The devastating Canberra fires of 18 January 2003 not only took four lives, injured over 400 people, and destroyed 500 homes and Mount Stromlo Observatory in western Canberra, but also took out 70 per cent of Canberra’s pastures, forest and pine plantations, and nature parks. Ten years on in 2013, and the same year as Canberra’s centenary, the National Arboretum opened its doors to the public. Stretching over 250 hectares (over 600 acres) with views over Lake Burley Griffin, the Tuggeranong Valley, Molonglo and the distant Brindabella Ranges—the Arboretum commemorates 100 years of Canberra history, and standing on a site of one of the original pine plantations has also become a symbol of the 2003 bushfire recovery program.
The Arboretum also represents Canberra planner Sir Walter Burley Griffin’s vision for a place of trees, shrubs and plants for the purpose of conservation, preservation, education and display, and is home to 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees from Australia and around the world, and over 48,000 trees are growing across the site.
As well as an existing stand of 5,000 Himalayan Pines, and an 80 year old Cork Oak plantation, the site now includes a large variety of Australian eucalypts and pines, Silky Oaks, Norway Spruce, Moroccan and Saharan Cypress, figs and palms from California and the Mediterranean, and various cedars including the ancient Cedar of Lebanon. Beautiful flowering trees such as magnolia and cherry trees sit along the boundary road that runs parallel to the lake, and between the Zoo and Aquarium entrance and Boundary Road you can find more plantings of gum and pine varieties, plum and pear, and Pecan and Persian Walnut.
Given a few years, the spectacular Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree), Wollemia nobilis (Wollemi Pine), and Jubaea chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm) will offset the stunning Events Terrace—a large flat grassed space between the Pavilion and the Visitor Centre—that will provide lawns and walkways lined with trees, a ‘Gallery of Gardens’ area, bench seating, and feature and event lighting.
So, apart from the trees, what else is at the Arboretum?
The hub of the Arboretum is the large Village Centre which includes a café, restaurant, and gift shop, and boasts stunning views over Canberra and the lake. Just outside the centre are the Bonsai Deck, and the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia; with stunning examples of some of the finest miniature forests and trees in the world.
There is also a great pod playground with giant acorn cubby houses, nest swings and lots of other fun and games to keep the little ones occupied.
The annual Voices in the Forest—an operatic spectacular—includes singers from Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Asia, and concerts are held (come rain or shine) in the Amphitheatre.
The National Arboretum is huge and you can spend more than a day walking the trails and forests. Free guided walks leave every 30 minutes from the Village Centre, or you can do your own self-guided walk from between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours over a variety of terrain. You don’t need a map but good walking shoes are a good bet as some of the trails are steep and rocky.
The Arboretum is also used for exhibitions, and is currently running Warm Trees, a combined effort of hundreds of volunteer knitters and school children from the Canberra and wider Australian community, who made scarves, or sent in their school scarves, for an innovative art display. Warm Trees is designed to encourage visitors to the Arboretum in winter time.
Take a walk; check out the sculptures along the way, then get your breath back in the café where you can sip on latte and enjoy one of the best views in Canberra.
The Warm Tree exhibit runs to 31 August 2014
Pod Playground and Wide Brown Land images courtesy National Arboretum
All other photos by LFW