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What to do in Canberra: Australia’s Bush Capital

For many Aussies, Canberra conjures up memories of school excursions. These days, the Bush Capital has experiences and attractions for travellers of all ages and abilities...

Canberra is the wonderful city that I’ve called home for nearly 25 years. Often referred to as the Bush Capital because of the abundance of nature close by, Canberra is also famous for its many cultural institutions. Most attractions are family-friendly and suitable for people with different kinds of accessibility needs. I’m a power wheelchair user, but you can always find more accessible experiences in Canberra at Getaboutable.

Canberra: The Basics

There’s a variety of places to stay across all budgets, with at least 39 offering wheelchair-accessible rooms. You can even stay overnight among the animals at Jamala Wildlife Lodge.

You can visit the city year-round. Canberra blossoms in Spring, which is when it holds the annual Floriade festival. Enjoy the dry heat of summer, when people head to Canberra’s outdoor pools, natural waterways and shaded bush tracks. Autumn starts with the Balloon Spectacular and Enlighten Festival and brings glorious colours to the deciduous trees. Canberra gets cold in winter, but provides a great pit stop on the way to Snowy Mountains ski resorts.

Public transport (buses and trams), including Canberra’s hop-on hop-off tourism circuit, are wheelchair accessible and have both visual and auditory stop information. Unfortunately, Canberra’s public transport doesn’t reach some big tourist draw cards. The Wheelchair Accessible Taxi Service (WATS) participates in the Taxi Subsidy Scheme and accepts interstate vouchers.

I recommend support workers from HireUp. Mobility Matters and Total Mobility rent and repair mobility equipment.

What to do in Canberra

I’ve grouped my favourite tourism itineraries by geography, focusing on places with straightforward wheelchair access. Check out these top 5 accessible Canberra precincts…

The Parliamentary Triangle

Canberra’s ‘Parliamentary Triangle’ refers to the area just south of Lake Burley Griffin from New Parliament House to the Kings Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue bridges. Start by taking a tour of New Parliament House. Compare it to Old Parliament House, home of the Museum of Australian Democracy and a beautiful rose garden. The wheelchair accessible entrance to Old Parliament House is on the left, under the main staircase entrance. Staff are helpful in giving instructions on getting around to see the key parts of the building. 

Make your way to the National Gallery of Australia, where my favourite exhibits are the Aboriginal Art collections, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles and the outdoor Sculpture Garden. You can then walk or roll past the High Court to Questacon science museum and National Library.

Lake Burley Griffin

The path along Lake Burley Griffin circles the entire lake (34 km). The smaller circuits are perfect for a leisurely weekend stroll and include the Central Basin (5 km, crossing the lake over the Commonwealth and Kings Avenue bridges), the Eastern Basin (9km, from Kings Avenue Bridge to the Jerrabomberra Wetlands), and the Western Basin (from the Commonwealth Bridge to Scrivener Dam). For families, Boundless Playground is near the Carillon on the north side of the lake’s Central Basin. Various monuments line ANZAC Parade to the north of the lake, leading to the interactive exhibits and Wall of Remembrance at the War Memorial.

Acton and Black Mountain

The National Museum of Australia is on Acton Peninsula. It houses artefacts from 60,000 years of Australian history in a modern waterfront building. The National Botanical Gardens are on the eastern slope of Black Mountain and have a range of wheelchair accessible walks. Nearby is Telstra Tower, which has a wheelchair accessible indoor observation level with expansive 360° views of Canberra.

A young man in a wheelchair, sitting behind a fence overlooking a large green enclosure for zoo animals
The National Zoo and Aquarium is surprisingly accessible, a highlight of what to do in Canberra!

Arboretum and Zoo

The National Arboretum was created in the ashes of the 2003 Canberra bushfires and is a stark reminder of how close the fires came to the centre of the city. The Arboretum’s café and playground are worth visiting, as are the expansive grounds which include a National Bonsai Collection. The National Zoo and Aquarium is surprisingly accessible, although it is hilly and covers a large area, so can be quite tiring. Wheelchairs and scooters are available for hire if needed, and there is a great playground on the far end of the zoo that’s worth visiting with children.

Cotter Road precinct

Start at the renovated historic Mt Stromlo Observatory. There is an accessible barbecue at Cotter Bend and walking track to Cotter Dam. The Cotter Road then turns into Paddy’s River Road, from which you can reach the CSIRO-Tidbinbilla Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. Its Visitor Centre outlines Australia’s impact on space exploration, including the tracking of the Apollo lunar module. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve has many areas with accessible paths, including through the Koala Enclosure. It also loans out a TrailRider for exploring the less accessible trails.

Bonus tip: Even in Canberra, not many people know about Vertikal Indoor Snow Sports, on Dairy Road in Fyshwick. Here, you can go skiing or snowboarding on huge (about 5m x 10m) variable incline treadmills. There is even a sit-ski for adaptive skiing, and you can have a wood-fired pizza and hot chocolate or beer after your session.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.

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