The starting point for tracks 2 and 3 presents a breathtaking, nearly 360 degree view. You can see the main landscape elements of the ACT. To the south and west are the peaks and foothills of the Australian Alps. They make up about 60% of the ACT, now mostly Namadgi National Park. The park is largely uninhabited, but there are relics of the earlier Aboriginal and pastoral occupation. The hills are cloaked in forests of brown barrel (Eucalyptus fastigata), ribbon gum (E. viminalis), and alpine ash (E. delegatensis), with mountain gum (E. dalrympleana) and snow gum (E. pauciflora) woodland on poorer soils. Alpine grasslands can be found on the peaks.
Close by are the rolling plains and hills of the Limestone Plains. Flowing through them and Canberra is the Molonglo River, a tributary of the Murrumbidgee. Lake Burley Griffin is formed by a dam wall across the Molonglo. The vegetation of the hills consists of two ecological communities. On the lower slopes, and in the south the common trees are: bundy (E. goniocalyx), mealy bundy (E. nortonii), red box (E. polyanthemos), apple box (E. bridgesiana) and broad-leaved peppermint (E. dives). Higher up the mix changes to one of red stringybark (E. macrorhyncha), scribbly gum (E. rossii), and brittle gum (E. mannifera). The understorey consists of small to medium shrubs and tussock grasses. Native orchids are an attraction in early spring. This woodland is common on many of the hills around the city.
Canberra’s hills are more heavily timbered than the low–lying grasslands because their poor soils made them unsuitable for pastoral use, and most weren’t cleared. Later, when Canberra was designed, the hills were set aside as reserves, helping to preserve their ‘box woodland’.
Apart from the grasslands that drew pastoralists to the region, the view from Mt Ainslie shows few signs of pastoral life. Old photographs taken from Mt Ainslie show St John’s Church at Reid and the churchyard trees as the most dominant feature on a treeless plain. Duntroon is hidden from view but can be glimpsed from Mt Pleasant.