With another very long weekend upon us for many Canberrans and quite a few of us on ‘staycation’, I took the opportunity to enjoy the mild autumn weather, and find somewhere new and not too far away. I took a short drive across the NSW border to explore; the riverbank parkland of Queanbeyan. I was accompanied by Ellie, a local young adventurer who was keen to take me on a tour of some of her favourite spots along the banks of the Queanbeyan River. It turns out we are spoilt for choice: the river precinct offers a number of parks and visitor amenities, with views of the river. They are all well-maintained, child-friendly, with robust playground equipment and lots of free parking. Most include shady seating, BBQs (some solar powered), and water stations.
I certainly remember the catastrophic floods of 2010 and recall the damage that was caused. On a lovely autumn afternoon, with ducks and swans splashing all over the water’s edge, it is hard to believe the river peaked at 8.4 metres, bringing the bustling town to a standstill and causing so much chaos. But that was all before Ellie was born, and Ellie is a girl with a mission: she wants to show me what she loves about the well-tended open green spaces and the great variety of playground equipment. Then we are going to figure out which of the four parks we like best. As well as the attraction of the water and ducks and swans, I wonder if I have seen an escaped domestic goose lounging around on the riverbank! We had hoped to spy a platypus, but we didn’t really have time to sit still for long with so many different playground toys to road-test, and all on an easy circuit from where we had parked the car in Trinculo Place – for free.
All along our route, the grass is green, well-trimmed, and the trees are still on the cusp of autumn. We weren’t short of company as we encountered many family groups with children, dogs and older couples enjoying the paths and lovely views of the river.
Our first stop is Queen Elizabeth II Park, an impressively landscaped location on the slopes of the river adjacent to the Riverside Plaza. Officially opened in December last year, we are both interested to see what is on offer.
From the other side of the river it looks immaculate, and on closer inspection, we are not disappointed. Two spinning saucer rides and a challenging rock wall are proving popular, flanked by interesting brightly painted climbing frames, and there are plenty of seats for the less energetic. The ping-pong table tempts us, but alas we have no bats or balls; maybe next time. The water bubbler and bottle refill station are noted as well as the solar panels on the covered seating area with BBQs. The park has been sympathetically designed to create a direct link between the commercial and retail heart of Queanbeyan. The water park is not in action during our visit, but the quirky playground is very entertaining and the river below is lined with graceful willow trees.
This is warm and thirsty work, so we cross the river and retire to the beautifully situated Riverbank Café for afternoon refreshments. This popular spot borders on hipster, with the kitchen constructed out of shipping containers and the outside tables, complete with cactus pot plants, provide a shady and cool retreat under the leafy arbour. Strongly family and doggy oriented, this friendly café offers half portions of everything, a good selection of gluten-free, a tempting children’s menu that comes with a free juice popper with each order, and there are doggie treats which I observe being served to a large puppy under the next table. I think he was having the Gizmo and Tilley’s homemade and preservative-free biscuits and makes short work of them. Highly recommended by locals, this café is all about a great location, pretty setting, situated alongside the delightful colonial cottage that is home to the Queanbeyan Artists’ Society. It is almost impossible to believe that the flood waters of 2013 were lapping at the door. High up on the bank, it fronts onto a grassy green slope to the river and behind abutts more parkland.
We resumed our route along the eastern bank of the river into the Sensory Garden. The area includes plants and activities which engage all five senses: sight, touch, sound, scent and taste, with views over the river. We find another water bubbler and bottle refill station, as well as giant frog and snail sculptures. There is a colour maze that takes us a few minutes to figure out, some musical instruments, and more pavilions with BBQs.
Further along the river is Ray Morton Park. There was a terrific trampoline that challenges all-comers. Tentative at first, it took my adult weight, and I only stopped when I got a bit dizzy. Ellie proved to be of stronger stuff and showed near-Olympian skills at jumping. Again, there are BBQs and shady areas with seating for family groups and the area is decorated with some simple and colourful mosaics.
Crossing nearby Bungendore Road, we find our way into Sister City Park. It is a nicely proportioned area that celebrates the sister relationship between Queanbeyan and Hatta Mura, Japan. As we enter the park, we stop to admire a rampant pumpkin plant of Jack in the Beanstalk proportions growing near the entrance from a private garden onto public land.
I mentioned the pumpkins to a Queanbeyan friend who says he looks at it each day as he drives by and marvels at the number of pumpkins growing. The park is appealing and neat; we find more brightly coloured and well-maintained equipment, somewhat different to the other parks; and it seems very popular with younger children. There is a swinging bridge, hammock, a challenging but fun twisty slide, as well as some quirky little mushrooms, which surely must have some magical quality. An excited terrier races after a ball in the far corner of the park, a couple stretch and exercise, and once again, not one piece of rubbish.
As we head back to the car, we check out Marj Christian Park and approve of the large and quite exciting blue ship-like structure. The park is a securely fenced play area with slides, hanging triangles, sliding poles and other fun equipment suitable for all ages of children. Once again, there is also a BBQ, shady picnic tables, and tidy bins.
I know these parks are much loved, well-utilised and valued by local residents. Queanbeyan does have a number of older-style apartment blocks that offer limited recreation space, and there is no doubt these spots offer a relaxing outdoor setting and are busy summer evenings and sunny weekends all year round.
The four-park circuit, including driving from the inner south of Canberra and a café stop, takes less than 2½ hour and we are all pleasantly tired. Ellie initially gives me her rating for the four parks; they are all high with one scoring 10/10. Later in the day, I get a message to say she has revised her rating, and she would like to rank all the parks as 10/10. I love her youthful enthusiasm and I can’t help but agree with her.
I know there will be readers who think I should have done more cafes, so I will mention that, of course, there are other good cafes in Queanbeyan. In particular, I am sure the proprietors of the pretty heritage Mill House café will be greatly relieved all the landscaping work has been completed on the Queen Elizabeth II Park. There will certainly be some who think I should have included some of the other city parks, including the original park for the city, the central Queanbeyan Park as well as the popular Rose Garden, but the selection of parks was not mine. Please do share your favourite Queanbeyan cafés and park in the comments section.
My compliments to the people of Queanbeyan and the Council. We did enjoy our cross-border visit: no rubbish or graffiti obvious, robust and well-maintained playground equipment, free BBQs, and happy children running around enjoying themselves. This part of Queanbeyan is a real riverside paradise for the young, and a delightful destination for adult companions and friends. If you are looking for something new to do this autumn, don’t overlook the Queanbeyan river precinct.
More about Queanbeyan here. Queanbeyan is located 20 minutes east from Civic past the airport along Pialligo Avenue, or via Fyshwick on Canberra Avenue.
Free parking: I parked on Trinculo Place and also noted parking on Wanniassa Street on the eastern side of the Queanbeyan River.
All photos by Maryann Mussared and Carol Cooke