After our relaxing stretch at Ponto Falls, it was a zap back to reality landing in Canberra. Whilst we’ve only been away for a few months, the list of people to see and things to do was long. I barely ate a meal in the van, for I was too busy flitting about the Capital Country to fit in all that I miss about Canberra.
There are few photographs from this week, as one tends not to take so many pictures when one feels at home. However, this is a photo of us from 2009 looking over Canberra from the Mount Ainslie look out and not much has changed. I mean my hair is shorter now, Adrian’s is longer, and I don’t wear those sunglasses anymore, but Canberra looks much the same!
Canberra Mount Ainslie Lookout 2009
In this post, I thought I’d write a list of my Canberra MUST dos for a traveller who wants to get a real feel for the nation’s law and policy making paradise. It goes without saying that you must tour Parliament, OPH (Old Parliament House for those who aren’t acronym infatuated public servants, and trust me, no one calls it the Museum of Democracy), the War Memorial and Mount Ainslie, all of which are conveniently lined up and hard to miss, really. But, to get to know the real Canberra there are a few places which aren’t in the tourist books and really are the heart and soul of Canberra. Now these are simply my favourite places, and I’m sure many other Canberrans would argue that this is an incomplete list! It’s not meant to be a complete list, so try not to get your panties in a knot. If you’re a Canberran with a view please comment below… (I know that may be hard for you guys… being public servants and vowing to never read the comments, or to publish a personal view on the interweb – but heck, give it a go!)
The Capital Region Farmers’ Market is on every Saturday morning from the crack of dawn. It pays to be there before 8:30am. That may seem early, even to an RVer, but don’t dismay, you can camp there, roll out of your swag and go and get your produce, plus a great coffee and giant sausage roll for breakfast – it’s fabulous.
I’ve taken the blog there once before and you can see some nice pics in this old post here.
Little known fact outside of Canberra – Canberrans are hippies. Well, yuppy hippies. There is a plague of vegetarians, who don’t believe in marriage, grow their own vegetables and keep chickens. No judgement, just an observation. They all love food and you’ll spot them here on any given Saturday morning. Unfortunately they are hard to spot, because above all, they look like public servants, but in tracksuits, before they’ve had coffee.
If you’re not here on a Saturday, the next best thing is the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets (open Thursday to Sunday).
Eat an early share-style dinner at Mocan and Green Grout (do try to sit at the bar so you can watch them cook it for you and chat to the cute chefs) and then go for a movie at Palace Electric (just so you can have an epic pour red wine and homemade choc-top). Need I say more?? This is generally a plug for exploring the New Acton precinct. But M&GG and Palace are the best experiences there, in my humble opinion.
If you love the smell of old books, the feeling of warm tea, the taste of homemade cake and the sounds of random individuals singing whilst playing a guitar, then take the journey south of Canberra to the suburb of Curtin and visit Beyond Q. But, don’t tell anyone else, especially not hipsters. Because if anyone else finds about about this gem, it will be ruined. Fortunately, all the hipsters live in the suburb of Braddon, on the northside, so Beyond Q is probably safe. If you are a hipster, don’t go t o Beyond Q, go to Hipsley Lane in Braddon – you’ll love it, and all it’s thrift shopness, I promise.
The National Arboretum is a relatively recent addition to the tourism circuit in Canberra and one worthy of a visit. The views are spectacular and the building is beautiful. There are plenty of picnic areas and the cafe does nice, reasonably priced food.
Do you like burgers? What a silly question. Of course you like burgers. Otherwise we couldn’t be friends. If you’re vegetarian, don’t worry, this place also has arguably the best vegetarian burgers in the world. Many a meat-eater has considered ordering vegetarian at this place. Crazy, I know. It is a beautiful thing when you find a venue which can accommodate all your friends. Brodburger is infamous for many reasons. Great burgers, long waits, and a red caravan. Really, it should be a mecca for all caravan enthusiasts. They use to serve burgers to cold hungry public servants, in Kingston, by the lake from a red caravan. Eventually bureaucracy caught up with this strange institution and despite petitions and other civic outraged, the little red van that could, was no longer. But the brouhaha had a silver lining and that was the eventual opening of a legitimate looking restaurant (that’s licensed). You still have to wait a long time. Part of its charm perhaps. Or you can ring an order through and pick it up with pretty-well-awesome time accuracy. Public servants now do this in large groups for lunch, so they are less hungry and less cold. A great outcome for our nation.
Now for the real dirt. We’ve established a love for burgers which come from recreational vehicles. There is a little secret in the parliamentary triangle. If you are getting your tourist on, on a weekday, in the parliamentary triangle, there is one quintessential Canberran experience the brave can search for. It’s called Gaby’s. It is a dodgy looking caravan/demountable. The food is difficult to describe, without sounding disgusting. But it’s not. It’s delicious. Gaby may appear a bit grumpy. But he’s not. He’s a genius.
Popular site the RiotACT reviewed Gaby’s faithfully here. My usual is a Schnitzel Burger with the lot, and a serve of chips with gravy. This is not a particularly flamboyant choice. When I was feeling really crazy, I’d have a Mexican Dog. I was never really one for the menu items with ‘super’ in the title. But many are and whilst they may regret it later, they revel in it when eating. Usually these involve lashings of gravy, mashed potato, mushy peas, and Argentinian mayo. Oh, don’t forget to ask for hot sauce.
Gaby’s is at Barton, behind the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Attorney-General’s Department’s main building. It’s in a carpark adjacent to the Oak trees park on the corner of Kings Avenue and State Circle.
On a sunny day you can sit under the Oak trees, eat delicious food and watch hoards of public servants soaking up a greasy and well deserved time out. Car access is from Windsor Walk, right turn off Blackall Street. Finding a park in this car park is a rite of passage in itself.
While we’re at Barton, I’ll just say that the only place to get good coffee is Hideout on National Circuit. Once upon a time you would have found me there every morning around 9:30am. You will still find the rest of the Barton public service there at that time. They have a great system and pump through the coffees fast. So don’t be put off by a big line if you’re there in the morning. They do serve the best laminations I’ve ever had in my life. The berry muffins are also quite something.
Everything happens in the suburbs really. It’s one heck of a decentralised city. Check out the local shops and you’ll probably find something great.
RVers, don’t be put off by the roundabouts… or the weird LANE ONE FORM paint marks on the road. Just remember to drive with anticipation (as my Dad would say): that is anticipation of others’ idiotness. This is a territory full of drivers who got their licences in various jurisdictions, all with slightly different road rules. Everyone knows they are driving correctly and that everyone else is doing it wrong.
If you are RVing, I’d recommend camping at either Epic Showgrounds, or Alivio Tourist Park in O’Connor. They are the nicest parks close to the sites. If you don’t mind being further out – Cotter Reserve and Woods Reserve are both beautiful spots.
For more information to help you plan your time in Canberra, I recommend visiting the In The Taratory blog. T1 will give you the low down on all the most fabulous things to do in Canberra. If hiking is your thing, she does give particularly good reviews of nearby hiking trails.
If you’re RVing on the east coast, please don’t bypass Canberra for the coast road. I promise you won’t regret making the detour inland from Sydney. It’s only a few hundred kms inland and has lots to offer. There are plenty of Canberra-haters out there, muddying the message. Ignore the haters. Canberra is a great place to visit.
And lastly, a word about what to bring: if you visit between ANZAC Day and Melbourne Cup Day bring every bit of warm clothing you own. But don’t worry, it’s very unlikely to rain.