Just on the outskirts of the town of Yea, close to where the Melba Highway and the Goulburn Valley Highway intersect, the Yea Wetlands are being restored to their natural state.
A decade ago the area was a boggy, inaccessible floodplain wetland, but extensive work has been done by the Yea Wetlands Committee of Management to turn it into a lovely area for both visitors and its natural inhabitants.
Walking surfaces include a boardwalk, gravel paths and grassland
Some of the walking tracks are not accessible during very wet weather, but the main loop has had a boardwalk installed in sections to enable virtually year-round access. The only area that might get you a bit wet around the ankles in winter is the return leg through the grassland.
[ADVERT]You can start your exploration from the Hood Street carpark (opposite the police station). This is where the main information board is situated, and you get to it by following the prehistoric timeline path. This has multiple uses. It alerts visitors to the fact that the area has long been an important area for the indigenous people of the Warring Illum Balluk part of the Taungurung clan.
It also signals the significance of the area in worldwide understanding of the development of plants as we know them today. An Australian scientist, Dr Isabel Cookson, studied the fossils of plants that had been found in the local area and realised that something completely new had been discovered.
In fact, the fossils were the oldest of their kind ever found, at about 415 million years old, and through them scientists realised that complex land plants actually evolved much earlier than was previously realised, and they developed first in the southern hemisphere.
You can't actually see the fossils, but it's interesting to know that a bunch of rocks found in the 1930s in a little town in Victoria caused an upheaval in international scientific knowledge. Or maybe that's just for science nerds like me!
Interpretative signs help visitors understand the significance of the area
If plant fossils don't interest you, the interpretive walk around the wetlands might. The main track, the Franklin Track, has excellent signage along the way, so you at least know that you are looking at more than just a nicely restored parkland. It's a very pleasant stroll through a very diverse environment. You cross the Yea River and also skirt an anabranch of the river, so in between there are large bodies of water hosting a lot of life.
Apparently there are koalas, platypus and native water rats around, though we didn't see any when we were there. There is however an obvious abundance of frog and bird life, and the area also hosts a rare insect, Hemiphlebia Mirabilis, a type of damselfly that you might see flitting around. It's such an ancient species that it's called a 'living fossil', but it looks just like a very small, metallic coloured flying insect. So don't swat anything that flies at you unless you're sure it's not endangered!
The bird hide has plenty of information to help you identify birds and amphibians
Part of the way around (and not marked on the map), there is a bird hide with very helpful information inside about what birds and beasties you might be looking at. Kids will love trying to spot the wildlife that adorns the walls.
As per usual, you need to be careful about snakes if you choose to go off the tracks. With an abundance of tasty amphibian and native rodent tucker, this place must be popular with the local tiger snakes. You'd probably be wise to wear decent shoes and long pants even if you stick to the main paths, just in case.
The John Cotton suspension bridge over the Yea River
This is a very pretty spot to visit, and you can stay awhile as there are picnic tables at various spots including at the start of the walk in Hood Street, where there are also free electric BBQs. Public toilets are just a short walk down the Goulburn Valley Highway past the police station.
Free electric BBQs are available if you want to stay for lunch
A $2 million Yea Wetlands Discovery ECentre is in the pipeline, and will include a visitor information centre and displays covering the ecology of the area. Hopefully that will be completed within the next couple of years.