Explore a bushland sanctuary for native flora and fauna
Baluk Willam Nature Conservation Reserve is one of Melbourne's most diverse wildflower sanctuaries. Hidden away on a picturesque narrow road in Belgrave South, the reserve is home to over 250 native plants and more than an entire third of Victoria's orchid species. Although the reserve is relatively small, at 72 ha in size, it protects a surprising variety of vegetation types, including heathy woodland, grassy forest and swampy woodland.
Explore the wildflowers in the reserve like these native peas (Photo: L. Vivian)
When visiting it is important to understand that all plants – including orchids – in the reserve are protected and must not be collected, picked or damaged in any way. It's also critical that all visitors stay on the tracks so that the vegetation isn't trampled. There are plenty of places to spot orchids and other wildflowers right next to the track, so there's no need to go bush bashing. Staying on the tracks also reduces the risks of visitors spreading the plant pathogen Cinnamon Fungus (Phytophthora cinnamomi).
A sign at the entrance to the Eastern Loop trail - it's important to stay on the track and don't lay down to take photos (Photo: L. Vivian)
Photographers should make sure they don't squash any orchids when trying to get that perfect shot. Look around and beneath you before you kneel or crouch down, especially as orchids often grow in small colonies. Be considerate of the ecological significance of the reserve and make sure that your visit doesn't do any damage: leave the plants as they are for the next person to discover and appreciate.
Orchids can be seen at most times of the year, including alongside the walking tracks, but be very careful not to damage them (Photo: L. Vivian)
Walks The reserve is in two sections, as it's split in two by Courtneys Road. The best place to park is at the small carpark near the corner of Courtneys Road and Orchid Road, at the south of the reserve. The carpark has an information board which includes a map of the walking tracks and lots of information about the local flora. From the carpark, walkers can follow a short loop walk through the western section of the reserve, which has a series of interpretive signs along the way. The track heads north before turning to the left and then follows Orchid Road back to the carpark.
Information signs on the shorter loop walk (Photo: L. Vivian)
A longer walking track - the Eastern Loop - is in the other section of the reserve. It can be accessed from the same carpark by following a walking track up the eastern side of Courtneys Road, across a bridge and up a gentle slope until an entrance gate is reached on the right. This is the start of the Eastern Loop. This area is often the best place to spot orchids, even along the roadside walking track. The main loop track heads up the hill, before turning left and following the ridgeline. The track then meets back up with Courtneys Road, and walkers can head back south again along the roadside track.
The track heads over a small bridge along the eastern side of Courtneys Road (Photo: L. Vivian)
Autumn and winter are the best times of the year to see fungi, particularly when it's been raining. This is often the time when the glorious Pink Heath (the Victorian state flora emblem) starts to flower. The bird life is great at any time of the year so bring binoculars if you have them.
Pink Heath (Epacris impressa) flowering in the reserve (Photo: L. Vivian)