A 3km walk to the ACT's oldest aboriginal rock shelter
Birrigai Time Trail is a walking trail located at the entrance to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, 40 minutes south west of the city. Tidbinbilla is a popular weekend destination for locals and tourists, with over 20 bushwalks to explore varying between short walks of a few hundred metres to 19 kilometres hikes. Each of these walks require you to pay an admission fee to get into the reserve, which costs $12 per car for the whole day.
The walking trail starts on the left of the Visitors Centre and winds its way along the flat of the valley before making its way up to the Birrigai Rock Shelter, which is the oldest aboriginal rock shelter in the ACT. A section of the floor was taken away for testing in 1986 and scientists found bone, stone, shell and charcoal which showed that local indigenous people were using this shelter over 16,000 years ago, during the last ice age. Before this, they only had evidence to suggest that they had been living in the area just 3,000 years ago, making it a significant discovery in Australia's indigenous history.
At the start of the walk there is signage to read about the reserve, before following the brown arrows through the grassy plains, enjoying the scenic views across the valley along the way. The path then connects to a main dirt road and you turn right and follow this for several minutes before seeing another brown arrow sign in the distance. If you love kangaroos, you will enjoy this part of the walk with literally hundreds of kangaroos all over the path and over the hills on the right hand side. Most aren't interested in you walking by, however allow them plenty of room to quietly graze in their native land.
Along the way there are signs to read about the early pioneers who set up farms and a community in this area in the 1800's. There are remnants left behind from that time, with signs explaining where there was a school, houses and even a tennis court that was used later between the two World Wars.
Signs to read about the early settler history up to World War II
The path then turns right and enters into bushland, with a narrow path to follow and sections of log stairs to climb up on the way up to the rock shelter. Although I walked this trail early in spring on a cool morning, it became hot quite quickly out in the exposed grasslands and then on the uphill climb. If you take this walk in the hotter months, ensure you start early to avoid the hottest part of the day and be aware of snakes, which also live in this area.
Follow the small brown signs into the bushland and up into the hills
As the path flattens out, there are some large granite boulders beside the path, which are common all around the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. They were formed millions of years ago from magma below the earth's crust and create the striking rock formations we see today. The pathway becomes very uneven underfoot through this area, however it is a sign that the shelter must be close.
Follow the walking path between and around the granite boulders
Before getting to the Birrigai Rock Shelter itself, there is also a smaller cave to the left of the path, which would also have been utilised as a protective place out of the elements. On the other side of the path however, is the fenced-off interior of the cave, which looks dark and cold - but the perfect size for a family with a warm fire roaring within. Stay for awhile and imagine the stories that would have been told around those fires each night, passing legends down from one generation to another.
There is also signage to read at the entrance to the shelter which explains what this land would have been like over 16,000 years ago, when this shelter was used by local indigenous groups. It was the end of the ice age and the indigenous people who camped here had to stay warm, as the temperatures were 8-10 degrees colder than they are today, with snow covering the land for almost half the year. If they blocked off one end of the cave to prevent the wind from howling through, this shelter would have been an ideal place to stop on the way to, or from the mountains.
After leaving the rock shelter, the walk continues through bushland until it leads down onto the grassy hill that was full of kangaroos at the start of the walk. This time however, the path continues straight through the centre of hundreds of kangaroos, which is an amazing experience if you have never been up this close to these Australian icons. I must admit, walking through such large numbers of kangaroos did feel a little unnerving with so many pairs of eyes looking at me, however it was also a special experience to see so many kangaroos having joeys visible in their pouches.
Although it is hard to follow the brown arrows, with so many kangaroos in front of them in the same colour, the trail continues down the hill and meets up with the original path. After navigating the hundreds of kangaroos, also look out for two emus on the way back to the start, which roam wildly in this area.
The Birrigai Time Trail is one of the most "Australian" walks I have been on, with indigenous history, kangaroos and a close encounter with two emus that I didn't see on the path in front of me. Where else can you find such a uniquely Australian experience - all in the one place?
The Birrigai Time Trail - indigenous history and (up close and personal!) wildlife encounters, just 40 minutes from the CBD