THE NATIONAL RHODODENDRON GARDENS

written for WEEKENDNOTES by MATEUSZ BUCZKO
Situated near the top of Mount Dandenong with breathtaking views of the Australian Alps, the National Rhododendron Gardens are host to 40 hectares of rich and varied natural beauty. The area is divided into a number of individual gardens and spaces, each with its own theme, but true to its name, blossoming rhododendrons are to be found everywhere, chosen specifically for their growth habit and their ability to fit in with other plants. Prior to the Garden's establishment in the early '60s, collectors made trips to such exotic places as India, Nepal and New Guinea to collect the myriad different specimens on show. The native Mountain Ash tree forms an ever-present backdrop to the gardens, lending the area a timeless and mystical ambience shrouded by the winter fog. These magnificent trees grew out of the 1962 bushfires and are the tallest flowering plant in the world, second only to the Californian Redwoods. Colourful King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas continually swoop between their towering branches while down below, during the winter months, you can spot the shy Superb Lyrebird foraging in the lush gullies. No matter what the season, the Gardens offer a wonderful opportunity to get out of town, take in some fresh mountain air and lose yourself in the rejuvenating sounds, colours and fragrances of nature. Winter is the perfect time for bird-watching here, with the soft light and atmospheric mist making for some fantastic photo opportunities. At the same time, there's nothing to stop families and friends from having a good old-fashioned picnic in the sun either, for which the Cherry Lawn provides the perfect dwelling, with stunning views of the Yarra Valley and the blue mountain ranges beyond. The National Rhododendron Gardens is located 500m from the Olinda township along the Olinda-Monbulk Rd. The car park entrance is 50m on the right off The Georgian Rd, Melways ref 66 KG. Maps of the gardens are available for free at the gift shop, as well as a range of hand-crafted merchandise. Entry fees apply – see the website (first link) for details.

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