10 outdoor activities around Canberra

By Amy Middleton 11 August 2011
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Here are 10 top ways to get close to nature or experience the outdoors around our nation’s capital.

MORE SO THAN OTHER major Australian cities, Canberra’s top cultural attractions are mostly within close reach of one another. One good way to get around the city’s main drawcards is on a bicycle.

But beyond the historical and the parliamentary are the natural attractions, some of which require a little more exertion than a leisurely pedal down a leafy street. Here are 10 activities to get you outdoors in and around our nation’s capital.

1. Bushwalking at Namadgi National Park

Head to Namadgi National Park, around 45 minutes out of the city centre by car, for bushwalks to accommodate all skill levels. Camp overnight, or pay a day visit, and plan your bushwalk at the information centre. The walk to the historic homestead from the Orroral campground is highly recommended. It takes just over an hour both ways, and bypasses roos, birds, pastures and a relic of colonial Australia.

2. Birdwatching/walking at Jerrabomberra Wetlands

A prime example of the accessibility of Canberra’s attractions is the man-made Jerrabomberra Wetlands, happily situated on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. A refuge for scores of waterbird and other natives species, this section of the Canberra Nature Park facilitates easy walking and good exploration of floodplains. Insects can be a problem in warmer months, so take some repellent.

3. Snow play at Mt Selwyn

When the weather’s chilly there are myriad snowy locations within driving distance, but it’s important to keep an eye on road closures. Mt Selwyn is a nicely built-up, tourist-friendly option, around 2.5 hours out of the city in NSW’s Kosciuszko National Park. You’ll need chains on your 2WD, which you can hire from the local service station, and a daily National Park vehicle fee applies. Once you’re in though, the snowfields are as rewarding as some of Australia’s top skiing and snowboarding meccas.

4. Caving at Wee Jasper Caves

The location of Wee Jasper Caves is almost an attraction in itself. Between a stunning river and the foothills of the Brindabella Ranges, about an hour out of Canberra and just over the border in NSW, is this beautiful site for exemplary underground exploration. Renowned Carey’s Cave provides a gateway into what looks like a mystical crystal palace. Abseil, horse-ride or take a walking fossil tour. You’ll be tempted to spend a couple of days here, particularly if the weather is nice.

5. Kayak on Lake Burley Griffin

The artificial lake, around which Canberra lies, literally can’t be missed – simply because it’s so huge, covering 664ha. Festivals and events take place around its shores, but the lake itself serves as a playground for watercraft. Canoe and kayak clubs offer boats for hire for reasonable prices, and that vastness of the 11km-long waterbody gives you a sense of freedom. A great alternative to appreciating the lake by bicycle.

6. Abseiling at Namadgi National Park

Back in Namadgi – the local Aboriginal word for the mountains south-west of Canberra – Cotter Rocks, 1550m above sea level, has a good array of starting points and challenges for both beginners and keen abseilers. The experience can be anything from harness lessons with feet on land, to scaling rockfaces upwards of 20m off the ground. Views are spectacular.

7. Hot air ballooning

There are a number of hot air balloon companies in Canberra, most of which offer a dawn take-off, a mid-air bite to eat and a glass of champagne to finish. For around 45 minutes, the balloon gives possibly the best vantage point of the nation’s capital, so it’s a good way to orientate yourself with the city and its surrounds early on in your visit.

8. Mountain biking at Mt Stromlo

Canberra is said to boast some of the best mountain biking in the world, and Mt Stromlo is a unanimous highlight. Though the 2003 bushfires have decimated some of the more classic trails, events and blossoming tourism ensure that the area is nurtured by regular updates and maintenance. Bike hire is available, and the observatory, though in disrepair, is also worth a look.

9. Fishing at Googong Dam

Googong Dam is part of the Queanbeyan River System, around 8km from Canberra’s domestic airport. The Queanbeyan region is tourist-friendly and has enough on offer to occupy you for a week, including walks, museums, and the Bungendore Steam Train. Googong Dam is the largest dam in the region and a top notch fishing spot. Fuel-powered boats are not permitted on the lake, but sail- and electricity-powered watercraft are available for hire. A skilled hand may reveal rainbow trout, Murray cod, and both golden and silver perch. The dam is also a great picnic spot with plenty of birdlife.

10. Segway tour around Lake Burley Griffin

The Segway may not fit the criteria of physical exertion, but the two-wheeled motorised platform, strangely reminiscent of a lawnmower, is a fun, gimmicky way to get around. The Segway experience makes the most of Canberra’s impeccable bicycle path network and offers great views of the lake, while completely eliminating the need to pedal, or even concentrate.

You can read about the riding restrictions of segways in Canberra at The Canberra Times

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