Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay is truly a hidden sanctuary on the edge of Sydney Harbour. It is the most beautiful, tranquil maze of winding paths, towering fig trees and picnic nooks, all looking out at the world class view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I've come across a few photos of this view on instagram and it has since been on my list of places to explore. I was honestly just expecting a lookout with a view worthy of a social media tag but what I discovered so much more; a story of love, family, loss, creativity and determination. It was the perfect afternoon for some quality family time; relaxing in nature while marvelling at still being surrounded by the hustle of Sydney Harbour.
Firstly, I’ll start with a bit of a back story to these wonderful public gardens, because it’s an astounding tale. The gardens are literally a living work of art, created over 20 years by Wendy Whiteley, wife of the late renowned artist,Brett Whiteley. After Brett’s passing in 1992, in an effort to feel more control in her life during the grieving process, Wendy started clearing the neglected, railway owned land across from their Lavender Bay home. Wendy and her daughter Arkie continued to clear the land, without gaining any formal permission and without any formal horticultural knowledge, and created the peaceful forest of towering fig trees and both native and exotic plants. Tragically, Arkie, Wendy and Brett’s only child passed away in 2001 at the age of thirty seven. The grief once again propelled Wendy to continue to design the truly magnificent masterpiece of nature that can now be enjoyed by anyone who stumbles across it.
Now Wendy’s Secret Garden is truly a secret and kind of hard to find, although it does show up on google maps! Thank goodness for modern technology. We followed google maps to Lavender Cresent and parked our car on the top side of Watt Park. Farley had drifted off to sleep on the drive but Hallie was awake so I put Hallie in the ergo while Braino waited in the car with Farley, and set of on a bit of a location reece. I walked down to the bottom of Watt Park, through the tunnel under the train tracks, along Railway Ave and then back through another little tunnel and up a large set of stairs. A lady who was standing at the bottom of the stairs even asked me, 'Are you looking for Wendy's Secret Garden?'. 'Yes!' I replied enthusiastically, thinking to myself how it truly is a secret. After a brief conversation, I headed up the stairs and found the entrance to the right.
It was absolute bliss to just wander and explore by myself for a while. And by 'by myself' I'm including Hallie who was strapped to me in the ergo, because, let's be honest, that is pretty much how I live my life these days. Having one kid to look after is as close to alone time as I get. There were a number of other interesting characters in the gardens too. The guy who looked like he set up his home office at a picnic table, overlooking the view; the group of young 20 somethings enjoying craft beer and cider, another group of hipsters playing uno around a picnic table, two friends catching up over wine and cheese, another couple who may have been on an awkward date, a man siting on the edge of a path drawing in his sketch book. And later on we even witnessed a marriage proposal, complete with a photographer! I nearly cried, it was so lovely! After a bit of wandering Hallie started to grizzle and squirm so I sat on a bench and breastfeed her, and just really felt so relaxed and at peace.
We were then joined by Braino and Farley and had some afternoon snacks. There are rusted artefacts like scooters, tricycles, wheelbarrows and watering cans scattered around the gardens so Farley had fun investigating those. While we didn't see any lizards (her favourite thing to look for) we did see a bush turkey and kookaburra. We just let Farley lead the way along the paths and enjoyed looking at the different plants and flowers. Note to parents - the gardens are set on a bit of a steep hillside so some of the paths have quite a drop off to one side. Definitely keep an eye on little ones as they don't fall. I did see one older kids having a great time running through the paths but I was actually surprised by how few families were there.
The bonus to Wendy's Secret Garden is quite a good playground in the neighbouring Watt Park. We had a play there on our way back to car. It's well equipped with slides, swings, climbing frames, a merry-go-round and a little boat that rocks. I've included some photos at the bottom of this post.
Overall, I loved Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden, I was really personally touched by the story behind the creation of the gardens and loved that a place like this exists for gatherings, relaxation and reflection in nature. It's a great way to enjoy the outdoors with your little ones and best of all, it's free!
TIPS & INFORMATION
- Address: Lavender St, Lavender Bay, Sydney 2060
- Getting there: If you are driving and using your phone for directions you should be able to enter Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden and have it show up on google maps. If not, try Lavender Cresent or Watt Park or Clark Park. The gardens are an 8 minute walk from either Milson's Point Train Station or North Sydney Train Station. There are also bus stops along Lavender Street.
- Pram Friendly: Nooooo! 100% not pram friendly. The gardens have lots of stairs and the paths are narrow, winding and not sealed, just dirt. I'd highly recommend wearing your baby in a baby carrier like an ergo. If you did have a pram, you could walk down via Clark Park and enjoy the view from the first picnic table you'll come across at the very start of the gardens, but you won't be able to venture much further in.
- Shade / Sun Protection: The gardens are quite dense, with lots of trees providing shade but sun production is always recommended.
- Public Toilets: The closest public toilets are located at the bottom of the stairs that lead from the entrance to the gardens down to the walkway off Railway Ave. It's just a small toilet block with combined unisex and wheelchair accessible toilet. Baby change facilities are very limited.
- Dining options: There isn't a cafe or kisok within the Gardens but it's the perfect place to BYO picnic and drinks. There is a near by cafe called Windy Willow Cafe, on the edge of Clark Park.
- Head to the website for further information - www.wendyssecretgarden.org.au