision was based mostly on the fact that there is public transport within easy reach from both ends of the trail…
The Western Trail is a “notional” trail… you won’t actually find any signs using this name anywhere in the park. It is just a series of connecting tracks and roads that, properly followed, will take you from one end to the other (there are a few signposts with large “W” signs and arrows, but not enough that one would be able to use them as a guide) through a scenic and enjoyable path — not necessarily the most direct one.
I started by taking the train from the city to Croydon, then a bus to Mount Dandenong (line 688, Croydon to Olinda via Ridge Road). The bus dropped me by the track that leads up to the observatory; it’s a 1.5km walk, heading mostly up, through the Kyeema Track (named after the DC-2 “Kyeema” plane that crashed there almost exactly 70 years ago, on 25/10/1938). I stayed on the top for some 15 minutes, then headed back the way I came, following the same track back to the starting point and continuing south following the signs to Burke’s Lookout, then continuing on the same track after the lookout. That connects to Zig-Zag Track (so named for reasons that will be obvious to anyone following it) near a TV transmitter, and then to Channel 10 Track, which soon after becomes Dandenong Creek Track. This will take you through a very “ferny” area, humid and dark in places, a bit slippery in others and heading very steeply down in many others. If it has rained recently, use shoes with a good grip.
Track junctions and connections are not usually signed, nor is it always all that obvious which way to go; a map is required, a compass helps a lot and a GPS receiver helps even more… I suggest picking up the “Walking and Driving Tracks” map at the Observatory, although if you’re planning on doing this walk you should have it already by the time you get there.
Dandenong Creek Track ends in a T-junction with Basin-Olinda Road, and at this point it’s not clear what is the right way to go; the map indicates that one should simply cross the road and continue straight ahead, but there is no obvious track there. There is a narrow track starting to the right of one of those “W” signposts, and that is what I followed, but I’m not sure it was the right thing to do: the map shows the correct track connecting to School Track at Range Road, and the one I took did not. I ended up diverging from the map indication at this point by following Range Road west to Bradley Track (there is no sign there; it’s the last track on the left before you hit a gate), following it to the end (careful at the junction with Basin-Olinda Road, you need to stay on the track and not take the road) and rejoining the Trail further south at Old Coach Road, a bit to the west from what is shown on the map. Old Coach Road is identified as Horse Trail on signs at this point; they change to Old Coach Road further down, where it widens and is open to traffic (not that you’re likely to see any cars, mind you).
From this point on the track is a bit simpler: from Old Coach Road you turn left at Ferndale Road (ignore the sign saying “Road Closed”), which ends at the Mountain Highway; follow the highway to the east for about 100m as it turns south, then cross it (carefully!) to follow Alpine Road to the south; it’s the first junction on that side of the road and it’s not open to cars. Follow Alpine Road all the way to Janesdell Ave. (no sign there either; it’s a sharp turn to the right in a place where you can’t continue ahead; it doesn’t look like an avenue at all, it’s just a track), then follow that all the way to Mt Erin Road and that will lead you naturally to the One Tree Hill picnic grounds, which is a good place for a long rest considering that in the last few kilometres you climbed almost two hundred metres. After that you will head down Kokoda Memorial Trail (follow the signs, it’s easy to find) and simply follow the track to the train station.
A full map of the trail I followed is here; you will notice a few places where I went back the way I came, or even did a full circle back to an earlier location, and all that was caused by the lack of signs on the tracks. It seems to me that this trail may be a bit easier to follow if you start from the south, as the signs are better if you’re going that way and you’re less likely to get lost. However, that involves starting with the Thousand Steps up to One Tree Hill, which will get you tired right away, and ending with a very steep ascent up Mount Dandenong at a time when you will definitely be tired…