Spend a day exploring Cranbourne Gardens. You’ll find weird and wonderful plants, native animals and learn about Australia’s native ecosystems — all for free.
Arrive early to Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Cranbourne Gardens [Corner of Ballarto Road and Botanic Drive, Cranbourne] to make the most of your day. Unlike other botanic gardens in Australia, the focus is solely on native Australian plants. Pack a picnic, your camera, your walking shoes and be prepared for a day filled with beautiful landscapes, picturesque walking trails and peaceful picnic spots.
Start at the visitor centre and grab a map of the gardens to help you make your way around. On the map, you’ll see the site is split into two main sections: the Australian Garden and the Bushland. The former consists of a series of architectural gardens that are designed to take you on a journey from the arid inlands to the sandy shores of Australia. The Bushland, on the other hand, is a conservation reserve that’s home to plant and animal life from around the state of Victoria specifically. With plenty of cycling and walking tracks across Cranbourne Gardens, as well as and accessible Garden Explorer bus which takes you around the Australian Garden there are plenty of ways to explore, so let’s get started!
Make a beeline for the Australian Garden, where it’s difficult not to be in awe of its beauty and diversity. Wander up the east side past the tranquil Rockpool Waterway where you’ll spot dwarf Lilly Pillies and Guinea Flowers, and up Howson Hill. Here you’ll find endangered Mallee Eucalypts and the Western Australian Christmas tree. Be sure to take in the views overlooking the River Bend and the Melaleuca Spits, a garden representing a coastal river environment.
Head to the Weird and Wonderful Garden next, the home of the most unusual plants in the gardens. Look out for the Queensland bottle tree which stores water in its bulbous trunk and the colourful rock orchids which usually only grow on rocks and from the tree trunks as they cannot handle the moisture of soil.
Finally, if you’ve ever wondered what Australia’s environment might have looked like 180 million years ago, back when it was attached to Antarctica, head to the Gondwana Gardens. You’ll be surprised how lush it is!
It’s time for a quick bite so make your way up to the Boon Wurrung kiosk to grab a snack and a coffee. There’s a modest selection of unique tasty treats made from native ingredients. Find a spot in the Ian Potter Lakeside Precinct to eat; it has bean bags, tables and chairs set up as well as a selection of lawn games to enjoy, including Giant Jenga and ring toss. Once you’ve been named Jenga champion, it’s time to channel your inner green thumb and pick up some gardening tips.
Just beside the Boon Wurrung kiosk, are the display gardens: a showcase area where you can learn to grow your own native plants. Start with the produce garden, aka the How to Garden, where native edibles grow like Warrigal Greens (native spinach) and Munties (purple berries that taste like spicy apples). You can pick up tips from the knowledgeable Garden Ambassadors if you need help with any of the know-how. Next, check out the Backyard Garden where you’ll find info on which flowers and trees can fit perfectly into any backyard. Or if your outdoor area is a little limited in space, have a look at the Lifestyle Garden to find out how to create your own garden oasis, even in small spaces. Finally, head for the Greening Cities Garden which delves into how we can have green spaces in urban environments.
Climb Gibson Hill for Insta-worthy views of the entire Australian Garden before wandering through the Arid Garden and Dry River Bed to see what lives in the hostile and dry environs of Central Australia. And on your way out of the gardens, look back over the Red Sand Garden it’s dry and red yet mesmerising.
It’s lunchtime and time to head into the second section of Cranbourne Gardens — the Bushland. Make a beeline for the Woodland Picnic Area, find a picnic table and unpack your food — there are free barbecues here, so you can bring along something to cook if you’d like. There’s a playground for the kids as well as one of the last remaining manual weather stations used by the Bureau of Meteorology for all the weather lovers out there. Make sure you have a good rest, as your last walking track of the day requires a bit of energy, but it’ll be worth the effort.
The 90-minute Wylies Creek Loop is ideal if you want to really explore the whole of the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens. This trail takes you right through the reserve, intersecting with most of the main walking trails. Flowers are blooming year-round so enjoy the colourful wildflowers as you wander through and listen out for frog calls as you make your way into the Wylies Creek Wetlands. Keep a look out for native animals moving around in the bushes like echidnas, koalas, wombats, wallabies and the endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot. Finish up at Trig Point Lookout near the visitor centre. It’s the highest point of the reserve and has views looking across Port Phillip and Westernport Bays as well as towards Mount Macedon and the CBD. This walk will give you a workout so if you’d prefer something more leisurely, try the 45-minute wetlands walk or the 20-minute Manna Walk which is abundant with native animals and eucalypts.
You’ve still got a couple of hours until the gardens close so head back to your favourite spot in the gardens or simply find a place to relax and enjoy the serenity.
All information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication. All images in the story have been supplied by Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. This story has been produced in partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria.