Art and Nature Collides in The Dandenongs – Day Tripping

Hi Friends!

I have been home recently and will be for next month and a half until I head back to Europe in August. Despite having lived in Victoria for most of my life, I still have not seen everything, I am not even close to having done that! That is the beauty of living in such a large country, you could dedicate your whole life to seeing it and you would probably only see the tip of the iceberg.

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Sun rays shining on the forest within Alfred Nicholas Gardens

The Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenongs are one of my favourite parts of Victoria, I feel like despite visiting across many years of my life, there is always something new to discover and I honestly never tire of exploring there even when I revisit places I’ve been to many times. The luscious green landscapes and intoxicating natural scents could capture the heart of any nature lover! The Dandenongs are great to visit for some quiet solo contemplation (my favourite) or with family, friends or your partner for a relaxed day out in nature. There are many free places to visit in this area so it is perfect for people who are on a budget.

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Luscious green leaves in Alfred Nicholas Gardens

On this particular day that I shot these pictures, I visited 2 spots in The Dandenongs that I hadn’t visited before with my brother. We spent a few hours meandering around these spots, mostly in stop number one (Alfred Nicholas Gardens)  and we probably could’ve spent a few more hours in both places, easily. As mentioned in the title – in these places art and nature collide, they were both designed by two different individuals who wanted to bring a vision to life in The Dandenongs.

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Fern leaves in Alfred Nicholas Gardens

Alfred Nicholas Gardens (Admission: Free)

Alfred Nicholas Gardens is home to an impressive array of both native and exotic plants, water features and walking trails to guide your exploration. Highlights of the gardens include the boathouse and the lake which is a very popular spot for photography, there is also a picnic area in that vicinity. I really just enjoyed wandering around the gardens and marvelling at the different varieties of plants and native birds and of course, the picturesque boathouse was a lovely sight. It is an incredibly peaceful place perfect for relaxing walks and picnics.

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The Boathouse and lake at Alfred Nicholas Gardens

History

  • Alfred Nicholas Gardens was formerly a part of the historic Burnham Beeches Estate, which was established in 1929 and belonged to the wealthy Nicholas family.
  • While visiting England, Alfred Nicholas hired Percival Travaskis who was employed at Kew Gardens in London, to be head gardener at his estate. Upon arriving back in Australia, Percival planned the gardens, imported plants and created the gardens with help of up to 80 workers at any one time.
  • After Alfred passed away in 1937 his mansion on the estate has had many different occupants and the building has served different purposes. In 1965, the gardens were donated to the State Government of Victoria by the Nicholas Institute.
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Rhododendrons in the Alfred Nicholas Gardens

Visitors Information

When to visit

Due to the huge variety of plants in the garden, you rest assure that it is worthy to visit all year round as the different plants bloom in different seasons, resulting in the gardens being highlighted in different hues depending on the season.

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A guide to the seasonal garden highlights at Alfred Nicholas Gardens

Opening hours

The gardens are open between 10.00am – 5.00pm every day except Christmas day.

How to get there

It is easiest to get to by car and the parking area is across the road from the actual gardens. According to forums, it is possible to get to by public transport but buses in the area are infrequent, so it isn’t very convenient.

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Beautiful morning light in Alfred Nicholas Gardens

Additional Tips/Notes

  • I recommend wearing footwear appropriate for walking such as runners/trainers as you do need to do a bit of walking to get to the main sights.
  • There are toilets that you can use at the gardens.
  • To be there sure that there are no changes of conditions and for any additional information check out the Parks Victoria website.
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An Eastern Yellow Robin at the Alfred Nicholas Gardens

William Ricketts Sanctuary (Admission: Free)

William Ricketts Sanctuary has an outdoor gallery featuring 92 ceramic sculptures of Indigenous Australians and native Australian animals which are blended into their natural surroundings along a 500m walking path. The sculptures are wonderful works of art, admittedly my brother and I were quite surprised and perplexed by the amounts of self-portraits sculptures of the artist when I was mostly expecting sculptures of native Australian people.

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Wandering around William Ricketts Sanctuary

History

William Ricketts was a jack-of-all-trades of the arts who frequently visited central Australia to live amongst Indigenous Australians and at one stage he even lived in an Ashram for 2 years, in India. Sprung from his fascination with Aboriginal and Eastern cultures and traditions he was inspired to create the sculptures that are featured within the sanctuary. His designs share his life philosophies through inscriptions and symbolism.

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A sculpture of an Indigenous Australian man

Visitors Information

When to visit

All year round.

Opening hours

  • 10.00am – 4.30pm every day except Christmas day.
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The sculptures in the sanctuary are impressively combined with the environment in such a natural way.

How to get there

  • Like the Alfred Nicholas Gardens, William Ricketts sanctuary is easiest to get to by car – it is possible to get to by public transport but it would be an incredibly time-consuming endeavour.

Additional Tips/Notes

  • For the cost of $5AUD, you can do an audio tour of the sanctuary.
  • I recommend checking the Parks Victoria website for any change of conditions as the sanctuary may close in the event of dangerous weather conditions and for major works and for any other additional information.
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One of the many self-portraits I mentioned earlier…

Final Thoughts

I highly recommend visiting The Dandenongs to explore a region of Victoria which is underrated amongst tourists but is in fact quite a popular place to visit for Victorians. I recommend visiting both Alfred Nicholas Gardens and William Ricketts Sanctuary as they are fascinating places to visit for art and nature lovers. These two spots are quite close to each other and could be visited in conjunction with a few other places for a fuller day trip. I will share some suggestions down below of some other places to visit nearby. 

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Some of the sculptures were quite life-like and hauntingly beautiful

Suggestions of places to visit in and around The Dandenong Ranges

  • Mount Dandenong Observatory/Sky High is a lookout that provides panoramic views of Victoria. It costs $7AUD per car to visit and I am pretty sure you need to pay cash. I am more so mentioning this because on the way to the destinations recommended in this post you will see the signs leading to there. Honestly, this is a bit of a rip-off and not the most amazing place to visit in the area – I’d recommend the below destinations instead. There is also a small maze here that you need to pay an additional fee to enter (I think $6 or so) which is supposedly fun for children.
  • Sherbrooke Forest is a wonderful area to hike within the forest and to observe native Australian fauna and flora.
  • Olinda Falls is a large waterfall with 2 viewing platforms nestled within the forest.
  • 1000 Steps is the place to visit for fitness fanatics who are keen to get their heart rates up in beautiful surroundings. Warning: If cardio is not your forte, like me, you will probably find this to be pure torture.

(Above is a video of an Eastern Yellow Robin Bathing in a water feature at William Ricketts Sanctuary).

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Stay tuned for more Victorian adventures!

Mikki

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