A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if the kids and I would like to go on a picnic to the Mount Lofty Botanical Garden. Since we’d never actually been before, but we knew that the whole area was very pretty in Autumn, it sounded like another fabulous South Australian destination to see before we head overseas. We made a date and decided to meet up at the entrance to the Garden, one cool Autumn Friday a couple of weeks ago. The great thing about homeschooling my kids, is that we get to enjoy visiting places when there are fewer people around and it is lovely and quiet! Between us we had four children aged 2 to 12 and an enormous picnic, but beyond that, no expectations or plans for the afternoon.
The thing that struck the children and I as we headed just a half an hour out of the city toward the summit, was just how incredibly beautiful the entire area was. The kids who had been singing in the back seat most of the way went quiet when we reached the leafy green, tree lined streets of Mount Lofty. There are beautiful houses tucked in behind the enormous gum trees, with driveways hidden by the dense vegetation. Despite the bushfire risk in the hot South Australian summers, during the cooler months, the residents of the Adelaide Hills truly live in heaven on earth. The air felt cool and damp when we arrived at the Botanic Garden, and a slight breeze still blew golden and copper leaves from the trees. ‘Wow!’ we all said as we climbed out of the car, how had we never been here before?
The Mount Lofty Botanical Garden covers around 100 hectares of native bush land, which has been magically transformed by talented teams of gardeners into a breathtaking cool temperate garden. The garden opened to the public in 1977, and a small parking fee ($2) helps keep it so beautifully maintained. Free guided walks are offered every Thursday morning in Autumn, or there are detailed maps available for visitors in the carpark, (also free) if you’d rather explore on your own. On the day that we visited, we barely saw any other visitors and the carpark was nearly empty. With the picnic area all to ourselves, we let the children kick a ball around and run free over the fallen leaves. I think my friend and I must have exclaimed at least a half a dozen times over lunch how incredibly beautiful the entire area is, I was sorely disappointed when I realised that I’d forgotten my camera at home!
After lunch, we packed the remains of our picnic back into the cars, and set about exploring some of the walking paths with the children. If we were impressed by our initial view of the lake and picnic area, that was nothing compared to the surprise that we were in for next. We wandered around the main lake, and then by a second one filled with water lilies. There are park benches all along the walking trails to rest on, some exquisitely hidden in the foliage or in a pretty gazebo beside the water. But, best of all was our discovery of a narrow winding path through a fern garden. Along one edge of path was a low moss covered wall, on the other, a trickle of water from the first rains of the season. The children all said they felt like they were walking in a fairy wonderland. The boys ran on ahead, collecting sticks and hiding in the undergrowth. The girls collected scarlet leaves, and ran their hands gently over the carpet of moss. Then with huge disappointment, we realised that we’d lost track of time. The park was due to close in half an hour, and the gates would soon be locked for the evening.
Invigorated by our afternoon stroll in the cool mountain air, we made our way back to the cars, and vowed that we must visit again! Mount Lofty Botanic Garden turned out to be one of the most enjoyable day trips that I’ve ever had in South Australia. On the way home, the kids and I made a pact to return soon with the camera, and for the next week and a half we sang the praises of Mount Lofty to anyone that would listen. Then, a couple of days ago, I woke early and went for my run. The air was cool, damp and very foggy. By the time I’d completed my run, I’d made up my mind that it was a perfect day to return to Mount Lofty, so with lots of excitement, (much to their disgust at 7am) I woke the children with my plans.
This time we decided to take my mother with us. Instead of going through the city this time, I used Google Maps to find a winding scenic route through the hills from Gawler to Mount Lofty. I’m so glad we did! Mum has arthritis and doesn’t walk much, so taking in such a scenic drive added to the day, but without putting too much pressure on her. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the drive, spotting farm animals and kangaroos along the way. They loved the tight bends of the road, and the sheer drops down the side of the mountains. The clouds hung very low, threatening rain, so we travelled prepared with warm rain coats, and at about 12C, it was very chilly for us soft Australians! This time, with camera in hand, we enjoyed sharing our beautiful garden discovery with Mum. Oscar, feeling braver on his second visit, ran on ahead to conquer new paths. Without fear, he disappeared through the undergrowth, then emerged a few minutes later, grinning triumphantly. Lucy wandered slowly with her Grandmother. They both enjoy each others company, and share a wicked sense of humour; they laughed at Oscar’s muddy bottom when he slid down the hillside, and at his discomfort as a large swan snapped too close to his small fingers.
The map of the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden shows a castle at the top of the summit. You can see it from down in the garden, but it’s steeper and further than I’d attempt with two children and my mother, so we decided to go for a drive to try and find it, and also visit the lookout at Mount Lofty Summit. Less than 10 minutes along a steep winding, narrow road, and we reached the top, and the castle, which turned out to be a private residence. We don’t have any real castles in Australia, so the children are desperate to visit a real one in Europe later in the year. Luckily, to distract Oscar from his disappointment, the castle home is right next door to the Visitor Information Centre.
The Mount Lofty Summit Visitor Information Centre has a small gift shop, well appointed cafe and the most stunning views from the lookout of Adelaide in it’s entirety. North to south and coast to hills, you can see all of it from up there. The view is precious, even on a grey day when visibility is poor. We decided to round off our perfect day, by warming up in the excellent cafe with some afternoon tea before heading back though the North Eastern suburbs, and home again.
Mount Lofty Botanic Garden and the surrounding area has turned out to be a real discovery in our home town, I’m so glad that we’ve had two glorious visits there in just a couple of weeks… I wonder if we can sneak in another one before we go?