August 18, 2012
As far as family activities go in Melbourne, Puffing Billy would have to be a firm favourite. Even in the middle of winter, this train brings a smile to the face as it rounds the corner over Monbulk Creek in a cloud of steam and waving passengers.
Steam trains have a strange allure for most people, young and old, but Puffing Billy is particularly exciting given its location in the Dandenong Ranges, its historic significance, and its amazing preservation based on a 900 strong volunteer workforce.
Previously on this blog I have reviewed Day Out with Thomas and, whilst this is a great event with under-fives, the regular excursion ride provides an even better unplanned opportunity for stress-free family fun.
The cost can be offputting with The Billy, but you need to remember that this attraction relies heavily on a membership and volunteer base for its survival. Without it, Puffing Billy will simply discontinue and this would be a sad loss for Victorian heritage and tourism.
Having said that, there are many ways for this attraction to work for you. As a single adult travelling with kids under five, the return journey is $41 (Belgrave to Emerald or Lakeside - thats less than $14 each if you have 2 kids). Alternatively, many parents opt to go one way with one parent ($24), meeting another adult with car at a designated destination station. I personally think this takes a lot of the fun out of the journey. The kids will want to hang their legs out the windows and this requires some holding on, plus adults enjoy this trip just as much as the kids - I wouldn't want to be the one hanging out in the car at the other end.
Whilst children under 4 are free on Puffing Billy, the adult return fare makes the family pass at $83 the best option for two parents travelling with 1 to 4 kids from Belgrave to Emerald or Lakeside return. Any longer would probably be excessive for children of this age group, and these destinations are very accessible with younger children.
Based on our experience travelling on a weekend with two adults and four kids under 6, my suggestion to parents of under-fives would be as follows;
- Park at Belgrave Train Station carpark and follow the well signed path to Puffing Billy.
- On the weekend, take the 11.10am or 12.30pm train from Belgrave. You need to be there at least 30-45 minutes beforehand to buy tickets, get snacks, take photos and find the carriage you want to be in. Try to sit on the right hand side of the train (facing forward) for the best views.
- Depart Belgrave and enjoy the 50 minute journey to Emerald (60 minutes to Lakeside). There is a 10-12 minute stop at Menzies Creek for toilet and refreshments.
- During Summer I would highly reccomend going to Lakeside and taking a picnic lunch. Return train leaves at 2.20pm or 3.40pm from Lakeside, giving you plenty of time to explore the lake, have a bbq lunch and visit the playground.
- In Winter, I reccommend visiting Emerald. If it's not wet, then the playground is fun, otherwise the Emerald Bakery in the main street have fantastic food, coffee, hot chocolates and booth seats out the back. Also, the fruit shop across the road is great. Trains go back to Belgrave at 2.40pm or 3.55pm. There are toilets at the station.
- Once you are back in Belgrave, walk up to the main street and visit Sushi Express. There is a toy box for the kids and a train delivering their food. If you are more in the mood for sweet, Chocolate Sensation has amazing cakes and be sure to pick yourself up some chia or olive bread. If food is not on your radar, pick up the car and drive to Belgrave Park Lake for a runaround and explore.
For those of you keen to keep Puffing Billy on track, membership is a good, affordable way of helping out. This is a particularly viable option for people with big, extended families as you will recieve a 15% discount on all bookings made by that member.
For more information, visit the Puffing Billy website. Please double check timetable and fare information before planning your trip.