MY THREE FAVOURITE PLACES FOR OUTDOOR AND NATURE PLAY IN MELBOURNE'S DANDENONGS


The hills are fantastic for children whether you live here or are just visiting for a weekend or day trip. There are so many great spots to get outdoors, away from technology and into nature and I thought I would share a few of my favourites, some well known, some not so much.



We love welcoming you to our part of the world but when visiting please do remember to look after the environment by taking your rubbish home or placing it in bins, to not disturb or scare local wildlife and to be respectful of local residents by driving and parking carefully.


Baby boy amongst trees at Nobelius Heritage Park Emerald

Nobelius Heritage Park, Emerald


Nobelius Heritage Park, Emerald


This park is often overlooked by visitors which is a pity as it is just a little bit special. It was previously part of the Nobelius Nursery established in 1886 which exported fruit and ornamental trees to five continents. Its history means this little park has an incredibly diverse range of trees, shrubs and plants to explore and local children and playgroups often meet amongst the trees. It is a great spot to play hide and seek, to do nature scavenger hunts or to collect fallen leaves, nuts and pinecones to take home for nature craft. In Autumn it offers piles of fallen leaves to throw around and in the cooler months a variety of mushrooms can be spotted.


If you are up for more of a walk you can follow the paths at the eastern end of the park which then cross into Nobelius' more well known neighbour Emerald Lake Park. The area is well signed with maps showing the various walking trails. Nobelius offers picnic tables and there are public toilets at the end of the museum building in the center of the park. Unlike Emerald Lake, parking at Nobelius is free. Dogs on leash are allowed.


To find your way here enter Crichton Road, Emerald into your GPS or Google maps.


For more information click here: Emerald Museum & Nobelius Heritage Park - The Park


Two children walking through conifers at RJ Hamer Arboretum Olinda

RJ Hamer Aboretum, Olinda

RJ Hamer Aboretum, Olinda

I'm a little ashamed to admit I had lived in the hills for 5 years before I first visited the Olinda Aboretum but I am so glad I finally did. From the main carpark there are vast view north towards the Yarra Valley which are especially stunning at sunrise or sunset and there is often low lying cloud or fog which makes it all seem a tad magical. For little people there is an enticing downhill slope from the carpark which just asks to be rolled or run down before reaching the iconic triple stand of conifers. Wandering between them is like stepping into hidden rooms in spots and my kids like to pretend the different spaces are houses or fairy dens. Beyond the conifers is a wide open space which fills with wildflowers in Spring and early Summer.


Lower down in the valley is the well hidden glen of dragon's nests, teepees and cubbies built by locals. This space truly lets imaginations come alive and in summer it has plenty of shade so is a fantastic place to spend warm days. It is one of my favourite spots to take my children on days that I feel a little burnout and lacking in energy myself as they can safely and happily explore and play independently, allowing me to sit nearby and just watch. Be sure to pack snacks or a picnic as you may spend much longer here than you initially intended. There are public toilets and picnic tables adjoining the main carpark. Dogs on leash are allowed.


To find your way to the main carpark enter 10 Chalet Road, Olinda into your GPS or Google maps. To find the dragon's nest continue along Chalet Road and turn left onto Silvan Road. Drive about 500 metres downhill and park in the spots at the entrance to Mathias Road. From there walk a few hundred metres down Poplar Track (it is the one to the right of the park bench) and they will be on your left.


For more information click here: R.J. Hamer Arboretum | Visit Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges - Official Site (visitdandenongranges.com.au)

Toddler girl at Sassafras Creek Monbulk

Sassafras Creek, Monbulk

Sassafras Creek, Monbulk

Sassafras Creek has become a summer favourite of ours over the last 3 years. It runs more or less parralel to the roadway but is set just far enough back that it is safe for small children to explore without you needing to cling tightly to them. There are walking paths and bridges along the creek and with the ferns and undergrowth my children have described walking them as "like being in the jungle" which I guess it is when you are only 3 feet tall. The creek is shallow, being ankle to calf deep, so it is great for water and mud play when it is warm enough. There are lots of river rocks and my children and their friends have used them to make their own weirs and dams in the water on hot summery days and in cooler weather they can't resist throwing pebbles and leaves into the water and watching them float away. There are a number of picnic grounds adjoining the creek along the road between Kallista and Monbulk. Our favourite is Olympic Picnic Ground where they can play in the water below the bridge. Baynes Park is another good access point and also offers a playground, toilets and oval which is great for running around on. Like many places with undergrowth and water, bugs can be present so be sure to bring some repellant in case you need it.


To find your way to Olympic Picnic Ground enter 234 Monbulk Road, Monbulk into your GPS or Google maps.

Kate Cashin is a family photographer based in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

She specialises in nature sessions and forest adventures with the motto "Play. Move. Explore.".