ACT News

Future Canberra: Don't forget the adventure sports

Canberra, Australia's youngest city, ended the 20th century best known for politicians, public servants, pornographers and prostitutes. This four part series looks at some of the emerging growth sectors which are broadening the ACT's economic base.

While Canberra is unlikely to bungee jump its way to boundless prosperity any time soon, local adventure tourism operators have urged the ACT government to think outside the oval when it comes to sports tourism.

Paraglider Phil Robinson in the sky above Spring Hill near Hall.
Paraglider Phil Robinson in the sky above Spring Hill near Hall. 

Sports technology and major events such as the recent AFC Asian Cup and ICC Cricket World Cup were identified as potential economic drivers for the ACT in the government's 2015 "Confident and Business Ready Strategy".

The strategy document said visitors supported 14,700 jobs and contributed $1.6 billion a year to the local economy.

Director of Capital Bicycle Hire Peter Dowse at Mount Stromlo.
Director of Capital Bicycle Hire Peter Dowse at Mount Stromlo. Photo: Jay Cronan

"Major [sporting] international events have raised Canberra's profile as a vibrant, attractive, city across Australia and in a range of major growth markets abroad."

Phil Robinson, a former president of the ACT Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association and the owner of a launch site at Spring Hill near Hall, said major sports events were not the be all and all.

He likened the adventure and activity sports enthusiasts to ants who travel to Canberra for whitewater rafting, bushwalking, mountain bike riding, hang gliding and paragliding, orienteering and other activities.

"When they are all out in the landscape doing their own thing it doesn't like there is very many," he said.

"When you bring them all together you suddenly see there are a lot."

Peter Dowse, of Canberra's Capital Bike Hire, agreed.

He said that while people who came to the ACT to participate in niche sports were high value visitors they were easy to overlook.

He hires out bikes at Stromlo Forest Park and has been campaigning to get a permanent site on the mountain for a "pop-up" style business for years.

"Every door has been shut in my face."

Mr Dowse would love to emulate the success of New Zealand's Mountain Bike Rotorua, a business which operates out of converted shipping containers and has a popular on-site cafe.

"Canberra is the perfect city to promote adventure sports tourism," he said. "Everything is on our doorstep.

"You are 30 minutes from the middle of the bush but, at night, have access to a cosmopolitan cafe, restaurant and entertainment culture.

"Cross-over between the various sports could offer a Queenstown-like experience with a range of recreational options."

Mr Robinson said one advantage of adventure sports was that they required very little in the way of infrastructure.

"All you need to get started [in paragliding] is a wing and a place to launch from," he said. "The Canberra region is a great place to fly. There are launch sites at Spring Hill, Lake George and Pig Hill near Fairlight Stadium."

Mr Robinson, who bought the Spring Hill property which is the closest launch site to Canberra when it last came up for sale, said he regularly had people calling by from all over the world.

"It [paragliding] is very exhilarating. We get a regular flow of international visitors and the Internet has taken the sport to a whole new level.

"We are looking at a Go-Pro driven explosion of interest because people can now film their flights and then upload the videos to the web."

Many of these, which include footage from exotic locations such as Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, make for compelling viewing.

"You see shots of people flying with eagles, sunsets, spectacular cloud formations, sunsets and the like."

Mr Robinson said paragliding and the other adventure sports were 21st century activities that appealed to people who didn't fit into the cricket and football mould.

"A lot of paragliders are well educated, affluent and athletic but not necessarily built like a brick dunny," he said.

"They cover a wide range of ages and appreciate the intellectual challenge of learning navigation and developing other skills you are not going to pick up on the footy field.

"This is a head sport."

Other pluses were that sports such as paragliding and mountain bike riding were environmentally friendly, socially responsible and much safer than people might think.

"You've got to stay healthy and alert to do these things," Mr Robinson said.

"What we really need is more formal recognition [from government] and guaranteed access to launch sites."

Paragliding in Canberra

Contact: The ACT Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association is affiliated with the National Hang Gliding Association.

Participation: There are 50 to 60 active fliers in and around Canberra and up to 150 more who fly on a semi-regular basis.

Instruction: The Australian Paragliding Association at Murrumbateman is the principal source of tuition locally and also offers tandem flights.