CANBERRA is going from strength to strength as a holiday spot, and it’s Aussies who are falling for its new-found charm.
Since the national capital threw off the boring tag earlier this decade — about the time new places to stay such as Ovolo Nishi (formerly Hotel Hotel), QT Canberra, East Hotel, Adina Apartment Hotel Canberra Dickson (formerly Aria Hotel), and Vibe Hotel Canberra Airport opened — it’s become the destination de jour for everyone from foodies to families.
Almost five million people visited Canberra in the 12 months to September 2017, with 2.71 million coming from around Australia, reflecting a 12.6 per cent increase on the previous year, and the bulk of domestic visitors hail from the neighbouring east-coast states.
Canberra is so hot right now it even made Lonely Planet’s list of the top 10 cities to see in 2018, coming in third behind Seville and Detroit but topping Hamburg, with author Chris Zeiher noting the location is “criminally overlooked’’ and “packs a punch for such a small city’’.
Is it all hype, or are there abundant reasons to make for the Australian Capital Territory this year?
Fine wine time
Canberra’s wine region (below) continues to punch above its weight with 30 vineyards, set around the Barton and Federal highways stretching north from the city, producing classic cool-climate wines as well as a big Super Tuscan that’s turning heads.
There are ample eating options with a food trail stretching from Yass to Gundaroo through Hall and Murrumbateman, Burnelee Excursions offers horseback treks around a working property, and Old Saint Luke’s Studio is a gallery showing wood-fired ceramics.
It’s now a breeze to explore Canberra wine territory, and visit the cellar to meet those behind the brands, with Abode Murrumbateman a modern 52-room hotel that opened this year, a stone’s throw from estates scattered around rolling paddocks a 30-minute drive from Canberra.
National Gallery gold
More than 300 jewels and gems on loan from royal families, celebrities and socialites will be on display at the National Gallery of Australia from March 30 to July 22 when Cartier: The Exhibition lands in Canberra.
The rare presentation will use everything from film and photography to costumes and the Cartier archives to provide a peek into the exclusive world of the iconic jeweller with those in the know explaining it’s the first time so many precious pieces, including royal tiaras and Oscar-worthy baubles, have come to Australia.
But Cartier isn’t the only highlight of the National Gallery season with Love and Desire Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate showing until April 22 and canvases from America’s 20th-century masters hanging through to November 11 while retrospectives from Picasso, Hugh Ramsay, David Hockney, Arthur Streeton and the Prince of Wales will be in residence during the year.
Time to remember
November 11 marks 100 years since the end of World War I, rounding out four years of commemorations of the centenary for the Australian War Memorial (below), with the esteemed institution planning five weeks of happenings to honour the day the guns finally fell silent back in 1918.
The Memorial is scheduling events from October 5 until Remembrance Day with the commemorations centrepiece, an installation of 62,000 knitted red poppies, set around the grounds to represent each Australian life lost during WWI.
After darkness descends on November 9, 10 and 11, a beam of light will be thrown from the Memorial’s parapet to the Parliament of Australia and photographic images will be projected onto trees around the grounds.
Until then, the names of the fallen will be cast onto the Memorial’s walls between dusk and dawn, kids will read from the Roll of Honour to recall combatants that never made it home, and the moving Last Post Ceremony will tell the story of a brave Aussie at the end of every day.
The morning meal is becoming the best time of the day to eat out in Canberra with a collection of cool cafes dotted around the city and suburbs presenting breakfast menus that are not only highly instagrammable but stoke the boilers for a big day of sightseeing.
Put Penny University (below) in Kingston at the top of the list then try Local Press Cafe on the Lake Burley Griffin foreshore, The Cupping Room on University Ave in the city centre, Double Shot Deakin and Rye in Braddon.
For those preferring to brunch there’s Pollen, a Hamptons-style cafe in the grounds of the Australian National Botanic Gardens; Ivy & The Fox in Acton; Bookplate inside the National Library of Australia, and Urban Pantry at Manuka.
Transport lightens up
Canberra’s public transport network will significantly expand in 2018 when the first stage of the highly anticipated light rail system, a 12km section connecting the city centre with the city’s northern suburbs, is up and running by the end of the year.
While locals are counting the days until the first light rail tram dashes down Northbourne Ave, visitors will also benefit with those properties flanking the city’s main drag — like the Rex, Adina Canberra Dickson and Pavilion hotels as well as the new Mantra on Northbourne — all conveniently close to stops.
The City to Gungahlin Corridor, which will link with the already efficient bus network, will also make it easy for guests staying at Dickson Backpackers and Quality Hotel Dickson to reach the city centre.
Two guided tours are shining the spotlight on the ACT’s artisan alcohol business with Dave’s Brewery Tours taking connoisseurs behind the scenes at Canberra’s best craft breweries — Bentspoke Brewing Co (below), Zierholz, Wig & Pen, and the latest edition Capital Brewing Co — to learn about the beer-making process.
Baldwin Distilling Company, one of Australia’s newest bourbon manufacturers crafting American-style whiskey, is also offering an insider tour followed by a tasting session that not only highlights the local product but shows how it can be used during cocktail hour.
Those seeking somewhere savvy to hydrate should try Brew Nation with the city-centre venue specialising in craft beer, swanky Lucky’s Speakeasy at QT Canberra, The Canberra Wine House in Dickson, and the Melbourne Building’s Bar Rochford, a big winner in the 2018 Gourmet Traveller awards.
Get around by boat
The national capital is home to Australia’s first fleet of GoBoats — electric craft designed in Copenhagen four years ago to offer a sustainable outdoor experience — which allows water lovers to picnic while pottering around Lake Burley Griffin.
There’s no need for a boat licence, just someone to captain that’s old enough to drive a car, and eight people can fit around the picnic table on the silent vessels that live at the Kingston Foreshore pier in the pond’s East Basin.
If that’s not enough water time, Urban Adventures has launched aquatic excursions, including an itinerary that explores the Lake Burley Griffin shoreline and another that bon voyages in time for sunset, with sightseers using pedal kayaks to get around.
Turn to a tour
Rangers from the Australian National Botanic Gardens host an amble through the grounds to detail Black Mountain’s biodiversity while Blue Skies Adventure Tours leads a daylong adventure to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (below) hat boasts a nature walk and visit to NASA’s Deep Space Communications Complex.
Dharwra Aboriginal Cultural Tours is a new indigenous operator offering guided outings that visit sacred sites around the Canberra region — Mt Majura, Mt Taylor, Black Mountain, the Brindabella Ranges and Namadgi National Park — to share stories about the landscape, bushfoods and traditional tools.
Mulga Bicycle Tours has three comprehensive city day tours, as well as longer expeditions that spend anything from five to 15 days in the saddle seeing spots from Gunning and Crookwell to Goulburn and Bungendore, while Urban Adventures has launched new circuits by e-bike.
Local food blogger Eat Canberra has crafted an itinerary that showcases the city’s culinary gems, taking in venues around gourmet hotspots like Braddon and Civic, while Canberra Secrets’ author Marg Wade has turned tour guide with her excursions covering everything from kangaroo spotting to cafe culture.