Enjoy time with family and friends at one of these great Melbourne parks – bush walks, picnic spots and some of the best playgrounds in Melbourne can all be found in your own backyard.
As the largest area of natural bushland so close to Melbourne’s city centre, Yarra Bend Park is the perfect place to reconnect with nature amid the hustle and the bustle of suburban life. With stunning river escarpments, open woodlands, picnic areas, playing fields and golf courses, you can explore the park by foot or by bike, go boating on the river (hire from the Studley Park Boathouse) and enjoy superb views of the city skyline. Pack a picnic, or a few sausages, and take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere and public barbecues that are available.
500 metres, 20 minutes return (or up to an hour if you have curious kids/bat fans)
If this is your first time visiting Yarra Bend Park, chances are you’re unaware that it’s the home of tens of thousands – yes, you read that right – of grey-headed flying-foxes that live in the park. Never seen such numbers of these incredible creatures? Park your car at the Bellbird Picnic Area [Bellbird Road, Kew – off Yarra Boulevard], then follow the gravel track upstream past the Flying-fox Lookout. The Bat Colony Nature Trail is an easy walk, and one of the best bush walks in Melbourne. You’ll be astounded by the views of literally thousands of bats hanging in the trees that line the Yarra River. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, continue your Melbourne bush walk on a two-kilometre trail, which eventually crosses Yarra Boulevard, leading you past the old Willsmere Asylum [1 Wiltshire Drive, Kew] and back to the Bellbird Picnic Area.
When it comes to Melbourne parks they're perfect for kids, grown-ups, exercising and having fun. Brimbank Park [Keilor Park Drive, Keilor East] is at the top of the list for residents in Melbourne’s north and west. Although opened as a park in 1976, the fertile river valley was used in the early days of European settlement – and for about 12,000 years by the Wurundjeri people before that. Part of the Maribyrnong Valley Parklands, Brimbank Park is connected to Horseshoe Bend Farm and the Maribyrnong River Trail, which meanders alongside the river to Footscray. If the little ones are in tow, ensure you spend some time at the Brimbank Park Playscape, which has been designed specifically to cater to children of all ages and abilities – including kids in wheelchairs.
3.5 kilometres, 1.5 hours
The Brimbank Loop Walk gives you the chance to enjoy the lush, green landscapes and peaceful Maribyrnong River. You’ll start from Carpark A, which – if you come through the main entrance on Keilor Park Drive – you should spot pretty easily. The path is either sealed or well-maintained gravel, and, aside from one pretty steep (but short) climb, it is relatively simple. If you’d prefer to leave the climb for another day, there’s an alternative route back to the carpark and cafe. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, however, follow the Maribyrnong River as it winds around the natural basin of Brimbank Park, before leading you up the escarpment away from the river, to panoramic views of the area. As you walk, you’ll admire the old River Red Gums, as well as the birds and other wildlife that call the tree hollows home. The geological history of the land is on display on the river banks, where layers of basalt and sandstone were laid, around 400 million years ago.
It’s been used as an Aboriginal hunting ground, market gardens, and even a temporary home for Phar Lap, but these days Braeside Park [Lower Dandenong Road, Braeside] is where Melburnians – especially those in surrounding suburbs like Moorabbin, Mordialloc, Aspendale, Keysborough and Springvale – come to escape the daily grind, slow down and breathe deep. This is a great park for a family day out, with one of the best playgrounds in Melbourne, barbecues, a picnic area, as well as seven kilometres of easy walking and cycling trails.
1.2 kilometres, 30 minutes (circuit)
Echidnas in Melbourne? No chance, surely. Guess again! If you keep your eyes open as you take the Heathland Trail and get lucky – like, seriously lucky – you might just spy yourself one of Australia’s most-loved marsupials. Braeside Park is relatively flat, meaning a stroll or roll through the peaceful surroundings can be enjoyed by all. It is arguably as close as you can get to a Melbourne bush walk in the south-eastern suburbs. As well as the occasional echidna, the Heathland Trail is heaven for birdwatchers, with more than 180 bird species – like the New Holland Honeyeater – recorded in the area. Between the birdsong and frog calls, Braeside Park is also a haven for native plants, such as Tiger Orchids, Wedding-bush and old River Red Gums. Start at the Visitor Centre, head east past the Telford Picnic Area and before you know it, you’ll be so far removed from the busy city noises that you’ll want to stay all day.
You can split Melburnians into two groups; those who have visited the Organ Pipes National Park [Organ Pipes Road, Keilor North], and those who haven’t. If you find yourself sitting in the second group, then it’s time to visit one of greater Melbourne’s most remarkable natural attractions. You don’t need to be a music buff to recognise the similarities of the basalt columns that give the park its name, with the magnificent pipes of organs found in the world’s grandest cathedrals. Spread out a picnic blanket, bring a pair of binoculars and spot stunning birdlife, or bring the kids and teach them a lesson in outdoor photography.
1.3 kilometres, 90 minutes
Unlike the other walking tracks on this list, the Organ Pipes Walk has a couple of steep spots, which makes it suited for those with an intermediate fitness level and above. These include a challenging slope as you exit the car park, but it’s a sealed surface and the rewards are great. You’ll learn, through signs posted along the path, about the lava flows – which occurred a million years ago – and the role Jacksons Creek has played in revealing the 70-metre basalt columns. Continue on and view two other notable rock formations, the Rosette Rock (another 400 metres along) and Tesselated Pavement (300 metres further again), before returning to the carpark.
Any conversation about the best Melbourne walks – not to mention the best cycling paths and jogging routes – includes the Main Yarra Trail. One of its popular sections is the six-kilometre stretch that runs through Westerfolds Park [Fitzsimons Lane, Templestowe]. With more than 120 hectares of parkland perfect for picnicking, cycling, walking and canoeing, it’s also a haven for children, with the Westerfolds Park adventure playground the perfect place for the little ones to blow off some steam. For something a little bit more adventurous, strap up the roller blades or launch a canoe and look at the Yarra River from a different perspective.
4.8 kilometres, 90 minutes (but with a picnic basket, some delicious food and maybe a bottle of something special, it should take a whole afternoon)
This peaceful walk passes The Manor, a building built in 1936 that overlooks the gorgeous parkland around you. Woodlands and shrubbery line the Yarra River as you stroll, and as you continue, you’ll walk past the main picnic areas that have toilets, drinking taps and picnic tables. Westerfolds Ridge Picnic Area is where you’ll find the playground for the littlies. Look out for ancient Red Gums, as well as kangaroos and wombats that often graze in the open areas during the day.