By water or air, on two legs, two wheels or even by horse, there seems to be no limit to the ways you can explore Canberra's wilder side.
By Jac Taylor
Where else is wilderness and adventure so accessible from a capital city? Canberra's unique setting among alpine mountains, rushing rivers and vast bushland makes a wonderful contrast with its easy roads, fabulous lake and copious sights to see. The city's many activities make it simple to head off the beaten track a little and enjoy some exercise, fresh air or an exciting encounter with a friendly animal.
The impressive lines of this planned city, along with its natural beauty, come together beautifully when you view Canberra from above, aboard a hot air balloon. Balloon Aloft and Dawn Drifters will have you floating peacefully over the waking city. This is one of the few places in the world where you can fly directly over a Parliament House. Visit during the Enlighten Festival to see the Canberra Balloon Spectacular, where you can fly among dozens of balloons. Alternatively, simply watch the awe-inspiring spectacle of balloons being inflated en masse on the lawns of Old Parliament House each morning during the festival.
Canberra is made for cycling, with a network of cycling paths throughout the city and connecting the outer suburbs. But two wheels can also take you on more adventurous trips. Hire a bike from one of the many shared bike stations outside the city's major hotels or rent one from the Southern Cross Yacht Club on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin (the city's majestic centrepiece) to tour the lake's scenic 35-kilometre (22-mile) path. Alternatively, hire a mountain bike from Capital Bicycle Hire and take on the 50 kilometres (31 miles) of famous world-class trails at Stromlo Forest Park.
Glide through the mirror-like waters of Lake Burley Griffin on a kayak, or join the fast-growing Canberra trend of stand-up paddle boarding. The peaceful lake is a fantastic place to give this sport a try. With so many attractions and monuments that can be seen from the city's favourite water playground, you can sightsee and get your daily workout at the same time. Rent either kayak or paddle board during spring and summer from The Paddle Hub at the YMCA Aquatic Recreation Centre right on the lake shore.
Sample a little country life on the outskirts of Canberra, mustering cattle and sheep, spotting wildlife or simply taking in the wide open spaces of the Australian bush on a horseback ride. Everyone is welcome at Burnelee Excursions on Horseback, from beginners to experts, from six years of age, with different rides and horses catering to all levels of rider. Take a two-hour ride in the morning or afternoon, or request a full day ride to really get your heart going.
For a different kind of adventure, why not get up close and hands-on with one of Canberra’s wilder residents? The award-winning National Zoo and Aquarium offers exciting interactive tours that allow you to hand-feed a brown bear, lion or tiger, come nose to nose with a giraffe, meet a cheetah inside its enclosure or even pat a shark. For the full safari experience without even leaving the city, stay overnight in the Zoo's five-star Jamala Wildlife Lodge, with more exclusive animal encounters on offer in the Giraffe Treehouses, Ushaka Lodge or Jungle Bungalows.
The mighty Murrumbidgee River, sourcing its waters from up in the Snowy Mountains and flowing right through the Australian Capital Territory, presents a prime opportunity to get your heart racing as you raft the rapids. Alpine River Adventures’ Murrumbidgee River tour cuts through the scenic Red Rock Gorge, showcasing classic Australian bushland, while also offering whitewater thrills. The 40 rapids travelled by the tour are grades 2 to 4, meaning that even visitors new to rafting can give this a try. Your guide can help you spot wildlife such as birds and water dragons.
The Australian pastime of bushwalking has a rich history in Canberra, with many notable mountaineers and explorers having taken their first steps at renowned places such as the Booroomba Rocks in Namadgi National Park (an easy half-day walk away). Namadgi takes up almost half the Australian Capital Territory, stretching all the way from the suburbs through to the snowy reaches bordering Kosciuszko National Park, home of Australia's highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko. Explore this section of the Australian Alps through a variety of walks, from day trips to overnight camping expeditions. You can mountain bike or even ski tour in winter, or simply join ranger-guided walks to hear the stories and local secrets of this fascinating and vast national park.