Welcome to Canberra

So, we’ve completed our first week in Canberra and, while it’s been peppered with highs and lows, I have to say that we’re still very happy to be here.

Since our arrival to an empty house, we’ve been on the receiving end of two mercy dashes by friends and their extended family, had offers of help via social media from people we only know via tweets and blog posts, and we’ve had our first tastes of family life here in Australia’s capital. Here are a few highlights:

The local library
As a family of limited belongings, and zero internet connectivity, discovering our local library – the brand spanking new Gungahlin Library – was a godsend. Not only does it have desks and workstations, it has several public access PCs, unlimited free wifi access and a very nice cafe. It also boasts a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox for the kids to play on, in addition to having a very impressive collection of books, CDs and DVDs.

The local swimming pool
If there’s one thing that the whole family can agree on when the temperature hits 35 degrees Celsius, it’s that it’s time for a nice cooling splashabout. Just like the library, Gungahlin Leisure Centre is brand new and has a toddlers’ play area, a family pool and a huge 50-metre pool for serious swimmers. It proved the perfect tonic for a hot and dry weekend afternoon.

The Australian Institute of Sport
There’s a reason why the Aussies are pretty good at sport, and part of that reason is the Australian Institute of Sport, a training centre for elite athletes from all over Australia. We went on a guided tour of the facility with our friends from out of town. It’s a worthwhile half-day out. You get to see the gymnasium, basketball courts, swimming pool and other facilities where Australia’s Olympic athletes are prepared. You also get to muck about in an activity room with basketball hoops, AFL and football simulators, rowing and skiing machines and lots of other goodies. And as a bonus, if you live locally, you can use some of the facilities too – before we left, we signed our two boys up for swimming lessons in the best facility the country has to offer.

National Zoo and Aquarium

A kangaroo with baby in its pouch.

A roo and its joey, up close and personal.

It’s a basic fact of life that kids love zoos. We were blessed with a fantastic zoo in Copenhagen, which we visited more times than I can remember, but after unpacking our bags and spreading out the promotional leaflets for all that Canberra has to offer, what was the first thing the kids plumped for? That’s right, the zoo.

One of the things I’m beginning to notice about Canberra is that, thanks to its status as the nation’s capital, its facilities and attractions are vastly disproportionate to that of other cities of a comparable population. And so it was with the zoo, for Canberra is home to Australia’s National Zoo and Aquarium.

It’s a pretty good one too, with easy parking, friendly staff, plenty of southern hemisphere critters that we didn’t see in Europe, and a few stand-out attractions, such as the beautiful white lions, which we were lucky enough to see being fed.

National Arboretum

A panoramic view of Canberra from the National Arboretum.

The view from the National Arboretum, from the Telstra Tower on the left, to Parliament House in the distance on the right.

Canberra is also home to the National Arboretum. I can’t say that we went because of our love of trees (although the walking trails may bring us back when Mr Pup is released on parole) but we had heard that the kids’ playground there was free and spectacular. You have to pay for parking up at the NA, which challenges the concept of ‘free’ a little, but it’s a small amount and turned out to be money well spent when we checked our watches and realised that everyone was having so much fun that our parking was about to run out – and we thought we’d only been there five minutes.

An open-air playground shaped like linked over-sized acorns.

The kids’ playground at the National Arboretum is spectacular.

Bateman’s Bay

A sign saying: A good day's fishing with plenty more for tomorrow.

A typically Aussie sign greets anglers at Bateman’s Bay.

This doesn’t really qualify as a Canberra attraction, but it’s close enough. A few hours east of the capital lies Bateman’s Bay. A friend told me that BB is to Canberra what Brighton is to London — the default coastal destination when the mercury begins to climb. We went there with friends to retrieve a couple of children’s beds they’d been kind enough to lend us, but of course, once there, we took advantage of what it had to offer, eating fish and chips on the foreshore, driving out to the local poark to play football, and hanging out with the local fishermen, who gave the kids fish-heads and entrails to feed to the eagerly awaiting rays (one of which was bigger than our eight-year-old son).

A boy looks down on a large stingray from some rocks.

I’m not quite sure who is sizing up who.

We’ve only been here a week, and when I read back over this post, it’s no wonder we’re all pretty weary. But we came to Australia to live life to the full, and if this is what a week in Canberra has to offer, imagine what we’ll get up to in our first year.

16 thoughts on “Welcome to Canberra

  1. Wow, you’ve done a lot in a week. Well done. Sounds like us when we landed in Orange County, California, on a posting with a 6 year-old and 3 year-old. Get stuck in! That meant Disneyland in the first week of course.

    Glad you liked the National Zoo and Aquarium. It’s come a long way over the years and is pretty good I think for a private zoo. Did you see the Liger (or is it a Tigon)? Can’t recollect. Anyhow, I think they have some lovely exhibits there and it’s all very accessible and easy to get around.

    From my part of Canberra, the south (Woden area), BB is only 2 hours away. I love the drive – particularly stopping in Braidwood which is a nice little country town (though I suppose may be boring for littl-uns). It is famous though for its Dojo Bread. You have to get to the bakery early though as like all good bakeries the bread is made early and by the middle of the day it’s mostly gone and I think they close in early afternoon.

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    • Oh yes, I can imagine Disneyland was a ‘must do’ when arriving in California. I’ve heard good things about the pies at Braidwood too… although with the twisty roads that follow, it might not be the best thing before a long drive. We’ll be returning to BB soon, I think. In the meantime, we just booked a weekend getaway to the Snowy Mountains. That’s only a few hours’ drive too, and we’re looking forward to seeing a completely different side to the region.

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      • Oh, where are you staying? What do you like to do? We go to the Snowy for 5 days every January – our gift to ourselves after the Xmas rush which we hold at our place! Love, love, love it and can give you come ideas depending on where you are going.

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      • We’re staying in Jindabyne. It’s our first trip, so we picked it at random really, but it looks gorgeous, and we absolutely need to recharge for a couple of days. Any tips would be gratefully received.

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      • We usually stay in Thredbo itself but Jindabyne is a good place too. Once the ski season is over, Thredbo is the best place for activity IN the snow areas (excluding Jindabyne which is not IN the snow fields but on the edge. So, what I’ve saying is that if you only have a few days, just focus on Thredbo and Jindabyne – not Charlotte Pass, Perisher, etc.

        The best thing to do is to go to Thredbo, which is only around 20kms, from Jindabyne, and get the chairlift up to Eagle’s Nest which is about at the tree-line. Once there you can potter around, have a cuppa, some food, a glass of wine of beer and come back down. OR you could walk to Mt Kosciuszko. It’s a 13 km return trip. Very exposed so above the treeline, so it will depend on the weather and your clothing. It’s an easy walk ascent wise. We did it with our kids when they were 10 and 7. Then get the chairlift back down. You can also walk part way (I think that’s about 6km return trip) to the Mt Kosciuszko Lookout. Depending on how much time you have this might be better.

        Alternatively, you can not go to Kosci but walk back down from Eagle’s Nest – Dead Horse Gap is the longest route at 10km. My very favourite walk but perhaps a bit much for your first visit. The next longest is Merritt’s Traverse at around 5-6km. And the shortest (and steepest) is Merritt’s Nature Track at 4-5km (not to be confused with Meadows Nature Track). There are many other walks in and near the Village (like Meadows), some as short as 1 km, and some themed for art, environment, history. It’s all beautiful. Just a short walk along the river (below the golf course) into the bush is fun to do. We see lots of families pottering along there, as we’ve done in the past.

        You probably also know that there’s an AIS facility there. We haven’t been in for a long time so you’ll need to check but they have (had) a fun waterside for kids.

        There are lots of cafes in Thredbo (some close for the summer) ranging from takeaway and pizza/lebanese food type places and the bistro that belongs to the hotel, up to the expensive Terrace restaurant at the Denman Hotel. The House of Ullr does BBQ your own meals, and Bernti’s does tapas but that may not suit the children.

        Between Jindabyne and Thredbo is the Wild Brumby Distillery and Cafe (on the left coming from Jindabyne and about 10kms in). It’s a beautiful place to visit – even just for coffee and cake, and they do little mini ice-cream cones.

        I’m not so up on places to eat in Jindabyne but it has hotels (we’ve eaten very pleasantly at one), clubs, and cafes (e.g. at the Nuggets Crossing centre).

        If you like walking a good site to check is: http://www.wildwalks.com/bushwalking-and-hiking-in-nsw/kosciuszko-np-south/ (The rest of his site is useful for other regions too).

        OK, so I’ve rambled … but hope this helps (not knowing really what your interests are and what your kids like to do).

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      • That’s fabulous. Thanks so much for taking the time to write all that. I’m really looking forward to this now — we had intended to just relax at the hotel but getting out into the scenery sounds so much more fun, so I think we’ll try and cram a few of these in. Again, thank you.

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      • Do relax if you need to … but if the weather is nice, explore a bit too! There might be some wildflowers around too … there were some when we drove through Thredbo a couple of weeks ago and various ones keep popping up right through to January-February.

        (I hope you haven’t seen the movie Jindabyne. If you haven’t, save it until after you’ve been. Great movie but a bit grim.)

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  2. Hi CBRbound, I’m so glad to have discovered your story! As a Canberran for about four years now I’ve fallen in love with this city and am so glad to see that others are beginning their Canberra stories with such enthusiasm!

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    • Thank you. I have to say that there’s not a week that goes by without this place surprising me (in a positive way). Y’know, I think Canberra may well be one of the world’s best kept secrets. Or maybe not, now that OECD report is public knowledge 🙂

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