The Australian National Botanical Gardens are located in Acton, just 5 minutes from Canberra's city centre. It holds the largest living collection of Australian native plants in the country - so if you enjoy growing native plants yourself, then it is an interesting place to walk around and see them in flower at various times of the year. Kangaroo Paw, Telopea and mass plantings of wattle are just some of the flowers that are in bloom in spring and summer, which kids enjoy pointing out as you walk along.
Although the gardens are ideally suited to adults to walk around, they are still a place of discovery for kids as they follow different paths and see what is around the next corner. On a recent visit to the gardens, my young daughter put together this list of her favourite things to see and do around the gardens, for an hour or two the sunshine...
1/ The Rainforest Gully is located at the entrance to the gardens, just next to the Visitors Centre and Pollen café. There are a number of different paths to choose from to get into the rainforest and walk in the shade of the tall canopy. If you visit in summer you may even be sprayed with a sprinkler or two as the staff try and keep the rainforest cool in hot temperatures. Rainforest Gully is very popular with kids, as there are bridges, stairs and walkways to explore. "Do we go left or right?" "Up or down?"- kids enjoy making the decisions!
Older kids may also enjoy reading the signage along the way, which includes an Aboriginal Plant Use Trail which points out trees and plants and what they were used for, for over thousands of years. See here for details.
Read and learn along the Aboriginal Plant Use Trail
2/ Native Wildlife is abundant in the gardens, with rustles in the bushes and lizards darting across the path in front of you. If your kids enjoy birds in particular, look up in the trees for cockatoos, galahs, owls and rosellas. See here for a list of birds to look for.
3/ The Paperbark Treehouse is a new addition to the gardens and has become a popular attraction for kids. There is a bridge to walk over to the bottom level and a high ladder to climb up to the top of the treehouse. Once you are up the top, there are a few peepholes so the kids can look down to the gardens below. Down below there are rock stepping stones and sculptural parts of the treehouse to touch and admire. Follow the signs from the entrance to get there.
4/ Pollen Café is a leafy café under the trees near the entrance to the gardens. The café is often full of families, having a cold drink and enjoying a rest between exploring. They also now have a Kids Menu if you wish to stay for something more substantial. See here for details. For a full article on Pollen cafe, see here.
5/ The Eucalyptus Lawns are located in the middle of the gardens and it is the perfect place to lay down a picnic blanket and have lunch or a snack in the shade. See here for a map.
6/ Who Did That - Children's Discovery Trail is a short path that has signs down low so kids can read them, lift up flaps and look around at the plants or wildlife around them. At each sign there is usually a model of an animal, such as a bird in the tree or an echidna on the ground, to search for and discover. This short walk leads to the Paperbark Treehouse, so it is some interesting entertainment along the way. See here for details.
Get down low and read the signs on the Children's Discovery Trail
7/ IMB Bank Sunset Cinema is an annual event in the gardens, held each December on the Eucalypt Lawns. The latest release movies, including kids movies, are shown on the big screen at sunset, so families can enjoy this outdoor experience together. See here for details.
8/ School Holiday Activities are held throughout the year, which include walks with rangers, bee-keeping talks, after-dark tours, reptile encounters and also a Junior Ranger program. See here for details.
9/ Friday Story time for Pre-schoolers is held on the first Friday of the month, between 10am - 11am. Young children will enjoy the stories, songs, rhymes and creative activities brought to life by the ACT Storytellers and surrounded by nature. The cost is $5, no bookings are required. See here for details.
10/ Dinosaurs in the Gardens is a collaboration between the National Dinosaur Museum and the Australian National Botanical Gardens, each winter school holidays. The collaboration first began in 2015 and it has become a well-loved attraction, with life-sized dinosaurs positioned around the gardens to walk along and meet. See here for details each year.
Dinosaurs in the Gardens. Image: National Australian Botanical Gardens Facebook. Photo credit: Instagrammer @emcallaghan1
The Australian National Botanical Gardens is a relaxing place to wander around for the whole family, especially if your kids have an interest in nature and wildlife. You can make your own fun in the gardens and if you have older children, it can become educational as they learn about different types of plants and how they grow. When we visit, we may only stay for a short time, however, we always find something to entertain us - whether it be a strange flower in bloom, an echidna crossing our path or lizards that run out in front of us to eat insects on the path.
The secret to enjoying the gardens is to simply just "look" - you never who know who may be looking back...