National Arboretum Canberra

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Robyn Skea

by Robyn Skea

Families and Kids Welcome!

National Arboretum Canberra is a gorgeous, relaxing space filled with entertainment for you and your friends or family. There’s a café for all of your coffee or ice cream needs, a beautiful open-spaced restaurant for delicious dining and a playground for the kids. There are many places for the little ones to have fun and large gardens and wide grassy areas for them to run around, while you can still keep an eye on them. There is also a gift store filled with fun and entertaining toys and books.

Entry is free. Pay parking: 9am – 4pm, 7 days a week.

Where is the Arboretum?

Located on Forest Drive, Molonglo Valley, it’s a quick 10-minute drive from Belconnen, or just 6km from the City Centre. Public transport to the arboretum is available via ACTION bus route 81 (weekdays) and 981 (weekends), leaving City Bus Station from Platform 9.

Family Fun and Walking Tracks

Bring the kids to the Acorn Playground or explore the Gallery of Gardens, an open display of a variety of gardens with varying types of trees (and a fabulous place to let them run wild in an enclosed space). There are interactive displays and peek-holes of history displayed in the main room that the kids will love to play with, all while learning a little about the area.

Start your morning with an easy walk to stretch your legs every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday with a free guided walk, offered to all visitors. The walks are from 10am to 11am and require sturdy shoes. The Arboretum is home to four adventurous walking tracks. The fastest two tracks; STEP Circuit, just under half an hour, then Cork Oak Trail; 30 minutes. Two longer tracks; Dairy Farmers Hill Circuit is an hour return trip, but very much worth the view at the top overlooking the whole grounds of the arboretum. This trip is also available for a quick 5 minute drive if you prefer. Himalayan Cedar Trail is the longest walk at 2.2 km, just over an hour return trip if you want to work off your lunch or get your blood pumping. All paths are also appropriate for jogging or cycling too (though there may be some bumpy areas) and every walk comes with breath-taking viewpoints.

Interesting Arboretum Facts

The arboretum boasts 94 forests of rare and endangered trees from all over the world, from up to one-hundred different countries, including those indigenous to Australia. There are currently more than 48,000 trees growing on the grounds, planted as early as 2005. There are also hosted ceremonial tree plantings. Both domestic and foreign dignitaries, international leaders, as well as royal visitors come to plant a ceremonial tree as a mark of their respect, and their honorary visit.

Included in the arboretum is the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia, displaying up to 80 bonsais. The gorgeous room of bonsai trees and small potted penjing plants are carefully and artfully pruned which are available for viewing every day. These bonsais are young, around 60 years old, whereas the oldest bonsais on earth can be as old as 800 years. Some of these younger bonsais are now available for purchase in the arboretum gift shop.

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BYO Food and Drink

You’re welcome to bring your own food and drink for a gorgeous picnic outdoors on sprawling rich grass surrounded by some of the most endangered and beautiful trees on earth. There are plenty of wide-open spaces to hang out in the sun and fresh air, or you can relax inside with a coffee and a good book. For your daily caffeine requirements, the café boasts a beautiful view of the trees from the inside if you prefer the shade or a little quietude. On a warm day, the arboretum is better than a park and there are ice creams, snacks, and drinks available at the café (trust me the kids will love it – and there are plenty of bins and nearby bathrooms). The possibilities are endless for a memorable experience at one of Canberra’s finest attractions and unique experiences; a must-see for any tourists, and often frequented by locals. The arboretum is a place of rich culture, history, and nature.

The Arboretum’s Story

Canberra’s arboretum is more than a gorgeous and unique forest; it belongs to what used to be a heartbreaking and devastating history. The arboretum was born of a tragic natural disaster; the worst fires Canberra has ever seen. On January 18, 2003, four fires which had been burning in the area, combined into one roaring inferno. Local firefighters were unprepared for such a blaze and, as a result, struggled to put it out. Before they could handle the disaster, fires reached into the suburbs to claim the lives of four people, and five-hundred Canberran houses. Residents of nearby homes took to their roofs in an effort to water down their property, to discourage the approaching flames. People panicked under the duress; attempting to gather family, friends, neighbours, and pets to keep them safe and close. Many surrounding houses were evacuated and families and neighbours alike joined together to keep each other safe, if not from the fires, then from the overwhelming smoke surrounding the suburbs close by.

Where the arboretum now stands, for years, the land was blackened with burns and scars of the fire. It was like nothing Canberra had ever seen or experienced, and for a long time, it was a bad memory of what had been lost. The arboretum is now a story of re-birth; the renewal of growth and life, the survival of an unprecedented devastation. There are free talks and guided walks which provide a wealth of more detailed information and history of the area provided by lovely and well-learned volunteer tour guides, most of whom are locals who remember the fires and were even affected by them.

The arboretum has been open to the public since 2012, but the repairs of the burned land have been in motion since 2005 when new trees began being planted. Since then, many people have contributed to its’ restructure, and new beginning and more trees are being planted every year to add to the new story of the land. In the future, the forests will stand as tall as ever, the trees new and grown, and available for witness to their survival.