Saturday 5 June 2021. On the second Saturday of Melbourne’s fourth Covid lockdown, we decided to cycle to the lovely Royal Botanic Gardens, which happily lay within our ten-kilometre lockdown radius. We set out and soon arrived at the Footscray Road bike path, where, as part of Melbourne’s massive Westgate Tunnel Project, construction of an elevated two-and-a-half-kilometre ‘veloway’ – a bicycle freeway – is currently underway, with a number of enormous support columns already in place. The bicycle path along Footscray Road crosses a number of roads coming out of Melbourne’s freight terminals, so does not make for the most pleasant of rides. Nevertheless it is quick and direct into Melbourne’s central business district, and we were soon swinging around onto Harbour Esplanade, altogether more relaxing.
Harbour Esplanade, running north–south through Melbourne’s relatively new Docklands district, passes NewQuay (without the space), with its mostly bland mid-rise apartment and office buildings and super-expensive yachts. It’s still kind of interesting though. We zipped along Harbour Esplanade through Docklands: past the Geelong and Portarlington ferry terminal; past Docklands Park; under the Charles Grimes Bridge via the Jim Stynes Bridge – a colonial surveyor and an AFL footballer respectively – with the wonderful Mission to Seafarers building on our left; and across the Yarra River via the Seafarers Bridge onto Orrs Walk, crossed Clarendon St onto Yarra Promenade, then crossed Queens Bridge St onto Southbank Promenade.
Southbank Promenade runs for around one kilometre to the Arts Centre. As the name suggests, it is a pedestrian zone, full of shopping and eating opportunities. Despite (or because of) lockdown, the promenade was busy today, with sightseers, would-be shoppers, joggers, cyclists and strollers all taking the air on a cold but fine day. With the Yarra River on our left, we carefully zig-zagged our way along, passing countless restaurants en route (take-away only), and arrived at the Arts Centre. We cycled under Princes Bridge, along which runs St. Kilda Rd, and reached Boathouse Drive, lined with boathouses operated by private schools and rowing clubs. Continuing along Boathouse Dr, still following the course of the Yarra, we skirted Alexandra Gardens and then swung down onto the Main Yarra Trail. The Main Yarra Trail runs for thirty-three kilometres from Princes Bridge to Westerfolds Park in Templestowe. After a kilometre or so we reached Morell Bridge, listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as the first reinforced concrete bridge built in Victoria.
Leaving the Main Yarra Trail, we rode up the embankment by Morell Bridge and crossed Alexandra Ave to the start of Anderson St, which marks the eastern boundary of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Anderson St is known for its challenging hill, which we just about managed. Anderson St is also the home of Melbourne Girls Grammar, an Anglican school for the well-heeled. After some effort we arrived at Gate C of the gardens, very close to the marvellous Guilfoyle’s Volcano. We entered and walked down to the Eastern Lawn, where we managed to find a bench, and proceeded to have afternoon tea.
As we sat we wondered at the number of people in the gardens that day, surely more than would normally be visiting of a Saturday afternoon. And a considerably younger profile too. Of course it was due to lockdown: with alternative (commercial) activities unavailable, people spent their time utilising open public spaces. And why not?
Afternoon tea eaten (and drunk), we walked back towards Gate C to look at the new Arid Garden, an edifying and aesthetically pleasing triumph. Following the wanton vandalisation in 2013 of the previous Arid Garden, during which 80% of the cacti and succulents were destroyed, a new Arid Garden opened in December 2020 featuring thousands of specimens from hundreds of species donated by a number of private collectors, including the entire collection of the late Ralph Field via his son Robert of Field Cactus Farm in Tennyson, northern Victoria – one of the most significant cactus collections in the country – and that of former president of the Cacti and Succulent Society of Australia Robert Stevenson. The garden is wonderful; I find cacti (not so much succulents) beautiful and interesting and fascinating. Then, after a quick turn around the equally marvellous Guilfoyle’s Volcano, we cycled home.