{Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens}

Not always does our physical mobility give us the luxury of escaping deep into the bush of the escarpment, thankfully Wollongong shares a beautiful garden that fuses native bushland with a majestic botanically rich garden. The Illawarra Rhododendron Garden enjoys a luscious location where the rainforest from the Northern side of Mt Keira, gracefully merges with blooms, ponds, nested gazebos and stunning indigenous plant species.

The paths may be a little rough, slippery and steep in places – weather dependent, so ensure you wear appropriate footwear.

In 1968, the quest was on to find a site in the Illawarra to host a magnificent Rhododendron garden. General Manager, Mr A. Parrish of Australian Iron and Steel, the company that owned the land, backed the plan for the lease to be granted to the Illawarra Rhododendron Society to manage and care for the land. The lease covered over 14 hectares of the northern pocket of land under the bluff of Mt Keira, here began the journey of thousands of plants being lovingly nourished and maintained to create the wondrous gardens that exist today. Many of the plantings are of Australian origin including some local Rhododendron species, joined by other beautiful exotic Rhododendrons, Azaleas and rare plants – all fused with the natural bushland seamlessly integrating in at every opportunity… (Refer to references)

The gardens are extraordinarily maintained by volunteers with funding by donation only, not through Government. Knowing this, and seeing volunteers at work really ensures you appreciate the enormity of the effort, hard work and commitment these wonderful people over the years have contributed to this beautiful garden. When you visit, there is a small request for a $5 donation per car, if you can dig deeper, rest assured your money is going to new plantings and maintenance of the gardens. The society encourages volunteers on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so if you have a green thumb, this might be for you! (Contact here for more details)

The garden is easily found in suburban Mt Pleasant, with an accessible car park in the gardens. The garden is a romantic (perfect for weddings!) and quaint garden that allows you to meander and wander through secret pathways, with flowers brushing past your face and glimmers of the magnificent Mt Keira peering over you. There is no specific way to wander the garden, the signage in the car park will give you some general direction, but it’s certainly nice just to take your time to explore.

There are a number of undercover gazebos and picnic areas so even if the weather turns a little nasty, you can still enjoy your time here (noting I went on a wet day and it was certainly magical in the fog). It really is a perfect spot to curl up on a bench or a picnic rug with a book or just simply stare at the clouds passing you by. I particularly love this place as you can touch and feel the bush around you, ponder on the wonderful old trees and of course… listen to the beautiful birds singing.

A perfect starter to introduce kids to nature as a stepping stone to bushwalking. A wonderful place for people who require pathways that cater for mobility aids.

There is a back gate which you might stumble upon in the gardens, that suggests it leads to the Mt Keira Ring and adjoining trails. I explored this option and it is not recommended. There is no distinct trail and I found myself off-trail more often than not. Being familiar with the surrounding trails and area, I was able to navigate to the formal walking trails, however, I strongly recommend people do not attempt this without an experienced guide, getting lost is a real possibility. In addition, there are trails in the area that have been closed due to landslides.

Bushwalk the ‘Gong with One w/ Earth will be hosting meditation and yoga sessions in the near future in the gardens, follow One w/ Earth to be notified of these events.

Opening Hours:

Tuesday: 9.00am to 5.00pm

Saturday: 10.00am to 5.00pm

Sunday: 10.00am to 5.00pm

Follow the Illawarra Rhododendron Garden Facebook page

There are public toilets available onsite.

Parking and Transport:

Limited bus services may be available to Mt Pleasant. Parking is provided at $5.00 per vehicle, a donation to assist with the maintenance and upkeep of the gardens, so throw a little extra in, every little bit helps to support purchasing mulch, plants, garden edging etc.

Directions:

The garden has good signage and is easily found on google maps;

Signage and Track Condition:

The gardens are easy to navigate with various pathways throughout the gardens consisting of grass, asphalt, wood and paved areas.

It is very important that individuals stay on the pathways and do not walk through the garden beds. This is not too difficult and is critical to the ongoing integrity and future access of the garden to the public.

Data & Cellular Coverage:

You are still in suburbia so enjoy full coverage – or better still, turn your phone off and enjoy the serenity!

Demographic:

A wonderful location for the less mobile, young children, birdwatchers, photographers or people looking to enjoy a beautiful location in peace.

Fitness:

The gardens are suitable for most mobility levels and is accessible for wheelchairs and prams. No fitness level required, just meander the gardens to your mobility and curiosity.

Hiking Grade: Grade 1

Not an actual hike, it’s just a nice wander on the edge of the escarpment.

Distance and Time:

Take your time and distance accordingly. The gardens are on a couple of acres, you may choose to walk every path, or simply find a nice seat to relax and read a book.

Pollution/Rubbish Status: Grade 1

This is a maintained garden and it is free from rubbish, if you do spot something, just pick it up and dispose of it appropriately.

Prohibited:

All dogs (except for assistance dogs), bikes, fires, camping, smoking and alcohol.

References and Resources:

https://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/4794507/wollongongs-rhododendron-park-can-be-best-in-the-world/

https://www.facebook.com/Illawarra-Rhododendron-Gardens-1484958408431350/

https://illawarraramblers.com.au/a-short-history-of-the-illawarra-rhododendron-gardens/


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