While our well organised capital might be best known for its intricate civil engineering – think roundabouts and asymmetrical architecture – there’s also a wilderness of natural sites and activities to explore within the boundaries of Canberra and the ACT. You can let your rugged soul wander among mountain ranges and national parks, or unwind in the serenity of carefully curated city gardens. Best of all, visitors and Canberrians get to enjoy these wonders year-round, as each season colours the outdoors with vibrant new experiences.
The National Arboretum is one of the world’s largest living collections of rare, endangered and significant trees, housing 94 forests from around the world. Many of the 44,000 trees are still young, but two of the forests are nearly 100 years old. The site has facilities at the Village Centre, including a café, gift shop and information hub.
The trip to the fabulous viewing area at Booroomba Rocks can be taken as a leisurely 2.5km walk from the car park, or a 10.5km return trip from the Honeysuckle Campground. Both journeys can be undertaken without a guide, and let you experience the forests and imposing granite cliffs along the 160km of walking trails within the Namadgi National Park.
See the city from new heights on a balloon-powered aerial adventure. Canberra has two balloon-riding companies: Balloon Aloft and Dawn Drifters. Both offer expertly piloted flights over the city, meeting at the Hyatt Hotel to head off before dawn for a glowing view of Parliament House to the Brindabella mountain range.
A nautical adventure might not be at the top of your itinerary when visiting the landlocked city of Canberra, but with GoBoat it should be. These sustainable sailors offer a self-driven experience of Lake Burley Griffin in eco-friendly electric boats, seating up to eight people for a picnic on the water. It’s the only opportunity for land-lubbers over 18 to drive on the lake without a licence.
This glamping experience is the accommodation option for the true off-grid outdoorsman. Just a 20-minute drive north of the CBD you’ll find a stylish bell tent overlooking the Mount Majura Vineyard where you can camp in luxury. Let the quiet wash over you while you enjoy the simple pleasures of reading, wine and seeing the stars. A visit to the on-site cellar door is a must.
The golden hour is the best time to view the marvellous structures between the National Gallery of Australia and the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, as the sunrise or sunset glints off their carefully crafted surfaces. The garden, which took root in 1981, now houses 26 sculptures by Australian and international artists, as well as diverse native flora, and is open to the wandering public year-round.
Whether you’re in need of a relaxing stroll, a family day out or an in-depth botanical investigation, the Australian National Botanic Gardens can meet your horticulture needs. The 90 hectares of garden provide an essential space to cultivate and study native plants from across the country and rehabilitate endangered species. Park facilities include picnic lawns and tables, a bookshop, café and visitor centre.
The Gibraltar Peak walking trail has become a favourite among the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve’s energetic visitors. The 8.2km track presents spectacular views on a moderate-hard hike, starting at the Dalsetta, meandering through grasslands and up the steep incline to the summit. Follow the same trail for a return journey of 3-4 hours, or explore more of the Reserve on a longer loop.
You can hike, cycle or drive to the lookout at Mount Ainslie for incredible views of Canberra, accompanied by a host of native wildlife. Sunset is particularly picturesque, with a golden hue cast over Lake Burley Griffin, mountain ranges and impressive civic structures. The nature reserve covers 640 hectares, adjoining the Mount Majura Nature Reserve and is home to 31 significant Indigenous cultural sites.
Want to meet the country’s best spitters? Alpaca Magic lets you make friends with a bunch of soft, gangly alpacas and llamas on their 100 hectare stud farm. You can feed, pat and chat with a Tina or two on the spring and autumn open days, or arrange a private hang by appointment. There’s also regular workshops and tours about caring for livestock and craft classes using the farm’s homegrown wool. This one’s technically in NSW, but we’ll let the capital have it.