What makes Canberra and the ACT so great!
As the Conference Chair, I want to ensure that delegates and invited speakers can access useful information on local attractions and points of interest.
As the seat of national government, Canberra and the ACT have so much to offer visitors and residents alike. This includes great natural and urban environments, accessible and quality civic services, world renowned barristas and coffee, top class restaurants, prize winning boutique vineyards, and galleries and museums of national significance. It is no wonder that the OECD named Canberra as the world’s most liveable city!
In this space, there are a number of short pieces, on different topics, which will expand in number over the months leading up to the Conference.
For a general take on local attractions, Canberra facts and figures, and links to brochures, maps and accommodation options, check out the Visit Canberra website.
You might also be interested in subscribing to the weekly newsletter, Out in Canberra.
For a more personal account, please read on ….
What I love about NewActon
NewActon (this is not a spelling mistake) is one of Canberra’s most recently developed cultural precincts. Nested between the Australian National University and Lake Burley Griffin, much of the action in NewActon is centred around the magnificent and beguiling Nishi Building and Peppers Gallery Hotel.
The grounds of this precinct are quirky and arty, with a unique mix of residential, cultural and commercial development. In between, and sometimes on, the buildings and grounds that make up NewActon is an extraordinary collection of work by contemporary artists, craftspeople and specialist designers. Close to the Nishi Gallery there is even a small, handcrafted converted container, which is the Goodspeed Bicycle Company bicycle repair shop.
The acclaimed Nishi Building houses the luxury Hotel Hotel and the most wonderful Monster Kitchen and Bar which you can enter by climbing the grand timber stairs between Max Brenner’s (chocolates) and the Palace Electric Cinemas. Monster offers a truly fascinating dining experience, anytime of the day (eg Jerusalem artichokes with Reggiano and bay leaf, steak tartare with miso cured egg yolk, yabby jaffle and eggplant katsuobushi).
Over the road, in the Pepper’s complex, are A. Baker, Parlour Wine Room, Bicicletta, and Močan & Green Grout. I love them all for the individual experiences that they offer, from bread, pastries, breakfast and fine dining at A. Baker, or cocktails, wine and tapas at Parlour, through to wine and pizza at Bicicletta or the non-licensed café dining at Močan & Green Grout. There are other options as well.
If you are thinking for something later at night, Monster Bar (until 1am) or Lucky’s Speakeasy Bar in the QT Hotel (until 10pm mid-week, midnight on Friday) will likely satisfy your needs. Parlour Wine Room is also open late.
So, for delegates staying in NewActon, you are in for a treat. Sure, staying closer to Braddon or Civic (central Canberra) will be great, but you just might want to pop over to NewActon for a different view of the new Canberra experience.
NewActon is a 15 minute walk from the National Convention Centre. Walk up Constitution Avenue to London Circuit, turn left (or right for a slightly longer walk), then walk around until you reach Edinburgh Avenue.
Theatre Lovers’ Delights
If you’re a theatre lover, you won’t go short in Canberra. Our premier theatre is the Canberra Theatre Centre, where the ‘big acts’ play, including Bell Shakespeare, national and international rock/pop acts and the Canberra Comedy Festival. The theatre consists of three performance spaces – the Canberra Theatre for the biggest national & international acts, the smaller Playhouse and the cosy Courtyard Studio for boutique performances.
You’ll find The Canberra Theatre right in ‘Civic’ (the city centre), on London Circuit, with parking available on both sides (and plenty of pre and post show food and entertainment across the road).
For less mainstream productions, you’ll love The Street theatre on the edge of the Australian National University on Marcus Clarke Street (also in the city centre). The Street hosts two theatres and a small performance space. It specialises in smaller plays by local dramatists, local and national musicians, and tends towards bohemian and sometimes edgy productions (‘artistically bold’). There’s a nice little café in the foyer, and the theatre seating is steep, so there’s really no ‘bad seats’.
Canberra Repertory Theatre is an ‘amateur’ theatre, but its productions certainly aren’t. Productions and actors are highly professional (though unpaid) stars of the Canberra theatre scene. At ‘Canberra Rep’ you’ll find classic plays (Uncle Vanya, She Stoops to Conquer) as well as more recent works (generally from the 70s, 80s and 90s). Canberrans from all age-groups and walks of life work behind the scenes, while the audience is a little older.
Finally, if you head just over the border to Queanbeyan, you’ll find The Q, Queanbeyan’s answer to Canberra Theatre. The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre in the centre of Queanbeyan’s lively restaurant and bar scene, stages all kinds of productions from big musicals to dance performances to plays. Queanbeyan is no more than a 30 minute drive from most parts of Canberra (less from some) so it’s easy to get to.
The Canberra Wine Regions
While the Canberra wine regions remain relatively unknown, the wines they produce are world class. According to Canberra District Wines (www.canberrawines.com.au/) there are at least 140 vineyards and 33 wineries within 35 minutes of mostly rural driving from Canberra. They are typically family-owned and run. From the earliest plantings in the 1840’s until today, the cool climate vineyards have spread over a large altitudinal range (300 to 800 metres) and soil types, producing classic French, Italian and Spanish varietals from a multitude of microclimates and terroirs.
In the European style, the wines are often lower in alcohol and lighter in body than many more typical Australian wines. Local vignerons are not shy of producing older and rarer varietals or surprising blends, however. This just adds to the diversity and unique characteristics of Canberra region wines. The Canberra wine regions really do punch above their weight.
There are three main wine regions – loosely grouped around Bungendore and Lake George, Hall and Murrumbateman (http://www.canberrawines.com.au/wineries.html).
When seeking out the cellar door, I tend to travel to Lerida Estate on Lake George, with their modern facilities and café, which regularly incudes musical performances, Lark Hill Winery near Bungendore for their biodynamic wines and restaurant overlooking the vines and Mt Majura Vineyard close to Canberra Airport, which features a no-frills cellar door and café, but an astonishing tasting menu.
That is not to say that I am not a great fan of many other vineyards in the Canberra wine regions. Some of my favourite vineyards are included in a special wine tour for Conference delegates to Murrumbateman and Hall, departing at 10am on Saturday, 5th November 2016, with Vines & Wines..
That is one not to pass up!
Canberra’s most beautiful places
Visitors to Canberra have sometimes been known to arrive and ask ‘so where is it then?’ All they can see is sweeping vistas of farmland and forest. But that’s our charm - we’re the bush capital, half bush, half capital.
For a definitive view of Canberra, visit Black Mountain Tower the telecommunications tower perched like a beacon on top of Black Mountain. For a small charge you can take the lift to the very top and get magnificent 360 degree views of Canberra, then enjoy the revolving restaurant or the café just below. Just up the street on the slopes of the mountain is the National Botanic Gardens with its eucalypt lawns, rainforest gullies and rock gardens.
Across the other side of northern Canberra, is Mt Ainslie Lookout in the Mt Majura Nature Reserve. This is one of Canberra’s most popular lookouts, with the breathtaking views across to Black Mountain, and over the Australian War Memorial with a straight line view down Anzac Parade, across Lake Burley Griffin to Old Parliament House and then up to New Parliament House. From a number of viewpoints on Mt Ainslie, visitors can see how Walter and Marion Mahony Griffin designed the city with the street radiating out from Mt Ainslie as an axis point.
Another beautiful view of the city can be had from Red Hill Lookout which also has a café and restaurant. From each of the three high points of the Canberra landscape, you’ll see one or more of the lakes of Canberra – Burley Griffin, Ginninderra or Tuggeranong.
Commonwealth Park curling around Lake Burley Griffin, is a popular place to walk, jog or cycle, with bike and pedal boat hire. You can have a coffee looking over the lake at Regatta Point or stroll around to the National Carillon with its musical chimes, Britain’s 50th birthday present to Canberra.
It’s always worth taking a bus or driving through the ‘Embassy Belt’ of Mugga Way and Empire Circuit (close to the ‘new’ Parliament House) to gaze in at the manicured lawns and diverse cultural architecture. The Chinese Embassy, in particular, has a distinctive look. In spring, it’s lovely to stroll around in the fragrant Senate Rose Gardens near Old Parliament House, just ten minutes’ walk from the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, among other attractions.
Beyond the ‘Parliamentary Triangle’ and the ‘Embassy Belt’ is the venue for the 2016 AAG Conference Dinner, the wonderful National Arboretum. While still in its infancy, the National Arboretum has expansive grounds and collections. The beautiful ‘Village Centre’ is perched high on a hill, with its own spectacular views of the city and superb catering from Sprout Café and the Conservatory Restaurant.
Some places, however, are really only accessible by car or taxi. Among the less accessible – but beautiful – destinations are Canberra’s river ‘beaches’, including Pine Island, Cotter Bend and Kambah Pool (see http://www.tams.act.gov.au/parks-conservation/parks-and-reserves/find-a-park), Canberra’s Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve with its alpine bush walks, grazing wallabies and the Space Station.
Jane Thompson and Danny Hills