Although there are a lot of picnic grounds in the Tidbinbilla Reserve I would not suggest to drive there just for lying in the sun and having a BBQ. You should really want to walk a bit - and if you only make one or two of the short and easy walks.
Ten walks are on the list: six easy walks which take from 15 minutes to 1 hour return, one moderate walk of 2 hours return, and three challenging walks in steep terrain that take between 2 and 6 hours return.
The ones I did not describe in extra tips are the following (times are for the return trip):
Turkey Hill Geology Trail (500m/15 min)
Church Rock Heritage Loop (2.5km/45 min)
Hanging Rock Trail, to an Aboriginal shelter (500m/15 min)
Devil's Gap Trail, through a dry forest (6km/2 hrs)
Fishing Gap Trail, to wet fern gullies, giant gum trees, wattles (7.7km/3 hrs)
Camel Back Trail, through wet forest into sub alpine habitat (12.5km/6 hrs)
The times calculated are generous. If you are fit you can do the walks in a much shorter time.
If you have not downloaded and printed the info brochures and map of the Reserve, this is the place where you get it all. You can also discuss which walking tracks best suit your ideas, and the staff provide you with information about special events and activities.
Here you can also make your personal experience with hands-on displays.
And, of course, you also get refreshments - snacks, ice-cream, cold drinks and coffee - and souvenirs.
The Tidbinbilla Reserve is open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9am to 6pm and until 8pm in daylight saving.
The Visitor Centre is open from 9am to 4.30pm on weekdays and until 5.30pm on weekends.
They offer a wide range of ranger guided activities during weekends and school holidays.
It might happen that the Reserve is closed on days with Total Fire Ban. If you are not sure, call the Visitor Centre before leaving Canberra.
As already mentioned in my intro: It is not allowed to bring pets, feed wildlife, and camping. Fires are only permitted in authorised fireplaces. Electric and wood-fired barbecues are available free of charge.
Visitor Centre, phone (02) 6205 1233
Fax (02) 6205 1232
Arts, Heritage and Environment Helpline (02) 6207 9777
http://www.tams.act.gov.au/play/parks_forests_and_reserves/recreation_in_acts_parks,_forests_and_bushlands/tidbinbilla_nature_reserve Click here
(The website www.environment.act.gov.au that is noted in the brochure has been relocated to www.tams.act.gov.au - but you can hardly find Tidbinbilla... Very bad move!)
Unfortunately this link does not work, and my trick to get around it does not work anymore either... Use www.google.com.au and type "Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve" in the SEARCH box. The hit you are looking for is:
"Territory and Municipal Service - Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve"
From the Visitor Centre a formed, tar-sealed road leads through the Tidbinbilla River valley. (Can't remember how long it was...) I would call it a "lasso road". The first part is the access to a loop road.
There are carparks at the start of all tracks, and toilets at the koala enclosure, Flint's picnic area, and at the BBQ and picnic areas near the Visitor Centre, so you should get around somehow ;-)
You will not succeed to make all the walks in one day, so plan your time. Do the walks which seem most important to you first, and then see what else you can squeeze into your schedule.
We, for example, did the Birrigai Time Trail which starts at the Visitor Centre at the end of our visit, as the flexible part which we would have cancelled if we had spent too much time at other places. BUT - we would have deeply regretted if we had had to do this, after all the great encounters we had there. Wildlife-wise this was clearly the best part of it all!
The other walks we did were the enclosures of the Brush-tailed Rock-Wallabies and Lucky the Koala, the Wetlands Loop Trail and the Xanthorrhoea Loop/Gibraltar Trail - the latter because it leads through spectacular landscapes of grass trees.
Of course, we stopped at Lucky the Koala's enclosure to have a look at this amazing marsupial that was the sole captive survivor of the 2003 bushfires.
It was very moving to see this poor devil with her big scars, and you wonder a bit why they keep animals in capivity so far from the rangers' quarters in bushfire-prone areas, so they cannot run away like all the free animals of the reserve in case of fire.
Actually Lucky was sitting on a branch and sleeping - so my photos with the small camera were not really good and I deleted them, and that is why I cannot post a Lucky photo here.
Instead I include a photo of the remains of a gum tree that had to be felled after the bushfires. First as a steady reminder how fragile and powerful at a time nature is, second as a tip to keep your eyes open for plants and other animals, especially birds that enchanted us on the walk from the koala enclosure.
And sure, always check the gum trees which are abundant in this area of the reserve. Here you can spot freely roaming koalas which, of course, often sleep during the day.
The bush rangers offer walks from the Koala carpark on weekends and school holidays, no bookings required, just show up at the times indicated at the Visitor Centre.
We were quite happy that we did not see all the animals you can see in the wetlands. Theoretically they are home to snakes - and I am horrified of those silent gliders...
Our main goal had been to spot a platypus - but we were not lucky with this either. Platypus is a very shy and secretive animal that spends a lot of time in the water, so it is a hard task in the wild. However, the bush rangers also offer platypus tours on weekends, and perhaps they have a secret code to communicate with them ;-)
The walk starts at the Rocky-wallabies enclosure and leads over formed dirt-tracks and boardwalks. Really a nice walk on which you can see or hear frogs and a lot of water birds, including ibis, pelican, swan, duck etc., and flocks of parrots are constantly flying over the ponds and have a seat on the surrounding high trees.
The walk is 1.8km long and takes about 1 hour return.
Ok, ok... They do not spend their whole day staring at you. Sometimes the kangaroos hopped away although we had tried hard in every single case to communicate well with them.
So don't be disappointed if they get other ideas while you would enjoy to have a chat with them. Two hop away, three others will arrive within minutes. There are enough kangaroos to watch for everyone.
The park rangers also offer a kangaroo walk on weekends and school holidays. They start at the Visitor Centre where you should check the times if you are interested. Of course, the rangers will not only point the kangaroos out for you but also tell you a lot of stories and give background information.
Ok - this should just become a walk into history, as this loop trail passes an Aboriginal Rock Shelter and European sites. There are great comprehensive signs, informing you about the things you should have an extra look at.
But it quickly became a fantastic wildlife watching walk, as emus and kangaroos were strolling around us all the time, and they were not really shy at all, especially the emus. So we got distracted from history and culture quite often ;-)
Those huge flightless birds were grazing in the dry grasslands and checking the leaves of small trees, and we could get incredibly close to them before they moved a bit away, just to make sure we would not hunt them for the BBQ ;-)
The Birrigai Time Trail starts at the carpark of the Visitor Centre, is 3km long and takes about 1 hour return if you do not stop every some seconds to watch and photograph emus and kangaroos.
The kangaroos you see in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve are Eastern Grey Kangaroos. They are the typical kangaroos of areas that have more than 250mm of annual rainfall. Its preferred food is grass, and it grazes from late afternoon to early morning. So it is really best to walk through the grasslands of the Birrigai Time Trail first or last thing you do at the Reserve. But don't worry, you will see kangaroos all day long, especially along the walks in grasslands. Also along the road before the start of the loop.
The amazing thing about kangaroos is that they always stare at you and watch every move you make. The more slowly you move towards them the closer they let you come before they would hop away.
A big adult male may measure over 1 metre from its nosetip to the butt of the tail, and the tail is up to 1 metre long. A big female's body can also be 1 metre tall but the tail only 80 centimetres long. The male can weigh up to 65kg, a female up to 32kg. They live in mobs of ten or more.
The drive from Canberra starts in a not very spectacular way, but soon you reach hilly landscapes, lonesome roads, forests and a nice lake. The loneliness was amazing.
At the time we travelled, at the end of 2005, you could still see the consequences of the massive bush fires from 2003, with whole forests having disappeared, leaving bare hills and burnt charcoal stakes which once were majestic trees. But you could also see the amazing power of nature coping with such disasters. Such charcoal trunks can come back to life, especially those incredible gum trees. Other forests have been replanted, and the tiny trees were growing, to some day cover the hills again with a green blanket.
The combined Xanthorrhoea Loop Trail and Gibraltar Trail to the Gibraltar Rocks are a highlight of a day in the reserve.
You walk through landscapes of huge grass trees and big marble-shaped rocks, and the higher you get, the more spectacular the views over the Tidbinbilla River valley gets. The Tidbinbilla Range with John's Peak (1440m), Tidbinbilla Peak (1561m) and Mt. Tidbinbilla (1615m) forms a fantastic backdrop to this beautiful scenery.
Already from the Xanthorrhoea Loop Trail you have great views. This walk is just 2.5km and takes 1 hour return.
If you continue uphill on the Gibraltar Trail to some massive granite rocks it gets steeper. You should calculate with 2 hours return for the 5.5km.
Not only on the coast, also in the mountains the weather can change quickly. So either be prepared to run fast - or carry rain gear (not only food and lots of water) and search shelter.
When we were surprised by thunder and lightning in the open land of the Birrigai Time Trail we searched shelter on the windstill side of a big rounded rock, which was at some distance from the highest trees, so we would not attract the lightning. Despite getting a little wet we found the experience quite funny and got out to take this shot with the small tripod and the self-timer LOL
After the first rain had passed we sprinted back to the Visitor Centre, and had a not too bad drive back to Canberra. Parts of the city had been under water, and heavy wind had caused havoc and covered the streets in branches and debris. How lucky we were out there!
On the second photo you can see the sky that made us walk a little faster ;-)
They sell those funny hats with dangling corks in Australia but they do not really help against the pest of bush flies.
I have once tried a personally invented silk ribbon wrap, and this worked very well. Just wrap a silk ribbon loosely over your hat and head, and they have no chance to annoy you.
A Japanese fan would also do the job, you must just be prepared to dedicate the use of one hand to fanning and photograph one-handed. I assure you, you get used to it!
A new system I tried in Tidbinbilla was a fan variation. First with a fern leaf which was not durable enough for keeping my face bush fly free the whole day, then with a very sturdy branch of a gum tree. Absolutely perfect. Really!
Mosca vetutissima. This is the Latin name for the most annoying insect Australia has to offer. It is the bush fly - and it is also abundant in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in the hot months.
As long as they sit on the backpack I would not mind them... Only if I were terribly bored I would start to count them - which would be super simple if you kill them before counting LOL But be assured, this will not happen, the reserve has far too much to offer to turn your mind to such decadent occupation ;-)