Melbourne is lucky enough to enjoy not just one, but two Royal Botanic Gardens. The one in South Yarra is a popular destination for families but I urge you to also visit the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne.
Cranbourne Gardens contains one of Victoria’s most precious areas of native bushland. At its heart is the stunning Australian Garden, which showcases the diversity of Australian flora.
Lady AB and I spend about 3 hours exploring the whole grounds as there are lots of opportunities for learning and play. I recommend you start from the Visitor Centre and work your way in an anti-clockwise direction.
The Red Sand Garden is an absolutely spectacular way to enter the garden. There’s no public access to that garden but it does provide some amazing photo opportunities.
Next to it is the Rockpool Waterway, which provides free water play (when there’s enough water) with a rushing stream set against a dramatic steel Escarpment Wall Sculpture.
The water is about ankle deep so you don’t necessarily need bathers and you have to wade between the flags. Note the surface is uneven as the ground has raised blocks to create stepping stones, so it is not suitable for toddlers except with an adult’s help.
At the end of the Rockpool Waterway is the Kids’ Backyard, one of the many display gardens.
You’ll find a blackboard rocks, colourful totems and a vine-draped wooden ‘Hortasaurus’ play fort ending with a slippery dip.
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Other highlights included skipping along the windy seats of the River Walk….
…the Melaleuca Spits where we watch ducks dive…
…and the Promenade Plaza with bean bags and gardening-related books (for adults and kids) overlooking the serene environment.
When you return to the visitor’s centre you’ll find the gift shop and the Boon Wurrung Cafe with meals, coffee and snacks and a lovely view of the Australian Garden. At the other end of the garden is the kiosk with simple meals, coffee and snacks. The food is not very exciting, to be honest so maybe BYO picnic instead.
If you have time after you exit the Australian Garden you can visit the Woodlands Picnic Area, which is only accessible via the 400m Woodlands Walk. The picnic area is set in open grasslands surrounded by eucalyptus trees and there are free barbecues, toilets and a large adventure playground.
Cranbourne Gardens is a stunning and unique green space for families and if you’re not local it’s well worth a special visit. We visit on an overcast weekday and barely see twenty people there – and we have the whole water play area to ourselves. The whole place is very well laid out, serene, educational, fun and free! Every school holidays Cranbourne Gardens run free and paid school holiday programs as the gardens are much busier then.
- free parking. Public transport will require a taxi from Cranbourne train station;
- bring a hat and sunscreen as there’s not much shade;
- bring a towel so you can dry off your feet after wading in the Rockpool Waterway;
- bring some books or toys to relax with at the Promenade Plaza;
- BYO picnic or barbecue at the Woodlands Picnic Area if you don’t fancy eating at Boon Wurrung Cafe or the kiosk; and
- more playground equipment at Woodlands Picnic Area.