Canberra… The nation’s capital… You may have heard the rumours… Some say it’s boring, it’s too cold or too hot… Living in Sydney, I’m a little conflicted about Canberra. I don’t mind going there from time to time, but apart from a few museums and a very decent food scene, I have been feeling like I’ve seen all there is to see. Going to Canberra in winter and coming from beachside Sydney, I always wonder if I’m going to survive the cold…
This time, I decided to make my visit to Canberra different and explore the surrounds. Looking at the map, I discovered a large area south of the Australia Capital Territory called Namadgi National Park, and it is the most incredible wilderness treasure south of Canberra.
Namadgi National Park
Namadgi National Park is a wilderness conservation area on Australia’s National Heritage List. A huge 106,095 hectares, it was turned into a park in 1984 and is home to the ACT’s highest peak, Bimberi Peak, 1,911m. Namadgi National Park is a mere 45 minutes south of Canberra and is a great place for bushwalking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, horse riding and scenic driving.
I went in not really knowing what to expect, although the map showed me that the area is much larger than what I would be able to see from the road. Never mind, a glimpse would be enough for a day trip.
Tharwa is the little township just before the entrance to the park. It consists roughly of a general store, a church and a school, and it’s an incredible step back in time… Just 6kms away, across the bridge lies “modern civilisation” with all the usual retailers, which is a little unnerving.
The church is quite a charming wooden building.
A Road Trip Through the Wilderness
Even though the park is quite close to Canberra, it is quite remote, and that’s the beauty of it. The road going through is initially quite good, but to go right through the park to the Australian Alps, it turns into an unsealed road.
Hospital Hill Lookout
This is as far as you will go with a car, but it’s worth a look. The view from the lookout is majestic and the vision feels very untouched.
Historic Orroral Homestead
This is my incredible find in this wilderness. The Orroral Homestead was built in the 1860s for graziers Archibald and Mary McKeahnie and was occupied until the 1950s. The old homestead still stands in the middle of an alpine meadow and is a testimony to the European heritage in the area. The homestead is easy to find, just off the main road, yet it feels incredibly isolated.
The homestead sits on the alpine meadow and is about ten minutes walk from the main road. With hills in the background, the scenery is absolutely stunning. There is an infinity of space stretching across the Orroral valley and the homestead looks so small from a distance. It’s a little hard to imagine, but Orroral was a busy estate at some point…
The homestead was reconstructed and the main building has three rooms and a chimney. The kitchen stone chimney stands at the back of the main building. Being all alone in this completely isolated place, I was a little intimidated at first but managed to open the doors and look inside…
The homestead was occupied until the early 1960s and only a few bricks remain of the more recent house.
The woodshed was built in the 1930s by Andy Cunningham and is very well preserved.
Apart from me, the only sign of life was a herd of kangaroos, quietly staring at me… Their presence was a little unnerving, but I suspect it was more the sheer isolation of the place. Also, the place was incredibly windy, but the sunshine made it all worthwhile.
Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station
At the end of the public road, beyond the Orroral Homestead, are the remnants of a NASA tracking station which operated from 1967 to 1981, and supported the Apollo space program. Interestingly, Honeysuckle Creek is the station that received and relayed the images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon although the movie “The Dish” would have you think otherwise. Now, only the concrete foundations remain, but you get an idea of the layout.
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is probably the first reason people go to Namadgi National Park. Tidbinbilla is a wildlife sanctuary at the north end of the park and I stopped there first. The weather wasn’t great and I hesitated at the AUD12 fee entry. But why would I miss out on a concentration of Australian wildlife: kookaburras, kangaroos, wallabies, emus… and much more. The nature reserve has picnic areas, barbecues, ranger-guided activities and some twenty walks of various lengths.
My experience at Tidbinbilla was a little disappointing. The rangers warned me off walking around the reserve due to the weather, saying it was going to get a lot worse and branches may fall off trees… I did drive around the loop road and continued on to Namadgi National Park, and the weather cleared…
There were kangaroos and a kookaburra so it wasn’t a complete disaster. I’ll have to try it again on a better weather day.
The Corin Dam is a 25-minute drive from the turn-off past Tidbinbilla. The dam is on the edge of the Bimberi Wilderness and it’s a nice drive through the forest. Again, I was completely by myself and there is a strong feeling of isolation when you get there. However, I would only go back in sunny weather. Towards the end of a cloudy winter day, the mood can be a little dreary.
A Day in Wilderness
Apart from some unsteady weather, my day in the Namadgi National Park was excellent. It makes a great day trip if you want to go beyond Canberra and its wide avenues. So close to a reasonably large city, the isolation is surprising but this is typically Australian. I hope to go back and review Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve on a better day, as I’m sure my time there didn’t do it justice. If you are looking for a return to nature and some history, Namadgi National Park is the Most Incredible Wilderness Treasure South of Canberra.
Bushwalking in NSW
Best Gifts for Hikers
Kiama Coast Walk
Are you looking for more nature walks in New South Wales? Read my blog post on the Bouddi National Park for a beautiful coastal walk. And if you are in the Sydney metropolitan area, I recommend visiting The Basin and the Barrenjoey Lighthouse. And I highly recommend a dash to Batemans Bay while you’re in Canberra.
Have you been to Namadgi National Park? I would love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below!
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30 thoughts on “Namadgi National Park is the Most Incredible Wilderness Treasure South of Canberra”
What a wonderful find. I have family in Canberra so we go there quite often but it is easy to overlook how interesting the countryside around it is. Did you see any platypus when you were at Tidbinbilla. It is one of the few places outside Tasmania where you stand a good chance of seeing them in their natural habitat.
Hi Lyn, the only animals I saw in Tidbinbilla were a kookaburra and a few kangaroos. The weather wasn’t very good unfortunately… I did see your post about it though, so I’ll have to go back! I did see a platypus in Tasmania though, loved it!
Will be in Canberra for a couple days in midJune and I would so LOVE to visit…but I’m afraid to try driving on the left side of the road. Would likely kill my kids or someone else. You don’t know of a company/individual who might be available to hire to get 3 people out to Square Rocks hiking trail, do you?
Hi Carla, I’ve had a look at this trail and it looks really good, however it’s quiet deep into the Bimberi Wilderness and the only way to get there would be by car. Driving in Canberra is not too difficult. The roads are wide and people are quite disciplined, staying in their own lane. Driving around the park is easy, the roads are generally quite good and there aren’t many people around. The only alternative I see is Uber or a taxi but you’d need to check whether they would agree to take you out there as it’s almost an hour’s drive from the centre of Canberra. I hope this helps, enjoy your trip to Canberra!
Just to clarify – Square Rock is not deep in the Bimberi Wilderness, in fact it isn’t even in the Bimberi Wilderness at all. It’s a very easy 9km return trail from a parking lot on a paved road. Nothing in the designated wilderness area is accessible by car – that’s one of the things that makes it a wilderness area. Namadgi is an amazing place, but to really see the wilderness you need to get out and walk it!
Carla – I know you posted this a long time ago, but if you happen to be returning to Canberra, I’d be happy to show you this amazing part of the world, and some other great walks in the park.
Hi Amber, thank you for your comment, there is nothing like local knowledge. Thank you also for your offer of help to Carla, I will pass it on.
Such an interesting post. I’ve been to Canberra, and as you describe – you quickly feel like you’ve seen it all. But this is something new to me! Next time when I’m in the nearby, maybe I’ll go and check this out instead of just passing by!
Hi Amanda, I’m pleased you enjoyed my post. This is the great thing about Australia, you can very quickly find yourself in the deepest wilderness very close to the city. Maybe not in Sydney or Melbourne but the Namadgi National Park is a great find near Canberra!
I love going off the beaten path and finding little hidden gems. The Orroral Homestead sounds like one of those finds. That would have been my favorite part. The history of the forgotten town is fascinating. Also seeing kangaroos just roaming around must have felt like you were in the middle of no where. This sounds like a great adventure.
Hi Wendy, the Orroral Homestead was very interesting but I felt the place was a little sad, abandoned to the wind (it was incredibly windy!) and only populated by kangaroos. It was strange to think that it had been a busy farmhouse in the past…
There are so many parks and reserves in Australia, I think it would take several lifetimes to explore them all! But that’s definitely one of the many attractive sides of Australia, being able to explore the outdoors. I love the Orroral Homestead – it reminds me of some of the old towns we see in the US like the time was frozen. Though no wallabies or kangaroos there 🙂
Hi Patricia, it is indeed amazing how many parts of the country are protected. Some may feel it’s not enough but the wilderness area south of Canberra is actually really big. Time is frozen at Orroral Homestead, it’s a little eerie with all the kangaroos running around…
Wow what a great find! The landscape and views around the national park look stunning. We’ve never been to Canberra before but it’s definitely on our list for next time. This does remind me a lot of the surrounding areas of Perth though and we had a great time exploring around for a day too!
Canberra has the reputation to be a little boring compared to Sydney. However, if you are into hiking and wilderness, Namadgi National Park doesn’t get any better than that. It’s a bit more dense than the areas around Perth though…
What a beautiful discovery. I never even heard of Namadgi National Park and would love to check this out on my visit Down Under. The views look so green and amazing (always have this image of the outback when I think of Oz). 😀
Hi Danik, the images of Namadgi National Park are pretty typical of the bush, that’s for sure. The good thing about it is that it’s virtually empty… If you are into hiking, it’s a great place to find some true isolation and some beautiful nature.
We’ve never been to Australia, so everything seems interesting! We hope to explore your country and continent someday, and when we do, we’ll try to spend some time in Canberra as well and go to Namadgy National Park. Where in Australia is actually the best place to see koalas and kangaroos? Not in zoos but in the wild?
Usually the east coast is better for koalas but they can be hard to find in the bush. There are conservation areas along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, near Cape Otway but you can easily see them in trees. For kangaroos, they are fairly easy to find in fields around the countryside, dusk is a good time to look out for them. Central NSW is a good place for that.
I would be disappointed too, if I go to a National Park and don’t see much animals. Bad bad weather needs to be considered, so yes, hopefully the next time you go, there are better chances. In India, for the same reason, national parks are closed in monsoon.
The weather improved that day, thankfully and I got to see some beautiful sights. I’ll have to go back to the Tidbindilla Reserve some other time
Is the kitchen chimney at the Historic Orroral Homestead separate from the house intentionally, or is it separate now as the structure begins to deteriorate? If it is intentional, was that to keep the cooking fire outside of the house to prevent a fire? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that!
Hi Sage, I think the kitchen was separate from the live-in areas. Or maybe there was a structure connecting the kitchen to the house and it’s no longer there. The homestead is remarkable well preserved though…
We have stopped at Namadgi a few times to spot kangaroos but I have never really explored the park much. I had no idea there was so much to see. Will have to stop off again next time.
Hi Paula, the park is best explored through hiking trails though, and these can take you quite deep into the wilderness. Still, it’s a really good day trip from Canberra.
The Orroral Homestead does indeed look isolated and remote – but it’s a beautiful sight! If I ever get to visit this park I’d probably spend a lot of time doing wildlife photography in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
Tidbinbilla is ideal for wildlife photography, there is plenty around… I’ll have to go back in better weather though!
I had never heard of Namadgi until reading about it in your post Delphine. Sounds like it is an amazing place with so much to see. Shame about the weather … we can relate! 😉 At least you got to see a kookaburra — still on my wish list. As they say, you can’t choose the weather when you travel, but you can choose your mood.
Kookaburras are pretty funny, you can actually get quite close to them. But they can be quite cheeky and steal food out of hand!
I just love national parks. They always show you a different side of a country, other than the big cities that so many visit. I can’t believe its so close to Canberra! Tharwa is adorable. I worked in a national park in Canada as a university student and we had a similar small village that was like a step back in time. I wonder how many other national parks have a similar nearby village?
Hi Joanne, the contrast between Tharwa and the rest of the area is quite striking. It is both sad and funny, part of me wishes for the village to remain the same, and part of me wants it to get more attention…