Gembrook – More than the home of Puffing Billy
Gembrook village is off the beaten path and will end your search for an easy, interesting and fun day trip from Melbourne that’s not another beach on the Mornington Peninsula! There are plenty of great reasons to stop by Gembrook Village, but this comprehensive guide to the best five will get you hooked on driving or catching a steam train through the Yarra Ranges on a sunny weekend soon!
- Why you should visit Gembrook, Victoria
- A quick history of Gembrook Village
- Ride the Puffing Billy Steam Train
- What’s it like to ride Puffing Billy?
- What is there to do in Gembrook besides going on Puffing Billy
- How To Get To Gembrook Village
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Why you should visit Gembrook, Victoria
For over 120 years, Melburnians have been coming to Gembrook in the hottest parts of summer to picnic and walk among forests, shady parks, streams, and waterfalls.
This village in the Yarra Ranges, among the towering eucalyptus forests and giant ferns, are small glades and valleys that make a lovely day trip.
The drive itself is reason enough to make your way here. When the landscape opens up for just a moment, you can suddenly see brambles and daffodils by the side of the road, ponies, and lambs in the fields, green hillsides growing abundant local produce, and the sun glinting off streams and dams.
All of this is less than two hours from Central Melbourne.
A quick history of Gembrook Village
Gembrook was named after the low-quality precious stones found in the creek by the Gembrook Mining Company.
In the 1850s gold prospectors, including many Chinese immigrants, settled in the area. The area’s first store and post office opened in 1880.
However, when you see the size of these colossal eucalyptus trees that remain today you’ll understand why log saw-milling quickly became the region’s chief industry.
Over 20 timber mills operated in the area in bushfires in 1926 and 1936 destroyed many of them. The Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983 sealed the fate of the saw-milling and logging industry from here tourism and agriculture became the village mainstays.
When the landscape opens up there are steep hills of dark red basalt and volcanic soils plowed and ready for crops of potatoes, grapes, chestnuts, and flowers are just some of what is grown in this fertile area.
Due to an odd quirk in Gembrook’s farming history, there are lots of things grown and living in the area that shouldn’t be here.
A weird period in this sleepy village’s history started in the 1870s when a distinguished group of gentlemen known as the Victorian Acclimatisation Society got hold of 600 acres of land here.
The Society used the extensive property to breed animals and grow plants they imported from overseas.
They did this intending to release the animals into the wild and seeding the plants around the countryside in order to provide lots of food for rural Australians.
Their experiment, like many others that sought to recreate Europe in the southern hemisphere, was a complete disaster (especially introducing rabbits to Australia). Pheasants, California Quail, sparrows, blackbirds, deer, rabbits, carp, and blackberries were grown or released here.
Ride the Puffing Billy Steam Train
By far, the most popular reason to stop by Gembrook Village is to ride The Puffing Billy steam train.
For the first half of the last century, the little steam train was used to carry wood to Melbourne.
Tourists began coming for day trips in the early 1900s. They travelled in the open carriages and a brass band welcomed them as they disembarked.
Sadly, the line between Belgrave near the Dandenong Ranges to Gembrook was closed after a landslide in 1953. Puffing Billy didn’t return until 1998.
What’s it like to ride Puffing Billy?
Puffing Billy sounds its horn through the hills and mountains regularly throughout the day and tourists ride the line between Belgrave, Emerald, and Gembrook.
Stopping by Gembrook village for 1 hour and 25 minutes is enough time for the kids to play in the park, to eat at the local cafes and restaurants.
A couple of times each year, the train is Dressed up as Thomas the Tank Engine for the popular Puffing Billy Day Out with Thomas.
What is there to do in Gembrook besides going on Puffing Billy
While the steam train is the key attraction in town, there is plenty more to see here. So let’s go find a few things to add to your list.
Visit The Motorist Museum – Vintage Motoring Museum
The Motorist Museum houses vintage and classic cars, as well as motoring and cultural items from the classic car period. The vehicles are in various stages of restoration, but for a car lover, it is a treasure trove collection that can’t help but make you smile. It’s also one of the top attractions here.
The museum boasts the only 1925 Studebaker limousine in the world with a polished brass body.
The Motorist takes cash only but only charges $5 for adults, and $10 dollars for a family (2 adults, 2 children).
Call David on 0411 465 098 to confirm if the museum will be open during your stay.
Gembrook station has been styled to evoke the glamorous early days of steam train travel.
On weekends, several props including vintage suitcases, crates, and sacks of produce and freight loading and haulage equipment are arranged on the platform of the station fronting the J.A.C. Russell Park.
The interior of the station is similarly styled to evoke an old-fashioned sense of rail travel and includes a gift shop and cafe. If you came to Gembrook by steam train in the 1920s, you could visit the Gembrook “coffee palace.” These days you have plenty of cafes to choose from!
Explore the parks and gardens
The town is home to two parks the smaller J.A.C Russell Park and playground, which is next to Puffing Billy Station and the much larger Gembrook Park which is just 400m along Redwood Road.
This larger park incorporates some areas once owned by the Acclimatisation Society and so it is home to exotic species of trees and plants as well as eucalyptus trees, ferns, koalas, and wombats.
You can explore it via a 2.7km long walking trail which due to a few steep sections is rated as a moderate walk. Avoid it after rain, as it can be quite muddy.
The J.A.C. Russell Park is right beside the Puffing Billy station and is impossible to miss. This small but lovely park with gravelled paths, a playground, a rotunda, and a history board explaining the beginning of the village is a good stop for families.
Stroll Main Street
Cafes with outdoor seating line the main street through the village. It’s a great spot for people watching with classic cars, cyclists, and motorbikes travelling up and down the strip.
Fill your bags with lots of yummy goodies including local honey, jams, cakes, and crafts which can be purchased at the cafes.
Our favourite cafes in town include the Independent Gembrook where South American meets modern Australian food and Spencers Store, a more casual choice that has some good vegan options, although you can’t really go wrong with any of the cafes in town.
The main street is lined with restored wooden shop fronts and also includes several small and picturesque churches that add to the charm of this small village.
The local markets are open one Sunday each month and fruit, vegetables, plants, and local produce such as jams can be found for sale there.
This wonderful little sculpture at the end of the main street and across from the monthly markets is called . The sculptor is Victor Kalinowski who trained in Poland and lives on the outskirts of Melbourne.
The sculpture creates a warm sense of friendship in a welcoming village. It represents “people gathering together in friendship and trust. In Camaraderie, the figures are individuals but stand together forming a community that is connected to the land and resilient against the elements.”
I like the composition in granite; it gives a sense of weathering time, the elements of nature, and bush fires together as a community.
How To Get To Gembrook Village
Drive: Take the M1 freeway from Melbourne. The drive takes just over an hour on weekends. Turn off the M1 freeway onto Wellington Road and then take the C412 to Gembrook. Gembrook is close to the better-known larger towns of Balaclava, Dalmore, Monbulk, and Lysterfield.
Free parking is available at the Puffing Billy Station on Main Road, Gembrook.
Steam Train: Puffing Billy train operates each day of the year, except on December 25. Catch a train from central Melbourne on the Belgrave line to Belgrave Station. This is the most convenient spot to get on the steam train as the Belgrave station and the Puffing Billy station are just a minute’s walk from each other. Alternatively, the Puffing Billy train also stops in Emerald Lake Park.
Public Transport: Train and Bus. Buses stop at the Puffing Billy station in Gembrook. The simplest way to get here by public transport is to take a train on the Belgrave railway line to Belgrave from central Melbourne, and jump on a 695 bus to Gembrook.
Resources to plan your trip
- The Motorist: 77 Main Street, Gembrook | Phone: 0411 465 098 | Email: email@example.com
- Download a map of walking trails in Gembrook Park Flora and Fauna Reserve Walking Trails.
- If you don’t have a car this day tour from Melbourne will give you a good taste of the area.
More fun activities in Victoria
- Want more ideas for days away from the city? See our Melbourne day-trip ideas.
- See Great Ocean Road Holiday Planning Guide, or follow our ready to go Great Ocean Road Itinerary,
- Visiting South Australia? Check out these epic road trips while you are there.
Got a question? Head over to our Australia Travel Tips Facebook Group and ask a local.