Having a good look at the National Arboretum in Canberra has been on my to-do list for a while now ever since I saw a tiny bit of it on a play group excursion. I wanted to explore it more out of curiosity than anything and I didn’t really have huge expectations…but what a pleasant surprise! The main visitor area is a seriously beautiful space and I can’t wait to go back. The problem today was that we didn’t realise the visitor hours were so short (9am-4pm) and got there with only 35 minutes ‘til close.
We spent almost all of that checking out the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection which sounds kind of like an old-person version of heaven but was actually like being in a gallery of living art. The trees were stunning and the volunteer on site was very friendly and happy to chat to us about them and also point out some hidden, fun little details for my daughter (who was, of course, stoked). If you have issues with finding zen, this might be a good place to start.
After a tranquil little half hour with the tiny trees, we raced to the Curatoreum, the nice on-site gift shop (stocking books, homewares and toys) where hubby snapped up ‘Bonsai – techniques, styles, display ideas,’ full of inspiration and ready to start hacking apart poor, innocent trees and forcing them into tiny pots. Stay tuned for results in about 15-20 years…
From there, we headed to what I am declaring to be the most photographed playground in Canberra, possibly the world – Pod Playground. I felt like I was failing in my duty as a parent in Canberra because I hadn’t posted an artful, heavily filtered picture of this playland masterpiece rising into the blue Canberra sky on Instagram. Well, fear no more! It finally happened. I didn’t even feel too bad for doing what everyone else has already done because it is kind of hard to take a bad picture of. AND it is one very cool place to play. For any little people playing along at home, Ai’s nominated highlight was the musical bridge but there are activities for both teeny-tiny toddlers and also older kids with the playground split into two areas.
Last on our agenda was a trip to Dairy Farmer’s Hill where there is a lookout with a neat view of the city of Canberra, the Snowy Mountains and many of the Arboretum’s plantings. Incidentally, there are over 44 000 trees in 94 forests which you can explore. I can only imagine what the place will be like when the forests have all grown up but I love that my city has places like this with a vision which looks further forward than just the immediate future. I really think this will be the jewel in Canberra’s crown in time. Even now, it is well and truly worth a visit and highly recommended whether you are local or from further afield – just don’t forget your camera!
Getting there: By car, it is a short drive from Canberra’s city centre to the Arboretum. Parking at the Village Centre is paid so remember to pack some coins. If you need public transport, take ACTION Bus number 81 or 981 from Platform 10 at the City Bus Station. It runs five times per day and the trip will take about 20 minutes.
Opening Hours: The Village Centre, shop and café are open 9am – 4pm. The rest of the Arboretum is open until 8pm. There is the Sprout café but also BBQ facilities and areas to picnic if you’d rather bring your own food.
Who would like it? The National Arboretum, Canberra caters to all ages especially if you like getting outside and walking the many trails. Dogs and horses are also welcome. Access to the main visitor centre and playground is pram and wheelchair friendly. There is also parking close to the Dairy Farmer’s Hill lookout.
Fun fact: if you like taking pictures of people or want somebody to take some flattering pictures of you, especially if you want some nice snaps of your kids or if you are looking for a good spot for wedding photos, check out the cork oak forest (part of the Arboretum). It has a magical feel, the light is soft and filtered and it is like leaping into an old enchanted forest in Europe. There is a loop track and lots to explore on the way.