My next goal was the perennial favourite, the National Rhododendron Gardens, set tucked away at the back of Olinda. I deliberately used the word “perennial” because many people think that the only time to visit is in spring when a stunning array of rhododendrons is in full bloom. My advice is to visit whatever the season for there is so much more to the gardens; the lush greens of summer, the exotic lilies, the reflective lakes with their reed beds and the weird trees and shrubs. To walk there anytime is a pleasure as I discovered while talking to a local who comes here every day for her daily stroll. She described in vivid detail the changing seasons and what they bring to the garden.
Fondest memory: These are open every day except Christmas Day and, in my opinion, should be number one on your list of things to do while in the Dandenongs.
Of course, colours can be seen anytime of the year at the many art galleries in the area. One of my personal favourites is in Belgrave where the Sherbrooke Art Society display their works and up to 300 may be on show at any given time and most are for sale.
Because there are so many different artists the collection tends to be very eclectic so you can just about guarantee you’ll find something to please the eye.
Fondest memory: If you are there, most times one of the artists themselves will be available to show you around.
62 Monbulk Road, Belgrave
Another famous garden/nursery/cafe not far away is Cloudehill but it costs to go there though the ordered and sculpted garden is one of the wonders of the hill.
I next stopped at R J Hamer Arboretum, 120 hectares of varied forest overlooking expansive views across Silvan Dam and the Yarra Valley. The trails start between the toilet block and the barbecue area and lead to some truly big trees. I can think of few places in the world where you can see the giant sequoias and the world’s biggest hardwoods side by side. Bird lovers will find this place a treasure as well with much variety and colour, particularly crimson rosellas, golden whistlers and eastern yellow robins. This is a particularly good place to visit in autumn if it’s colour you’re after, the mesmerising yellows and reds of the liquid ambers and maples cannot fail to please.
Fondest memory: I didn't have a lot of time here but I managed to go down a few trails. You can basically walk all the way to Melbourne from here as tracks zig-zag in every direction. Many are old roads that now only see maintenance vehicles.
Moving on from the Mount Dandenong Arboretum (see Off The Beaten Path) you criss-cross a couple of roads on your way downhill.
The track can be slightly boggy in the wet and very slippery in places so hiking shoes are advised but the walk through dense thickets of tree ferns beside the gurgling stream is a delight; otherwise though the falls themselves are fairly minor, though attractive.
Fondest memory: There's another option to get to Olinda Falls. There's actually a carpark about 400 metres above the falls and you take a steep track down to both sections of them.
There's no entry here, they're open all the time.