A visit to Canberra's breathtaking National Arboretum

The National Arboretum has a variety of trees from Australia and around the world
Last Updated 15 July 2022, 02:26 IST

Home to approximately 48,000 rare trees across 250 hectares of woodland, Canberra's arboretum is a living, breathing legacy of landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin. The conservatory came up on land ravaged by massive fires in 2003.

The National Arboretum Canberra encompasses 94 forests of extraordinary, vanishing and emblematic trees from all over Australia and the globe. Many of the trees are still youthful, but two of the forests are almost a hundred years old. The arboretum was opened to the public in 2012, a testament to resilience and regeneration.

I drive up the winding road to the park at the western end of Lake Burley Griffin, six km from the centre of Canberra. It brings me to a zone they call the "Village," a building with sights of Canberra. It is where you go if you want information, souvenirs, shops, cafes and restaurants. It also houses the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection.

The nature-themed Pod Playground on the northern side of the Village Centre has massive acorn cubbies, nest swings and banksia pods for kids to discover.

The Canberra Discovery Garden on the southern side displays how to cultivate a picturesque, workable and water-efficient year-round garden.

I check out the views; they're the best from the Arboretum Restaurant. The striking construction built on a slight elevation has panoramic glass, so no one misses the views.

Light streaming from double-glazed roof panels raised by massive veneered timber beams gives enough daylight within the complex.

When I look to my right from the Arboretum restaurant, I can see the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, a spectacular construction that reminds me of the famed Sydney Opera House.

Between the Pavilion and the restaurant in front is a vast field loved by kite fliers owing to its expanse and clear skies.

Bonsai galore

When I am in the main building of the arboretum, I am overwhelmed as I discover an excellent bonsai and penjing exhibition within walking distance of the restaurant. Penjing is the art of developing miniature backdrops in a pot or a tray.

These bonsais are "youthful" at around 60 years old, whereas the elderly bonsais can be as ancient as 800 years. I want to buy one at the arboretum gift shop, but I can't, as I have a long trip before I finally return to India.

I leave the park and its forests of living groves of cork oak and Himalayan cedar complemented with plantings of everything from ultra-rare Wollemi pines to giant redwoods. Scattered amongst them are grand public artworks, such as the giant eagle's nest made from discovered substances on Dairy Farmers Hill.

From the hilltop, Canberra city is on display. And the vast, sprawling green frame is awe-inspiring. It is known as the 'bush capital' for an excellent reason.

(Awarded the "Best food writer in the country" by the Indian culinary forum, WACS and the ministry of Tourism, Rupali Dean writes on food and travel.)

(Published 15 July 2022, 01:31 IST)

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