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Whilst the Emerald Lake park is only ranked 13th best thing to do in the Dandenongs by Lonely Planet travellers, I think it will start travelling north towards the top of the list after the completion of the 1 million dollar renovations were carried out over a five year period.
For the children there is an older style playground suitable for ages 2 plus ( with supervision) whilst older children will enjoy the newer playground with climbing obstacles and exercise equipment. The playgrounds are located relatively close together but they're on a hillside so younger ones may need assistance.
As for the best way to arrive at the park, that would have to be on Puffing Billy. The train runs from Belgrave to Gembrook, however, the most popular section of the line is between Belgrave and Emerald Lake station. Most people pack a picnic and board the train for a great family day out.
Across from the station is the Emerald Miniature Railway, although I haven't been in to have a look at it, I can tell you that it's the biggest HO scale model (1:87) railway in the southern hemisphere with over 2,000 metres of railway tracks, 250 houses and buildings, 450 cars & trucks, 1,100 trees and 1,500 miniature people. Entry is $6 for adults and $4 for children.
Emerald lake has a few nice short walks within the 50 hectare park that are suitable for all ages. For a brochure of the walking tracks, click here.
Emerald Lake cafe and tea rooms are the perfect spot to head for an ice cream after lunch. The cafe and tea rooms are open everyday from 9am - 4:30 pm , except Christmas Day, and have the capacity to seat more than 100 people.
As for events in the park the most famous would be The Great Train Race (competitors race against Puffing Billy, running 14km with the aim to beat the train before it gets across the bridge). Other events include; Community tree planting day, The Easter hunt and the Summer Concert Series (music in the park each Sunday in February) for more details click here.
I have to say that the pedal boats look so calm and serene bobbing on the lake's surface, but if your children talk you into taking you on the boats and they can't reach the pedals then it turns out to be a bit more like a workout than a gentle Sunday pedal on the water. If this is the case choose the 15 minute option over the 30 minute option, though the kids will love to go around and around forever in a day it will be enough of a workout for mum and dad. Peddle boat hire costs $13 for 15 minutes or $17 for 30 minutes (2 adults and a child will fit onto one boat as will 1 adult and two children).