Nan Tien Temple, Australia: the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere
If you had three guesses as to where the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere is located, I can almost guarantee that you wouldn’t go for the industrial outskirts of a town called Berkeley, an hour or two south of Sydney. Amazingly, this is where the beautiful Nan Tien Temple is located, a modern and massive Buddhist temple constructed in 1995. If you’ve seen the crumbling ruins of Ayutthaya and trampled the rampaging jungle encroaching on Angkor Wat, an ultra-modern temple is a complete change in tempo – but of course, it’s there for the many present-day practitioners of Buddhism and those interested in its principles.
The temple is easily accessible from Sydney by public transport: jump on a South Coast Line train to Unanderra, and Nan Tien is around a 25-minute walk from the station. The temple itself is open between 9am-5pm every day apart from Monday and the standard requests around appropriate attire and etiquette must be observed. Guided tours are available, including activities such as origami making, Tai Chi and a vegetarian lunch, but it’s equally nice to wander the grounds and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere by yourself. The buildings themselves are large and grand, sitting in an even grander 26 acres of pristine and delicately manicured gardens. Before tackling the temple and its grounds, head for the Dew Drop Inn Tea House, the temple’s lovely cafe which is full of Buddhist artifacts and old, dark timber furniture creating a very Asian vibe. The menu complements this perfectly: classic Asian dishes with noodles and dumplings are paired with delicious and unusual teas, such as tasty kumquat.
The temple buildings are no less interesting for being modern, and any visitors who have seen a little of South East Asia will recognise a few different architectural styles. Several of the larger buildings draw on Tibetan styles, with the wide and raised structure of the Main Shrine resembling Potala Palace.
Elsewhere, the towering pagoda clearly draws on Chinese designs and shapes, whilst the calming garden spaces feature distinctly Japanese influences.
Wandering around the stunning grounds – and noticing the little details like statues, shrines and lanterns swaying in the breeze – was one of the highlights of my visit. Walking up the hill to the back of the temple gives a great view back over the complex and towards Mount Kembla, and you also get a better view of the imposing (and very beautiful) Gratitude Bell that sits at the top of the slope.
Whether you are interested in Buddhism, or have never been near a temple in all your travels, it’s well worth checking out Nan Tien. You’ll come away with a greater understanding of how a modern-day temple looks and functions, or – at the very least – you’ll probably have enjoyed a lovely pot of kumquat tea.
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