Going on a bear hunt at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

It’s no secret that kids love cute, fluffy animals.  Heck, we adults love them too!  Especially cute, fluffy, baby animals.   Spring is the perfect time to connect with nature and Australia’s unique native wildlife and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve ticks all the boxes.  A mere 40 minute drive from Canberra, Tidbinbilla is home to all of Australia’s favourite native animals.  Emus, koalas, kangaroos, wombats, platypus, wallabies, potoroos and countless species of birds.  The highlight of our family’s recent trip to Tidbinbilla was coming face to snout with some of Australia’s cutest, fluffiest and most well-loved critters (and their babies).  Read on to hear about our experiences at Tidbinbilla and hopefully you’ll be inspired to pack a picnic and head off on your own adventure at one of the region’s best nature reserves.

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Canberra in spring time is golden.  Golden light, golden grass and the bright burst of wattle from lawns and street verges.  It is the perfect time to explore the Canberra countryside – not too hot, not too cold, native flowers blossoming and baby animals finding their feet in the big, wide world.  There are plenty of options within easy reach of Canberra, however if you’re after a gorgeous natural setting and wildlife encounters that are budget-friendly and accessible for the whole family, then it really is hard to beat Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

The drive to Tidbinbilla is a leisurely, 40 minute trip south-west from the city through spectacular, golden countryside.  The landscape is stunning here: rocky outcrops protuding from grassy plains and eucalypt forests shedding winter bark in long tendrils that pool on the ground.

Recognised as Canberra’s leading ecotourism attraction, Tidbinbilla promises fantastic wildlife and nature-based experiences, including:

  • bushwalking one of the many designated tracks;
  • scenic driving to a number of lookouts;
  • picnicking at one of many pictureseque settings;
  • bike riding on sealed roads and firetrails;
  • seeking out the local wildlife – kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, emus, wombats, potoroos, platypus and all manner of birds;
  • playing at the Nature Discovery Playground; and
  • for those keen to extend the experience overnight, an overnight stay at Nil Desperandum, a historic European homestead.
Canberra countryside Tidbinbilla nature spring eucalypt

Canberra in spring time is all golden light and grass, accented with punches of bright native blossoms.

Visitors Centre and Entry Fees

Our family of four (including our two and a half year old toddler and three month old baby boy) recently visited Tidbinbilla and we loved every minute.  Here’s how it all played out…

Upon entering the park we pull into the visitors centre and pay the park entrance fee ($12 per private vehicle for a day pass, $35 for an annual pass – bargain!) and grab a coffee.  Stepping out of the car, we spy a mob of kangaroos grazing nearby, their joeys peering at us from the safety of their mothers’ pouches.  The sky is a clear light blue, the air crisp and cool.  It’s so different to the salty, humid air of Sydney that we can’t help but pause to breathe deeply and savour the sensation.  Ahhhhh, how’s the serenity?!

Tidbinbilla, kangaroos, voyaging stars, nature, Canberra, Australia

The visitors centre (open 9am – 5pm daily) displays samples of the local wildlife, as well as indigenous and settler artefacts.  There’s a gift shop selling fluffy replicas of the animals to be found outside, as well as a kiosk and cafe.  Don’t forget to collect a free Nature Play Passport – a booklet produced by the ACT Government aimed at encouraging kids to get outdoors.  It’s chock full of stickers of native flowers and animals for the kids to locate in the real world and then add to their ‘passport’.  A very entertaining way for the little fellas to connect with the natural world and create a souvenir of their experience.

Tidbinbilla runs numerous events throughout the year that are worth looking out for, including an annual open day featuring animal displays, educational talks, live music, helicopter flights, rides and more.  Today our goal is pretty straightforward – go for a bushwalk, see some koalas, enjoy a picnic at one of Tidbinbilla’s many BBQ spots and, finally, ride on Tidbinbilla’s awesome slippery dip (more on that later).

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve koala enclosure bush Canberra ACT Australia

Our koala encounters

It’s a rare and special thing to see a koala in the wild but most of the time they are notoriously hard to find.  The aim at Tidbinbilla is clearly to make the experience as realistic as possible.  The enclosure consists of a huge, fenced area filled with towering gum trees, native grasses and a small creek.  A pram- and wheelchair-friendly pathway winds its way 700m through the enclosure, starting and finishing at a small corrugated iron shelter where we find three sleepy koalas huddled close together.  A fourth – this one a little joey – is busy clambering all over his sleeping mum, pausing every now and then to steal a look at his curious and excited spectators.

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The little guy peeking out at us through the bushes is Tidbinbilla’s latest arrival – a boy!  Here he is snuggled up with his mum, Buffy.

Like all other koalas, this joey started life as a tiny, pink, wormy-looking creature and spent its first six months inside its mother’s pouch growing body parts and fur before emerging looking like an actual koala.

It’s exciting seeing a baby koala here considering that the population was almost wiped out during the 2003 Canberra bush fires, which destroyed 500 homes and killed four people.  Only one koala – appropriately named ‘Lucky’ – survived and since then it’s been a slow, yet successful, effort to establish a new koala population at Tidbinbilla.

Further along the pathway we spot an elderly couple looking skyward through a pair of binoculars.  Following their lead we stop and peer up high into the canopy.  There, camouflaged amidst the grey-green gum leaves is the rounded silhouette of a lone koala scratching his rump against the tree trunk.  He seems oblivious to our presence, or if he knows where there he clearly isn’t phased.  After a little while we leave the butt-scratcher and soon come to a small, freshwater creek.  Coco dabbles her fingers and toes in the frigid water while the rest of us stop to admire our surroundings.  The bright red and blue feathers of crimson rosellas flash through the canopy above and magpies dash black and white across the sky.  Back on earth humble, brown potoroos scurry between their burrows in the undergrowth.

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“There’s a bear in there…”  This one was having a great time scratching its rump and snatching handfuls of gum leaves to munch on.  And yes, I know koalas technically aren’t bears but for those who grew up in Australia, you’ll get the cultural reference!  (That’s right, koalas aren’t bears – they are marsupials, which means their young are born immature and develop further in the safety of their mother’s pouch).

Nature Discovery Playground

Tidbinbilla has plenty of beautiful picnic spots but the best option with kids has to be the Nature Discovery Playground.  There are electric BBQs, toilet facilities, swings and play areas designed for both younger and older kids, including:

  • a play area for the little kids which resembles a settler’s homestead, with water tanks, ‘rocky’ sheep in a fenced yard, swings and slides;
  • an old-fashioned, hand operated water pump which, with a bit of elbow grease, gets water flowing downhill into a series of channels;
  • for the older kids, a spider’s web climbing frame, an awesome flying fox and (our favourite!) a double slide with rock climbing walls on either side.

Coco is only two years old but happily spent half an hour fearlessly going up and down the slide, either sitting on our laps or letting us hold onto the back of her shirt while she slid down beside us.  It was awesome, definitely the best fun my husband and I have had at a playground in a long time.  Let’s just say that getting to ride the double slide with our kid beats being a mere park spectator and pushing her on a swing for hours on end!

For those keen to experience the natural beauty and wildlife on show in this part of the world, you must put Tidbinbilla at the top of your travel wishlist.  If you live in or near Canberra, we reckon buying an annual pass is the way to go.  That way you can take your time exploring the reserve one bit at a time and keep coming back for more.  We may live in Sydney but will definitely be back to Tidbinbilla again to continue our animal adventures!

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A crimson rosella pauses for breath before shooting off through the forest canopy

Need to know…

  • Opening hours: The reserve is open in summer from 7.30am to 8pm and in winter from 7.30am to 6pm.  The visitor centre is open between 9am and 5pm year round.
  • Pick up a Nature Play Passport from the Visitors Centre and encourage the kids to go hunting through the bush to spot their favourite animals.
  • Entry fees: The entrance fee is currently $12 per private vehicle for a day pass, or $35 for an annual pass.
  • Pack a picnic and take some time out to enjoy the Nature Discovery Playground.  Bear in mind that you must take all rubbish home with you, so pack some garbage bags too.
  • Getting there: Access to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is from Paddy’s River Road, via Cotter Road (Weston Creek) or Point Hut Crossing (Gordon).  Tidbinbilla is a 40 minute drive south from Canberra.