Hanami Day in Olinda

I had a quiet Sunday afternoon to myself today so I sporadically decided to head for the National Rhododendron Garden in Olinda for Hanami Day.

Hanami Day has its origins in Japan. Hanami, or flower viewing, is the centuries-old Japanese tradition of enjoying flowers. In Japan, the focus of this enjoyment concentrates on the stunning cherry blossom or sakura. The sakura bloom in Japan from early March to May and there is a short window of opportunity, lasting only a week or two, when you can view cherry blossoms in their full splendour. Hanami is a big deal in Japan, but not as widely-known in Australia. Or, so I thought…

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My last-minute plan for Hanami Day was simple – finish my to-do list in the morning, eat a quick lunch then reward myself with a relaxing afternoon meandering through paths lined with cherry blossoms and marvelling the natural beauty on show. Olinda is only a lazy, 30-minute drive from my house so I was also keen for the drive through The Basin and Sassafras before reaching Olinda too.

Just shy of only a couple of kilometres from Sassafras, the traffic stopped. Was there an accident further up the road? Did a eucalypt fall? Knowing that the bushland in The Dandenongs is dense, I blindly assumed the latter.

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An hour after leaving home, I finally reached Sassafras. The traffic remained at a snail’s pace so I decided to park the car and walk to Olinda. “I could walk faster than this traffic,” I thought. My walk proved to be quite invigorating; the air was fresh, the smell of spring was in the air and I was edging closer to the National Rhododendron Garden. What I also discovered, was that there were no fallen trees and no accidents. All of this traffic was heading in the direction of Hanami Day.

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Olinda was packed! There were people everywhere. There were cars everywhere. It was bedlam everywhere! I finally reached the Garden where I wandered the Cherry Walk leading through lush grounds. Families were sprawled across picnic rugs, paper lanterns hung from over-hanging branches and cameras were pointed in all directions. Some women were even dressed up in colourful kimonos. Japan’s Hanami Day is renowned for sakura parties and celebration. And, judging from the crowds and happy faces, I guessed that the party was in full swing even before I arrived!

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There was a wonderful itinerary of activities planned by the Garden to help celebrate its Hanami Day. There were bonsai stalls, traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, koto demonstrations and activities for the kids such as origami. Due to the traffic, my spontaneity and unexpected walk into town, I missed most of it. But what I didn’t miss were the beautiful flowers and plants on display from rhododendrons to crab apples, pines and, of course, cherry blossoms.

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It was lovely smelling the sweet perfume in the air and eyeing off some adorable flowers. Though, a little more pre-planning would’ve been handy if I wanted to experience Hanami Day in its entirety. I guess there’s always next year!

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The National Rhododendron Garden is open 10am to 5pm daily and entry is free. The Georgian Road, Olinda Victoria 3788.

Hanami Day is celebrated each year and entry is free too. Check the National Rhododendron Garden website for announcements.