Australia has many big dams – and some of them include outstanding public recreation and leisure facilities.

Cotter Dam – an 87 metre high concrete wall – is one of three that supply water to the nation’s ‘bush capital’, Canberra: a city of about 355,000 people.


And located about 23 kilometres from the centre of Canberra, Cotter Dam boasts a popular reserve near the base of the dam wall.

We were taken to ‘The Cotter Avenue’, as it’s known, last week and found excellent amenities such as barbecue facilities and tables; shady grassed picnic areas; swimming holes; playgrounds and bushwalking areas – all free of charge.


Our visit coincided with a public holiday, so the reserve was busy, but there was still ample car parking and picnic spots – and both ice cream and coffee vendors operating.

Later, we took the Cotter Dam Discovery Trail a 1.4 kilometre loop walking trail lined with information panels telling the story of Canberra’s water history.

Along the way, we stopped at an amphitheatre style viewing platform that offered majestic views of the dam about 350 metres away.

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Standing on the platform, we were about the same height as the half-way mark on the dam wall.

The original concrete gravity Cotter Dam was built in 1912 when the city of Canberra was established.

The height of the dam wall was raised to a height of 31 metres (102 ft) in 1951 in order to increase capacity of the reservoir.

A suspension bridge once spanned the river, but it was destroyed on January 18, 2003, when bushfires raced through the area in what is known as Canberra’s darkest day. The fires that roared into Canberra claimed four lives and destroyed or badly damaged more than 500 homes.


The current 87 metre dam wall was completed in 2013 – including a new walk bridge – after work had been delayed by flooding the previous year.

Cotter Avenue is a public reserve alongside the Cotter River about 40 minutes drive from Canberra, Australia.


It is free to enter, contains a range of leisure and picnic amenities and an educational and informative walking trail offering views of both the river and the adjoining dam.

We thoroughly recommend the reserve.

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