Playgrounds, BBQ's & river fun at the Murrumbidgee River
The Cotter Recreation Area, also known as The Cotter, is located just 25 minutes south west of Canberra's CBD. Although it is just a short drive from the city, you feel miles away from anywhere with no phone reception, kangaroos on the side of the road and bushland for as far as the eye can see. The Cotter is a series of reserves close together along the Murrumbidgee River, with playgrounds, places to swim and free BBQs so you can stay all day and cook up a snag or two. This city escape is a popular area for Canberra locals - particularly families - as there is simply so much to do, all in the one location. The following is just a small sample of places to explore and things to do at The Cotter, just for kids. Plan to spend all day in this quiet slice of Canberra - you may not want to come back!
Have a splash and a paddle in the Murrumbidgee River
1/ Cotter Avenue is the main reserve in the centre of the recreation area. It is the most popular spot for families to visit as it has a large playground which is ideal for young children, however the older kids will enjoy it too. The playground keeps the kids busy while the adults cook the BBQ and get lunch ready, with over a dozen BBQs along the grassy reserve to choose from.
After a BBQ or picnic, why not walk down to the water and have a paddle in the Murrumbidgee River and feel how cold the water is - which is quite fresh, as it is has come straight from the Snowy Mountains in NSW. It is a great place to cool off in summer, but please be aware of the warning signs as there are no lifeguards or rescue aids along the river.
If the kids have some energy, why not take a walk along the 1km Cotter Dam Discovery Trail and take in the views of the towering dam wall, which contains the drinking water for Canberra and the surrounding region. There is also signage to read about Garrett Cotter himself, who the area is named after, who was an Irish convict who was banished from the early settlement and lived for a decade at the head of the Cotter River. See here for a Google map and here for details.
Take a scenic flat walk to the Cotter Dam wall, or walk up to the observation platform
2/ Casuarina Sands is another reserve and river swimming area, located a short drive from the main Cotter Avenue, above. This quieter reserve has a smaller playground and is a scenic place to set up a picnic or BBQ, with views out onto the river and ranges beyond. This reserve in particular is popular with families, as the river has a number of sandy beaches along its shores which are soft to sit on and are also great for sandcastles - so take the buckets and spades! The water isn't clear, as it is brown from the sediment that it picks up along the way, however it is refreshing to paddle into.
There is a main beach to walk to from the car park, however if you walk further upstream a short way, there is an even bigger "beach" with sand to relax on and little rapids flowing into the swimming area, keeping the water fresh. There are toilet facilities at both Casuarina Sands and Cotter Avenue, above. See here for a Google map and here for more details.
3/ Cotter Campground is located a short distance from Casuarina Sands, on the other side of a one-way bridge. This campground is particularly popular with families as it has hot showers, noise restrictions, river swimming areas and it is in a central location to go off and explore the region. Most of the tents that we walked past on our visit had scooters out the front, so it also appears to be popular place for kids to scooter along the carpark and over the speed bumps, after a day of swimming and exploring. See here for Google map and here for more details.
Camping prices per night (as of September, 2017) are $15 adult, Senior $12, Concession $10, Children aged 14 years and younger are free. Fill out the envelope provided at the Honesty Box and attach the registration card (found within the envelope) to your tent or caravan to show you have paid. Put the money inside the envelope and post it in the Honesty Box.
Wildlife also plays an important part in the Cotter Recreation Area, with some types of wildlife you would prefer not to see! Snakes, including brown snakes, have been spotted in the playgrounds early in the morning, so please be aware of your surroundings. On a brighter note however, there are platypus living along the Murrumbidgee River, enjoying its fresh and protected waters. Also look out for emus in the area, walking along the side of the road blending into their surroundings. On our visit, on a warm spring day, we saw two emus happily sitting in puddles of water by the side of the road, cooling themselves off.
Wild emus cooling off in puddles on the side of the road