The 1000 Steps. Heard of it?
For some of you, the name alone may strike fear into your hearts. For others, you may be responding, ‘bring it on!’
This is the track any mildly fit Melburnian is familiar with. The brutal climb of 1000 steps (actually, it’s just over 770) gets your heart pumping and your blood circulating. It’s an enemy to some. A challenge to all.
But it’s a Dandenong Ranges fixture you’ve got to give a go at least once in your life.
Why the Kokoda Memorial Trail?
This walking track, actually called the Kokoda Memorial Trail Walk, is a local legend because of the reason behind its existence as well as its physically challenging nature.
Back in 1942, a load of Aussie diggers were sent to Papua New Guinea to fight the oncoming Japanese. They endured a 4-month struggle over impossible terrain along the single-file Kokoda Track. More than 600 diggers died on route.
So what’s that got to do with the 1000 Steps in the Dandenongs?
The 1000 Steps were originally built in the early 1900s from tree fern trunks. But part of the walk resembled the first 100m of the real Kokoda Trail (minus the impenetrable jungle that concealed armed enemies just metres away).
And so the 1000 Steps became a memorial to those Australian soldiers who fought on Papua New Guinea’s most famous trail.
Today, it’s a trail of concrete and wooden steps set amid a rainforest environment of tree ferns and manna gums. It’s a peaceful setting; the only battle you’ll have here is between your body and your mind.
The 1000 Steps challenge
The 1000 Steps is one of the largest tourist attractions outside the city, so it’s no surprise it attracts an eclectic range of visitors. There are Asian students toting plush toy backpacks and there are hard-core workout fanatics carrying the bare minimum.
You’ll see young children practically skipping up the steps as well as the older generations taking their time with the scenery.
But that doesn’t mean this is a walk in the park. Depending on the route you’ll take, you’re looking at a roughly 3km walk, including an almost 300m ascent. There’s a gently inclined walk of some 500 metres even before you reach the steps.
Information plaques throughout the walk give tidbits of info about the different points along the real Kokoda Trail, teaching you about the topography of the hike and about some of the soldiers who struggled along it.
If you’re looking for a perfect excuse to catch your breath, these plaques will deliver. But even if you’re not gasping for air, it’s worthwhile stopping to learn about life on the track.
This is an uber popular hike, which means you may find yourself stuck in a traffic jam behind the slowest walker. Numbers dwindle by mid to late afternoon if you’d rather have the steps to yourself.
And it’s slippery. Even on dry days, it can get muddy. So it’s advisable to wear appropriate gear, particularly shoes with good traction.
There are several other walks in the neighbourhood. If you don’t want to double up on your path, you can always descend by Lyrebird Track. It’s steeper and more slippery, but it does you great credit to free up the 1000 Steps for those ascending. Plus it’s nice to get a change of scenery.
How long does it take?
I won’t venture to guess how long the track takes, because that’s entirely dependent on your level of fitness as well as your hiking habits. If you’re there for the workout, it could take you 45 minutes or so. If you’d rather stop to look out for lyrebirds, admire the views and read all the info plaques, you could be there two hours.
How to get there
The 1000 Steps are surprisingly (and refreshingly) easy to access by public transport, especially if you’re coming from the city. Simply take the Belgrave train line to Upper Ferntree Gully Station and walk along Burwood Highway till you reach the park entrance. Walk through the carpark, past the cafe and parks until you find the beginning of the trail.
If you’ve got a car, it may be easier for you in some regards, but keep in mind this place can get BUSY. On the weekends, expect the carparks to be full; you may have to park on the road and walk up (not a desirable option, by any means).
The turnoff for the 1000 Steps carpark comes up on your left just after you turn onto the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road from Burwood Highway.
The Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground where the walk begins has two lots of toilet blocks, a cafe, a playground, and fitness stations giving you handy info about how to monitor your workout. The gates to the ground are open between 6am and 9pm.