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Next in the ‘Being a tourist at home’ series

I’ve lived in Canberra for over three decades (that’s almost long enough to be considered a native) and most of that time I’ve lived close to Red Hill, one of our wonderful little risings from which to gaze upon this grand, planned city of ours. In all of that time, I’d only walked up it once, so it was about time we started getting better acquainted.

In fairness, our first little sojourn up Red Hill ended up being quite traumatic. It was a hot day in summer and we took the (then small) kids and our dog. (Spoiler alert: this was a mistake.) She was very excited and wandered here and there, sniffing and poking among the bush, having a glorious time.

(At this point I should stop and point out that she shouldn’t have been wandering about here and there, sniffing and poking among the bush. She should have been on a lead, because it’s a nature reserve and that’s a rule for dogs. And as it turns out, a very sensible one, which is well worth abiding by, and we were bad citizens and irresponsible. Lesson learned for me. Others please note.)

And then she came across a snake. A huge bastard, head reared and ready to strike, inches from her nose. She was fascinated, never seen anything like this, what the hell was it? (our take – a light-coloured silvery-brown snake, perhaps a tiger snake, although less likely for Canberra. Most likely deadly for dogs in any case). We shouted, we whistled, we screamed hysterically for her to come to us, hearts thumping. Seconds passed. More screams. More seconds. It stayed poised, she kept staring, inches from death, a stand-off that seemed to go for an eternity. Eventually our beautifully obedient dog heeded us and came away and the snake slithered off, and she was saved. None of us had voices for the rest of the week.

So it was with just a little trepidation that many years later, we’re revisiting the notion of climbing the local hills. This time we chose a cool spring day and left the dog (a different dog, it was so many years later) at home. There were no snakes this time (don’t panic, non-Australian readers – I think it’s pretty rare to come across them and usually any would scuttle away as they heard you coming) and just some good exercise, a pleasant walk through the bush and a view from the top. Try picking your street or local sites from the top. It’s a game we play at the top and apparently I’m not very good at it.


One of the brilliant things about Canberra is that it’s a planned city; it was built not all that long ago (just over a hundred years) from scratch and to a plan. Which means it’s logical and spaced out, and revolves around a delightful man-made lake, Lake Burley Griffin. It also means it features lots of circular roads which completely confound visiting tourists, but from the top you can really get a sense of the geometry and planning of the place. And from Red Hill, that in particular includes the ‘Parliamentary Triangle’ (the ceremonial precinct of Canberra), its striking geometry on proud display from way up on high.

Red Hill separates the central area of Canberra from Woden Valley to the south, Canberra’s first town centre. This is one of the most marvellous things about Canberra – literally just a couple of minutes from both the city and a major town centre, and you’re in the middle of the bloody bush, possible snakes notwithstanding. This would be why we call this place ‘The Bush Capital’.


A view of Woden town centre.

There’s a lot of work that’s gone into the care and maintenance of the place, including stairs and signage. It is actually an official Nature Reserve (remember that dogs on leads rule?). There are quite a few trails to choose from, with stairs and signposts to help you on your way, and tracks for bikes if that’s your thing. You can start from the car park on Mugga Way in Red Hill or even start from Brereton Street in Garran. Next time.

When Canberra was selected to be the nation’s capital, Red Hill was part of the ‘Duntroon’ grazing property owned by the Campbell family. It was acquired by the Commonwealth in 1903. If you were wondering where the name Red Hill comes from, there’s a handy sign up there which explains that Walter Burley Griffin, town designer and the bloke we named the lake after, was keen for native vegetation to be regenerated on its hills and  instructed in 1917 that the hill be planted with red plants, like grevilleas and callistemons. The grazing didn’t stop till 1997. (I do love informative signs.) Mind you, the place was flooded with the yellow of wattle on our visit.

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Here’s more information about the nature reserve, provided by TAMS (Territory and Municipal Services). (I actually hate linking to a PDF but I couldn’t find the page on the ACT Government’s website. If anyone knows where it’s hiding, let me know.)

If you really want to get involved and learn more about the bushland or help in its restoration, the Red Hill Regenerators are a group that meets regularly and works to restore the native vegetation in the reserve. I just love civic-minded people!

And revelation for the day (week/year). Well, it was for me. There’s a tardis up there! A full on, bloody tardis, and it’s even blue. Actually it’s a bit bigger than a real tardis is supposed to be, but size is always a bit tricky with those things, bigger on the inside and all that. Surprise!


Pop in to the Little Brother cafe if you need a caffeine hit or a bit of sustenance to make up for all that exercise. It’s housed in a fab retro building surviving from the 1960s, all glass and angles sharing the fab views, and sitting under its older sibling Onred (reviewed here – ooh, that would be my review).

Keep your eye out for kangaroos. Very likely you’ll spot a few, especially at dusk. And I believe there are lots of birds as well, white-throated treecreepers and southern boobooks (they’re owls) although birds is not my expertise.

To make up for all those lost years, we walked up Red Hill three times in a week (different parts). Mr T is helping me in my mission to keep those encroaching kilos at bay! No snakes spotted so far, just lots of birds and a happy little family of ‘roos. And that tardis!

Mt Ainslie and Black Mountain are next on our list. They’re a bit harder. And they’re on the northside. You know, you have to cross that bridge – and you know how loathe we south-siders are to do that.