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Great Walks Melbourne - The Yarra Trail
Melbourne is a great city to walk or cycle in. One of the best routes for those who want to see a variety of scenery is the Yarra Trail. This starts right in the middle of Melbourne at Southbank, and follows the main river for about 35kms back until it meets up with the Mullum Mullum Creek Trail in Templestowe, near Petty's Orchard. It is a shared cycle/walking path and takes the adventurous soul past many great attractions.
And don't forget that you can hire bicycles all around Melbourne through the Bike Share program. This is a very affordable way to see all that Melbourne has to offer. But keep in mind that it is a legal requirement in Australia that all cyclists wear a helmet (which is only sensible, and I'm still shocked that other countries don't do this. Heads, people, are very important!)
To find out where the nearest Bike Share Station is, go to: http://www.melbournebikeshare.com.au/stationmap
Southbank At Night
Southbank is famous for its great food, high end shopping and the casino. Both day and night it has a fantastic atmosphere. The Southbank Promenade is lined with great cafes, shops and restaurants, with public art and an array of performing artists. Markets are held here on Sundays, and there is always great coffee to be had.
Being on the opposite side of the river to the CBD it offers some of the best views of the city. At night the Southbank lights up, and the unsuspecting can be startled by the sudden jets of flame that flare up right along the Promenade on the hour after dusk.
Just starting out on your walk or cycle, or returning, this is a great place to have a coffee and energize yourself.
The Boat Sheds
North or South?
From Southbank you can choose to follow the trail either on the north or south bank of the river. I recommend staying on the south bank to take you first past the iconic Melbourne Boat Sheds.
Rowing has been an important sport in Australia history, as our success in the Olympics demonstrates.
The Melbourne Boat Sheds are home to the large number of social and more competitive clubs and is the primary place for rowing in Melbourne. Early on a Saturday morning, the sheds are bustling with rowers taking their boats out, or just standing around having a friendly chat.
During the school term, the boat sheds become a hive of activity as many of the large schools train up Australia's next rowing champions.
As an ex-rower myself, I would ask that if you are walking or cycling along in front of the boat sheds to please give way to rowers with boats, those things are really heavy!
Also be aware of grumpy coaches on bicycles that ride along beside the river yelling out to the crews. They often don't keep their eyes on the path, so just give them room, and keep in mind that in Australia, we walk on the left hand side, as well as drive on it.
Just up from the boat sheds is the Royal Botanical Gardens. So far you have covered about a kilometer of the trail. However, if you get no further up the trail than this, it was still worth it. The Botanical gardens are beautiful all year around, and often have special events such as the Moonlight Cinema that runs through the summer. A picnic rug and basket, and possibly an umbrella, is all you need, though there are tea rooms for the more civilized.
Along the river are grassy banks and public BBQs for use. This is a great place for a casual lunch of dinner with friends. On fine summer nights these BBQ's are taken pretty quickly, so make sure you get in early. And just be careful of the swans!
Collingwood Children's Farm
Jumping ahead and the path crosses over and joins up with the left hand bank. Riding along here you can see some of Melbourne's most beautiful houses perched over the river.
Keep going and the next great attraction is the Collingwood Children's Farm. This is a great place to take children for the day. The farm is open to the public all year round.
The first Sunday of every month (excluding January) is a Family Day and boasts BBQ's and horse and hay rides for children. Also on every second Saturday there is the monthly Farmers' Market where you can purchase fresh produce from the farm and other Victorian producers.
The farm has a wide range of animals which children can be introduced to, with nearly all the animals classified as rare breeds.
For more information go to: http://www.farm.org.au/VisitorInformation
Dight Fall's in Yarra Bend Park
Further on from the Children's Farm are Dight Falls, part of the Yarra Bend Park which extends over 260 hectares.
Possibly not as impressive as other falls in Victoria, Dight falls still have a lot of historical significance. Prior to European settlement the Wurundjeri tribe used the area as a natural river crossing, fishing area and as a meeting place for different clans to trade and exchange brides (who needs online dating when you can have on-river dating?)
It was also the site of Australia's first water powered flour mill, and a relic of the old mill still remains.
And most importantly, there is the suggestion that the magpies by the falls were the inspiration for Melbourne AFL team Collingwood's Magpie mascot. (If you are new to Melbourne or coming in the summer, you might not realize that the entire state is footy mad. Australian Football, obviously, none of this silly soccer or American football.)
The park is filled with other activities, from being able to hire row boats and fly-fishing tournaments through to restaurants and a golf course. For more information check out: http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/yarra-bend-park
Enjoy the View in Westerfolds Park
Continuing on there are many side trails you can go off to explore, or you can stay on the main track that will take you through parks, gardens and paddocks with horses.
Eventually you will end up at Westerfolds Park in Templestowe. If you have made it this far, that's an excellent 30+km effort.
The park has a number of facilities and areas of interest. But after your long ride, you might be most interested in the Manor House in the centre of the park which is now home to Mia Mia Gallery and Cafe. The gallery exhibits Indigenous Australian art and offers cultural education programs.
Or you could just enjoy the BBQ's and picnic areas if you have thought to bring your own food.
The official end of the trail is where the Yarra meets up with the Mullum Mullum Creek, though further trails do continue on.
However, the big delight in making it this far is reaching Petty's Orchard, one of the oldest commercial orchard in Melbourne. It boasts more than 200 types of old and rare apples!
There is a cafe with homemade cakes and biscuits and a shop with produce from the orchard. There is also the Heritage Apple Festival on the last Sunday of March every year, where you can taste different varieties of apples, as well as purchasing apples or a whole tree if you like.
After relaxing, it's time to turn around and head back to the city because it will just be coming alive!