New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published April 13th 2016
A self-guided driving tour to Canberra's Lookouts
Canberra Tracks is a series of eight self-guided drives around the region, marking significant sights and landmarks throughout the city. Track 1 (Ngunnawal Country) takes visitors back thousands of years into the regions indigenous past, Track 2 (The Limestone Plains) visits remnants from the early settler period and this Track 3 - Looking at Canberra explains how the city grew from these early beginnings into the thriving city we see today.
Track 3 - Looking at Canberra takes an in-depth view of the city which was initially designed to house 75,000 people and now has a population of over 350,000. Infrastructure had to be planned, greens spaces needed to incorporated and decisions had to be made to construct the city from the ground up. This self-guided drive takes you up to Canberra's Lookouts to get a birds eye view of the city to get an idea of how it was originally designed. So fill up the thermos, pack a picnic and spend the day exploring Canberra - from above.
Stop 1 - Mount Ainslie Lookout Mount Ainslie Lookout is also included in both Tracks 1 and 2 as it shows clearly the natural landscape and how the city sits in it today. Walter Burley Griffin, who designed the city with his wife Marion in 1912, described the city as the "amphitheatre" and the surrounding hills of Black Mountain, Mount Pleasant and Mount Ainslie as the "top galleries". From here you can look right down the centre line (or axis) of the city, with The Australian War Memorial closest to the mountain and Parliament House sitting proudly at the other end, flag held high in the air. Crossing this line horizontally is the lake that was named after Griffin himself, which was originally the Molonglo River running through the plains.
The drive up to Mount Pleasant Lookout is interesting in itself, driving through the Royal Military College of Duntroon and arriving up to a spectacular view and the Royal Australian Artillery National Memorial at the top. Take some time to read the signage and learn more about this significant memorial, dedicated to the memory of Gunners, of all ranks, who gave their lives in service to Australia. The Memorial's stone outer wall is symbolic of the early forts that defended many of Australia's ports, with the two guns positioned either side originally used in Sydney Harbour's defences. This lookout also provides an extensive view out to the rural areas past Canberra Airport and the surrounding NSW towns close to the border.
Stop 3 - Regatta Point It is only a 10 minute drive back down Regatta Point, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. Park the car and walk up to the National Capital Exhibition to learn more about the origins of the city around you. Allow some time to explore this free exhibition and discover how Canberra got its name, why this location was chosen, where is the Parliamentary Triangle and why the Griffins' design was picked over others. There is a large 3D model of the city which explains the significant landmarks, interactive displays and there is also a video to watch to learn more about Canberra's origins.
After you have enjoyed this exhibition, why not have a break and enjoy the view of Lake Burley Griffin from The Deck café next door, or enjoy a picnic at Commonwealth Park before continuing onto the next lookout.
Stop 4 - Black Mountain The next stop is just a short 10 minute drive up Black Mountain to the Telstra Tower that sits above the city. Although Telstra Tower had plenty of opposition when it was built in 1973, it has become an iconic landmark for locals and visitors to use to get their bearings when exploring the city. This 195m high structure is open to the public with an indoor viewing platform showing a 360 degree view of the city, with a small coffee shop on the same level. Take your time in reading the signage by the windows to understand the location of Canberra's significant landmarks and how they are placed in the city's design. Take note of the national parks and green spaces clearly seen from this viewpoint.
Black Mountain got it's name in 1832 by surveyor Robert Hoddle who worked in the region and wrote 'Black Hill' under his sketches of Black Mountain and O'Connor Ridge. The mountain was burnt as part of the local Aboriginals' land management and hunting practices and was generally named Black Mountain from this time.
Stop 5 - Red Hill Lookout Red Hill Lookout is a 20 minute drive through the city to this southern vantage point. Although not as high as the other lookouts, this view takes in the cityscape from a different angle. There are two views to enjoy from Red Hill Lookout. As you drive up the hill there is the first lookout with sandstone walls and signage to read about the city below. After taking in this spectacular view, continue on to the end of the road where you will find another lookout in front of the scenic Little Brother Café. This is an ideal place to stop for a coffee and a break, to take in the views at this spectacular location.
View from Red Hill Lookout and Little Brother Cafe
Stop 6 - Parliament House This self guided drive finishes at Parliament House - the meeting place and reason why this capital city was established over a century ago. In 1913 Lord Denman, the Governor General at the time, laid the foundation stone here on Capital Hill to mark the inauguration of Australia's federal capital.
It is free to visit Parliament House and walk through the public areas, view the exhibitions and enjoy the grounds. Why not take a free tour and learn more about the history of this auspicious building and how Australia of today has been formed over the years. If you are in need of another coffee or rest stop, Queens Terrace Café has stunning views up to the Australian War Memorial and Mount Ainslie - where this tour first began.
Canberra Track 3 - Looking at Canberra is an enjoyable way to spend a day touring this fascinating city. This self-drive is one of the most scenic of all the drives, with plenty of time to stop for awhile and enjoy the view for longer. The next tracks in this self-drive program (Tracks 4 - 8) take in history (and cemeteries!) of the outer suburbs of Canberra, from Tuggeranong in the south to Gungahlin in the north. Why not continue on this self-guided journey back into Canberra's past and delve deeper into what makes this city so unique. Who knows what else you will discover along the way.
Parliament House - the last stop on Track 3 - Looking at Canberra