Warrandyte State Park seems to be one of the underappreciated areas of natural beauty in Melbourne. It is the closest state park to the CBD and follows a particularly nice stretch of the Yarra River. And despite its proximity to the eastern suburbs, I had never actually visited. So I decided to give it a try earlier this week.
I am relatively lucky in living within walking/cycling distance of the zone 1 and 2 myki overlap. As a result, I am able to use public transport entirely within zone 2 and save myself a few dollars.
Public transport to Warrandyte is comparatively good on a weekday. Although it involves at least three interchanges between bus lines and a significant amount of time, it is certainly less painful than trying to get anywhere to the south-east or north. The route also took me through the Pines Shopping Centre in Doncaster East; one of my least favourite places in the north-east.
Warrandyte itself has the 906 Smartbus route on 15 minute off-peak headways and several local bus routes that operate more-or-less every half an hour. For what is essentially a country town on the very fringes of Melbourne, this is a pretty good service. Indeed, arguably better than Hurstbridge which has trains operating only every 40 minutes off-peak on weekdays.
Having done some research on the area, I was particularly interested to visit Pound Bend. In 1870, miners excavated a tunnel to divert the Yarra River and expose its riverbed for gold extraction. There is also extensive native vegetation and wildlife nearby.
The Reserve is not very accessible using any non-motorised form of transport. Neither of the two roads that lead to the park entrance have any pedestrian facilities and the nearest bus stop is 1.1 kilometres away. Walking along Pound Road does give you a good taste of Warrandyte as a green wedge suburb. The area is heavily wooded and the density of buildings low. The architecture is very mixed, ranging from modern single storey homes through to older wooden and brick constructions. One thing that they all share is amazing views in at least one direction. It is easy to see why people choose to live here, despite the threat of bushfires and comparative isolation.
After an interesting half an hour dodging smart meter conspiracy signs and speeding cars tearing around blind corners, I arrived at the Pound Bend Reserve entrance.
Before entering the park itself, I noticed a small unsigned goat track that seemed to lead down to the water. It turned out to be an access path for a swimming hole and the eastern entrance of the Pound Bend Tunnel.
At this point in its 242 kilometre journey, the Yarra River is at its best. Wide enough to look like a ‘proper’ river but not spoilt by urban development, bushland comes right down to the water’s edge and lines both sides. The high vantage points on the southern bank provide excellent views of the Yarra and its surroundings. This made photographing the eastern entrance of the tunnel quite difficult and involved a little rock scrambling to get a decent view.
The official viewpoint for the Pound Bend Tunnel is much easier to reach. There is a recently-rebuilt path that leads to both sides of the western entrance where water flows out and rejoins the Yarra River.
The tunnel itself is an impressive feat of engineering. Especially when you consider that it was built through solid rock using little more than hand tools. It is of little practical use today but at least it seems that the local wildlife have found a useful function. Welcome swallows constantly fly through the tunnel from one end to the other, presumably seeking to sweep up any bugs that live in the darkness.
From there I followed the path around Pound Bend following the river. As you might expect, the whole park was teeming with birdlife. Little corellas, kookaburras and all kinds of parrots were among the most common that I heard or saw, but there are many other species that thrive in this area. Apparently there is a colony of koalas here but I didn’t spot any.
After spending an interesting 10 minutes watching a kookaburra hunt for food by diving off tree branches, I exited the park and followed the road towards Warrandyte township. As with Pound Road, there are no pedestrian facilities at all. Despite the cold, rain and lack of footpaths, there were plenty of people using the road on foot. It is good for reclaiming road space from cars but also has safety implications on a narrow and winding country road with no traffic calming and a 50 km/h speed limit.
The centre of Warrandyte is quite pretty and feels very much like a country town. The parkland by the Yarra River has been developed quite nicely with plenty of vegetation, picnic areas and playgrounds. One of the interesting sights is the Taffy Jones Residence near Warrandyte Bridge. According to the information signs, it is the only Warrandyte building to survive the 1939 bushfires. The Black Friday fires destroyed large areas of Victoria, including Warrandyte, Healesville and Warburton.
In a well-sited project, the CFA have developed a ‘Firewise‘ garden made up of native plants that reduces the amount of flammable vegetation close to buildings. It looks like a great initiative that will hopefully encourage people to change their gardens, particularly given its location right next to the burned-out skeleton of the Taffy Jones building.
After a quick walk over to Warrandyte Bridge, I headed back home using a slightly different route through the Pines and Doncaster Park and Ride. For some reason, the 908 Smartbus (the only direct connection to Doncaster Park and Ride) is timetabled to leave the Pines just as the 905 arrives. I might have a closer look at the timetabling at these two interchanges more closely after seeing some similar issues at Park and Ride later in the day.
Pound Bend was almost totally deserted when I visited. There were two other cars in the carpark and nobody walking on the paths. It seems strange that such a beautiful spot does not seem to be very popular, but I suppose this is one of its advantages. The area is definitely worth a visit. If you are interesting in swimming, there are a couple of good swimming holes along the river. If not, there are plenty of other things to see and do.