9 March 2023

Canberra's top picnic spots for the long weekend

| James Coleman
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Fog on mangroves

Yes, this is in Canberra. It forms part of the free-to-enter sculpture gardens at the National Gallery of Australia. Photo: NGA.

The long weekend is (almost) here, and what better way to celebrate 110 years of Canberra than by savouring the bits that make the ‘bush capital’ great with a picnic?

Yes, okay, we’ll downplay those times when your can of soft drink has spilled because you accidentally placed it down on a lump of grass. And now everything is sticky. Or when you dropped your fork in the dirt. We also don’t talk about the time the plastic tumblers were ‘forgotten’ because, clearly, it’s not all that bad.

In fact, one Canberra picnic spot has ranked among Australia’s finest, according to data collected from Instagram.

Australian food box delivery company EveryPlate compiled a list of ‘Australia’s Most Popular Picnic Locations’ by analysing how many people posted to Instagram from each one.

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Centennial Park in Sydney scored first place with 91,100 posts, followed by Burleigh Beach in Queensland with 81,800 posts and Glenelg Beach with 53,300.

But among the top 10 (in 10th place) is Corin Forest with 11,900 Instagram posts to its name.

Located in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, about 45 minutes from the heart of Canberra, it might be better known as our closest snow experience in winter. However, there is still plenty to enjoy there when the temperature is forecast to be in the mid to high-20s.

For instance, the Alpine Slide – which descends an “exhilarating” 1.2 kilometres through the Mountain Ash forest – is open all year round. Tickets must be bought online in advance.

Woodfired pizzas are also available from the café if a gas barbecue isn’t to your liking.

Corin Forest

The Alpine Slide at Corin Forest. Photo: Corin Forest.

These spots might not have made the official Instagram list, but maybe they’ll be there next year. Here’s our rundown:

1. Commonwealth Park, Lake Burley Griffin

You’ll know this large, grassy, landscaped park from Floriade and the National Capital Exhibition. It runs from the city centre to the edge of Lake Burley Griffin and includes its own picturesque water features.

2. Bowen Park, Lake Burley Griffin

Bowen Park in Barton overlooks the East Basin of the lake near the Kingston Foreshore. There’s plenty of space for picnics, fishing and walking.

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3. Australian National Botanic Gardens

Located on the lower slopes of Black Mountain, this is one of the only places in Australia where you can walk from desert to rainforest and back again in a few hundred metres. There’s a café and even a day spa for “mud wraps, massage, spray tanning, and facials”.

4. Haig Park, Braddon

The trees in this park date back to 1921, and they are all a stone’s throw from the countless gift shops, eateries, cafes and bars in Braddon. Every Sunday, the park also fills up with the Haig Park Village Markets selling a variety of local produce, flowers and pastries.

5. Gardens at Australian Parliament House and Old Parliament House

Rose arbours. Wisteria hanging from white arches. Tennis courts. The gardens by the Old Parliament House have to be among Canberra’s most idyllic relaxation spots.

Old Parliament House Rose Gardens Photo: Michelle Kroll Region Media

Old Parliament House Rose Gardens. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

6. Lennox Gardens

These gardens offer views of Black Mountain, the Brindabella ranges and the city centre, all from one place. The west of the park also includes landscaped gifts from Japan and China, each celebrating sister-city links between Canberra, Beijing and Japan’s ancient capital, Nara.

7. Weston Park

Spread out over a large peninsular jutting out into Lake Burley Griffin’s west, Weston Park includes a ‘beach’ on the eastern shore and a network of cycle paths throughout the park. There are picnic tables, electric barbecues, public toilets and a large-scale adventure area for kids, complete with a water playground and wading pool.

8. Red Hill

At more than 600 metres above sea level, the lookout at Red Hill Summit is one of Canberra’s first lookouts. You can hike or drive to the summit to access picnic tables and the view.

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9. Black Mountain Peninsula District Park

This park is known for its water-based recreation, from canoeing to rowing, and until 31 March, more than 200 square metres of inflatable Aqua Park. The 22-hectare foreshore has a playground, picnic areas, barbecues, walking trails and water activities.

10. Molonglo Reach District Park

Molonglo Reach District Park takes up a narrow strip of riverside parkland between the Molonglo River and the Royal Military College, Duntroon. There’s ready access to the banks of the tranquil river for picnics, fishing or canoeing. Dogs are also welcome.

11. Sculpture Gardens at National Gallery of Australia

The grounds between the National Gallery and Lake Burley Griffin display a variety of sculptures, most bought during the early 1980s, which makes for an interesting walk-through.

On board a GoBoat on Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: James Coleman.

12. GoBoat

Who said picnics had to be land-based? You can hire a small electric boat from GoBoat at the Kingston Foreshore to enjoy a gentle, electric-powered cruise of Lake Burley Griffin. No boat licence or experience required.

13. National Arboretum Canberra

There are 100 forests of threatened tree species at the National Arboretum, leaving picnickers spoilt for choice. The Himalayan cedar forest includes free electric barbecues, while Dairy Farmers Hill offers spectacular views over the ACT. There’s also the Ginger restaurant in the main visitor’s centre.

14. Mount Ainslie

It’s a go-to spot if you have visitors and you want to show them Canberra. The summit takes in Lake Burley Griffin and many of our attractions, all framed by mountain ranges, and also includes plenty of space for lunch.

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15. Cotter Dam

A short drive from Weston, the Cotter Dam is ideal for all manner of outdoor recreation – picnics, swimming, camping, fishing, bushwalking, and just generally sitting around and sipping beer. Around the corner, Casuarina Sands also includes BBQ facilities, picnic tables, shaded areas and playground equipment.

16. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

If you prefer your picnics with a side of native animal spotting and natural landscapes, Tidbinbilla has it all. And a ‘Nature Discovery Playground’ for the kids. Just watch an emu doesn’t reach over and pluck the sandwich right out of your hands (it’s happened).

You can purchase a day pass for $14.50 at the Visitor Centre.

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