Perfect picnic outing or lovely spot to take the kids for a bike ride while exploring a bit of nature – Jells Park is beautiful park with loads to offer.
Where: Waverly Rd, Wheelers Hill VIC 3150, click here for map.
Age: There is open water and snake risk in bushy scrub – so brief kids and keep and eye on toddlers
There was a period when I was a kid that we used to go to Jells Park quite often (perhaps it was only five times, but it left an impression). It turns out my memories of the park seem a little different to the park today – I am not sure if that’s because things have changed or if my memory is messing with me, or maybe we only went to one corner of the park? Last year on route to the Dandenongs I decided, on a whim, to try and find Jells from memory – although I was in the right vicinity the road I thought I needed to be on was actually one block the other way (and heading in the opposite direction) so we didn’t find it and we only had 5 minutes to be lost so I didn’t bother with Google maps right then and there… I was however determined that the next time I had a free half day (and a car) I was going to make an expedition to re-discover Jells Park.
So in Spring 2012 Charlie and I made a mid week visit – it was just after school drop off and it had been raining heavily since early morning, but thankfully the rain cleared up just before we arrived. Needless to say the grass was wet and I wished we’d brought gum boots as it was generally a bit soggy underfoot if you strayed off the path, and Charlie (4) doesn’t do paths.
My childhood memory is of long dry grass and big gum trees. I remember a fantastic adventure playground which was the first of its kind (that we’d ever encountered). Today there seems to be more open spaces and the grass is manicured and lush green. The adventure playground that is there could be the same one, but I don’t recall it being on a hill and I can’t remember enough detail about the actual structure to say if the play equipment is the same. I also don’t recall Jells Lake (although I read that this is man-made so maybe it’s a recent addition?). I should point out that the last time I went to Jells Park was more than 30 years ago – it’s very possible that it’s changed in that time. I can tell you though – the wood BBQs are still the same! If you’re reading this and you are more familiar with the history – please I’d love to know how wonky my memory is…
We had a lovely wander about that morning – checking out the playgrounds (there are three) and having a morning coffee in the Cafe (babychino got 5 stars, coffee and service got 2 stars). And I vowed that we had to come back in summertime with bikes or scooters and spend more time – I am also hopeless at organising (and catering for) picnics but Jells Park is my top pick for a picnic spot, there are 27 hectares of parklands and I was unable to count how many different picnic spots I saw (some were even under cover).
So fast forward almost six months and on a sunny Sunday afternoon the kids and I pack their bikes into the boot of the car and head off for the afternoon. When we arrived we parked in what I can only describe as the bottom car park (if you enter from Waverly Road then keep left until you reach a car park and can go no further). I let the kids choose our direction so we headed off along the path and took the left turn and headed into the Conservation Area – the eastern side of the lake is all protected wilderness (no dogs allowed). It was a pretty little path with some very picturesque outlooks across the water and we saw lots of bird life along the way. There were also some fishing platforms and a bird watching hut. If you did the full circuit of the lake it’s about 2.5km, so not an arduous hike and the path is flat.
Once we’d done the full lap of the lake we stopped at the sandy banks near the biggest jetty (looking back up the hill at the cafe and visitors centre) and there were children paddling in the shallows so of course my two had to leap in too… the water was pretty murky so they were only allowed ankle deep and in their ten minute paddle they managed to pull out a very rusted mobile phone (circa 1999) and a set of keys – and which point paddle time was abruptly wrapped up (before they pulled out a body!).
With the promise of a visit to the playground they zipped up the hill on their bikes only to stop half way to admire some kite flying.
It was a seriously gorgeous day and it felt like every picnic spot was being utilised – but, while there was a definite friendly buzz in the air, with so much space it really felt comfortably busy. BBQ smells filled the air, there were cricket matches going on, dogs going for walks, families bike riding and the Yabbie Hill Playground was busy – but not crowded. We walked passed the cafe (Madeline’s) and it looked busy – all the outside tables were full as well as inside.
Jells Park is about a 25 minute drive from the city.
The only detriment to this beautiful park is the power-lines in the background – an unfortunate blight on what is otherwise an incredibly picture perfect park. Next time you’re looking for a picnic destination – head to Jells Park!
For more information check the information sheet here.