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Our first stop in our 6 week Australia itinerary is Canberra. Aussies love to hate on Canberra, and it is a bit understandable why – it’s a city built from the ground up to house politicians. Politicians in Australia seem to get about as much love as they do in the US!
When Australia federated, they needed a location for the capital. Melbourne was the biggest city at the time, but Sydney was rapidly growing and eventually surpassed Melbourne as the largest city in Australia. So, the powers that be chose a middle ground. Between the two powerhouses sat the tiny unsuspecting town of Canberra, full of sheep, Aboriginals, and a single general store.
The capitol was designed from the start to be a city of politicians. Australia launched an international design competition, which was won by an American couple from Chicago, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Marion Mahony Griffin turns out to be a pretty impressive lady. She was one of the first licensed female architects in the world and worked with her husband and Frank Lloyd Wright. She was instrumental and often under-recognized for her contributions to the Prairie School of architecture.
The city’s design is based on the Parliamentary Triangle, connecting the Parliament House, Defence Headquarters, and City Hill. The natural landscape creates a line through Red Hill and Mount Ainslie, with the water feature, a man-made lake, bisecting the line.
The climate of Canberra is extremely arid, very apparent to us after weeks of the Gold Coast humidity. The city layout provides for wide open spaces throughout the city, so although it’s in Australia’s top 10 biggest cities, it’s very residential; there’s plenty of room and no skyscrapers to be seen!
The first morning we woke up early and went to hike up Mount Ainslie to get a view of the city. Mount Ainslie is one of the points of the land axis in the cities design, and at 843 meters tall, provides a wonderful view of the city. The mountain is in the Mount Ainslie Nature Reserve, which is also home to eastern grey kangaroos. We saw a cute little herd of them on our walk!
The hike up is steep and takes about an hour. You can drive to the top, but it feels a lot better to earn the view! Looking across the city you can see Red Hill, and together, they form the natural line of the city. Below us aligned the War Memorial, Old Parliament House, and the current Parliament House.
Australian War Memorial
Walking back down, we arrived just in time for the opening of the War Memorial. Not only is this a memorial shrine, but it houses a museum and archive research facility. We spent about an hour in the memorial shrine, reading the names of the fallen and on the half hour watching the changing of the guard. The Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier is a beautiful and peaceful space.
Unlike many war museums we’ve been to, the museum doesn’t just cover WWI or WWII. There are also exhibits on more recent wars, and a special exhibit was on called Out of the Shadows about Australia’s Special Forces teams. The museum is very well done, and houses artifacts, dioramas, and interactive displays.
For day two, we got a special treat in Canberra! Senator Marshall contacted us in advance and said he watches our videos….would we like to come for a tour of Parliament? Of course! We joined Senator Marshall for lunch in the staff & members cafeteria, and then had a private tour of the building. Neither branch was in session, so it was very quiet in the halls. We were able to go into both the Senate and the House, see the library and the Great Hall. Our favorite tip from the tour was about Shawn the Prawn, a fossil in the black granite of the main foyer that has received the adorable name.
After the hour long tour, Senator Marshall had the Senate opened for us, so we got to see everything up close and personal and even sit in his chair! He also took us to his office. It was such a unique experience, and so cool to have an “in”. You don’t have to have an “in” to do most of what we did though – 40-minute tours are available to the public for free.
We were a bit maxed out after all of our work getting Starry Horizons ready for storage, so we took some downtime in Canberra. However, it’s easy to fill time as there are a wide variety of museums available in Canberra. Here’s the ones in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Things to Do in Canberra:
- Museum of Australian Democracy
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Gallery of Australia
- National Zoo and Aquarium
We stayed in this lovely AirBNB in the Ainslie area of town. We hardly saw our hosts (good or bad thing?). The backyard has an adorable guinea pig who roams free and raised bed gardens. The space we stayed in was a wing of the house, with a blocked off door to the rest of the house but our own private entrance. Ainslie is walking distance to Lonsdale St, chock full of eateries.
When we booked our trip, we reached out to fellow cruisers that we met way back when we first arrived in Tonga in 2016. Tracey and Scott have settled into work in Canberra, while their boat, SY Yollata, is in New Zealand. They were incredibly helpful with advice, rides, and we all went out to dinner. Great to catch up with them.
We also had a meetup in Canberra. We had eight people attend, and enjoyed meeting and chatting with some of our subscribers.
Lonsdale seems to be THE place for food in Canberra. We ate at three noteworthy places; delicious pulled pork burger at Grease Monkey, tender dark meat roasted jerk chicken at The Elk & Pea, and Afghani food at Bamiyan. We’d never had Afghani before, and it was fun to try unique dishes. My favorites were the dumplings and the bolani (basically an Afghani quesadilla).
One could easily spend more than two days in Canberra, but it’s a big country to see. We flew out to our next stop; Adelaide!