Dean and I visited the Dandenong Ranges within a few weeks of getting to Melbourne. After having lived in Darwin for so long, where it was so easy to take a time-out from the hustle and bustle of being around people just because the area is so sparsely populated, we were filling a bit shut in. Then we lived on a street-facing room where traffic was an all-day, all-night hum in the background and for two people who had never properly lived in a city before, it was enough to drive us mad.
So, we got into our recently purchased second-hand car, and we took a trip, heading west (as the song goes) away from the city and into the green splashes on the map. What we found, was the Dandenong Ranges, resplendent in the middle of autumn. Wandering in the cool shade of the dappled trees, both evergreen and blushing, we swore we’d come back in every season.
Of course, that didn’t quite eventuate. We missed the winter and then I was away for most of the spring, but with a bit more free time during Dean’s summer stand down over Christmas, we did finally get up there for a summer stroll.
We started at the spot that had drawn us in last time we were in the Dandenong Ranges. The R.J. Hamer Arboretum, where we first looked out all those months ago onto an autumn forest full of cold air and hiking potential. This time, the forest was a bit greener and considerably drier, but just as beautiful. We decided to do a different hike then we had before and so set off into the wilderness.
Now, it pays to know that doing a hike in the summer is pretty different from doing a hike in the winter or the autumn. The air is dry, and heat seems to dig it’s little sharp fingers into your body and drag you down into the ground. This is particularly true when you’re doing anything strenuous, like going uphill. That’s precisely why Dean and I decided to do the down-hill walk, through the beautiful forests of the Dandenong Ranges where the paths were bordered by tiny little flowers worshipping the summer sun. Among the tree ferns, away from other walkers, it’s easy to feel like the entire forest is yours to explore, which is exactly the kind of feeling we are always looking for.
Of course, when we started that walk we didn’t realise that it actually ended at a dead end leaving us with no other option but to walk back the way we had come, entirely up steep uphill paths. In the sunshine, it was a workout to be sure, but still worth it it for nothing more than a quick break from the city. We might live in an urban location, but we are definitely not city people yet!
After our less than relaxing stroll through the arboretum, we decided to check out the National Rhododendron Gardens, which is actually the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Gardens, despite coming up on the map as its former name. If you’re looking for a fantastic place to wander, this is it. Yes there are people there, but the pathways are well laid out and easy to navigate for any level of walker, and the variety of flora is stunning. I’m a plant fiend, but even Dean enjoyed himself. The walk is a loop, but there are lots of spots where you can cut the loop short by going across in order to head back to the visitors centre and entrance.
We did the entire loop and were happy we did when, to our great surprise, we spotted an echidna just rambling along a grassy hill off to one side of the path. People not from Australia might not appreciate this, but it’s not very common to see these little native monotremes (i.e. egg laying mammals) and I’ve never seen one at all that wasn’t in a wildlife park. It was such a crazy thing, and he (or she) was quite happy to continue eating while we took a look, being careful not to disturb it. All in all, a fantastic way to end a day in the Dandenong Ranges.