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Taking on 5 of Canberra’s iconic hill walks in 5 days

If you want to experience the beauty of Canberra, the Bush Capital, with the rolling landscape and elegant city structure, you have to get high.

No, not like that. I mean you have to climb. It was only after trekking up five of Canberra’s most well-known hill walks in one week that I truly understood the majesty of this city, and its surrounding region.

MONDAY – Mt. Ainslie

The first and only time my partner made the hike with me.

I started with perhaps the most popular trek, Mount Ainslie. Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Australian War Memorial, Mt Ainslie gives you an almost 360-degree view of the city.

Depending on where you stand at the summit, you can experience the vast landscape towards Gungahlin and Queanbeyan, if not slightly marred by the airport and Ikea.

The starting blocks at the base of Mt. Ainslie.

As you finally arrive at the peak, following a lung-busting ascent which features winding pathways and a brutal set of stairs to finish, you are treated to the unique layout of Canberra.

You are able to see the way the city was designed, with its modern and historical landmarks all forming a sort of skeleton, on which the rest of the city is formulated.

Because it was my first walk of the week, a Monday lunchtime workout, it was relatively hard, but only as difficult as I made it.

I was happy to have my partner with me, though she informed me I was on my own from then. The week was just beginning.


TUESDAY – Mt. Majura

It took me twenty minutes to catch my breath before I could contemplate the scenery on top of Mt. Majura. I couldn’t even muster the energy to take a decent photo.

My best attempt at a photo while breathing rather heavy atop Mt. Ainslie.

This walk has everything, from the gruelling climb at the beginning, where every step seems to be designed to catch you out and halt your progress.

Then, there is a flatter more tranquil portion where you can (and I only know this now) prepare yourself for the finishing climb.

Wow, that broke me. Every time you think you’re at the top, you feel as if the mountain has added another peak to itself, just to test your will.

There is a payoff though. The walk down Mt. Majura is spectacular. The contrast of the natural red pathway with a backdrop of green hills is visually stunning, and honestly, you’re just so happy to be walking down you’ll be left with a smile from ear to ear.

WEDNESDAY – Mt. Stromlo

The Brindabella Mountains in the distance at the summit of Mt. Stromlo.

Admittedly, motivation was becoming an issue by day three. To get me through it I decided to take on the walk I had been told would have the best reward at the end, Mt. Stromlo.

It didn’t disappoint. The view at the top of Mt. Stromlo is mesmerising. You have the wonderful observatory, which is placed as a central point, with the Brindabellas and Cotter Dam looming in the background.

The walk itself was the least challenging of the five, another added benefit of having chosen it for my hump day trek. I was told to take the bike track to get the best experience, but later learned the fire track is far easier.

Still, an enjoyable experience and a much-needed break from the physical toll of the previous two days.


Two brothers after 10 minutes of pain.

The shortest, but definitely sharpest of the five walks, Red Hill, posed an entirely different challenge to the other treks.

Having parked beside Canberra Grammar school, I walked to the entrance point and couldn’t believe there was such a devilish hill walk awaiting me.

There wasn’t the same sort of grandeur as the starting point as Mt. Ainslie. It reminded me of Mt. Majura, an unassuming start which was followed by what felt like Everest in the sun.

But it was fine. Ascending Red Hill is brutal, but for only a short time. Just as you approach breaking point, the hill flattens, and you are treated to fantastic views of Parliament House and Mt. Ainslie.

As I stood, gasping, I was reminded of day one, where I had reached Mt. Ainslie’s summit without much ado. The week had taken its toll. I was tired. Thankfully, I had my brother with me to spur me on. I don’t know if I would have made it without him.

My legs were aching, but it was worth it and I had just one more mountain to climb.

FRIDAY – Black Mountain

Home to Canberra’s most recognisable landmark, Telstra Tower. Black Mountain was the perfect ending to this quest.

With a renewed energy, probably because I knew it was over, I set off from near the CSIRO building on my final climb and was immediately aware of my lack of speed.

Only 900m to go!

My body didn’t feel as tired as the previous days, but I was just not able to quicken my pace. A weird sensation that was clearly the effect of the previous hikes.

I was done with trying to prove anything to myself by getting to the top at speed anymore. After four days, and four separate treks, I just wanted to get to the top.

It made for a more pleasant experience anyway. Black Mountain has three distinct phases. The first climb tests you, but isn’t that difficult. Then comes a long but casual walk where you can enjoy the nature around you.

Finally, there is a last burst to the top, which I almost didn’t make. I was fed up, in all honesty. However, I made it and I was glad.

The views did not blow me away this time. Perhaps I was over it, jaded by my week’s excursion, although I appreciated the particular vantage point over Belconnen and Bruce which I hadn’t got a clear look at previously.

I was glad to be at the end of the week. I had learned the lesson I wanted, by the time I was on top of Mt. Stromlo. Canberra is beautiful, with the hills holding these little ponds of water, it all seems to be perfectly placed and where everything is supposed to be.

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