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.
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 Palm Beach and the Barrenjoey Lighthouse. And I highly recommend a dash to Batemans Bay while you’re in Canberra.
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Have you been to Namadgi National Park? I would love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below!