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
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.
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.
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).
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.