The Briars Homestead and Wetlands is managed by the shire of Mornington. It is situated in Mt Martha, just off the Nepean Highway. The driveway from the highway is quite long and you quickly forget you were anywhere near a main road. Cattle wander along the drive amid farming relics of bygone days that litter the fields. It’s all very picturesque and rather romantic.
The Briars’ Homestead
The homestead sits amidst 230 hectares of wonderful bushland, packed full of native flora and fauna. It is steeped in history. The homestead was the former family home of the Balcombe family from 1846 until 1976 when the owners donated the homestead to the National Trust while the farm was sold to Mornington Shire who subsequently developed the farm area as a park and native wildlife reserve.
The Briars’ Homestead is famous for its historic links to Napoleon. Although Napoleon never came to Australia, he did stay at the Balcombe’s estate in St Helena while he was in exile. This was also called The Briars. Napoleon was treated like family during his stay and became very close to the Balcombes. In 1824 the Balcombe family moved to Sydney when William Balcombe was appointed First Colonial Treasurer. William’s son, William, was given a land grant in NSW and he named it The Briars after their St Helena home. Alexander, another son, lived there for some time before moving to Schnapper Point at Mornington and settling at Tichingorouk whose name he later changed to The Briars. The Balcombe family has a very interesting family history, more of which can be read here: Balcombe Family History
The Briars Homestead is open to the public between 10am and 4pm. An entry fee applies to enter the homestead.
Walking Tracks at The Briars
There are a number of different tracks to choose from. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a koala or two. We often see swamp wallabies and occasionally grey kangaroos. There are also 3 emus roaming around the park, introduced in late 2011 and quite happy for walkers to come across them while they’re strutting through the bush. Tiger snakes and Lowland copperhead snakes are a part of the landscape so please take care on warmer days. You may also see a blue tongued lizard or a skink along the dirt track.
Access to the park reserve is free. The gates are open from 9am and close at 4.30pm. The park is closed on days of high fire risk.
Emus at The Briars, Mt Martha
Commencing at the gate on the eastern side of the Visitor Centre, this 350 metre boardwalk leads to the Boonoorong and Chechingurk hides. The area, once part of the farm, has been planted with indigenous species and includes several wetlands built on the Balcombe Creek floodplain. This walk connects with the Tichingoroke Link and the Wetlands Viewpoint another 400 metres on. The Viewpoint is not wheelchair or pushchair accessible.
The Woodland and Kur-Bur-Rer Walks commence at the gate on the western side of the Visitor Centre and lead across Stockleys Creek to the Balcombe Creek ford and bridge. Turn right for the 2 kilometre Woodland Walk. At first the path meanders through high quality Manna and Swamp Gum woodland and then more open country where cattle once grazed. Koalas can sometimes be spotted in the manna gums and swamp wallabies in the bush. After approximately 1 kilometre is the Wetlands Viewpoint from which the Tichingoroke Link leads back to the wetlands, hides and Visitor Centre.
This walk, of approximately 4 kilometres, is named after the Boonoorong name for the Koala. From Balcombe Creek, take the fire trail on the left uphill for a short distance and cross the stile on the left to commence the walk. Koalas are often spotted around K1 and emus are regularly spotted along the fence line. Eastern Grey Kangaroos hide in the grassy woodlands a bit further along. Upon reaching the fire trail again, cross directly over and the vegetation soon changes again to a dense scrub woodland as you descend to Balcombe Creek. The walk then follows the creek with great views of reed swamps and farmland to the south before reaching the Wetlands Viewpoint. Choose between the Tichingoroke Link and the Woodland Walk to return to the Visitor Centre.
Emu on the Kur-bur-rer Track
Balcombe and Harrap Creek Walkways
From the Briars Visitor Centre these walks lead west to Mount Martha Beach and north to Craigie Road respectively. Turn right about 250 metres along the path for the Harrap Creek walkway. The creek has formed a steep-sided valley which is unique on the Mornington Peninsula. It is approximately 850 metres to Craigie Road and you can continue as far as Civic Reserve in Mornington.
The Balcombe Creek walkway takes you under Nepean Highway to the Balcombe Estuary Boardwalk – seven kilometres return. The vegetation along the estuary is mostly Swamp Scrub of paperbark trees. The creek is the last unspoilt waterway entering Port Phillip Bay.
The Boonoorong and Chechingurk Bird Hides can be reached via the boardwalk from the Visitors Centre. Bring your binoculars and your camera as there’s always interesting birds to spot around the wetlands. We’ve seen yellow spoonbills, swamp harriers, purple swamp hens, black swans, dotterels, great egret, herons as well as the ubiquitous coots, moorhens and ducks. This walk is suitable for wheelchairs and visitors of all abilities.
Great Egret – Tichingorouk Lake
Other things to do:
The visitor centre located by the car park is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable rangers who will tell you where you are most likely to spot wildlife. There is a large visual plan of the estate and lots of information on the flora and fauna within the estate.
There are also the gardens to visit, a vineyard, a nursery specialising in indigenous plants a picnic area with BBQ facilities, Josephine’s restaurant and a sustainable living and gardening display at the Eco Living Display Centre.
Swamp Wallaby, The Briars