The Canberra Centenary Trail (Northern Section)

Day 1 - Parliament House to Mt Majura (16 km - 590m ascent - 500m descent)

I am standing at the Federation Stone on the northern slope of Capital Hill. Here 100 years ago, the City of Canberra was named. Ahead I can look down the long axis of the Parliamentary Triangle, with government and national buildings on either side, while behind lies the impressive facade of the new Parliament building, beneath its hill-top roof. Clearly there is no better place to start the Canberra Centenary Trail than here, the place and reason for Canberra's creation some 100 years ago. Parliament House is the symbolic heart of this city (as given the conduct of many of its elected occupants, it cannot be the soul or the brains).

Despite my stated intent to see how this walk could be done using public transport, I arrived by car - after all, no-one would refuse a free lift! That said, for those who need it, the No. 2 and 3 Gold Line buses will get you here. It is still early morning and the sky is clear and blue with a slight breeze - perfect Spring walking weather. As I head off down the long open parklands towards the lake, the first groups of school children are arriving to see democracy in action - thankfully the politicians aren't sitting, so they won't have their faith shattered today.

Old Parliament House in classic white

A group of school children visit Parliament House

Sculptures in Reconciliation Square

The squid sits on the Questacon

I quickly reach the old Parliament building with its classic architectural lines, gleaming white in the morning sun - a beautiful building. Then it is on past those symbols of the first inhabitants of this continent - the rag-tag shelters of the aboriginal embassy and further on the symbolic sculptures of Reconciliation Square representing differing views of European settlement.

This first section is worth taking slowly - passing down the long axis of the Parliamentary Triangle. I emerged on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin and turned east to wander slowly past the High Court and National Gallery, with a brief detour to check out the artworks in the Gallery's sculpture garden. As a showcase for Canberra, this trail gets straight into it.

In the National Gallery Sculpture Garden

Passageway to Commonwealth Place

The cuboid geometry of the High Court

The route now took me across the King's Avenue Bridge, with its vistas down the length of the lake to the distant Brindabella Mountains. As I crossed, I was passed by a couple of jogging mothers (padding along with buggy and baby) - the shores of the lake are a favourite place for joggers, walkers and riders of all vintages.

View over Lake Burley Griffin from the King's Avenue Bridge

The Canberra Carillon

Anzac Memorial ( a gift from New Zealand)

A ramp led me off the bridge to follow the northern shore of the lake, passed the iconic carillon. I was fortunate enough that one of the carillonists was practicing as I passed - the sound of bells gently pealing their notes across the lake is particularly soothing. Soon after, Blundell's Cottage came into view. Built in 1858, it is one of the few remnants of Canberra's pre-capital history (the fair Nello is another - her ancestors arrived in the 1830s).

Blundell's Cottage - built in 1858

At this point the route headed northwards away from the lake, passing the ASIO building, home of the nation's spies. Not yet complete behind its barbed wire fencing, it still generates an air of paranoia. I'm sure that the security cameras were following my progress as I hurried on towards Anzac Parade.

This long boulevard, in geometric red and green, directs one's gaze to the Australian War Memorial, which every April 25 becomes the soul of the city. The verges of this boulevard are home to a number of monuments to the diverse units and groups that served in war, some classically heroic, others movingly abstract. It is another part that should not be rushed by.

Mid-way down, I detoured into the suburb of Campbell for a cup of coffee with my daughter and grand-daughters. She was not convinced that setting up a coffee shop for Centenary Trail walkers would be a nice little earner, so anyone else will have to push on to the War Memorial Cafe for their cuppa.

Black Mountain Tower and the National Flagpole

The Service Nurses Memorial

View towards the War Memorial beneath Mt Ainslie

The Australian National War Memorial

The geometry of Anzac Parade

Here I chose to wander around the western side of this sombrely domed building, through its pleasant gardens, past cannon, tank and the deck of a frigate to reach the base of Mt Ainslie at its rear. From this point, the day's walk would be much less urban and more fringe as the track entered part of the Canberra Nature Park for the first time.

The route up to Mt Ainslie is a well-formed path that passes through the eucalyptus and casuarina woodland. It is also known as the Kokoda Trail, as small plaques along the way provide the history of this famous WWII campaign. I have walked this before, but not since I walked the real Kokoda Track in Papua-New Guinea a few years ago. This made the climb much more poignant and reflective as I relived the stages of my walk and tried to place myself in the footsteps of my father-in-law who fought on Kokoda. The climb evaporated quickly in so doing and it was good to reach the view-point on top of Mt Ainslie and break the reverie.

The path up to Mt Ainslie

There, over the forested slopes lay the most famous view of Canberra - a mountain backed vista of the lake and parliamentary buildings with surrounding suburbs hidden beneath the urban treescape. This is truly the "bush capital".

Classic view from Mt Ainslie overlooking the lake and the parliamentary axes

A few short steps took me to the actual summit of the mountain and along the northern ridge, then descending steeply on a wide dirt track to cross the tarred vehicle road and enter the saddle between Mt Ainslie and Mt Majura. It was pleasant walking in this area, even though I veered from the official route on occasion, as the forest was full of bird calls - the whistle of rosellas, warbling of magpies, mournful cry of a raven, and the twitterings of the unseen horde of "small brown birds" floated through the woodland. A mob of kangaroos watched curiously as I passed - alert but not alarmed.

Mt Majura from the Ainslie-Majura saddle

The curiosity of kangaroos

The track I took had descended the slope to join the perimeter path at the back of the houses of Ainslie and Hackett and I followed this for a while, before heading inland to start the ascent of Mt Majura. Aided by a well-formed track and some long and easy switchbacks, I reached a ridge with a large shady tree. It was an excellent spot for lunch, while looking out over the plains of the airport and watching the planes take off. Many times I have looked out at Mt Majura from the window of a climbing plane, but never before have I done the reverse.

View from the slopes of Majura towards Canberra Airport and beyond .....

..... and towards the city and Black Mountain

Passing an old sheep-camp, being rehabilitated by the local Landcare group (such groups are very active all around the fringe of the city) I climbed the last steep pinch up to the summit of Mt Majura, with its grove of lovely kurrajongs and the never-ending sweep of the airport radar station. Then it was downhill, retracing my steps until the sheepcamp, where another footpath headed westward around a steep-sided gully. The wind had sprung up and sighed its way through the canopy of casuarinas, that most soothingly musical of trees in a breeze. A final set of stone steps brought me back to low perimeter path and the technical end of the day's walk.

Track up to Mt Majura

The airport radar station

Over the kurrajongs to Mt Ainslie

Descent through a grove of casuarinas

Continuing on would take me further and further from a bus stop, so I headed back down this track and into the suburbia of Hackett. Here, near the local shops I caught the No. 2 Gold Line bus to Civic and then another bus home. The public transport option had started well and gave me time to reflect on the highlights of the day. With National Buildings, lakeside and bush, plus two summits to climb, you really couldn't ask for a better introduction to the urban fringes of Canberra. Even as a local, I found that I was looking at things through new eyes and enjoying them. This track should be a success.


Day 2 - Mt Majura to Mulligan's Flat (14.5 km - 230m ascent - 270m descent)

It was time to return to the track and continue my exploration of the Centenary Trail and I found myself sharing an early morning bus with a load of commuters heading to their offices in the Civic Centre. My office for the day was to be the open spaces of Goorooyarroo and Mulligan's Flat Reserves and the no. 2 Gold Line bus was the one to get me to the back streets of Hackett and the start of the walk. A bit over an hour after leaving home, and a 1½ km walk up to the base of Mt Majura from the bus stop, I reached the end point of Day 1 and today's start.

Grassy woodlands below Mt Majura

A flock of white cockatoos screeched a welcome (or were they just telling me to bugger off?) as I set off again, heading northwards on the perimeter track beneath the clear blue sky. Today, suburbia would not intrude on my walk, as the track led me between mountain slope and grassy flat woodland, scattered with superb specimens of old red gum and yellow box trees.

On reaching a horse trail, I turned east to follow it slightly uphill, keeping the slope of Mt Majura on my right. The sound of birds was gradually replaced by the soft sound of traffic from the main highway between Canberra and Sydney. The broad earth track now turned north, heading directly through open woodland towards the highway .... and the traffic noise became louder.

Looking back at Mt Majura

View to the north west

On reaching the dual laned highway, it was time for the first variant to the Centenary Trail. The official route turned right here to follow the highway and make a series of convoluted road crossings to get around a major clover-leafed intersection. I don't like walking along roads and could not see the reason for this (other than making it easier for bikes). Just to my left, an underpass provided the perfect means to cross the highway. I walked through and climbed up to the edge of a vehicle slipway leading down from the dual carriageway. After only a few hundred metres walking along this slipway, I could head down a side road that passed through a couple of gates (both unlocked), past a water treatment plant and out to Horse Park Drive.

Rural landscape near the Federal Highway

Canberra horses are very dexterous (and seem to be able to read)

An isolated ruin near the Federal Highway

The landscape here had suddenly transformed from natural to rural, with wide expanses of grassy paddocks. Just before the road there was a locked gate, but from the bent wires near the hinges, I was not the first person to climb over it. On the other side of the road was a parking spot and entry to Goorooyarroo Nature Park - my detour had saved a couple of kilometres of walking, most of which would have been alongside the major road out of Canberra.

Entry to Goorooyaroo

The road across Goorooyaroo

Old eucalypts and regenerating casuarinas

Reflections in a dam

Goorooyarroo is a recent acquisition for Canberra's system of nature parks and is former farmlands in the very early stages of regenerating to more natural vegetation. It was pleasant strolling up the newly graded (and dusty) dirt road that led into the rolling hills and tree-scattered pastures. After a while, the pastures reverted to open woodland, where infestations of sap-sucking lerps had given the foliage of the eucalypts a chlorophyll-free pinkish hue - devastating but aesthetic at the same time.

Old Joe Hill

On reaching some old and loose paddock fencing that followed the border with New South Wales, the track turned west, then north again to drop down to an open grassland, crossed by another fence, this one high, taut and very serious-looking. Erected in 2009, it was not to keep things in, but rather out, feral predators and herbivores in particular, following eradication of cats and foxes within. I entered Mulligan's Flat Woodland Sanctuary via the Bustard Gate to cross this living laboratory, where scientists are studying the structure and function of woodland ecosystems and where some of our critically-endangered mammals have been reintroduced into a safe environment - here there be bettongs (again)!

Feral-proof fence at Mulligan's Flat

Mulligan's Flat grasslands

The old coach road

Newly created wetlands

My wildlife count, however, remained one bounding kangaroo and a slow-moving shingleback lizard, as I followed the old Coach Road and then a more central road across the grassy woodlands and past a series of newly created waterholes. Passing the old woolshed and now ranger depot, I arrived at the western line of this 11½ km fence and left the reserve via the Woodland Gate.

Waterhole in Mulligan's Flat

The Woodland Gate

Mulligan's flat shearing shed

A short walk along the outside of the fence brought me to the houses of Forde, one of the newer suburbs of Canberra, and the end of the day's walk. As part of the management plan to protect local wildlife, residents of the new suburbs here must keep their cats indoors or in caged run at all times - bad luck, puss!

It had been relatively short, but it would be 22 km before I would next come close to a bus stop on this trail and here it was barely 100m from where I emerged out of the bush.

The modern suburbia of Gungahlin

The No. 55 bus arrived a few minutes later to take me to Gungahlin town centre, where a switch to the 200 Rapid bus brought me quickly to the Civic Centre. One more switch and I was home in just over an hour and in time for a cup of coffee while enjoying the banter of the juvenile king parrots in our courtyard. This "trail by public transport" seems to be working.


Day 3 - Mulligan's Flat to Gold Creek Village (22.5 km - 490m ascent - 530m descent)

Today's bus trip back out to Mulligan's Flat was very different - it was Saturday and the bus was almost empty. I suspect that the work day commuters were either shopping, taking their kids to sports or at the gym. The buses were also not quite as frequent and it took 1½ hours to reach my starting point. Still it was another lovely blue sky day and, after a long time sitting, it was good to be putting one foot in front of the other again.

The grassy slopes of Mulligan's Flat Sanctuary

Track up through Mulligan's Flat

A wombat gate in North Mulligan's Flat

Surveyor's lock stones indicating the border

I backtracked a few hundred metres to start my next variation from the official track, keeping inside instead of outside the feral-proof fence of Mulligan's Flat Woodland Sanctuary. It was no shorter, but seemed more to the bush end of the bush-urban spectrum. I entered via the Red Gum Gate and wandered slowly up an old vehicle track that climbed gently up through the grassy woodland (or should it be wooded grassland in this section). Exiting via the Bettong Gate, the track continued northwards towards the Territory border through denser woodland with scatterings of tiny lilies and the odd everlasting daisy .

Different shades of termite nests

From here, the track dropped down to a curious traffic roundabout in the middle of nowhere. On the far side, I could see a low wombat gate-flap in the fenceline - a point where these wide-ranging mammals could pass in and out of the northern sector of Mulligan's Flat. The fair Nello said that I should have taken a "selfie" of myself crawling through the wombat flap, but I am not into public humiliation. Having crossed the fence, I turned uphill on an old bush road, only to pass the proper "human" entrance a hundred metres on (I am told that signage will soon be installed).

From here a narrow dirt road followed the combined fence-line and border around the semi-circular ridge. When setting out the Capital Territory the surveyors had followed this ridge to protect the water catchment for the new city of Canberra. Looking out over the expanses of green sheep and cattle pastures in New South Wales and back to the forest slopes in the territory, I could see why. At some corner posts, the surveyors' lock stones, indicating a change in border direction were still visible.

View across the New South Wales countryside

The track wound its way around the ridge, climbing bare-topped hills, where wanderer butterflies flitted amongst the capeweed flowers, and passing through woodland groves, where tree-creepers and other birds twittered invisibly in the branches. Leaving the reserve via a farm gate, I climbed steadily up to reach Oakey Hill and a glorious panorama over the new suburbs of Gungahlin to the older parts of the city beyond - the needle-like Black Mountain Tower providing the focus of the view, as it would for almost every vista towards the city centre.

Stringybark forest on the territory side of the border

View over Gungahlin from the slopes of Oakey Hill

Here, the old tracks ended and. for the first time I came across track newly cut for the centenary trail - this was new walking territory. The metre wide strip of recently exposed earth, that had been bob-catted through the grassland, led me down the slope and out onto a pretty gently-sloping open area, surrounded by eucalypt forest. A surprise waited, for in front of me were the bright ochre-red shelters and water tanks of a newly constructed campsite, complete with drop toilet. It was enough to declare an early lunch break and enjoy the peaceful setting and the fine red gum benches and tabletops. This will be a great place, not only for people doing the track, but for parents bringing their kids out for that first pack hike and overnight camp - out in the bush, yet so close to the city.

Black Mountain and its tower from Oakey Hill

A section of new track

Rock formations on the border ridge

The new Northern Borders campsite below Oakey Hill

The track follows a gully into the forest

Dam near the campsite

Heading on, I followed the new track down into a gully, passing the dark clear waters of a small dam, and on to a section where it meandered and undulated its way around a series of gullies that formed the headwaters of Ginninderra Creek. At times it wandered beneath the sheltered groves of stringybark and ironbark and at other times, it emerged into the open grassland near the ridgeline, where the strengthening nor'westerly repeatedly tried to remove my hat. It was a part of the territory that I had not visited before and I was enjoying it.

Four different types of forest in the new section of trail between Oakey Hill and One Tree Hill

After a while, the new track merged into a wider 4WD route and for a while took a more direct route through this timbered landscape. At a high point overlooking a farmhouse, I hesitated. The dirt road continued, but to my left was a shiny new gate with walker access. It seemed the way to go, so I wandered down across the paddock, where a similar shiny new gate with newly made track heading off proved this was the right choice (again, signage should appear by the opening date).

A low saddle on the border

Tussock grasslands

Grassy clearing in the forest

Woodland grove

A local resident watches me pass

A solitary big red gum

Heading steeply down to a gully and steeply up the other side, the track wiggled its way for bikes. I took the walker's direct line, passing a hilltop farmhouse just over the border to move from open pastures to wooded grove and back again. After a long time when the city of Canberra was out of sight and out of mind, it re-emerged with extensive vistas over Gungahlin to the city and the distant town centre of Belconnen. It was time for a break in the shade of a large eucalyptus to take it all in. To the west, One Tree Hill stood tall, and that was the direction I was heading.

The city re-emerges beyond the paddocks

View across the paddocks to One Tree Hill

I headed on, crossing a broad saddle with views out over the pasturelands of New South Wales to reach the start of the hill - it was a rare spot where the territory side of the border had been cleared and the state side was heavily timbered. In several places wombats had pushed through the old fenceline, their runs fanning out into the territory's grasslands, only to be blocked by the brand new highly-tensioned fence erected to keep trail users on the straight and narrow - a small plea on behalf of the wombats for some flaps to be put in the fence here ... please.

This was also the spot to begin the next variant to the official route, which took the easy cycle gradient across the southern slope of One Tree Hill. This seemed such a pity for One Tree Hill has some of the most panoramic ridge walking in the region. Arriving at a fenceline on the new track, directly beneath the summit, I looked up took a breath and began to climb up alongside the fence - steep, but quick.

Wombat runs spreading out from a hole in the fence

Shingleback on the move

The One Tree Hill fire tower

Reaching the fire tower at the top I again took a long break. They did not build a fire tower here for no reason - the views were magnificent in all directions - the wind turbines of Lake George to the east, the Tinderry Mountains and Mt Tennant to the south, the Brindabellas and Murrumbidgee corridor to the west and far out across the rolling pastures to the north.

Panorama from One Tree Hill of Black Mountain, Woden Town Centre, Mt Taylor and Mt Tennant

The spring growth of eucalypts

The wind turbines of Lake George

Looking north across the rural landscape of New South Wales

Track leading down from One Tree Hill

Hilltops near and mountains far

It was a pleasure to wander westward along the ridge and take this all in. I have seen wedge-tailed eagles soaring high above One Tree Hill, but not today - the only wildlife was a herd of inquisitive cows (oh! and an echidna). The dirt road gradually descended to wind its way towards the village of Hall, passing briefly through a landscape supply yard (this is private property, so ask for permission if someone is there) and into the streets of the village, whre I rejoined the official trail.

So, who's walking through our paddock?

The historic church at Hall

I had been dreaming of a mug of steaming coffee for quite a while and the disappointment at discovering that both coffee shops had closed some 15 minutes earlier was palpable. I pushed on, wandering down the grassy verge of the old and quiet Barton Highway that passed through Hall to reach the new and noisy Barton Highway that by-passed it on the way to Canberra. For a kilometre or so, the route parallelled the highway before turning off to reach the tourist hub of Gold Creek and Federation Square. Here there be buses - the day's walk was over!

Main street of Hall village

Classic old buildings in Hall village, so different from ...

... the modern tourist of Federation Square

The no. 52 bus took me to Belconnen, where a change to a 900 Rapid bus saw me all the way home. It was a long hour of travel, reminiscing about the new landscapes walked and with the dream of a steaming hot coffee replaced by the dream of an icy cold beer. Today I think that I earned it.


Day 4 - Gold Creek Village to O'Connor (14.5 km - 120m ascent - 120m descent)

I was the only person on the No. 52 bus heading out from Belconnen terminal to Gold Creek Village. I'm not sure what that means, but it was different. The day was quite a bit cooler, but sunny, as I wandered through the Gold Creek tourist hub, past art galleries, walk-in aviaries, dinosaur museums, miniature villages and more - just no people. I wondered where they all were - I know they didn't come on the bus with me!

A pondage in the suburb of Nicholls

Mother duck and her family

Passing the golf course, I decided to veer slightly off the track to cross the grassy wall of one of the Gungahlin pondages, which the local coots and ducks called home, then head on down the creek to rejoin the track alongside the Barton Highway. A small stone berm seemed the ideal crossing point for the creek and I headed out. Woops! two of God's creatures got a very big fright - myself and the 2m long brown snake that was sunbaking on the dark rocks at the far end of the berm. The snake reared its head and for a brief moment we looked each other in the eye - one of us had to detour and I was glad to oblige.

The eastern brown snake - a not uncommon resident of the urban fringe

Today's walk is mainly on Canberra's bike paths

Normally, I don't like walking on asphalt, but after this wildlife encounter the bike path along the highway seemed a good place to be. It was to be my route for the next few kilometres, passing beneath a bridge to cross the highway and then heading southwards beside the grassy and reedy verge of Ginninderra Creek. The bikepath took an underpass to the suburban side of the road. Walking alongside traffic is rarely pleasant, so it was a relief when the track dropped down between a line of casuarinas, where the wind in their canopy muffled the noise of cars.

The grassy verge of Ginninderra Creek

Looking across the open fields to Black Mountain Tower

A casuarina-lined section of bike path

Ginninderra Creek gradually morphed into the upper reaches of Lake Ginninderra, reed-lined and backed by the grasslands of the naval communications station. Ahead I could see the long bridge that crossed this arm of the lake, the skyline of the Belconnen town centre beyond, and was soon crossing it to rejoin the bike path at its eastern end. From here the path wandered around the shore of the lake to reach the picturesque John Knight Park, where flocks of ducks, coots and a pair of pelicans sheltered in a cove from the strengthening wind.

A reed-lined reach of Lake Ginninderra

Looking down Lake Ginninderra toward the Belconnen town centre
Waterbirds of Lake Ginninderra

Part of the new Belco Skateboard Park

View from Gossan Hill towards the Brindabella Mountains (yes, there are houses there)

I continued on towards the town centre, crossing a small footbridge over Emu Bank Inlet and turning left to pass the Belco Skateboard Park (one of the best in the country if that is your passion) and the relatively new aquatic centre. The route was skimming the edge of the town centre buildings and heading for an area of suburbia backed by Gossan Hill.

Looking across the lake to Emu Bank

A suburban footpath in Bruce

The official route crossed over this wooded hill, but via a route designed for cyclists. it was time for another variant to favour the walker. Instead of walking up alongside the busy College St, I followed a path into the cluster of suburban houses and started a steady climb diagonally up a long leafy corridor between them.

On reaching the woodland verge, I continued the climb on a narrow foot track up to its summit, a grassland knob, tinged purple with Paterson's Curse, but with views through the trees back over the Belconnen Town Centre and to the mountains. Many dirt firetrails criss-cross Gossan Hill and I followed one down from the summit, through the dry sclerophyll forest to Haydon Drive, where I rejoined the official track.

View over Belconnen Town Centre from Gossan Hill

A firetrail on Gossan Hill

Once again, I found myself walking down the smooth asphalt of a bike path, amongst the pale white trunks of scribbly gums, emerging at the Bruce Stadium, the home of the Raiders and Brumbies rugby teams. As an aside, it was amusing to see how many passing cyclists were sporting a set of "spikes" on the tops of their helmets to ward off the dreaded swooping magpies, the bane of Canberra's Spring (it seemed clear that the birds had won the psychological victory).

Scribbly gum forest near the Institute of Sport

Cycle path through the forest

From here a long curving path led me on a stroll through the manicured grounds of the Australian Institute of Sport and to an underpass beneath Gungahlin Drive. I had reached O'Connor Ridge, where several years ago the residents of the neighbouring suburbs fought long and hard to stop this major arterial road being built - long and hard, but clearly without success!

Bruce Stadium - home of the Brumbies

The bikepath across the ridge is one of the few with streetlamps - mainly because it is used by supporters of the Raiders and Brumbies to access the Bruce Stadium from their parking places on the far side, a way to avoid the traffic jams in the official carparks after a big game. Perhaps it should be called Brumbies Boulevard or Raiders Route.

"Brumbies Boulevard" on O'Connor Ridge

Reaching the suburb of O'Connor, I followed a track through the bush on the upper side of Dryandra Street. The first part was along an orange-earth bank and the latter part showed the distinct pattern of newly-carved trail that I had walked on earlier.

Banked track between O'Connor and Black Mountain

Suburbia hidden in the bush

Frith Road, which headed in toward Black Mountain was my stop for the day - nearby I could get the no. 8 bus back to Civic, whereas on the track the next stop was 16 km ahead. Today had been relatively short and mainly on asphalt bike paths and I was looking forward to more "bush-walking" tomorrow - even better, the fair Nello had decided to join me on the next section over Black Mountain and through the new Arboretum.

Continue on to the southern section of the trail