Northern gateway to the AlpsCanberra, with its wealth of cultural attractions, is a great starting point for exploring the Australian Alps. Within a day you can be guaranteed to see native wildlife, visit significant Indigenous heritage sites and take your first steps on the Australian Alps Walking Track. If you are an early bird, book a hot air balloon ride with Canberra’s experienced balloon pilots and watch the sun’s rising rays slowly bask the surrounding mountain peaks – a peaceful way to experience the day awakening to birdcalls on the edge of the Australian Alps. Continue your journey with a visit to the Australian Alps display at Black Mountain Tower from where you take in stunning, almost aerial views of the mountain peaks that make up the Alps’ northern ranges. The Brindabella mountains create a stunning horizon, with Mt Bimberi, Mt Franklin and Mt Coree recognisable in the line up. Hire a vehicle or bring your car to explore the roads of the national capital to discover the natural and cultural values of the Australian Alps.
The Australian Alps Walking Track
The Australian Alps Walking Track winds through the high country of Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT. The 650 km track generally follows ridges through some of the highest country in Australia. It is mostly far from any towns or other settlement. You can join the track at many places between Walhalla, Victoria and Canberra, as it joins popular walking tracks in the Baw Baw, Alpine, Kosciuszko and Namadgi national parks.
Walks in the regionNamadgi walks – Walking is the most popular way to explore the park. Notes on the park’s 160 kms of marked walking tracks can be found in the Namadgi Map and Guide available at the Namadgi Visitor Centre shop. Well-prepared walkers who venture into remote parts of Namadgi reap some of the park’s greatest rewards. The Namadgi Visitor Centre has five GPS-equipped personal locator beacons available for hire to give visitors that extra peace of mind when exploring Namadgi.
- Granite Tors walking track (7 km return)
- Naas Valley to Horse Gully Hut walking track (16 km return)
- Settlers track (6 km return)
- Square Rock walking track (8 km return)
- Yankee Hat rock art walk (6 km return)
- Yerrabi walking track (4 km return)
- Orroral Valley (6 km heritage walk)
Tidbinbilla walks – There are 22 marked walking trails throughout Tidbinbilla, ranging from easy 15 minute strolls to full-day bushwalks. The Murrumbidgee Discovery Track is an iconic river walk that follows the Murrumbidgee from Point Hut Crossing to Casuarina Sands. Walk this 27 km track in sections, in either direction. The corridor includes the river and a narrow strip of land on either side set aside as a collection of nature and recreation reserves. It is historically important to Aboriginal groups including the Ngunnawal, Wiradjuri and Nari Nari. The Australian National Botanic Gardens on the lower slopes of Black Mountain in Canberra has the world’s most comprehensive display of living Australian native plants. The plants are displayed for the enjoyment and education of visitors and are used for research into plant classification and biology. A herbarium of preserved plant specimens is closely associated with the living collection. The gardens offer a variety of walks for all abilities. Children love the ‘Who lives here?’ discovery walk while those who like bushwalking will enjoy the climb up Black Mountain to the foot of Black Mountain Tower. The gardens are also home to a wonderful array of native birds.
Head out of Canberra via the Cotter Road (via Weston) or take the Mon aro Highway south and turn towards the mountains through Tharwa. You can combine these two access points to provide a circuit which can be easily covered in one day.
Tidbinbilla nature drive
The best way to start exploring the Australian Alps is to learn to identify the different types of wildlife you might see throughout the varied habitats of the Alps. Not far along the Cotter Road is Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Recognised as Canberra’s leading ecotourism attraction, Tidbinbilla offers fun and interesting opportunities to find out more about the environment and the many conservation initiatives managed by its staff. Join one of the ranger guided activities, explore the Visitor Centre’s gallery or talk with a volunteer interpreter. From the Visitor Centre, walk the three km Birrigai Time Trail to the Birrigai Rock Shelter, a traditional meeting place probably used by the local Ngunnawal community for the past 21,000 years. Clans travelled through or stayed in this country – trading, celebrating marriages and undertaking important ceremonies such as men’s initiation. At Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve you can picnic surrounded by kangaroos and emus, explore the Sanctuary Walk and see many Australian Alps bird species in their natural environment.
Namadgi National Park has a history that spans tens of thousands of years, from Indigenous clans living in the Australian Alps to the transmission of man’s first steps on the moon from the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station. Aboriginal Australians have had a long association with the area we now call Namadgi. As traditional custodians, the Ngunnawal people welcome others onto their traditional lands and ask that visitors acknowledge and respect Ngunnawal cultural traditions. There are many Aboriginal heritage sites in Namadgi including rock art, stone tools, quarry sites, stone arrangements and campsites – reminders of the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle that was practiced here and still retains meaning
Take the historic Apollo Road (named after the Apollo space missions) that was used to access the Honeysuckle Creek Space Tracking Station during the 1960s and 70s. Today, a campground and signs provide information about the site’s heritage.
The Orroral Valley is the location of Namadgi’s oldest structure, the original Orroral Valley homestead which has been restored, providing evidence of pastoral life once practiced in the region. Picnic beside the Orroral River and explore the site of the former Orroral Valley space tracking station decommissioned in 1982. Back along Boboyan Road (which continues through to Adaminaby) a 2.5 hour (six km) return walk takes you to Yankee Hat Aboriginal site where you can see rock art paintings dating back to early Aboriginal occupation of the Australian Alps. For those with more time, the Dreamtime to the Space Age touring route is a great way to get an overview of the area.
Food and wine
The Canberra district wine region is home to 140 vineyards with more than 33 wineries within 35 minutes drive of Canberra. The district’s vineyards cover a range of environments – the variation in temperature, elevations, soil types as well as the skills and character of the winemaker provide varieties such as sangiovese, riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz. Choose from Pialligo Estate, Mount Majura Vineyard or Eden Road Wines which are particularly close to the Alps gateway, or take a short detour north and take your pick from many, many more!
The National Gallery of Australia’s collections include more than 100,000 works of art across four main areas: Australian art, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Asian and international art. The National Portrait Gallery building displays some 400 portraits of people who have shaped Australia and who continue to shape our nation. It comprises gallery spaces for the collection and temporary exhibitions. Housed in one of Australia’s most-loved buildings, the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House brings the journey of Australian democracy to life – presenting its past, present and possible futures.
If you’re out that way why not stay the night in Tidbinbilla? Discover Tidbinbilla’s wild side through a range of exclusive overnight experiences. Uncover the hidden secrets of Tidbinbilla on small group adventures. Immerse yourself in a region that shares 20,000 years of cultural heritage, while you view kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and other wildlife in their native habitat. At the end of the day, relax by the campfire under a canopy of stars at a wilderness camp while you enjoy meals featuring local food and wine.
Car-based camping is permitted at Honeysuckle, Orroral and Mt Clear campgrounds (bookings are essential). Camping is prohibited in the lower and middle portions of the Cotter catchment and in the upper catchment by permit only. See more on camping in Namadgi.
Also at Tidbinbilla, about 35 kms along the Cotter Road, you can take in some of the Alps’ more recent history at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. Displays outline the role played by the former Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley tracking stations (now within the Namadgi National Park) in supporting the Apollo Space Program that put the first man on the moon on 21 July 1969. If you have time, you can visit the (now deserted) sites of these previously important facilities.