Our time in Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory was a 26 hour whirlwind of activity. We crossed the border just after breakfast and got stuck straight into the sightseeing stuff, going to the Australian War Museum, National Gallery of Australia, Parliament House and the Telstra Tower.
Once the sun went down, we met up with some old travel buddies, Tom and Bella, who travelled with us over the Nullarbor into Western Australia. It was great to see them again. The last time we crossed paths was in Broome. They have since gotten married and have a gorgeous dog named Mishka. We went out for a lovely tapas dinner at AKIBA before crashing at their beautiful apartment in the city centre.
After watching Canberra wake up from our friends’ balcony, we went out for coffee before checking out the Royal Australian Mint and Mount Ainslie for our final look of Canberra city before heading back to the coast.
- Canberra has a population of just over 380,000 people.
- Lake Burley-Griffin in the middle of Canberra is an artificial lake.
- The ACT is Australia’s smallest self-governed territory, with an area of 2,359km2 that includes bushland and one major city – Canberra.
In 1820, a stockman called Joshua John More took over the land that is currently known as Canberra and set up his station, which he called Camberry. While he was there, a few more people moved in to set up sheep stations, and the population slowly began to grow through the rest of the century. As the European population increased, the aboriginal presence declined as their hunting grounds were being interrupted by homesteads.
During the Federation in the late 19th century, there was much debate on which city should be our capital. At the time, Melbourne was winning because it was the largest city due to a recent gold rush. However, Sydney was the oldest city and also had claim to be the capital city.
To settle the argument, Melbourne was made a temporary capital while a new one was to be built between Sydney and Melbourne. Because New South Wales was the bigger state, a small area became a Commonwealth territory in 1911 and work began to design a new capital city.
Canberra was designed by an American architect, Walter Burley-Griffin, who won the international competition in 1913 with the concept of dividing the city with a lake, with one portion to be inhabited by civilians and the other for the government. Hexagons and triangles were laced together to incorporate gardens and pockets of natural vegetation and the natural topography of the land as well.
The Commonwealth Parliament moved into the new capital city in May 1927, and while development of the city slowed during the depression of the 1930s and the Great War, it has grown into Australia’s 8th largest city.
Points of Interest
Australia’s political centre, this building was opened in 1988 and cost more than a million dollars to build. It contains 4,700 rooms, and the flagpole atop the building stands 81 metres tall, with two big boomerangs holding it up.
The old Parliament House, which was used for 61 years, was supposed to be demolished when construction was completed but the historic building was turned into a museum instead.
Australian War Memorial
We’ve been to a lot of war memorials around Australia, but this one takes the cake. It’s beautiful, respectful, and has a wealth of history and information about Australia’s experience with war.
Royal Australian Mint
Open 22nd February 1965 by Prince Phillip, the Royal Australian Mint is where all of Australia’s coins are made. In fact, its first task was to produce the new coins for the introduced decimal system that was instated in February 1966!
The Mint produces an average of 255 million coins a year, and also makes coins for other countries, as well as medals, medallions and tokens. The Sydney 2000 Olympic medals were made at the mint, with 1c and 2c pieces melted down to make the Bronze medals.
One interesting fact we learnt at the Mint was that the $1 coin doesn’t have any gold in it. It’s made of aluminium and bronze. If it was made of gold, it would be worth around $100.
National Gallery of Australia
We found our visit to the NGA to be a real treat. We got to see with our own eyes some of the most beautiful and famous artworks in the world, like Dali’s Lobster Telephone and Pollock’s Blue Poles. We saw masterpieces by Monet, Picasso and Andy Warhol, as well as a Ned Kelly series by Sydney Nolan. Plus, admission is free… Amazing.
This telecommunications tower overlooks Canberra and stands 195.2 metres tall atop Black Mountain. It offers great 360 degree views of town and even has a little exhibition on the history of Australian Telecommunications.
Mount Ainslie Lookout
This is a great lookout for views of Canberra, Anzac Boulevard and the surrounding area. The elevation is 843m above sea level and while you can drive up, there is a Kokoda Memorial Trail that travels 2.25km down to the rear of the Australian War Memorial.
Food & Drink
If you’re wandering around the city at lunchtime, grab a cheap lunch at Noodle Cafe. Most of the items on the menu are $11 and you get heaps! Juz got the curry laksa while Dave got a pork chop with rice – both delicious and satisfying.
Bent Spoke Brewery
While we weren’t thoroughly impressed with the flavour of their beers, they have an excellent selection and each brew has its own unique pull handle. The main serving area has various bike artworks, including an enormous chandelier of dried hops cascading down the staircase.
ONA on the Lawns
We found out about this place while researching good coffee and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was good coffee. ONA on the Lawns is a great little cafe with an impressive menu and fresh, bright decor. They are also neighbours to Pâtissez, that infamous cafe that makes the crazy milkshakes – aka FREAKshakes!
A restaurant and bar influenced by southeast Asia, they specialise in tapas style food. We shared a few plates with our mates Tom and Bella, and our favourites were the pork belly bun with char sui and Asian slaw and kimchi pancakes with kewpie mayo. YUM!
Information & Accommodation
The Canberra and Region Visitors Centre is located at 330 Northbourne Ave in Dickson. Because Canberra is fairly small, they only have a public transport network of buses, and information on maps and timetables can be found at the website for Transport for Canberra.
Great budget accommodation can be found at the Canberra City YHA. For information or to make a booking, visit their website.