Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens
Directions - Located a short walk from the centre of Daylesford, take Central Springs Rd east until you reach Wombat Hill Scenic Dr. Turn here and then take the next right and then left to locate the car park at the top. Alternatively you can park at the Convent Gallery, located off Daly St.
The Walk - With the holiday period spent in lovely Daylesford, I was keen to get out and explore a few locations that I'd visited before but not shared. One of those was the lovely Wombat Hills Botanical Gardens and Convent Gallery that is located a very short distance out of the centre of town. Originally I had planned this as an early morning or after dinner walk but when it was suggested that the entire family come up here for an after dinner walk, I was happy to oblige. Packing a mini-picnic, we loaded up the cars and were soon on top of Wombat Hill facing the Tower of Sauron (more on that later). It was decided that we would head to the main lawn and setup there so we found a free table near Wombat Hill House.
I love a good botanical garden, forever seeking them out when we are in a new city like Darwin last July. During our Europe trip in 2017, I made a habit of finding all the gardens that were within walking distance of our accommodation in every city. There is something escapist about a good garden where you can just zone out and wander round peacefully in the green paradise. Having visited Wombat Hill before, I knew the rough layout so set about creating a little double loop so I could efficiently see all the main attractions and different parts to the garden. Leaving the others, I headed towards the Conservatory and Wombat Hill House. The Conservatory is a fairly large building used to grow various plant varieties by the gardeners here but unfortunately I've never had the pleasure of looking inside (it's only open at certain times). Wombat Hill House is the old gardeners cottage that was built in the 1940s but has since been converted to a café. Here you can enjoy refreshments and take a break from all the walking. I decided to check out the outer loop first that was originally meant for horse and cart but now serves as a way of cars to drive around the outside. Now over 150 years old, the trees here have certainly grown into the surroundings (you used to be able to see down towards town in the early 1900s) and provide a well lived in feel to the place.
The massive trees that line the dirt road make for a wonderful spectacle and in the fading light, it was magnificent to see the light streaming down through the canopy, an effect made better every time a car drove past and unsettled the dust. A number of wombat statues are dotted around the gardens and you can find one at the end of this road that also serves as the main entrance for cars. From here I headed uphill a little bit and into the fern garden. A very lush and green section of the botanic gardens, it is reminiscent of the temperate forests you'll find in southern Victoria and Tasmania. We visited here before our first trip to Tasmania and I remember thinking that if Tasmania was full of this type of greenery then I would be in heaven (it was). After looping around the fern garden section and taking what I think was a gardeners path, I ended up at the stone waterfall that unfortunately wasn't flowing much this time. On previous visits it has been and it's a very tranquil place to sit and ponder life. From the fern garden you can head uphill a bit more until you reach the car park and the famous Pioneer's Memorial Tower (or the Tower of Sauron as I like to call it). With the sun not quite setting just yet, I thought I'd leave this fun bit to later and continued on my way.
Heading past the tower and onto the northern section of path leading west, this was a really cool part of the walk. Feeling very much like an English estate, the large trees lining the path provided a nice feature to follow and some of these giants are truly impressive. With the sun streaming through the canopy, it was a glorious time to take in the gardens. The views looking back towards the tower were impressive and the golden light made the dark grey of the concrete looks a little friendlier. I was very slowly meandering along here, trying to soak it all in and just be in the moment. I came across Hal showing Caris' niece and nephew around and they were loving another of the wombat statues. I left them be and continued along the edge of the hill where occasionally a view would open up between the trees off towards Mt Franklin. Reaching the western edge of the gardens and where the ring road continues, the views here are the best you'll see from the gardens (apart from the top of the tower). It is here that you can take the path down to one of the best bits of the area, the Convent Gallery. While it was too late to visit on this trip, we had previously stopped by and it is worth the price of admission. Providing a history of the area and also housing a nice tea room, it's a lovely place to add on to any trip to the gardens.
After taking a few photos of the amazing views, I finished the road loop that takes you back towards the Wombat Hill Café. With the golden glow of the sunset now getting stronger, I headed back towards the family and found them on the grassed area enjoying the warm afternoon air. With the time being right, I suggested a visit to the Tower of Sauron for those that were willing. Walking along the edge of the reservoir that was Daylesford's water supply back in the day, there is a statue of a boy taking a thorn out of his foot that represents a sad chapter in the town's history. I had promised Elizabeth a shiny dollar coin if she made it all the way to the top of the concrete tower so she was keen to get there. A narrow circular staircase spirals up towards the top viewing area with the occasional window providing a taste of the views you'll get at the top. If you're not a fan of heights like me, I can assure you that it the views are worth it (as you can see from the photos) and there is plenty of railing to grab onto at the top once you're there. There isn't much room if there are more than 3-4 people but I think most of the time you will find it empty. The views looking west are absolutely stunning, even more so at sunset as you stare out over the reservoir and beyond to the hills on the horizon. With Elizabeth earning her dollar, we headed back down and enjoyed the last vestiges of light on the grass. A very enjoyable mid-summers evening in picturesque Daylesford, taking in one of the best spots for the sunset.