Melbourne’s best quiet suburban walks

Pack of kangaroos at Plenty Gorge

Sue Hewitt

Posted June 16, 2020

Escape the crowds at these undiscovered Melbourne walking tracks.

There's nothing like a walk in the fresh air to clear your mind. And, after weeks confined to close quarters, it seems everyone wants to get out and stretch their legs. The only trouble is, many of Melbourne’s best-known walks are getting a little crowded, which makes it hard to maintain that all-important 1.5-metre social distancing.

The good news is there are some fabulous lesser-known trails in and around the suburbs, where you’ll be surrounded by nature and birdsong, rather than other people.

From forest forays, to riverside strolls, to an enormous golden Buddhist statue, here are some of our favourite places to escape the city bustle without leaving town.

Melbourne city skyline

View from Darebin Parklands

Six secret suburban walking tracks in Melbourne

Darebin Parklands

Corner Smith and Separation Streets, Alphington

In the middle of suburbia between Alphington and Ivanhoe is a 33-hectare bush park that’s home to echidnas, the occasional kangaroo and other wildlife. Walk alongside Darebin Creek where native fish and frogs splash to get your attention, or look up to see one of 70 species of birds such as the tawny frogmouth or possums hiding in the trees. You can feel the serenity – there’s even a ‘spiritual healing trail’ to encourage peace and reflection through nature.

It’s a lovely slice of urban bushland but it wasn’t always the case. The Alphington side is a former tip, while the Ivanhoe section was a neglected horse paddock until the Darebin Parklands Association formed in 1973 and replanted native habitat.

Victoria Walks has a map of the park’s main loop trail, an easy three-kilometre ramble that takes in Mount Puffalo. Named for the better-known Mount Buffalo, this mount is built from dirt from the Domain Tunnel and forms a high point in the park. It’s more a hill than a mountain, but it gives overall views of this bush oasis.

Cranbourne Gardens

Corner Ballarto Road and Botanic Drive, Cranbourne

With its official name of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria at Cranbourne Gardens you might expect manicured lawns and prissy plantings. Not so. This bush getaway an hour from the CBD has untouched vegetation that once covered all the land around Port Phillip and Westernport bays and is populated by bandicoots, wallabies, echidnas and wombats. In fact, two-thirds of the 363-hectare site is heathy woodland and wetlands supporting rare and endangered flora and fauna.

The critically endangered Phillip Island hibiscus, which occurs naturally on just one small island off Norfolk Island, is grown here. Its flowers are cream when they first open, then the next day fade to a rose pink, but new flowers keep opening over many weeks.

There’s spectacular foliage all around, even in winter, with cup gums and banksias, while the cycads are producing bright-red fruits. Thousands of plants were put in over autumn and are thriving, such as the Qualup Bells (Pimelea physodes) and aptly named cushion bush (Scleranthus biflorus).

The garden’s River Walk has a broad promenade with views across a meandering river bend while the Gibson Hill area has panoramic views over the gardens.

Wilson Reserve

The Boulevard, Ivanhoe

Have you heard about the bunyip – the large, mythical and quite menacing creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to inhabit watering holes? The last ‘sighting’ of it in the Yarra River was in the 1800s – but could it be hiding right in plain sight in leafy Ivanhoe?

It won’t take much effort to find out. Wilson Reserve is an easy, picturesque walk along the Yarra River and its billabongs. The reserve stretches over 21.5 hectares along the Yarra Valley floodplain, providing many side-hustle strolls.

There are several watering holes, including Horseshoe Billabong, Willsmere Lagoon and Bailey Billabong, ideal homes for the elusive bunyip. They’re also the natural habitat for numerous varieties of native frogs, including Peron’s tree frog, also known as the laughing tree frog thanks to its maniacal cackle – you may mistake it for the call of a bunyip. The reserve is also home to more than 120 bird species, including the powerful owl.

A warning for those seeking some alone time – the path gets busy as it nears Burke Road and the Main Yarra Trail bike route.

People walking in Autumn leaves

Photo: Unsplash

Plenty Gorge Park

40 Gordons Road, South Morang

With housing estates sprawling in every direction around it, Plenty Gorge Park comes as a delightful surprise only 20 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD.

You can ramble, hike or even dangle a line in the beautiful Blue Lake in the hope of fresh fish for dinner. It’s an unexpected green treasure of native bushland, grasslands and extensive wetlands with evidence of its ancient inhabitants, the Wurundjeri people, seen in scar trees and stone artefacts.

You’ll need to be moderately fit to tackle the roughly six-kilometre main loop trail (rated intermediate level) from the carpark. Or you can just take your time strolling through the bush and discovering new paths. Formed eons ago through volcanic activity, the Plenty River provides diverse habitat for wildlife. Watch for kangaroos, lizards, echidnas and more, while bird-lovers can spot many wetland species such as egrets, swans and herons.

Walking tracks and a viewing platform at Middle Gorge give views of the gorge and river, and there are secluded spots for a picnic. Although parts of the park were hit by bushfire last December, it’s fascinating to see trees and other vegetation sprouting new growth.

Lysterfield Park

Horswood Road, Lysterfield

This family-friendly reserve is one of the best places near Melbourne to catch a glimpse of native wildlife in its natural habitat. Visit around dusk or dawn for your best chance to spot kangaroos, wallabies, koalas or even echidnas. While the park boasts a 24-kilometre network of bike trails, the Lake Circuit is easily its most popular walking trail. It is mostly flat with wide gravel paths and distance markers every kilometre, which makes navigating the trail easy. It’s also great for kids, with picnic spots and lakeside jetties.

Maribyrnong River

Footscray to Essendon

Although travel plans are in limbo, you can still get your fix of the exotic in Footscray. Rising from the banks of the Maribyrnong River is an improbable sight – a 16-metre golden statue of the Chinese goddess Mazu, or Heavenly Queen. She stands on a platform surrounded by a moat looking across the river and shipping containers stacked in an industrial estate opposite. Follow her gaze to impressive views of the city skyline.

The Heavenly Queen Temple is Australia’s largest Buddhist temple devoted to the Chinese sailors’ deity, Mazu, and has traditional Chinese single and double-storey buildings with ornate decorations. It’s normally open to visitors but it’s best to check for any current restrictions.

You can pass the temple while taking a nine-kilometre walk, starting from Footscray Railway Station, that meanders along the Maribyrnong River walking trail with wide grassy areas each side, and ending in Essendon. You’ll pass the grandstands of Flemington Racecourse on the opposite bank and can venture into Newells Paddock, a large open space with wetlands.

The Maribyrnong Council has information on additional sections to this river walk.