The National Arboretum in Canberra was a place that I had only heard of until recently and even then I thought it was just a kids playground. But as we discovered there is so much more to this massive space. And best of all access is free except for a modest all day parking fee of $7.80.
After the devastating Canberra bush fires in 2003 the area that would later become the National Arboretum was just burnt out pine forest. It was decided that a green space would be created and a national design competition was held. The winners concept was a joint proposal between landscape designers and architects and the 100 Forests and 100 Gardens concept was born.
The National Arboretum now covers an area of 617 acres and has 44,000 trees planted. Of these 31 are threatened species, including two that are extinct in the wild. Planting commenced in 2007 and the Arboretum was open to the public in 2013. There are still some areas to be planted and the present plantings are in various stages of growth.
THE VILLAGE CENTRE
Our first stop was at The Village Centre. This massive, architecturally designed building that houses a cafe, restaurant and gift shop really is stunning. A full wall of glass windows allows for views over part of the Arboretum and Canberra itself. The roof is supported by enormous timber beams and the walls are Olivine Basalt from a quarry at nearby Wee Jasper.
We had lunch from the cafe which offers sandwiches, wraps and gourmet pies. Cost was $32.00 for two people which included soft drinks.
Also in this area are display cases which contain information on some of the trees in the Arboretum, as well as seed pods and other information.
Adjacent to the Village Centre is the fun Pod Playground. With it’s acorn shaped pods, it is a fantastic area for kids and is obviously very popular.
At the side of the Village Centre you will also find the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection. This is a world-class collection of bonsai trees. Some of them are quite large and also very old. I saw one that was grown in 1950 and trained into bonsai form from 1952. They truly are mini works of art.
WALKING AND CYCLING TRAILS
There are walking and cycling tracks throughout the Arboretum. They vary in length and difficulty with the shortest being the STEP Circuit. These trails also link up with the ACT Centenary Trail which allows for horse riding. Whatever you choose, the views would be amazing.
WALK OR DRIVE
It is possible to walk around most of the Arboretum or you can drive as well. I recommend walking from the Village Centre and exploring the Children’s Garden and the Celebration Garden. It is easy to explore the rest of the Arboretum by car. First stop should be to view the impressive Eagle’s Nest sculpture by Richard Moffat. Made from scrap metal it’s interesting to see if you can identify the objects that have been used.
Following the road around you will be able to park and walk to view the Wide Brown Land sculpture. This sculptural piece is by Marcus Tatton, Chris Viney and Futago and of course celebrates Dorethea Mackellar’s famous poem. It is a most impressive piece, especially when viewed against a stormy Canberra sky.
Adjacent to the Wide Brown Land sculpture is the Himalayan Cedar Forest. This 100 hundred year old forest was planted between 1917 and 1930 with further plantings occurring in 2010. Here you will also find picnic tables and electric barbeques as well as great views of Canberra.
If you are visiting Canberra and looking for a very low cost day out, then we highly recommend the National Arboretum. Pack a picnic and take the kids bikes and you will be guaranteed to have a great day. For more information you can visit the National Arboretum website.