Lake Burley Griffin (the Lake) is Canberra's centrepiece and a significant number of national institutions, parks and national public places are located on or near its shores and is an integral part of Canberra’s design and is a vital element in the plan for the nation’s capital. The Lake dams the Molonglo River between Scrivener Dam and the Dairy Road Bridge.
The Lake and surrounding areas are popular for a wide range of boating and other recreational activities. There are lovely parks for picnics and areas for swimming as well as walking tracks and cycling paths. The Lake is a busy waterway with rowing, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, dragon boating, fishing, model boating and stand up paddle boarding being just some of the activities available. There are a number of clubs and associations organising activities on and around the Lake.
Around the Lake, there are many services available including kayak and stand up paddleboard hire, lake cruises and ferry services. There are also parks, cafés and restaurants around the Lake where you can relax and take in the view. Find the list of lake operators here.
Lake Burley Griffin is a shallow lake occupying the flood plain of the Molonglo River, with a maximum depth of 17.6 metres near Scrivener Dam and a mean depth of four metres, with the shallowest part at 1.9 metres at East Basin. Scrivener Dam maintains the Lake level.
The Lake is approximately nine kilometres long and has a width varying from 300 to 1,200 metres. It is located at an elevation of 555.93 metres above sea level, approximately 300 kilometres south-west of Sydney.
The water area covers 664 hectares and the distance around the shoreline is 40.5 kilometres. There are three large islands and three small unnamed islands within the Lake. Queen Elizabeth II Island (formerly known as Aspen Island), the site of the National Carillon, is located in Central Basin. Springbank Island and Spinnaker Island are located in the West Basin.
Different sections of the Lake have different uses appropriate to their special physical characteristics. The formal nature of Central Basin provides an appropriate setting for the nationally important buildings of the parliamentary area.
As an important freshwater ecosystem, the Lake and its margins are a significant wildlife refuge and bird habitat. The Jerrabomberra Wetlands, at the eastern end of Lake Burley Griffin, provide a valuable habitat for many species of water birds.
Westlake and West Basin are the main areas for sailing, sailboarding and swimming. There are many areas around the Lake where public recreation has priority, such as Commonwealth, Kings and Grevillea Parks, Lennox Gardens and Commonwealth Place to name a few.
Lake Burley Griffin is managed and maintained by the National Capital Authority on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Competition for the site for the future national capital was intense. In 1908, the Yass-Canberra area was chosen by Parliament owing to its ‘bracing’ climate, good water supply and natural beauty.
Charles Scrivener, the New South Wales Government Surveyor, was instructed to explore all possible sites in the Yass-Canberra district. Scrivener’s task was to investigate possible water catchment for the area and to prepare a contour survey for a site appropriate to house the Seat of Government.
The Canberra valley set in an ‘amphitheatre of hills’ and in a relatively sheltered position was chosen as the best site. Scrivener also suggested four possible points along the Molonglo River where weirs could be constructed to create ornamental waters.
Named after Walter Burley Griffin, winner of the design competition for the National Capital in 1912, the Lake is a key element in Griffin’s plan for the city. The heart of Griffin’s plan was a central artificial lake and a National Triangle, in which the most important national buildings were to be placed. The plan was structured on two major lines. One, the Water Axis, runs southeast from Black Mountain along the line of the formal central lake. The other, the Land Axis, starts at Mount Ainslie, intersects the Water Axis at a right angle, crosses to Capital Hill - and out to Mount Bimberi in the distant Brindabella Mountains.
Griffin’s original plan was modified to become a lake controlled by a dam at the site originally suggested by Scrivener. This is now called Scrivener Dam. The two bridges on Griffin’s 'direct lines of communication’ visually divide the Lake into three water basins as originally proposed (East, West and Central basins). Both bridges are twin carriageways. Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, consisting of five spans totaling 310 metres in length, was opened in November 1963. Kings Avenue Bridge has seven spans, is 270 metres long and was opened in March 1962.
In 1959, the Commonwealth Government agreed to the construction of Lake Burley Griffin and committed funds to the project. The design and construction of the Lake and Scrivener Dam were undertaken in two stages. The first stage commenced in 1960 and involved the construction of the dam, lake floor, two bridges, jetties and edges to over 843 hectares of lake foreshore. The impounding of the Lake waters commenced in 1963 with the closing of the valves at Scrivener Dam. Prime Minister Robert Menzies officially commemorated stage one, the filling of the Lake, on 17 October 1964. The second stage involved detailed landscape development of the foreshores and is an ongoing process.
Lake Burley Griffin has three designated swimming beaches and enclosures. These are at:
The water quality in these areas and six other locations around the Lake is monitored and tested each week during the summer recreational season (mid October to mid April). By visiting www.theswimguide.org or downloading the free Swim Guide app, the closest monitored beaches and water ways will be displayed, showing the water quality conditions and amenities provided at that location. Sites around Lake Burley Griffin are available now with 22 sites monitored by the ACT Government to be added in the near future. The Swim Guide currently has six countries providing water quality information for over 7,000 locations.
Lake Burley Griffin offers many areas popular with other forms of recreational use.
This area is a wonderful sight during the balloon festival (March). You will often see rowers training in the early mornings, while the small yachts enjoy passing under the spray of the Captain Cook Memorial Jet in the afternoons. Triathlons are often held here.
This area has the triathlon swimming training course. The Paddle Steamer PS Enterprise is docked at the jetty near the National Museum of Australia.
This area is popular with rowers, wind surfers, dragon boating and stand up paddle boards.
This is the largest expanse of water in Lake Burley Griffin. The Canberra Yacht Club and dragon boats are situated on the southern shore, adjacent to Lotus Bay. Kayaks and stand up paddle boards can be hired at Yarralumla Bay. Yarralumla Bay is also a busy rowing hub.
A busy stretch of water with rowers and other paddle craft moving to and from Yarramundi Reach.
Designated rowing lanes are located here. These are used for training as well as local and national rowing regattas.
Queen Elizabeth II Island (formerly known as Aspen Island), site of the National Carillon, is accessed by this bridge. Usually referred to as John Douglas Gordon, this man was Canberra’s first carillonist. He played the very first concert, when Queen Elizabeth II opened the Carillon on 26 April 1970.
This island, and the two small ones close by, are manmade islands. They were created during the construction of the lake in an effort to reduce the power of the inflow from East Basin. Originally named for the aspen tree, the island was renamed Queen Elizabeth II Island in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022.
This large island is the site of the National Carillon. The two smaller, unnamed, islands are bird sanctuaries.
The island is the highest part of what was a working farm called Springbank. Various families, including the Kayes and the Sullivans, lived there – nearby Sullivans Creek at ANU is named for the latter family. The island can only be reached by boat but there are toilets and a barbeque there.
This small island was named in relation to sailing in West Basin, apparently as the mass of the island alters prevailing winds. Only accessible by boat, it houses a breeding colony of silver gulls, which should not be disturbed unnecessarily.
A sixth, unnamed island sits just off Black Mountain Peninsula.