A Belgrave man has developed a walking trail from Gembrook to Lilydale that leaves no portion of the picturesque Dandenong Ranges unseen.
Jason Williams, an avid walker and cyclist, has linked up existing trails throughout the hills to create a 72.5km trail that meanders through ferny bushland, major towns and tourism landmarks.
“In 2016, I did a section of the Camino trail in Spain, by bicycle. I come from a tourism background and after seeing the Camino I thought, why cant we do something like this in Australia?,” Mr Williams said.
Since that initial thought, over two years of hard work and dedication has gone into creating the finished product – a seven section trail that utilises bush tracks already in place.
“It’s like someone taking a map of Melbourne and looking at joining roads and saying, ‘this is a route to follow’. They are all existing tracks, I have just linked them as a single trail with a single name,” Mr Williams said.
“I did the research through walking a lot as a family,” he said.
The idea of creating the trail in the Dandenongs was a way of increasing tourism while reducing traffic, Mr Williams said.
“I looked around maps of Australia and it became pretty obvious that the best place to do something like this was on my doorstep in the Dandenongs because we have accommodation everywhere, it’s fantastically beautiful and really appealing to people,” he said.
“I wanted to hit all the beauty spots in the Dandenongs and wanted to include Puffing Billy, William Ricketts Sanctuary, Alfred Nicholas Gardens and all those sorts of places. But part of it was also that the traffic is horrendous on a nice sunny day, so to get people walking and not adding to traffic was a big part of it,” he said.
The trail passes through a number of local attractions and takes 4-7 days to complete.
It can also be broken up into a series of day walks, including Gembrook to Emerald, Emerald to Monbulk, Monbulk to Belgrave, Belgrave to Olinda, Olinda to William Ricketts, William Ricketts to Mt Evelyn or Mt Evelyn to Lilydale.
On the Dandenong Ranges Trail website, Mr Williams has listed a number of accommodation options for walkers and cyclists in a further bid to boost Hills tourism.
The entirely community-based project has been well received by the public, with many excited at the thought of being able to walk, run or cycle from Gembrook to Lilydale and back.
“It’s really touched a nerve and people really like the idea of it. A few people are planning to head out and do the walk soon and over the school holidays,” he said.
Mr Williams is currently working on a guide book that people can use to navigate their way along the trail.
“My dream is to get it big enough that council or Parks Victoria give the trail its own signpost,” he said.
For more information, visit Dandenong Ranges Trail on Facebook or https://www.dandenongrangestrail.com.au/