Part of the special magic that is BIG4 Castlemaine Gardens Holiday Park is its next door neighbour - the famous Castlemaine Botanical Gardens. Designed and opened in the early 1860's and one of Victoria's earliest botanic gardens, it is home to noted heritage-listed native and exotic trees, beautiful walking tracks, shady picnic areas, abundant bird life, and an award-winning creative play area for children.
The BIG4 Castlemaine site was once part of the original gardens. Although they are still trying to trace all the details (with help from Castlemaine's wonderful Historical Society), it seems that around 1929 the local council at the time requested a portion of the Botanical Gardens be set aside as a Motor Camping Place. This was refused, on the basis that the land was for the Botanical Gardens, but by the late 1940s it seems a camping ground had quietly taken shape on the site with council carrying out some supporting works.
There were more changes to the land use designations over the following years, and some land from the original gardens was excised for the use of the Benevolent Asylum and Hospital (now Castlemaine Health and the local hospital). By the 1960's what is now BIG4 was officially the Castlemaine Municipal Caravan Park, with 50 caravan sites. A brochure from the time reads:
"If you believe that the best holiday of all is one in your own home on wheels, Castlemaine offers you the freedom of a Park of 45 acres . Adjoining the beautiful Botanical Gardens and planted with many varieties of pine trees by Baron Von Mueller this piece of land was set aside as a Caravan Park by the Town Council in 1956. The Council is pursuing a vigorous policy to attract tourists to the area and even in the last 12 months a further 1,100 pounds has been given to additional amenities.
"We hope that every day of your stay in the Castlemaine Caravan Park will be a happy adventure, that skies will be cloudless and that your dreams as you sleep under the fragrant pine trees will be rosy ones indeed"
Those pine trees, planted by Baron Von Mueller who designed the original Botanical Gardens back in the 1860s are still on the site today and form part of the beautiful backdrop to the park as guests enter. Not surprisingly they are noted as significant by Heritage Victoria.
The reception office and the caretaker's cottage at the entry also date back to the design and layout of the original gardens. An original residence was built in 1866 for the curator of the gardens and that was replaced in the early 20th century by the current cottage. The botanical gardens' curator from 1866 to 1913 was Phillip Doran, and Doran Avenue, the official road entrance to the park, is named after him.
Finally, the conservatory next to the caretaker's cottage, on the right as you enter BIG4 Castlemaine, was built in 1960, replacing a similar structure that had been built much earlier - no doubt much used by Mr Doran to propagate and tend some of his exotic plants!
So if you've ever wondered about the very special feel of BIG4 Castlemaine, with its unique views across the Botanical Gardens and the majestic backdrop of trees wherever you look, it's because the site was once a beautiful and meticulously planned gardens cape. No wonder it's so lovely!