A visit to the stunning Canberra National Arboretum

Home to around 48,000 rare trees in 250 hectares of woodland, the Canberra Arboretum is a living, breathing legacy of landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin. The conservatory was born on land ravaged by massive fires in 2003.

The Canberra National Arboretum includes 94 forests of extraordinary, endangered and iconic trees from across Australia and the world. Many of the trees are still young, but two of the forests are almost a hundred years old. The arboretum was opened to the public in 2012, a testimony to resilience and regeneration.

I walk up the winding road to the park at the western end of Lake Burley Griffin, four miles from central Canberra. This brings me to an area they call the “Village”, a building with views of Canberra. This is where you go if you want information, souvenirs, shops, cafes and restaurants. It also houses the national bonsai and penjing collection.

The nature-themed Pod Playground, located on the north side of the village center, features huge acorn cubes, swings and banksia pods for children to explore.

The Canberra Discovery Garden, on the south side, shows how to cultivate a picturesque, practical and water-efficient garden all year round.

I check the views; these are the best in the Arboretum restaurant. The striking construction built on a slight rise has panoramic glass, so no one misses the views.

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The light coming from the double glazed roof panels raised by massive veneered wooden beams provides enough daylight in the complex.

When I look to my right from the Arboretum Restaurant, I can see the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, a spectacular construction that reminds me of the famous Sydney Opera House.

Between the pavilion and the restaurant opposite is a large area popular with kite fliers due to its expanse and clear skies.

Bonsai Galore

When I am in the main building of the arboretum, I am overwhelmed to find an excellent display of bonsai and penjing just steps from the restaurant. Penjing is the art of crafting miniature decorations in a pot or tray.

These bonsai are “young” around 60 years old, while older bonsai can be up to 800 years old. I want to buy one from the arboretum gift shop, but I can’t, as I have a long trip before finally returning to India.

I leave the park and its forests of living cork oak and Himalayan cedar groves complemented by plantings of everything from ultra-rare Wollemi pines to giant sequoias. Among them are large public works of art, such as the giant Eagle’s Nest made from substances discovered on Dairy Farmers Hill.

From the top of the hill, the city of Canberra is exposed. And the vast, sprawling green setting is awe-inspiring. It is known as the “bush capital” for a very good reason.

(Awarded “Best Food Writer in the Country” by India’s Culinary Forum, WACS and Ministry of Tourism, Rupali Dean writes about food and travel.)

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