Review: Australian National Botanic Gardens

Of all the attractions at Canberra – Australia’s bush capital – the National Botanic Gardens are among the best established and fastest growing.

Dating back to the 1940’s, the 35 hectares of gardens are said to feature about one-third of all Australian native plants.

Located minutes from the hustle and bustle of Canberra city centre , the gardens offer a breathtaking array of native plants in a spectacular bushland setting.


On the lower slopes of Black Mountain, Canberra, the attraction contains more than 6,300 species and describes itself as a “living laboratory on plant classification, ecology and horticulture”.

At the same time, the gardens are a tourist attraction in their own right, providing a unrivalled display of colour.

There’s an informative visitors centre; free guided walks; a bookshop; eco spa; outdoor cafe; and a 45 minute guided shuttle bus called Flora Explorer.


Numerous walks – some catering exclusively for children – are held through the site. For example, the Aboriginal Plant Use Trail, takes visitors on a trip of discovery through the plants that were used by Australia’s indigenous peoples.

The garden itself contains an area of rainforest; grassy woodlands; a rock garden; Eucalypt lawn and a section that specialises in plants of the Sydney Region.

Another feature is the ‘Red Centre Garden, which allows you to experience the unique landscape, colours and plants of Central Australia.


The gardens also cultivate plants that are said to be threatened in the wild: thereby protecting against extinction.

This attraction started humbly in the years after World War II, when a range of Eucalypt trees were planted on the site. In 1949, during a visit by international foresters, a celebration oak tree and more gum trees were planted to mark the official start of the botanic garden project.

Development continued apace until the 1960’s, when buildings were constructed for the Herbarium and administration, and a nursery was established.


By 1967, the gardens were opened to the public, with interpretive signs placed along the paths to complement the extensive labelling of plants.

In October 1970, the gardens were officially declared open by the Australian Prime Minister.

Australian National Botanic Gardens are in Canberra Australia. The gardens are said to be the only place in the world you’ll see such diversity of Australian native plants in one location.


Review: Versailles down under

We’ve not yet had the fortune of visiting the Palace of Versailles in France.

That’s why we were so pleased when the palace – or at least some of it – came to us.

During a visit to the Australian capital of Canberra, our son and his partner kindly took us to ‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’, a remarkable exhibition showing at the National Gallery.


It’s remarkable because the show marks the first time the treasures have travelled from France to a single venue.

It’s also remarkable because the 130-piece exhibition allows you to experience a mesmerising period in French history

The story of Versailles began in the early 1660s when the young Louis XIV started building a residence around his father’s hunting lodge outside Paris.


Versailles gradually became the centre of court and home to three kings, Louis (XIV, XV and XVI), their lovers and their queens, most famously Marie Antoinette.

Unique exhibition

The Canberra exhibition is an striking visual collection of cultural artefacts from these three generations of French royals and their often tumultuous period of French history.

On entering, one of the first things you notice is a scent, created by a French master perfumer and based on King Louis XIV’s favourite flower.

Then the sights begin, as you pass a massive photo of the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and enter a world of power, passion and luxury that earmarked the French court during the 17th – 18th centuries.


Paintings, intricate tapestries, gilded furniture, personal items, stunning statues and objects from the royal gardens unveil the lives, loves and passions of the people of Versailles.

The exhibition contrasts small personal items, such as Marie Antoinette’s hand-crafted chair and harp, with huge works including six-metre tapestries and gilded steel gates.


A star attraction is a 1.5-tonne marble sculpture of Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana, commissioned by Louis XIV for the main fountain in the Garden of Versailles.

Overhead views of the famous gardens show the changes in style over more than 150 years.


Garden plans, labyrinth sculptures, ornate bronze vases from the Orangerie, and paintings of the flowers grown around Versailles also feature.

‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’ does not delve into the French Revolution, although the opulence of the exhibits could be seen as a political statement.

However, after touring this unique exhibition, it’s hard not to just agree with the national gallery’s claim that the show is truly a “once in a lifetime experience”


‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’ will show at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until April 17. Tickets are available through Ticketek.

The National Gallery of Australia is located at Parkes Place in the heart of Canberra, near Parliament House, the High Court of Australia and next door to the National Portrait Gallery.

See how to get to Canberra


Chillin in the shadow of an Aussie dam

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.


Review: Australia’s National Arboretum

P1010607The National Arboretum Canberra, is a relatively new Australians attraction.

Stretching across 250 hectares at Weston Creek on the outskirts of Canberra, the National Arboretum is home to 94 forests and more than 48,000 trees, from 100 or more countries.

What’s to see?

An initiative of the Australian Capital Territory Government, the arboretum spans out around an attractive ‘Village Centre’.

The centre features huge skylights and panoramic views over Australia’s bushland national capital.

Visitors enter through an attractive tunnel-like entrance to find a restaurant, shop and viewing decks on most sides.P1010580

There is also a nearby pavilion for staging private functions.

Eye-catching sculptures

Set high on Dairy Farmers Hill is a striking sculpture of an eagle on its nest. ‘Nest 111’ is proving a hit with arboretum visitors.

On another hillside, in large letters, stand the words ‘Wide Brown Land’, taken from the famous Australian poem, ‘My Country’, by Dorothea Mackellar.

Forests writ small

P1010600Don’t miss the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection, which includes some of the world’s finest miniature trees and forests.

This collection is located adjacent to the ‘Village Centre’.

The hills are alive

Another popular attraction is a large U-shaped amphitheatre, which increasingly is being used for concerts and performances.

The amphitheatre is fully grassed.

Himalayan Cedars

These trees are among the oldest at the arboretum. Visitors can sit beneath the majestic limbs and enjoy a typical Aussie picnic.

Pod Playground

P1010599In keeping with its natural surroundings, the children’s playground at the National Arboretum features giant acorn-shaped climbing structures; ‘nest’ swings and other fun experiences.


Self-guided walks of the arboretum’s highlights take about one hour.

Alternatively,  free-of-charge guided tours are held throughout the day, leaving the ‘Village Centre’ about every half-an-hour.

Opening hours

P1010604Located on Forest Drive, off the Tuggeranong Parkway, Weston Creek, the arboretum grounds are open from 6am – 8.30pm each day in summertime (Australia’s daylight saving period) and from 7am – 5.30pm in winter.

The ‘Village Centre’ and the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection are open daily from 9 am until 4 pm Monday to Sunday, except on Christmas Day.

The National Arboretum Canberra is free to visit, but there is a charge for using the main car park alongside the ‘Village Centre’.

Getting to Canberra

Australia’s national capital is located 285 kilometres or 177 miles from Sydney via the Hume Highway and Federal Highway. The journey takes about three hours. See Google Maps.

Our friends at VisitCanberra say the city is serviced by major domestic airlines, as well as international carriers, Qantas and Virgin Australia.

A flight from Sydney usually takes about 48 minutes and there is an express bus service to and from Canberra Airport.





Lighting up Canberra’s skies

Australia’s national capital and its politicians are no strangers to hot air.

But there’s about to be more than usual as the skies above Canberra host some of the world’s most colourful hot air balloons.


The annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular – from March 11-19 – will, once again, be one of few such events around the globe where people can use air space close to the national houses of government – and not be shot down.

Launching in the pre-dawn light each day, scores of balloons will soar above the centre of the Australian capital in a flurry of colour, creating an exhilarating backdrop to the parliamentary precinct.

During the nine days, pilots will begin laying out and inflating their balloons on the lawns of Old Parliament House from 6.15am, weather permitting.

The 2017 Canberra Balloon Spectacular will also include some special shape balloons from across the globe adding a sense of novelty to the stunning setting each day.

Patrons will be treated to an experience of the senses with a flurry of colour, sound and movement

Balloons, their pilots and crews hail from many countries and the event is said to be among the leading activities on the world’s hot air balloon calendar.

Canberra Balloon Spectacular is one of the most memorable city events in Australia.

Aussie stories

Australia’s London Bridge

Most travellers know about Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Bondi Beach?

But how many visitors see London Bridge Arch, a  20,000 year old scenic marvel usually found only by those who get off the tourist trail in search of Australia’s hidden gems?

This striking geological feature is tucked away in a hidden valley near Australia’s national capital, Canberra.

Over thousands of years, the arch was carved from local limestone by  the constantly flowing creek water.  

Cracks in the limestone enlarged, forming caves and the spectacular arch itself.  One cave  resembles the head of a giant serpent guarding the waters below. Local residents say this cave has a mysterious past, because large numbers of human bones were found there in the late 1800’s – possibly part of some ancient burial ritual.

Archaeoligical digs around the arch late last century  also unearthed remains of extinct native rats, mice and small marsupials.

P1010343London Bridge Arch was first recorded by Europeans in 1823 and was described by the explorer, Captain Mark Currie,  as ‘‘a natural bridge of one perfect Saxon arch, under which the water passed’’. It certainly is a remarkable attraction and only its bushland location has prevented it from drawing huge numbers of tourists.

The arch is part of the Googong Foreshores, which surround a local dam about 30 minutes by car from the town centres of Canberra. 

These local waterways attract a wide variety of native Australian plants and animals and the dam is a magnet for bird-watchers and bush walkers.

At various times of the year, the surrounding bush can be thick with Kangaroo and Wallaby, wombats, galahs and other colourful Australian birds.

Googong Dam foreshores is popular for sailing boats, canoes and kayaks, although fuel-driven craft are prohibited. The area is a great place to fish and is stocked with Rainbow Trout, Murray Cod and both Golden and Silver Perch.

P1010361There are numerous fire trails throughout the reserve providing great opportunities for leisure and mountain biking.

Googong Dam offers several great bush walks that allow visitors to get up close and personal with the nature of this typically Australian rural attraction.

The walks range from easy strolling routes to more difficult treks.



Australia Canberra Features