On land far, far away from the worries and cares - or, indeed, lorries and cars - of our bustling Melburnian metropolis, there lies a humble campground of modest proportions, within earshot of a stretch of agitated Yarra river. Managed by Parks Victoria, the campground is nestled within Longridge Park which, in turn, is part of a corridor of parks and reserves known as the Yarra Valley Parklands. The Parklands are made up of an assortment of landscapes such as bushland, billabongs and floodplains, flanking a meandering Yarra for about 16km, from Warrandyte to Ivanhoe. Together they provide a vital sanctuary for native wildlife and vegetation.
Longridge was our park of preference last year, when CoViD restrictions prevented my OH and me from roaming beyond our provincial "bubble". Exploring the Park's undulating acres of bushland was a therapeutic experience, especially in those claustrophobia-inducing days of exercise rationing. The Park is big enough and its bushland dense enough to screen out almost all evidence of human habitat - with the exception of a few conspicuous properties monopolising its south-east perimeter, and a faint, grey cluster of city skyscrapers that can be glimpsed from its ridgeline crest.
Formerly grazing land for beef cattle, management of the Park is now the responsibility of Parks Victoria, whose conservation efforts are helping to restore Longridge to the treed, bushy idyll it would have been 150 years ago, before the large-scale destruction of native vegetation for introduced farming practices. The Yarra is the Park's biggest draw and the focus of a range of recreational water activities. On land, cyclists and walkers enjoy the network of trails and tracks winding through Longridge's diverse landscape, to a backdrop of the sight and/or sound of its pervasive, dynamic river.
Once-sturdy wooden fencing, lining an undulating driveway to the current campsite, is in a state of dereliction, much like the Deco-era farmhouse perched imperiously atop the Park's long ridge. Passing by the front of the farmhouse, it's possible to envisage the enviable view it would once have enjoyed, beyond the river below to a mountain expanse, a view partially but magnificently obscured by native trees allowed to thrive since the cattle moved on to pastures new.
There are a few trail options within the Park, depending on your energy level and time constraints. If you're happy to follow your nose along wombat-poo strewn pathways, it's possible to trek the length of Longridge, starting from clearly visible trails leading into the Park near the Naughton Avenue junction with Pound Road, or further down Naughton Avenue itself. Shorter walks can be undertaken from the carpark at the end of Alexander Road, from which there are tracks leading in different directions: west through remnant pasture; north, down a rough cart track to the river; or east, up a stony track towards the Park's campground. Since the Park borders the Yarra, you can't really go wrong.
With such an uncommonly small number of people roaming through the Park, wildlife sightings have been guaranteed during our bouts of lockdown restrictions. It's still not unusual to see ground-feeding birds of a feather such as galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos and little corellas flocking - or, should I say, foraging - together in the Park's patches of open grassland. We've almost always spied Eastern Grey roos during our visits, twice unwittingly venturing within kicking distance of a certain solitary, elderly buck. On both occasions, he has regarded us with a look of inveterate - or, possibly, short-sighted - indifference before resuming his spot of midday grazing. Go early and tread softly and there's even the chance that you'll be rewarded with a glimpse of a platypus - surely a sign of a thriving ecosystem.
It's advisable to assume campsite facilities are locked and slopes slippery in wet and dry weather - bring an empty bladder and sturdy shoes when you visit. Rubbish bins are not provided so please, if bringing refreshments to enjoy in the Park, leave only your footprints behind.