Canberra abounds with kid-friendly parklands, nature reserves and national attractions that include tailor-made spaces for youngsters.
By Jennifer Pinkerton
If your kids love to run amok outdoors, you’ve come to the right place. Ask Canberra parents what they love about their city and chances are you’ll hear them say, “It’s a great place for kids” – the lengthy list of open-air activities on offer has a lot to do with the reason why. And while nature play options are rife, the city's suite of national buildings offers equally enticing child-focused experiences. The thoughtfully-designed kids' zones at the National Carillon, the National Arboretum and science museum Questacon provide the perfect stomping ground for sessions of painting, making, imagining and exploring.
The National Carillon is a musical tower that sits atop Aspen Island beside Lake Burley Griffin. On an instrument similar to an organ, Canberra’s carillonists perform 50-minute recitals throughout the week. The Island is a top spot for a lunchtime picnic with kids. Just as idyllic is Boundless, the playground that lies across from the Carillon’s footbridge. This clever park, designed to mark the Centenary of Canberra, is the city's first all-abilities playground. It hosts free activities on the first Friday and third Sunday of every month.
Kids of all ages go nuts over Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, as evidenced by the queues that snake outside the building's doors during school holidays. Over four levels, children can free-fall down a six metre (20 foot) slide, experience the shake of an earthquake, freeze their own shadows and send neon scarves coursing through a web of vacuum tunnels. Younger kids are catered for via Mini Q, a zone for 0-6 year olds: it's equipped with a water play station, a child-sized model bakery and shop, a crawl and slide space and a simulated space ship.
To see wildlife in its natural habitat – with an accompanying game of hide-and-seek – visit Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Tidbinbilla is thought to mean "where boys become men" in local Aboriginal language, a reference to initiation ceremonies. Drive out of Canberra's city centre and head 50 kilometres (31 miles) south-west to Namadji National Park. Once at the reserve, a large valley floor stretches before you framed by Tidbinbilla Mountain and the Gibraltar Range. Punctuated with giant circular boulders, the latter is especially picturesque. At The Sanctuary, platypus peek above the water’s surface, kangaroos hop through bushland, cockatoos screech overhead and koalas can often be spotted in the treetops, while water birds and frogs can be heard calling along the gentle walking paths.
At the National Arboretum's Pod Playground, sculpted acorn cubbies reach into the sky, hoisted up by silver steps. Kids can run across a musical bridge and tap notes out with each step, and toddlers can play inside tall, sand-filled Banksia (native Australian flora) cones. This is the best-looking playground in the city and to top off its pulling power, there’s a café at the Village Centre for weary parents. Inside the Centre, you’ll also find the National Bonsai Collection and The Curatoreum, with a section dedicated to creative kids’ gifts.
Home to a plethora of foreign embassies as well as Australia’s Governor-General, the suburb of Yarralumla includes Weston Park with two playground areas, two cafés and the ticketed entertainment facility of Yarralumla Play Station. Cruise in from the city via scenic Alexandrina Drive, pass a mob of lazy kangaroos who call Weston Park home and make your first stop at the Play Station. Here, you'll find a petting zoo, miniature train rides and mini golf. Next, recharge with a meal under the trees at the child-friendly Yarralumla Gallery and the Oaks Brasserie. Burn off any excess energy by exploring the network of oak trees and ponds beside the lake foreshore, with views over Black Mountain and beyond.