Australia isn’t known for its autumn foliage (gum trees kind of look the same no matter what the weather’s doing). But European migration didn’t just bring espresso and kickass Turkish kebabs to Melbourne, it also brought deciduous trees. British ex-pats may sniff at our idea of autumn leaves, but when you’ve grown up surrounded by Tea trees, any flash of red is going to seem pretty impressive. Generally, you want to head north of Melbourne for the best autumn foliage, or at least up into the hills where the air is cool (Macedon and Mt Dandenong are always good bets).
God the picnic hamper packed? Here are the best places for autumn scenery in Melbourne.
Alfred Nicholas Gardens
You don’t really need to visit a proper garden to get a good look at autumn leaves in The Dandenongs. Ash trees, Maple trees and Liquid Amber line most of the roads. But the Alfred Nicholas Gardens are kind of special. Take the turnoff just before you get to Sassafras and stop when you get to the carpark. Entry to the gardens is free and they’re open year-round (except for Christmas Day). Just thank Alfred Nicholas, the guy who invented Aspro painkillers. The foliage is pretty spectacular all through the gardens, but wander down to the ornamental lake for that picture postcard Autumn shot.
Gardens Of Glenlyon
One of those tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it country towns. There isn’t much in Glenlyon, which you’ll find about 20-minutes out of Daylesford, back towards the city. But the town does have some of the best autumn foliage anywhere in Victoria. Every year the main street lights up in a firework display of reds and oranges. Next time you’re heading to Spa Country, take a detour and stop off at the Glenlyon General Store for a pie and a walk beneath the trees. As pit stops go, it’s pretty awesome.
Probably Macedon’s most famous gardens. They’re worth the $10 entry any time, but especially in autumn when the pin oaks, aspens and copper beaches all turn at once. The ground becomes a carpet of amber leaves—one of those spots where you just can’t take a bad picture. There’s 7.5 acres of lawns, lakes and trees to explore, and the gardens open from 10:30am. The best picnic spots generally fill up in peak season, so get in quick and stake out some prime real estate.
The Valley of Liquidambers
Good name, eh? Liquidambers, FYI, are a species of American sweetgum, and as the name suggests, they look pretty darn fine in the Fall (that’s ‘autumn’ to you and me). Heathcote isn’t exactly on the radar of many day-tripping Melburnians, but it ought to be. The food’s good, there’s vineyards around every bend, and the hillsides come alive in autumn time, especially in the Valley. You’ll find it alongside the McIvor Creek, near the centre of town. The perfect picnic spot.
Sitting at a cool 580m above sea level (practically alpine by Melbourne standards), Cloudehill is right at the top of the Dandenongs, where the air is cool and the soil is all volcanic loam. Perfect for growing pretty much anything, but especially deciduous European trees. Wander down the Gallery Walk, just east of the entrance, or through the Cool Borders further south—that’s where you’ll find the best autumn foliage. The gardens are open 7-day from 9am – 5pm and admission is $10. Stretch the legs, then head into Olinda for antiques and scones (or stay put and go full Devonshire in the Cloudehill restaurant). It doesn’t get more Dandenongs than that.
Maroondah Reservoir Park
Not a park that makes its way onto many Best of Melbourne lists, but if you ever stumbled on it, you’ll probably want to keep it a secret too. Maroondah Reservoir Park is down in Healesville, and is one of those wildernesses that looks spectacular any time of the year. In winter the rains fall and waters gush over the big river spillway. In spring the azaleas and rhododendrons (try spelling that one without Google) are in full bloom. And in autumn most of the park breaks out in a crazy tapestry of red and amber foliage. Pro tip: Get your iPhone camera ready for the Rose Stairway. It’s an absolute stunner.
Looking further ahead? Here's a few epic winter festivals to take your mind off the cold.
Image credit: Jeremy Thomas