Not always does our physical mobility give us the luxury of escaping deep into the bush of the escarpment.
Thankfully, Wollongong gets to enjoy a beautiful garden that fuses native bushland with a majestic, botanically rich garden.
The Illawarra Rhododendron Garden has a luscious location, where the rainforest from the northern side of Mount Keira gracefully merges with blooms, ponds, nested gazebos and stunning indigenous plant species.
In 1968, the quest was on to find a site in the Illawarra to make 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 Mount 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 - with the natural bushland seamlessly integrated at every opportunity.
The gardens are maintained to an extraordinary standard by volunteers, funded by donations only. Knowing this, and seeing volunteers at work, helps you appreciate the enormity of their effort, hard work and commitment.
The society asks for a small donation of $5 per car. If you can dig deeper, rest assured your money is going to new plantings and maintenance of the gardens. Volunteers are encouraged to help out on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so if you have a green thumb, this might be for you.
The garden is easily found in suburban Mount Pleasant and has an accessible car park. The garden is romantic (perfect for weddings) and quaint (perfect for parties), and allows you to wander through secret pathways, with flowers brushing past your face and glimmers of the magnificent Mount Keira peering over you.
There's no set way to see the garden - the signage in the car park will give you some general directions - but it's certainly nice to take your time to explore.
Read more: Mystical Drawing Room Rocks trail guide
There are a number of undercover gazebos and picnic areas, so even if the weather takes a bad turn, you can still enjoy your time here (I went on a wet day and it was certainly magical in the fog).
It's 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 that you can touch and feel the bush around you, ponder on the wonderful old trees and, of course, listen to the beautiful birds singing.
This is a perfect way to introduce young kids to nature as a stepping stone to bushwalking, and a wonderful place for people who require pathways that cater for mobility aids.
There is a back gate in the gardens that suggests access to the Mount Keira Ring Track 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 tracks, 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.
Tuesday - 9am to 5pm
Saturday - 10am to 5pm
Sunday - 10am to 5pm
There are public toilets in the park.
Parking and transport
Limited bus services may be available to Mount Pleasant. Parking is provided at $5 per vehicle, a donation to assist with the maintenance and upkeep of the gardens, so consider throwing in a little extra. Every bit helps to purchase mulch, plants, garden edging and more.
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 and cellular coverage
You are still in suburbia so enjoy full coverage - or better still, turn your phone off and enjoy the serenity.
A wonderful location for the less mobile, young children, birdwatchers, photographers or people looking to enjoy a beautiful location in peace.
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.
Dogs (except for assistance dogs), bikes, fires, camping, smoking and alcohol.