This marvellous mimic of natural and artificial sounds is the icon animal of the Dandenong Ranges, and although it lives in proximity to the human and domestic animal populations of village communities, it is making a bit of a comeback.

Whatever time of the day or year you happen to be in the Dandenong Ranges National Park - one of the state's oldest and most popular, with 1.1 million visitors a year – there is always an element of magic about it.

While there are 15 different vegetation types across mountains, the most iconic is perhaps the mist-catching Mountain Ash forests, and most particularly, the massive stands and secret waterfalls represented in the Sherbrooke Forest.

The walks through Sherbrooke to the falls, the tea rooms and the three picnic grounds are gloriously rewarding. The drive to the highest landmark, the Mount Dandenong Observatory Reserve, provides phenomenal views of Melbourne and refreshments at the bistro at SkyHigh Mount Dandenong. Some 650,000 visitors a year make it a pilgrimage point.

The undulating ranges were so inherently atmospheric that they became one of the first scenic picnic and pleasure drive destinations for the residents of early Melbourne. The Fern Tree Gully National Park was initially reserved in 1882, making it one of the state's oldest public parklands.

Being elevated and cool, and having such rich volcanic soils, they also became popular as a place of hill-station retreats for Melbourne's wealthy business merchants who built both grand holiday houses and glorious exotic gardens.

Six of Australia's most important cool climate gardens are in the Dandenong’s and Parks Victoria curates and opens them for the public; gardens that began as either private pleasure parks, or as showcases of exotic species.

The National Rhododendron Garden, for instance, has somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 rhododendrons, 12,000 azaleas, 3000 camellias, 2000 hydrangeas and 250,000 daffodils. Like many hills' gardens, including the R.J. Hamer Arboretum, with its vast collection of northern-hemisphere specimens, and the Mt Dandenong Arboretum with its collections of rare Southern Hemisphere conifers, it also has a magnificent outlook.

More intimate in scale but no less impressive are three originally private gardens; the Alfred Nicholas Garden established in 1929 by the family that formulated Aspro; the George Tindale Gardens with its marvellous display of blue hydrangea, and the Pirianda Gardens with their inviting picnic terraces.

While there is plenty to enjoy on a passive driving or picnic level, the Dandenong Ranges National Park also has many wonderful walking trails. In fact, over 300 kilometres of walking tracks are suitable for visitors of all fitness levels.

If the Dandenong’s is full of mystery and interest, no single place is more strange and amazing than the William Ricketts Sanctuary. It is the realisation of the vision of potter and sculptor William Ricketts who started working on the four hectare property in 1934 and who was still creating sculptures just prior to his death in 1994.

Fascinated and inspired by the natural world and the spirituality of the Australian indigenous peoples, amongst whom he lived in Australia's central deserts, Ricketts created homage to both in the form of a mystical open-air sculpture park under the magnificent Mountain Ash.

Some 92 kiln-fired figures appear to grow out of rocks and from green ferny glades. The extraordinary impact of Ricketts tribute “to the sacredness of beauty and our onus to nurture and protect nature” has made his Sanctuary an international visitor destination and another very good reason to linger for a day or more in the Dandenong’s.

Image above: 

- There are many walking trails to discover in the Dandenongs


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