Break by the lake

Sunset on Lake Ginninderra. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Sunset on Lake Ginninderra. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
A spot of lunchtime fishing on Lake Ginninderra. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

A spot of lunchtime fishing on Lake Ginninderra. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

A peaceful scene on Lake Ginninderra looking across to Mt Coree in the Brindabellas. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

A peaceful scene on Lake Ginninderra looking across to Mt Coree in the Brindabellas. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

Yerra, one of Lake Ginninderra's four swimming beaches. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

Yerra, one of Lake Ginninderra's four swimming beaches. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

For many years, I've viewed it as the poor cousin to Lake Burley Griffin (LBG). However, after recently moving into the Belconnen area, I decided I should at least explore Lake Ginninderra this summer before dismissing it as little more than a glorified drain.

So in November, I conjured up enough courage and pushed Emily, my two-year-old, around the lake in a pram. Sure, it's only one-seventh the size of LBG, but Lake Ginninderra's 7-kilometre circuit track is longer and more variable than the exposed 5-kilometre bridge-to-bridge that most people trot along at LBG. I was immediately hooked.

It's actually surprisingly clean (it doesn't seem to be affected by blue-green algae as much as LBG), and it's big enough to not be intimate, but small enough to be friendly. In fact, I've embraced the lake to such an extent that by the end of January, I was having withdrawal symptoms if I hadn't been ''down to the lake'' at least once a day.

Over the past couple of months, I've spent every spare moment exploring the lake and its surroundings, from sunrise kayaks and hurtling down flying foxes to sunset cycles.

I've also swum in the water (it's not that bad) - both voluntarily and involuntarily (my kayak skills aren't quite up to scratch) - and even helped Sarah, my five-year-old, chaperone a family of wayward ducklings across busy Benjamin Way.

So with Easter traditionally providing the last hurrah of warm weather before the long winter sets in, and while many of you head down the coast this weekend, you'll find me lounging in a deckchair under my favourite tree reading a book and watching the lake in its many guises. If it's warm enough, I might even take one last dip.

While the majority of people cycle, walk or run around the lake, this suburban oasis has much more to offer. Here's my top 10.

1. Skimming stones

This once-favourite pastime seems to be falling by the wayside these days. Maybe there's a better version on an electronic gaming console? Find a quiet (you don't want kayakers to round the corner and be pelted with a barrage of stones!) and still (you'll get more distance) part of the lake and throw (with a flicking action) the flattest stones you can find. Who knows, if you are really lucky, a talent scout for the World Stone Skimming Championships (really, they are held in Scotland each year and it's time an Australian won) might walk past just as your stone disappears from sight.

2. Beat around the bush

By the early 1900s, much of the area around the lake was cleared for grazing. However, following the decision in 1967 to create a lake (which came to fruition in 1974), the foreshore was promptly (and thankfully) revegetated with many species, including blue gums, argyle apple, black gums and groves of water-loving river oaks. One of the best places to appreciate the extent of these plantings is to walk over the hill and through the bush across the main peninsula. I found an old exercise track that runs through here, but it's unkempt and the grass is long, so your best bet is to step where you least expect a snake.

3. Cafe culture

Looking for a lakeside latte or relaxing brunch? I recently discovered that as part of a trial, the Birrigai Cafe at Kangara Waters Retirement Village, near the corner of Ginninderra and Aikman drives, has thrown its doors open to the public. Sure the demographics are somewhat skewed, but it's my pick of lakeside eateries because of its large deck overlooking the bushland and lake. Apparently the trial is going well and according to the barista behind my cappuccino, the residents enjoy ''seeing so many energetic younger people''. It's also non-profit-making so a bite to eat won't hit you hard in the hip pocket.

4. Froggy fun

Find a quiet place anywhere along the shoreline and listen for frog calls. One of the easiest ones to pick out is the spotted grass frog, which lets rip with a characteristic machine-gun call, a short ''kuk, uk, uk, uk''. They usually stop calling about this time of year and don't start up again until September, so be quick!

5. Tweet tweet

Not all the tweets around the lake are being tapped into smartphones as people pace out their daily constitutionals. There's actually three designated bird-watching jetties, my pick of which are the two in Diddams Close Park. They're out of the way (but sign-posted) and a great spot to take a breather and spot a menagerie of waterbirds. The most prevalent are the purple swamp hens, which feed on reed stems.

6. Robinson Crusoe

Who said you have to go to the remote South Pacific to have fun on a deserted island? On the western side of the lake, there's a little island (does anyone know its name?) just off Yerra Beach. Paddle or swim out to it with a packed lunch. Sure, it's not tropical, nor is it overly spacious, and you may have a fair bit of bird poo to deal with, but hey, what a story for the kids when they go back to school.

7. Piscatorial perspective

If you don't fancy swimming at one of the lake's four beaches, beg, borrow or steal a kayak or sailboat. Heck, even a blow-up dingy from Kmart will do the job. Explore the lake's many nooks and crannies at water level - it'll give you a different perspective of this suburban park. Keep an eye out for water rats, but don't worry, they're native and won't hurt you. Although the lake is only 3.5 metres deep, always be water-wise and wear a life jacket.

8. Stepping stones

With its knock-out new picnic tables, seats and shelters, the playgrounds in John Knight Memorial Park are a popular spot for families, and if the weather is warm, you'll usually find a heap of kids (and big kids) frolicking in the man-made waterfall. If you follow this creek upstream, it extends well beyond the playgrounds to a series of ponds and stepping stones. You'll have this to yourself.

9. Tour de-Creek

The following missive recently landed in my mail box, sent from Murray Upton of Belconnen. ''On my regular walks around the lake, I've always been intrigued by a concrete plaque beside the path on the western shore. Unfortunately, the painted inscription has now all but faded but the heading 'TOUR DE-CREEK 1' is still visible. Have you any idea what the Tour de-Creek was and when it happened?'' I've done a bit of digging for Upton and can report that the faded plaque is one of nine that are dotted along a 22-kilometre length of lake and creekside cycle path on the banks of the Ginninderra Creek. They are part of a joint Waterwatch/Pedal Power initiative designed more than a decade ago to be a cycle tour of the Ginninderra Creek, with historical/ecological information stops along the way. The Ginninderra Catchment Group (6278 3309) have brochures detailing each stop and hope to soon release a smartphone app.

10. Stunning sunset

There's something special about seeing the sun set, especially if it's over water. My favourite sunset spot is a few hundred metres along the cycle track from Nengi Bamir beach (there are plenty of signs along the track to help you navigate) towards Ginninderra Drive. It commands a lovely vista across the lake towards the domed Mount Coree on the horizon. It's also a nice place to contemplate the Ngunnawal name for the area ''Ginnin-ginnin-derry'', which means ''sparkling, throwing out little rays of light''.

BEST WEEKENDS

Revisiting Environa

Following this column's expose on Environa - the abandoned 1920s housing estate near Hume (''Ode to old stones'', June 23, 2012) - many readers wrote to me, disappointed that the site, located on private land, was inaccessible. ''Those stone pillars, arches and wooden bandstands look amazing, but it's a pity you need binoculars to see them,'' wrote George Rose of Kambah. Well, I've heard a whisper that on April 20 (2-4pm), as part of the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival, the National Trust (ACT) will hold a special tour of Environa led by David Larcombe, who lives on site and is the original designer's grandson. Tickets are $35 each and can be booked by calling 6230 0533. Given the interest in Environa's extraordinary stone structures, I expect the tour will fill up, so be quick.

CONTACT TIM

Email: timtheyowieman@bigpond.com or Twitter: @TimYowie, or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.

This story Break by the lake first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.