On one of my previous daytrips up there I visited the Albert Nicholas Gardens, named after the man behind that most famous of medications, Aspro; for this was once the family home. I was shocked to learn that this garden, whose boatshed features on every second publication about the Dandenongs, was free to the public. The winding pathways that lead up and down the hillside ultimately finish up at the most delightful pond in the area. It took an English gardener and 80 assistants to render what you see today after Alfred bought 20 acres in 1929.
Open 10-5 daily except Christmas Day
However, that magnificent garden is but the tip of the iceberg. Next time up I went to William Ricketts Sanctuary, an iconic attraction whose creator originally named it the Potters Sanctuary, to revisit the wooden and stone sculptures of aborigines, a race that William had a special affinity for after spending time with them in the outback. He felt that their spiritual values regarding the land should be adopted by all.
I met an ex-German lady who had come because her mother in Germany had read an article on them and wanted to know why she hadn’t been.
No less a well known figure than Billy Connelly said it, “..was the most impressive thing I’ve seen in Australia”. Ricketts died in 1993, aged 94, but there’s a self portrait of him among the sculptures. Every face carved is of someone, they are all original and, while you’re there, try and discover the spiritual meaning of the concentric circles, a theme revisited many times throughout the park.
It was here that I found out things had changed. Every Parks Victoria site on the mountain was free, where once there had been a charge.
The sanctuary is open from 10-4.30 daily except Christmas Day
I’ve visited on more than one occasion and the enchantment never ceases as you pass through villages with enticing names like Sassafras, Olinda, Sherbrooke and Kalorama; all seeking to charm you with their wonderfully exotic gardens and quirky shops. Epicurean delights abound with eateries claiming all sorts of praise and awards, some erroneous in my belief but let that not detract from your enjoyment.
The winding roads lead ever upward to near where Mount Dandenong, at 633 metres the highest point, lords over all that surrounds and the attraction called Sky High can be found. A cafe, BBQ and picnic areas, attractive formal gardens, and spectacular views across Melbourne's eastern suburbs and to the city from various viewing platforms can be had. Views can also be enjoyed from Burke's Lookout at Mount Corhanwarrabul, about one kilometre south of the Mount Dandenong peak.
However Sky High costs, to get in, to park, to do anything. Might I point you in the direction of other aspects of the Dandenongs, particularly those associated with Parks Victoria, for which you won’t even have to reach into your pocket for loose change.