I'm a Melbourne girl, born and bred, and new resident of Geelong. Fantabulous adventures await as I explore my gorgeous new city and the stunning Surf Coast. But don’t worry—I’ll be crossing the bridge regularly to get my Melbourne fix.
Published September 20th 2015
Head for the hills and hike Melbourne's favourite mountain
Feel like a bit of hiking challenge that won't take you all day? Head for the hills and try the Fire Trail from Montrose, all the way up the mountain to the top of Mount Dandenong. At least, I think it's called the Fire Trail…I've always known it as that, although it appears nameless on Google Maps. Nevertheless, the trail is most definitely there, ready and waiting, and if you're looking for a heart-rate raising, sweat-producing bush walk that's not too far into the wild, don your hiking boots and give it a crack.
The trail begins at the end of Glasgow Road in Montrose, but there's a semi-official area to park your car just a bit further down, where Glasgow Road intersects with Sheffield Road. On a sunny spring afternoon it may be a little hard to get a space as it is only a small parking area, but you can generally get a spot if you drive a little way up Sheffield Road. Please be respectful of the local residents though, and park only in an appropriate—and safe—spot.
The roads around here are narrow, and some are gravel - make sure you park safely and appropriately.
The road to the start of the trail is steep—sorry, there's no other way to describe it. Before you know it, you'll be removing your outer layers that you thought were necessary in the cool, shaded base of the mountain and conversation with your hiking buddies may become a bit more breathless. But, please, press on! It's worth it, I assure you.
You'll soon see a sign pointing left to the Singleton Track; a nice, wide, gravel path that is fairly flattish. Don't take that. No, look straight ahead—see that rocky, narrow, steep path with no sign? That's the Fire Trail. That's the path to take. Check your laces, take a sip of water (it can get pretty warm as you head up the mountain, so make sure you bring enough fluid) and gear yourself up for some climbing.
When you see this sign...don't follow it - head straight up instead!
The trail is pretty rocky, so take it slow and watch your footing. There's no real hurry, and there's a bit to see on the way. Keep an eye out for wild flowers here and there, and a fallen tree or two. Some sections of the trail almost resembled a small creek on our recent visit—nothing to be alarmed about though, just a bit of residual water trickling down the mountain from the winter rain. Just step carefully through it, and mind some of the muddy patches. And in a month or two, it will all be dried up and hard as a rock.
Not too long after you set out on the rocky trail, you'll come to a clearing and you'll see another nice, gentle gravel path running to your right and left. Sorry to break it to you, but the Fire Trail keeps heading up...and up and up. You do get to walk along the gravel path to the right for a short minute or two, but don't get to used to it—look up to your left, and the Fire Trail continues.
Turn right at these signs...but not for long! The Fire Trail then heads left, back up into the bush.
Once you've caught your breath, start back on the Fire Trail—you're probably about halfway I'd say. There are a few spots along the way where you can stop and have a rest, and this is where the views begin. Through the trees you start to see the town of Montrose below, and houses and factories, then way off into the distance—provided it's a clear day—the skyline of the city of Melbourne. And perched on the side of a mountain, some 40-odd kilometres away, it's quite a sight to see.
You'll more than likely have the view to yourself, with perhaps a few other hikers scattered over the trail, but other than that, it is stunningly quiet, save for the gum trees gently, gently swaying high in the sky. Kookaburras laugh as you catch your breath, mop your brow and wipe the sweaty fingerprints off your iPhone screen after you've taken a few photos, and bellbirds make their tinkling calls, some off into the distance, some as though they are right above you.
You might come across another hiker or two as you enjoy the views.
Climb a little higher, and the Fire Trail then meets the Kyeema Track, a much more easy-going trail that will take you up to Sky High, the famous lookout point, café and restaurant on the top of Mount Dandenong. Take a left here, and cool off as you walk easily along the trail through the fern gullies and shady gum trees. After 15 minutes or so, a sharp right and—oops, yes, another steep section!—will take you to the car park of Sky High. Reward yourself here with even better views of the city, the skyscrapers and high rises poking their way up in a sprawling cluster seemingly another world away. And as you walk through the car park crammed with cars, perhaps even give yourself a bit of a pat on the back at having walked all the way up there. Or…perhaps a shake of the head when you realise you still have to walk all the way back down to your car….
Take a breather, then continue on the Kyeema Track towards Sky High
But what goes up must come down, so refill your water bottles, perhaps have a snack, and then take the Kyeema Track back to the Fire Trail. Again, take it slow—sometimes going down can be even trickier than going up. Enjoy the peace and the scenery, and don't fear too much about getting lost—even though you're on the on the side of a mountain, you're never really too far from suburbia, there's clear mobile phone coverage (after all, the phone towers are a few mere treetops away), and on a weekend, there's generally other people around. But remember to always keep checking points along the way, especially when you reach the Kyeema Track from the Fire Trail so you know where to turn on the way back down. And most importantly, make sure you only walk (or climb, or stumble) within you own ability. This trail is not for everyone, and you need to know your own limits. If you're going it alone, always tell someone where you're headed, and what time you expect to be back (we were gone for probably two hours all up, including ten minutes or so up at Sky High, but it will depend on your fitness levels, or how long you want to spend at Sky High).
And the best views of all, from the top of Mount Dandenong at Sky High, all the way to Melbourne!
Spring is the perfect time of year for bush walking and hiking—not too hot, mostly dry underfoot, plenty of clear days—and the Fire Trail up to Mount Dandenong is just the thing to shake those winter blues. And the best reward is not the glorious views of the city, but getting back to your car, a little puffed, a little sweaty, perhaps a little dirty, knowing you pushed yourself just a little and enjoyed some of the great outdoors on the outskirts of this marvelous city. Now…how far to the nearest bakery?
My partner 'found' this trail when he was training to walk the Kokoda Track. He made me walk it too! (Just once, I was having a few problems with my knees at the time.) But he said this was quite similar to the conditions he encountered on Kokoda.
Love your description, we used to climb up Mt Dandenong most weekends (The Basin to Sassafras) twenty years ago when we were training to go hiking in the Virungas in Rwanda. Didn't prepare us for (mild) altitude sickness.
The old fire track is off limits to the public due to revegation and we local residents do take our forest very seriously. To walk up, go from Glasgow to Camella, left to Dacite then keep walking that way until you get to Zig Zag track, go up there to Kyeema and eventually you'll find the towers (where there's a really nice picnic spot) or to the hang gliding launch point and Burkes Lookout Reserve.