If you want to escape the summer heat one way to do so is to ride off into the hills on the century old Puffing Billy Steam train. The climate is a few degrees colder in the Dandenong ranges and might I add that the scenery is refreshing as well.
Puffing Billy started its journey in the 1900s as part of an initiative for developing rural areas. In 1955 The Puffing Billy Preservation Society was formed in in order to maintain the running of this iconic train. Up to date they are still providing financial and moral support ensuring that puffing Billy happily chugs its way across the mountains.
One of the reasons Puffing Billy is a great family day out is because of how easily accessible it is. There is onsite car parking but it's also easy to get to via public transport. Simply catch a train to Belgrave station and the Puffing Billy Station is right next to it. The Puffing Billy operates every day except Christmas day and the timetable varies slightly. But to get the maximum out of your day I suggest catching at least the 11am train. I just missed the 11.10am and had to take the 12.30pm and it meant we had very little time to do sightseeing. I only went up to lakeside but if you have a few more hours to spare you can take the two hour journey up to Gembrook. It is a historic looking town and I remember having a jolly good lunch in a local café last time I was up there.
Of course, the first time I went on Puffing Billy I was a bit silly and decided to wear a short dress and a very thin cardigan, not only was I shivering but I was also unable to throw my feet over the ledge of the window unless I were to disturb any gentle souls looking on. Luckily I had grown wiser in a year and not only did I bring a warm enough jacket I also wore jeans! My friend and I almost fell over in our excitement to secure a spot on the ledge and poke our heads out from above the safety bars! After all, on how many occasions is this legal and safe?
One of my favourite moments along the train ride was the Trestle wooden bridge between Menzies Creek and the Belgrave station. It is 91.4m long and is 12.8m up in the air and it's a great feeling having your feet dangling above the 15 spans bridge. Also be ready with your cameras for this is one of those Kodak moments. It is also delightful to see the volunteers and café staff of the stations bringing out snacks and waving the colourful Puffing Billy flags which can be bought for about 2 dollars. As you keep travelling there are gorgeous views out to Port Phillip Bay over the mountains. I was also a big fan of the forest areas that engulf the train. My friend and I decided that it was very 'Jurassic Park' like and hummed the theme music.
We took the one hour ride up to Lakeside which is actually a great place to relax. The park is beautiful and is the perfect place for a picnic or a barbecue. There are also paddle boats that can be rented out and also a wading pool along with changing facilities. Another thing that caught my eye at this place was the model train shop that was playing what one might call typically old time train music. As we were quite cold and a bit a hungry we decided to try some scones at the café alongside the park. And my goodness, the scones were amazing, they were soft and melted as soon as you bit in to them. If you were to go further up to Gembrook you would come across some more spectacular views as well as a few smaller timber bridges.
Finally, if you wanted to do something a little more 'themed' there are a few special events that you can go for. 'Murder on the Puffing Billy express' entitles you to a lovely dinner at the Nobelius Packing shed and also the intriguing mystery of who the culprit is. The train departs at 7.15pm and arrives at 11.30pm and additional tea, coffee and chocolates will be served on the train. A day out with the cute Thomas the Tank Engine will be back in autumn and will be great fun for kids with face painting, a jumping castle, Green Bulgy Bus Ride, etc. 'Jazz on the Puffing Billy' is another option for the grown-ups filled with jazzy jazz and good food.
So 'toot toot', and off you go into the beautiful green world of the darling Puffing Billy!