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Published June 7th 2017
Trees, Trees, Glorious Trees
As the weather turns cooler, what better way to spend a weekend than in the gorgeous Dandenong Ranges? Roughly an hour's drive outside Melbourne, the town of Olinda offers a great array of cafes, B & B accommodation and interesting shops.
These are not usually of interest to small children. However, the area does have a great deal to offer families. If you venture just outside Olinda you will find the R.J. Hamer Arboretum, named after former Victorian Premier Sir Rupert Hamer.
Arboretum is a Latin word meaning a plantation of trees and the R.J. Hamer Arboretum certainly provides them in abundance! There are over 150 species of natives and exotics planted in sections representing different forests. In fact, the arboretum is the first of its kind to be completely established by planting. The basic design was developed in 1970 and took 15 years to complete. It is managed by Parks Victoria.
From the car park on Chalet Road, visitors are instantly rewarded with a spectacular view across the Yarra Valley and out towards the Warburton Ranges.
Venturing down the hill from the car park you first encounter the conifer forest. When we visited, the trees had turned a lovely coppery colour which contrasted beautifully with the green of the Australian bush in the distance. My four year old loved playing hide and seek here. The trees are so large at the base that they are easy to hide behind and the way that the trees have been planted creates dark little areas to scuttle through. It reminded me of the forests in European fairy tales.
Further down the steep hillside, (which provided no problem for preschool legs to walk down) we came to a wonderful planting of liquidambar and maple trees. There are still plenty of fallen autumn leaves to see. We had great fun crunching in all the leaves and having a competition to see who could find the biggest leaf.
Whilst it is not appropriate to remove vegetation permanently from the arboretum, children can certainly be encouraged to take a close look at the trees and plants there, examining the different leaves, colours and shapes. Finding interesting seed pods and even looking at different insect life. Mum and Dad may not have all the answers that inquisitive young minds ask but we are fortunate these days to have many answers available by using a smartphone.
Visiting a place such as the arboretum with children does in some ways require more active parenting than visiting a playground, but the benefits of being in the natural environment are not just felt by the children, but by all the family. Planet Ark's 2012 report, Planting Trees: Just What The Doctor Ordered, references a Norwegian study which found that children's motor coordination improved when they played in the woods as opposed to a traditional playground. In addition, being in nature has been shown by many studies to reduce stress, anxiety and even ADHD.
There is a nice grassy area near the car park for picnic rugs and there are also barbecue facilities and picnic tables. Toilet facilities are also provided. The arboretum is not suitable for wheelchairs, except immediately at the car park. All terrain prams would be able to manage a small section of the arboretum but parents of small children would be better served by using a baby carrier or being prepared to help little ones back up the hill to the car park.
In terms of an easily accessible area for families to get out and explore a variety of trees and other vegetation, the R.J. Hamer Arboretum provides a great option. We will definitely be returning to see the arboretum change with the seasons.