The Dandenong Ranges is a wonderful mix of wild and tamed nature. It is an incredibly beautiful area with plenty to see and do to keep you occupied for a week or two. But if you are short on time, it is also an easy day trip from Melbourne.
The area features several gardens, including the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens and the National Rhododendron Gardens. Both gardens offer lovely flora to admire and pleasant walking paths. Another point of interest that should not be missed is the William Ricketts Sanctuary. It is a wonderful work of art and a serene escape. The sanctuary is the result of many years of work from William “Bill” Ricketts, an artist who was born in the Richmond suburb in Melbourne. Bill lived in the forest for nearly 60 years until he died in 1993 at 94 years old.
Bill created numerous clay sculptures and displayed them throughout the sanctuary, where they can still be seen (for free) today. Most of the models for the sculptures were aboriginal men, women and children, and all of the sculptures are of people who actually existed. Bill identified with Australia’s aboriginal population and spent a lot of time with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte people. He was very interested in promoting aboriginals’ rights and nature conservation. His sanctuary, which he wanted to name the Forest of Love, was part of his contribution to further both causes.
Before you visit, be sure to download a copy of the audio tour and bring along a device to play it with (or you will have to pay to rent one from the information center). The audio tour gives a rich history of the area, Bill’s life and the different pieces. It also moves at a good pace, so you don’t feel rushed through the sanctuary, and you can, of course, pause as often as you like. The audio tour is very comprehensive and includes audio clips of Bill discussing his work. But there are several pieces that are not discussed, most of which are rather small and can be easy to overlook. So keep a keen eye when wandering through the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily with the exception of Christmas Day and Total Fire Ban or Major Works Days. You can call 131963 to confirm if the sanctuary will indeed be open for your visit.
Another popular spot in the Dandenong Ranges is the Sherbrooke Forest, which has a plethora of walking paths and picnic grounds. I walked the 7.1 km Eastern Sherbrook Forest Walk, which gives a good overview of the forest’s landscape. The walk took about two hours to complete. It is a moderate walk with a few steep sections. The path starts at Grants Picnic Ground, where I had lunch before heading out on the walk. There is a designated feeding area nearby for local birds, but it is clear they often sneak or are given food from the picnic grounds. I had several bold Cockatoos try to snatch my food. One never wavered from staring at my sandwich, but I reminded him between each bite whose sandwich it was. It was fun to see the birds so close up, but it was a frustrating spot to eat. I spent more time defending my food than enjoying it. So I’d recommend eating at another spot.
But the walk was great. It follows the Lyrebird Walk, where sadly I did not see any lyrebirds (but not to be deterred, I saw them at Healesville Sanctuary). Then the walk continues along Neumann Road to Paddy Track Junction, where you turn south. Then continue by crossing Hardy Creek to climb Welch Track up to Coles Ridge Road. The section between the creek and the track is only 600 meters, but it is the steepest section of the walk and will really get your heart pumping. Coles Ridge Road is an easy stroll and leads back to Grants Picnic Ground. The walk passes through a variety of vegetation and has some very beautiful sections. But a note of caution: it gets very muddy when rain comes in.
Another spot in the Sherbrooke Forest is Sherbrooke Falls. The walk to the falls is 2.4 km and took me about 40 minutes round trip. The falls can be reached from either Sherbrooke Picnic Ground or O’Donohue Picnic Ground. It is an easy walk, but also gets very muddy in the rain. My shoes were pretty much destroyed after the journey to the falls, but then again I probably shouldn’t have been wearing TOMS. The falls are seen from a bridge that stretches across their center. You don’t get a great view and the falls really aren’t that spectacular. If you have plenty of time to spare, stop in to explore the area, but don’t feel cheated if you don’t see them.
In sum, if you have the luxury, take a few days or a couple of weeks to explore the Dandenong Ranges. But if you are short on time, squeeze in a day trip from Melbourne and be sure to visit the William Ricketts Sanctuary.