The Mount Ainslie Summit Walk, or the Kokoda Memorial Trail, begins at Remembrance Park behind the Australian War Memorial. At the start of the walk there is a memorial explaining what happened on the Kokoda Track in Papau New Guinea during the Second World War, as well as moving and informative plaques along the side of the walk. There are a number of ways to get to the top of Mount Ainslie, including running paths and a scenic road that takes you up to the Lookout, however it is the Summit Track that is the most popular with walkers as it is fully sealed and it is the most direct walking path up to the very top.
Mount Ainslie is 843 metres above sea level, with a climb of 163 metres from the bottom to the top. My average fitness was tested on each and every one of those 163 metres, however I was surprised by how quickly the 4.6km return walk took, to get up to the top and back. It took me 1 hour and 15 minutes return, which included stopping to take photos (and suck in some oxygen!), chatting to people along the way and appreciating the view at the top. Over 200 people a day and 6,000 people a month utilise this walking track up to the summit and it is easy to see why, with such a spectacular reward at the top and also stunning beauty to see along the way...
Birdlife and glimpses of the view on the Mount Ainslie Summit Walk
What I found particularly enjoyable about this walk was the friendliness of the other walkers. On the way up I said "Good Morning" to mothers groups with babies in pouches, couples, tourists and other women on their own like myself, running or walking for exercise.
If you are happy to take your time and read the signage, there are some interesting facts to learn along the way. Just a short way into the walk, there is a turnoff which leads to the Aboriginal Memorial Plaque which commemorates the Indigenous soldiers who have served in Australia's armed forces. There is also informative signage about the scribbly gum trees along the pathway, the aboriginal heritage spanning the last 21,000 years and how European settlement in the area has changed the natural landscape. Mount Ainslie itself was named after one of the first Europeans in the area James Ainslie, who arrived in 1825 after moving sheep from Bathurst, to the foot of Mount Ainslie.
Whilst walking up the concrete path, the silence is only broken by the sound of your own breathing and the distinct chirps of the striking rosellas that fly down onto the path between walkers. The contrast of the red rosellas against the stark and dry Canberra bushland, is a beautiful nature scene to enjoy whilst walking up to the summit.
The walk is criss-crossed with dirt tracks, however if you stay on the concrete path you can't get lost on this uphill walkway. The incline at the start of the walk begins slowly and then takes a more vertical path with rock stairs and increasingly steeper ground. As you continue up, there are glimpses of the Canberra's landmarks and views through the trees, making it a good excuse to stop and take photos when your legs can't take anymore. Also, as Canberra Airport is not far away, the occasional roar of a plane can be heard as they come in for landing, creating a sound that is even louder than your own heartbeat - if that was possible!
This walk personally challenged my mind, fitness and determination. Just when I thought I couldn't walk up another step and was wondering what on earth I was doing, the path would plateau out and start to zig zag up the hill at a more manageable incline. After getting my breath back and regaining determination, the path would once again heads upwards and it was a game of cat and mouse all the way to the top. There is a long vertical staircase near the end, which requires one last effort, however the Lookout can be seen tantalisingly close through the trees.
When you reach the top the view is worth every bead of sweat - it is simply spectacular in all directions. There are sandstone walls to sit on to take in the view, as well as signage to read about Canberra's landmarks and the city's design. Allow some time at the top to appreciate this unique perspective of the city and the surrounding rural land. After enjoying the view and rest, it is then time to return down the way you came - which is pure, sweet bliss. One thing I do have to mention however, is that I wouldn't recommend this walk for people who may have weaknesses in their knees or ankles as there is alot of pressure on these joints on the way down. Good, sturdy shoes are also recommended, as well as taking plenty on water.
The Mount Ainslie Summit Walk was everything I expected and more. It has a clear, concrete path that is easy to follow, it fits in a lot of heart-pumping exercise and it also has the promise of the best views in Canberra to keep you motivated. By the time you get back down to the car, you feel like you have experienced yet another side to Canberra and achieved a personal goal. I can't wait to do it all over again.
Will you be taking the Mount Ainslie challenge this weekend?
Looking down to Anzac Parade below, with sunlight playing on the iconic view