Bobby McGee's. The party atmosphere at this flamboyant, American-style restaurant and entertainment lounge complex appeals to a varied group. In the restaurant, Cinderella might seat you, a matador offer you cocktails, and a Roman centurion wait on your table. The music in the entertainment lounge ranges from "Heartbreak Hotel" to this week's pop hits. Service is slick and professional, and the staff are gregarious and spontaneous - it would require effort not to have a good time. Rydges Canberra Hotel, London Circuit, Canberra, Phone: 02/6257-7999. Cost: $5 Fri. after 8. Opening Times: Weekdays 5 pm-3 am, Sat. 7 pm-4 am
Murrays Canberra Explorer offers an affordable introduction to Canberra. In its comprehensive circuit of the city, the red Explorer bus stops at most of the major sights, including Parliament House, the National Gallery, the National Botanic Gardens, the embassies, and the Australian War Memorial. A driver provides commentary, and you are free to leave the bus at any of the 18 stops and board any following Explorer bus. You can also take a two-hour nonstop trip---a good orientation. Tours leave from the Jolimont Tourist Centre at 65--67 Northbourne Avenue and from the Canberra Visitor Centre at 330 Northbourne Avenue, Dickson, every two hours from 8:40 to 4:40. Murrays also offers a range of day or half-day sightseeing tours of Canberra and the surrounding area. Phone: 13-2251. Cost: $18 full day, $8 for two hours.
National Gallery of Australia is Canberra´s National Gallery, on the south shore of a lake, and has probably the best collection of art in the country. The Australian collection ranges from traditional Aboriginal art through to 20th century works by Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker. Aboriginal works include bark paintings from Arnhem Land, pukumani burial poles from the Tiwi people and printed fabrics from central Australia. There´s also plenty of foreign art from all eras, and most travelling exhibitions stop by Canberra on their way around the world. The collection is not confined to paintings: sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, furniture, ceramics, fashion, textiles and silverware are all on display. There are a couple of pleasant restaurants on the grounds, and free lectures are often given.
If you're hankering after tourist tackiness, Ginninderra's the place to go. About 11km (7mi) north-west of the city, the Ginninderra Village is the area's centrepiece, a collection of colonial-era buildings quaintified into Devonshire tea spots, Australiana galleries, wood-turning workshops and shops selling nothing but cat knick-knacks. Next door, Cockington Green is a sprawling miniature (if such a thing is possible) English village, complete with cricket streakers and a working steam train - it's horribly overpriced, but the kiddies will love it.
Just outside the village, the National Dinosaur Museum is a private collection with replica skeletons of 10 dinosaurs as well as a bunch of real bones and fossils. It's pricey, but fun. An ACTION bus runs from Belconnen past Ginninderra Village on its way to Gunghalin.
The Canberra Festival celebrates the city´s birthday over 10 days in March with music, food, a mardi gras, displays, a raft race and a parade. The festival features many interesting cultural events, although it also has a typically Australian concentration on sports and the outdoors. Set in the beginning of March, the festival provides a good way to sample Australian culture as the hot summer weather winds its way into autumn.
Questacon is a ´hands on´ science museum which lives in a purpose-built, snappy white building near the National Gallery. There are over 200 devices in the centre´s five galleries, including the earthquake experience, the thongaphone, and the ´can you bowl faster than Alan Donald´ display. It´s designed for kids, but unselfconscious adults won´t have any trouble entertaining themselves for an hour or two. It may be educational, but it´s also great fun.
Canberra Theatre Centre is the capital city´s premier arts and theatre venue. The Centre is used by the local opera company, theatrical troupe, and symphony orchestra. Performances by such major national companies as the Australian Ballet are frequently held here. For a listing of current events, check the entertainment pages of the Canberra Times. Civic Sq., London Circuit, Canberra, Phone: (02) 6257 1077.
Australian War Memorial
The massive war memorial is more than the usual pointy concrete thing in the middle of town, it's actually a museum of Australia's war history. It was conceived in 1925 and finally opened in 1941. It houses an amazing collection of pictures, dioramas, relics and exhibitions, including a fine collection of old aircraft. For anyone with an interest in toy soldiers, the miniature battle scenes are absorbing.
The Hall of Memory is the focus of the memorial. It features a beautiful interior, some superb stained-glass windows and a dome made of six million Italian mosaic pieces. The Unknown Australian Soldier was brought here from a WWI battlefield in 1993. Leading to the hall is the reflecting pool, its surrounding walls inscribed with the names of Australia's war dead.
Canberra Visitor Centre.The city's tourist information bureau is a convenient stop for those entering Canberra by road from Sydney or the north. The staff makes accommodation bookings for Canberra and the Snowy Mountains. 330 Northbourne Ave., Dickson, Phone: 02/6205-0044 or 1800-02-6166. Opening Times:Daily 9-6.
Canberra Centre. The ground floor kiosk in the Canberra Centre is another useful source of information on attractions and shops. Bunda and Akuna Sts. Opening Times: During shopping hrs.
Getting Around Canberra
The airport is 7km (4mi) south-east of the city centre. You can get a shutttle minibus to the Jolimont Centre in town and to various hotels for about $5, or catch a cab to the city for about $7.
Public transport in Canberra means the Action bus - the Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network! It's not much chop - services are rather sparse and practically non-existent on Sundays or after 10pm. You're much better off on a bicycle if you're energetic (Canberra has an excellent network of bike paths which allow you to avoid the traffic pretty much anywhere you're going) or, if you're not, with a car.
The beautifully restored Lanyon Homestead, beside the river near Tharwa, is about 30km (19mi) south of the city. The early stone cottage on the site was built by convicts, and the grand homestead, which dates from Canberra's grazier days, was completed in 1859. More than a collection of pretty old buildings, this National Trust homestead documents the life of the region before Canberra existed. The Nolan Gallery in the homestead collects some of Australian painter Sydney Nolan's most famous Ned Kelly works. As you'd expect, you can get a pretty nice Devonshire tea at Lanyon.
As Canberra's raison d'etre, Parliament House is the thing most visitors to the city want to have a gander at. Opened in 1988, new Parliament House (as it's commonly known, to distinguish it from the old Parliament House) is a marble lined monstrosity squatting at the apex of the Parliamentary Triangle. Built into the hill, the roof of the house is lined with grass to make it blend in. In true Australian tradition, the grass is imported lawn mix, which requires gargantuan quantities of water and weedkiller to keep it green and glowing. The interior of the house is rather impressive - each of its major sections is lined with Australian timbers, and it is littered with over 3000 art works bought or commissioned from Australian artists.
Visitors can wander around the public areas of the house, including the House of Representatives and the Senate, though you may have to make a booking if something particularly juicy is being debated. There are free guided tours of the building on non-sitting days.
Old Parliament House, further down the hill towards the lake, was the seat of government from 1927 until 1988. Far more modest than its succesor, the old house resembles a slightly sprawling wedding cake. You can take a tour of the building or wander its pleasant grounds. The house is also home to the National Portrait Gallery.
Australian National Botanic Gardens
On the lower slopes of Black Mountain, behind the Australian National University, the beautiful 50 hectare (123 acre) botanic gardens are devoted to Australian flora. There are educational walks, including one among plants used by Aborigines. A highlight is the rainforest area, achieved in this dry climate with a misting system, while the eucalypt lawn has 600 species of this ubiquitous Australian tree. Take a guided walk, or take a seat in teh pleasant Kookaburra Cafe.
Tourism is the ACT's major growth industry with more than 1.25 million visitors a year, staying more than one night in the national capital.
The Namadgi National Park covers about 40 per cent of the ACT. It reaches to the border of the New South Wales Kosciusko National Park, and together with parks in Victoria is part of a series of reserves which protect most of Australia's alpine and sub alpine areas.
Attractions outside Canberra include Cockington Green Minature Village, Mount Stromo Observatory, Canberra Space Center and Cotter Dam..
ACT offers some beautiful natural landscape and excellent bushwalking tracks can be found close to the city.
Namadgi National Park Namadgi takes up all the space of the ACT that Canberra doesn´t; that is, most of the south-west. Part of the park borders the mountainous Kosciuszko National Park in NSW´s Snowy Mountains. There are around 170km of market trails throughout the park, and with seven peaks over 1600m (5248ft) some of the bushwalking is challenging.
Aboriginal paintings which were painted over a period of hundreds or possibly thousands of years can be seen at Yankee Hat Rock. The close grouping of art and ceremonial sites in the Namadgi ranges suggests this area was of special significance to local Aboriginal people.
Stunning wilderness await the more experienced bushwalker prepared to venture into the remote areas of the park. All parties planning to visit the remote areas should be well prepared and record details of their trip in the bushwalking registers located at the visitor centre and elsewhere in the park. Camping grounds with toilets are located at Orroral and Mt Clear. There is a three night limit and bookings may be made at the Visitor Centre. Picnic areas are located beside most roads some with fireplaces and toilets.
Getting There & Away
Canberra does not have an international airport. Flights arrive in Canberra from all capital cities as well as from towns in NSW, although many make a stopover in Sydney or Melbourne on the way. Buses run from Canberra to Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne, with connections to the other capitals. You can also catch buses to the south coast, the snowfields and throughout NSW. Trains run to Sydney, or you can do a combined bus-train trip to Melbourne.
The Hume Highway, which runs between Melbourne and Sydney, passes about 50km (30mi) north of Canberra - you can drive to Goulburn or to Yass to join up with it, depending whether you're heading north or south. The Monaro highway to the south will take you to Cooma, the snowfields and the coast.
The Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, 45km south-west of the city of Canberra, is criss-crossed with walking tracks. The reason most visitors come here, however, is to feed the semi-tame kangaroos, be terrorised by the sandwich-snatching emus or scan the trees for koalas. The visitors centre here has some great displays on native fauna and flora. Tidbinbilla is a great spot to take children for a picnic, or to do a couple of short walks.
North of the nature reserve, the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station, otherwise known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, is a joint US-Australian eye on the sky. The visitor centre here has displays of spacecraft and tracking technology, and it´s free to get in. South of the reserve, Corin Forest is an adventure playground on steroids, with a 1km metal bobsled run, snow-making machine and flying fox. You will need a car to get to Tidbinbilla.
Namadgi National Park, situated just south of Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, provides a rewarding scenic detour for travellers through majestic mountain terrain.
Namadgi has a wide variety of habitats ranging from grassy green valleys to stunning mountains shrouded with snow gums and bold granite outcrops. Kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats can be seen throughout the park. Commonly seen birds include magpies, crimson rosellas, pied currawongs, Australian Ravens and the spotted quail-thrush.
Canberra is a wonderful place for cycling and it has a great series of bicycle tracks. Inline skating is also popular. There are watersports on Lake Burley Griffin with canoes, catamarans, paddle boats and surf skis for hire. Canoeing and white-water rafting on the Murrumbidgee are other water-based activities. Swimming in the lake, however, is not recommended. There are several fine swimming spots along the Murrumbidgee and Cotter rivers such as Uriarra Crossing, Casuarina Sands, Kambah Pool, the Cotter Dam, Pine Island, Point Hut Crossing and Gibraltar Falls.
Bushwalking is one of Canberra's most popular activities and there are particularly good walking tracks along the Murrumbidgee from Kambah Pool to Pine Island (7km/4mi) or to Casuarina Sands (about 21km/13mi). The Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve has marked trails. Cruises and balloon and aeroplane flights are another way to get an angle on the city. There is sometimes enough snow for cross-country skiing in Namadgi National Park, or you can enjoy the fake stuff at Corin Forest, and the NSW snowfields are within four hours' drive.
GETTING AROUND: By Bus
Canberra's public transportation system is the ACTION bus network. Buses operate 6:30 am-11:30 pm weekdays, 7 am-11:30 pm Saturday, and 8 am-7 pm Sunday. There is a flat fare of $2 per ride. If you plan to travel extensively on buses, purchase a Day Sightseeing ticket ($6.70), which allows unlimited travel on the entire bus network. A Shopper's Off Peak Daily ticket, which allows travel between 9 am and 4 pm and after 6 pm on weekdays and all day on weekends, costs $4.
Tickets, maps, and timetables are available from the Canberra Visitor Centre and the Bus Information Centre (East Row and Alinga St., Civic, Phone: 02/6207-7611).