While Canberra may get a hard time, we discover just how stunning and innovative the politician’s meeting place can be
Canberra is on the receiving end of a record number of Australian visitors so far this summer. Due to the falling dollar (which is set to continue) Aussies are travelling closer to home and Canberra seems to be doing extremely well out of it.
Questacon the National Science and Technology Centre has seen 15,000 people through its doors over the Christmas and New Year period. Craig Whelan from the centre veryfied that the increase in visitors is due to the low Australian dollar leading people to holiday closer to home. Questacon attracted 2,800 visitors through its doors on December 28, 29 and again on 30. “We would normally see in this period 2,200 people, so it’s 600 more each day,” said Whelan. It’s not just Questacon doing well out of the current economic climate, a staggering 4,500 more people visited the Australian War Memorial last week than for the same period last year and the National Library of Australia’s Celestial Empire exhibition is currently fully booked. So what’s Canberra got to offer? Let us tell you about it.
Making new memories
Anyone who grew up on the east side of Australia can’t help but associate Canberra with the boring school excursion. At around 10-12 years of age you are shuffled onto a bus and subjected to a few days of learning about political history, architecture and science. If you’re really lucky you’ll get to go to McDonalds on the way home, that’s pretty much the pinnacle of the trip. Oh and it’s always in winter – so you freeze. As a result I became scarred by Canberra, thinking of it as the holiday equivalent of watching paint dry (on a bitterly cold day). Now, more than 15 years later, I am returning, but I promise myself to do so with an open mind. I am determined to make new memories and put to bed some of those myths about Canberra being boring.
Wheels in motion
What better way to see the flat, man-made city of Canberra than on a Segway? Being my second turn on the two-wheeled electric vehicle, I am much more confident to climb aboard. With a local guide, we whizz around the city taking in the National Gallery, Old Parliament House, Questacon and race around on a massive grass lawn.
Canberra’s political spikes turn off some people, but a visit to the home of Australia’s Parliament is a must, especially because it is the focal point of the city. The building – opened by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 1988 – offers a journey through the country’s history via a collection of art and architectural showpieces, filled with marble and timber and impressively dotted with mosaics and paintings. Make sure to check out Tom Robert’s painting and Red Ochre Cove, by local artist Mandy Martin, before making your way up to the roof for the spectacular view. Also, see if you can sit in on a Parliamentary meeting or Question Time while you’re there, or go on a free guided tour.
Australian War Memorial Having travelled extensively around the world (and hence visited many museums), it’s a great complement to list the Australian War Museum as one of my favourites. It commemorates the 102,000 Australians who lost their lives to war and is well worth spending a few hours sifting through. The latest exhibition space in ANZAC Hall offers the chance to see three different sound-and-light shows.
I recommend Striking by Night; it recreates a night-bombing operation over Germany and provides a chilling insight. You can also score a free guided tour here. Legoland Driving around the city to begin with (to get the agitation out of the way), has a certain element of “What the?” Lego-like avenues and higgledy-piggledy roundabouts make navigating around a rather arduous enterprise at times, although it can be so ridiculous, it’s funny (for the passenger).
Expect to get lost a few times anyway. As far as the city’s design goes, it was heavily in uenced by the “garden city” movement, meaning that it has loads of areas bursting with natural vegetation. So much so, that the city has earnt the title “bush capital”. “At least it’s got something going for it,” some cynics that consider Canberra to be the out-of-date meat in a state sandwich that rates Melbourne and Sydney more appertising, might say. But this city, I discovered, has more exquisite layers than people realise.
If you’re going for a holiday or passing through, make sure to check out these must-see attractions (along with King O’Malley’s: great food and atmosphere; and a walk around Lake Burley Grif n). The Old Bus Depot If you’re in Canberra on a Sunday, this is the place to go (21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston). The Old Bus Depot markets – including more than 200 stalls – are an institution in the city, having run for more than 10 years. You’ll be able to treat yourself or someone else with their massive range of handcrafted items (jewellery, toys, textiles, designer knitwear, Japanese lanterns, hand painted scarves and wraps), plus feast on a lot of fresh produce straight from the farm.
Cockington Green Gardens The Cockington Green Gardens are something special. Family-owned and operated, they feature a display of miniature buildings from around the globe (particularly England) set in colourful landscaped gardens. Twenty countries are currently represented, so if you can’t afford the around-the-world ticket, have a compensatory look around here. It’s also a lovely place to enjoy a picnic or barbecue with plenty of facilities available.
Australian Institute of Sport If you’re anything like me, there was a time in your childhood when you wanted to be an elite athlete. The AIS shows you what it would have been like to be that person. You’ll be able to see where the athletes train before big competitions and live the dream, via an interactive sports exhibit.