Located less than 30 minutes drive from the centre of Canberra, this is one of the City’s most popular recreation areas, especially for families at weekends and around public holidays.
In addition to the ‘day’ visit area with barbeques, picnic areas and a kids playground, all with lots of shade by the river, there is a campground nestled between the Cotter and Murrumbidge Rivers.
The shady (as in lots of exotic and native trees!) campground accommodates tents and campervans and provides basic facilities such as toilets, showers, wash up facilities and barbecues (no power or sullage). Pets and generators are not permitted. Camping fees apply, details of which can be found on the website listed below. The campground is well located and makes a great base for those wishing to spend a few days exploring the nearby Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
In addition to just laying back and enjoying yourself with a picnic there are a number of nice short walks in the area. The reserve sits in the shadow of the Cotter Dam, an obvious attraction in itself. The current Dam opened in 2014 replacing a smaller one slightly further up the river.
Swimming and fishing is permitted in the rivers but I have to say they are a bit cold for my liking. For more details on a couple of the walks and the Dam see my separate reviews:
Cotter Dam Discovery Trail and the Dam
The Cotter Catchment Lookout Track
What the reserve lacks is any form of retail outlet. The Cotter Pub was a causality of savage bush-fires which swept through the area in 2003. This being so, if you are camping here or visiting just for the day you need to bring your own provisions with you.
Those who read my reviews will be aware that I can’t resist adding a little contextual history, so here goes:
The Cotter River is one of the few things in Australia named after a convict as opposed to a voluntary settler in Australia. It is named after Garrett Cotter, a Irish convict who ‘settled’ in the area in the mid 19th century.
Garrett Cotter was born in Cork, Southern Ireland, in 1802 and deported to Australia in 1822 for “Whiteboyism” – agitating against excessive rents and the condition of peasants. Such agitation seems to have included the heinous crime of having a milkmaid swear against milking cows until rebel demands were met. Romantic as this seems Cotter is also alleged to have fired on a military patrol, hence the severity of his sentence. Official ship records record his misdemeanour as “Insurrection and Firing on the King’s Troops”.
On arrival in Australia, Cotter was assigned to a settler at Lake George (on the Sydney side of Canberra). While there, he stole a horse which lead to his second exile to the then remote Cotter/Murrumbidgee area to care for stock. In effect the river became known as the Cotter through association with Cotter rather than the result of official intent. Cotter was pardoned from his crime in 1847 and died in 1886 in the nearby village of Michelego where he and his wife were buried.
Address: Cotter Road, Stromlo
Directions: 22km west of Canberra city centre.