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Tourist Route 5 – Why it’s the greatest road in the ACT

Picture this: it’s a beautiful Canberra Day. While many others are working out how to safely shoo a wasp away from their romantic picnic, or counting out coins for tonight’s overpriced noodle dinner, I’m in a car. The sun is shining, the engine is roaring, “Don’t stop me now” by Queen is playing, and the wind is giving me a slight noogie through the open sunroof. The only mild bother is the fact my sunglasses have fallen underneath the seat.

Before you ask though, I’m not going anywhere. This kind of road is more about the journey than the destination.

There are plenty more of these roads throughout the world. In 2007, the famous BBC television show, Top Gear, named the Stelvio Pass in Italy the “best driving road in the world“. Then there’s Scotland, with the North Coast 500. New Zealand has the Milford Road. Our own state of Victoria has the Great Ocean Road, named in the usual imaginative manner we’ve come to expect in Australia, because it’s a road along the ocean which is great. So what about the ACT? Do we have anything close?

Well, to be honest, I don’t know because I haven’t driven any of the above. But what I do know is that we have this:

This is Tourist Route 5, a scribble of tarmac along the borders of the Namadgi and Brindabella National Parks on the south-west of the territory. It’s made up of the Cotter, Paddys River, and Tidbinbilla Roads and is about 40 kilometres long, or roughly 30 minutes.

So, what makes a great driving road?

Basically, it’s everything bad about driving taken away. The little old lady dithering about in her Nissan Tiida, the road works, the panorama of nothing but brake lights and street signs and buildings in the windscreen, Kristen Henry on the radio, and cyclists. I could go on.

With most of the real world gone, you’re left with the way it’s meant to be according to all the car commercials – motoring perfection. A sleek line of grey threaded through a tapestry of bowling green countryside with babbling brooks and towering mountains, and you and your car in the middle of it all.

Yes, well Tourist Route 5 is something like that.

Now, I was in a 2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI which many would consider a sporty car, but you don’t need that. I’ve often argued that a true car enthusiast should be able to find the fun in anything – mainly to justify why I also drive around in my wife’s rather battered Toyota Corolla – but the point is, this road will serve fun to you on a platter. Yes, the hands shake a bit, but it will still do it.

No matter who you are though, a few things are for certain. Eventually you will get hungry, you will want to get out and stretch your legs, or grab a drink of tea or coffee. With plenty of amenities along the way, Tourist Route 5 has your call of nature covered too.

The scenery out here isn’t quite up to the standard of a Windows screensaver, but it is beautiful in its own way. And the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve offers a number of scenic walks and serious hikes through it all, with the added bonus that you may see a tortoise. The shrine to Australia’s bit for putting men on the moon is also near here, in the form of NASA’s Deep Space Communication Complex. It now also houses a museum and café for your convenience. From there, it’s about fifteen or so minutes to the Cotter Reserve, where there’s more scenic walks, a swimming hole, a rather nice block of toilets, and BBQ facilities, meaning the chance is still there to shoo wasps away from your romantic picnic.

So there we have it: all the ingredients for a great driving road. The next time you find yourself with a spare day and the urge to get out with no particular destination in mind, try this. I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

Well, at least not until you reach the end and realise you’ve used a quarter of your fuel tank.

The Cotter Pumping Station, along the Cotter Road

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