Sunday Canberra Times: Opinion - 2 March 2014

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TOWARDS the end of his tenure as ACT chief minister, Jon Stanhope became increasingly fond of looking to the mountains in the city's west where he had spent many hours jogging and wondering aloud why we did not have more adventure tourism operating in our natural surrounds.

While Stromlo Forest Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve are, perhaps, two successful highlights of that vision to capitalise on the city's natural treats, there has been a decided lack of progress in harnessing the natural beauty of the parks on our doorstep and turning them into tourism dollars.

Ginninderra Falls remains closed to the public, and the bold vision of treetop walks for the Cotter were never realised.

Successive tourism campaigns in Canberra have focused on promotion of the national institutions, which makes sense and also plays to the city's strengths as the national capital. Harnessing the school excursion market to visit Parliament House, the War Memorial and other icons has also been a lucrative niche for many years. But there are other untapped opportunities if we wish to grow our tourism market.

Anyone who has taken in the sweeping views from the summit of Mount Gingera after lunch at Pryor's Hut, one of the most picturesque in the Australian Alps, stood among the footings of the tracking station that captured the first communications from the Apollo space mission, or dipped a toe in the deep pools above Gibraltar Falls on a hot day knows there are true gems on our doorstep. Sadly, few Canberrans, let alone visitors to the region, will ever visit them.

The lack of infrastructure in many of our wildest places presents challenges when considering opening them up to tourism. But those hoping to capitalise on this under-utilised drawcard need not look far for examples of where others have succeeded.

Luxury lodges and tour companies that cater to taking trout fishermen to remote areas are a huge success for New Zealand, as are the helicopter rides, mountain biking and myriad other outdoor activities they have made their own.

Canberra may never be the adventure capital of Australia, but we need to remember the successes we have already had. Mount Stromlo went from a burnt-out rump of a hill to host of an international sporting event broadcast globally, in less than seven years. If we are looking to draw new markets to the capital we could do worse than tapping into the natural beauty of our region, connecting visitors to it with a host of top-class restaurants, wineries and rural retreats and showing them a side of our city they won't find in the Parliamentary Triangle.

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