My diary Down Under – Day 5 – Puffing Billy/Brighton Beach

Let’s first talk about why these 2 destinations are chosen in my list of to-visit places in Melbourne.

So I based my tour itinerary on Viet Travel’s organized tours. Before when I lived in the US, I used Tripadvisor and Wikipedia to come up with the list of where to visit, what to see, what to do and eat. Now things are much easier. Viet Travel’s tours are usually very good, well-organized with reasonable itinerary and quality tour guides. I went to Japan on a tour with them, and I was genuinely satisfied. Time allocated to landmarks was abundant. All major sights were covered. Food was good (and I don’t even like Japanese food, too healthy for me haha). The guide was funny and full of knowledge about history and culture of Japan, both ancient and contemporary. We had quite a number of activities to experience the traditional side of Japan. Anyway, when I planned my Australia visit, I went to their website to see what tours were offered, how the itinerary was, and built my own version based on that.

That was why Puffing Billy was in my list. Mornington peninsula was also included in their tour, but I wasn’t much interested in traveling hours for picking strawberries, going to hot tub, or tasting chocolate. There wouldn’t be many strawberries left at the end of April anyway, I thought.

About Brighton beach, I guess I didn’t have to explain. The colorful bright bath boxes of Brighton beach have been featured in many travel websites and blogs with almost deceiving beauty. My boyfriend even once sent me the link asking me to one day visit this place. The beach is right in the city too, only 30 minutes by train from Flinders Street station, so it must be on my list.

That morning, we woke up early, walking to Flagstaff train station, taking the Belgrave line all the way to Belgrave. The journey took almost 2 hours through the rim of the Dandenong ranges. While onboard the Puffing Billy train, it took us through the Dandenongs ranges. To quote what Puffing Billy really is and what it offers:

Puffing Billy is Australia’s favourite steam train and operates everyday except christmas day!

The journey aboard Puffing Billy takes you through the magnificent Dandenong Ranges, located only one hour east of Melbourne.

With the lush fern gullies brushing past, and the tall Mountain Ash trees towering overhead, Puffing Billy makes for a wonderful opportunity to relax and breathe in the fresh air whilst the train makes its way through the temperate rainforest.

This century-old steam train continues to run on its original mountain track from Belgrave to Gembrook in the magnificent Dandenong Ranges 40kms east of Melbourne.

Puffing Billy was built to serve at the turn of the century and is a genuine relic of our more leisurely days. The Railway is the major survivor of four experimental lines used to develop rural areas in the early 1900s.

Puffing Billy Railway is now a major tourist attraction and operates every day except Christmas Day, thanks to the tireless efforts of more than 900 dedicated volunteers.

We got to Belgrave station – the starting point of the railway – only a few minutes too late to catch the 11am train. Belgrave metro train station is only a few steps from Belgrave Puffing Billy station, with a blue line painted on the platform connecting the 2 stations. You can’t get lost. For our level of interest, I only bought a return ticket from Belgrave to the next station – Menzies Creek. For this type of ticket, you could only buy from the ticket office, not online. Don’t worry because as long as you arrive at least 1 hour before departure time, you’re guaranteed the tickets.

The highlight of the 20-minute journey from Belgrave to Menzies Creek through Sherbrook forest was when the train passed the 91m trestle bridge spanning over Monbulk creek, where you can take the photo of the steam train gracefully bending.

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The trip was fun, for kids and adults alike. I mean, how often can you ride a steam train? Sitting on the hand rail of the train carriage with your legs outside the car swinging in the air, everyone could feel they returned to their carefree, innocent childhood.

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We were lucky that we could actually ride on one of those, since not always the steam locomotive would be used. On days of total fire ban in Victoria, diesel locomotive would be used., and there’s no way I could check if a specific day was “total fire ban day”.

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We got back to Flinders Street Station at 3 pm, buying some sushi and scallop skewers at the station for our super late lunch. There was no food served at the Puffing Billy stations. We could have stopped at Richmond station and change to the Sadringham line to go straight to the Brighton beach, but I was starved and decided to go back to the city to get some food first.

To get to Brighton beach, you know, the spot with the colorful bath boxes, get off at Brighton beach station. Walk out of the station and follow the other tourists to the beach đŸ™‚ You won’t see any of those pretty well-known boxes anywhere in sight. Take a right and just walk along the boardwalk. After about 10-15 minutes, you will get to a turn, where you can see the boxes from far away, and the Melbourne skyline beautifully captured next to that.

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Now you know what to do and where to go to get the close-up look like these:

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A bit about these bathing boxes:

Built well over a century ago in response to very Victorian ideas of morality and seaside bathing, the bathing boxes remain almost unchanged. All retain classic Victorian architectural features with timber framing, weatherboards and corrugated iron roofs, though they also bear the hallmarks of individual licencees’ artistic and colourful embellishments.

Thanks to these distinctive decorations, the boxes turn the Brighton seaside into an immediately recognisable, iconic beachscape that can transform by the hour according to season, light and colour. Just try to resist pulling out your camera and snapping away.

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So how does it work? They are built by Bayside council, and sold/licensed to Bayside residents. Visitors can’t rent them. Licensees can’t change any architecture or infrastructure of them. They’re a pricey piece of overrated, cool but uncomfortable holiday hut now with value about 260,000 dollars each, according to Herald Sun Australia.

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But for tourists, this beach is simply amazing, especially for couples.

Encounter of the day: At Puffing Billy Belgrave station, there’s an old guy playing an old music machine – the barrel organ, like the mini version of those at churches. His name is John Wolff. He would happily take a photo with you, or show you how the machine works, or let you play a short piece of music. He did this simply because of passion, his love for the old time technique. Besides playing music at Belgrave, he maintains a website to spread the knowledge about this instrument www.johnwolff.id.au. His son is teaching English in Hanoi too.

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