With school holidays coming to an end, you may be looking for ideas to entertain the kids for the last couple of days. Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens offer a feeling of adventure for the whole family, with the opportunity to discover a wide variety of flowers and plant life within its 97ha.
The gardens are dedicated to the world’s cool-climate plants and engage all the senses, showcasing a landscape full of rich colours.
I suggest wearing comfortable shoes, packing your camera and plenty of snacks, and seeing where the trails lead you. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make it all the way to the Summit; there are plenty of meandering nature trails that kids will love to explore.
But if the vibe from the family is still positive after wandering around the gardens, why not keep going towards the Summit?
Trail: There are a couple of options, depending on where you parked the car. We parked in the lower carpark and meandered through the trails in the Botanic Garden, then on to Crafers Trail and Mt Lofty Summit. If you park in the upper carpark, you can head straight for the Crafers – Mt Lofty Summit Trail.
Access: About 18km south-east of the Adelaide CBD – follow the highway and take the Crafers exit. Then turn off at Mount Lofty Summit Road for the upper carpark, or at Piccadilly and Lampert Road for the lower carpark.
Rating: Easy to challenging, depending on the mood of your child.
Length: You can make it as long as you like, but the walk to the Summit and back is a little over 10km.
Time: About 3 hours at a moderate pace, allowing for plenty of stopping along the way.
When my family did our walk on New Year’s Eve, the weather was perfect – mid-20s with plenty of cloud cover. We were the only car in the lower carpark off Lampert Road (parking costs $1 for the first hour or $2 for the day).
From here, we made our way to the beautiful main lake. There is a 1km loop around this lake that it is suitable for everyone – families with prams, the elderly and people with disabilities. The trail opened in 2015 and features eight artworks, each with a message (translated into braille) about people, plants and the environment.
At the northern end of the lake we started walking through the gardens, heading in a general western direction towards the upper carpark. It was great to watch our six-year-old stop along the way, checking out all the different plants and listening to the birds.
If you prefer a more designated path, look out for the Heysen Trail/Nature Trail markers.
After a very peaceful walk along the winding trails we arrived at the upper carpark. From there you can head out the main gate, up Mawson Drive and out to Mount Lofty Summit Road.
The mistake we made was turning right on Mount Lofty Summit Road, which meant we had to spend some of the next 500m walking on the road. This is not advisable, especially with small children, and can be avoided by turning left, and then right on Summer Hill Drive. Although this is still a minor road, it is much safer. Either way, turn right and you will be on the Crafers Trail (trail markers are blue).
The Crafers to Mount Lofty Trail meanders under the eucalypt forest canopy of Cleland Conservation Park. There were plenty of points of interest along the way for my little one. Look out for kangaroos and koalas.
There were a few times where we got the usual, “How much longer”? Or “Are we almost there?” It is impossible to explain to a kid that there is still 2km to go (including a 400m steep incline to the Summit) – “but it’s going to be so much fun!” Constant distraction and encouragement proved to be the best response. Stop whenever you can for snacks and drinks, and be prepared to turn back if they’ve had enough.
The Crafers Trail joins the Waterfall Gully Trail at the Youth Hostel. This is the marker for 400m to the end, and was also the start of my son having a meltdown. I relented and gave him a piggy back to the stairs before crossing Mount Lofty Summit Road, even though it almost killed me. At that point he looked up and asked: “Is our car parked at the top”?
Informed that we had to get to the top of the Summit and then walk all the way back to the car, he actually started crying (which is how many adults probably also feel while trekking Lofty, even if they manage to hide it).
We spent the next 200 metres encouraging him to the top, channelling celebrity trainer Michelle Bridges with phrases like “You’re almost there!” and “You’re so close!” As soon as he could visualise the end, he challenged me in a race to the finish – and won.
Just like the rest of us, he soon forgot about the challenge of getting there, running and jumping all over the place.
We took a short break at the café, then set off back to the car – so much easier and quicker than the hike up.
Tip: Download the Avenza PDF Map app so you can access interactive maps when you need them. The app allows you to download National Parks SA maps and uses your device’s built-in GPS to plot your real-time location within the park onto a map. You can also download your Mount Lofty maps here, and keep up to date with latest park alerts.
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