Hear about travel to Canberra, Australia as the Amateur Traveler talks to Tenele Conway from www.hungryplanetblog.com about Australia’s capital city and the Australian Capital Territory.
Tenele says of Canberra, “It is the capital of Australia so it has a lot of unique things going for it. Canberra itself, it’s a low rise planned city. The city area doesn’t have any skyscrapers in it. It was designed by a Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion in the early 1900s. They won a competition with their design for Canberra. Their design had Canberra sitting around a big man-made lake called Lake Burley Griffin. It has corridors of bushland extending right down into the city. It is really quite unique. It is very much a bushland city. From anywhere in Canberra you can drive 15 minutes and you end up in the Australian bush. There has been a lot of change in the last 10 years, a lot more culture and entertainment. I really think that Canberra is finding its identity. I don’t think a lot of people realize how fantastic it is now.”
Tenele suggests an itinerary for Canberra that includes some weekdays when you can visit some of the popular spots like the museums and art galleries as well as a weekend to enjoy the city as the locals do: the cafes, festivals, markets, and other cultural activities.
For favorite spots, Tenele starts us at the Australian War Memorial. “It’s a beautiful building, Art Deco style, nestled at the bottom of Mount Ainslie which is quite close to the city area”. It is located across the lake from the Parliament house. “It’s got an amazing interactive museum which is really well done. I would also recommend some of the galleries. We have got the National Gallery of Australia which is Australia’s largest art gallery. All these attractions are free. Right nearby there you also have the National Portrait Gallery. You also have near the lake there the National Museum of Australia. It’s all about interpreting Australia’s social history. It’s quite a light-hearted museum. It would be suitable for the kids. It’s about things that make Australia iconic. There’s also the Botanic Gardens, that’s really just about having a wander through the native flora.”
Tenele recommends a drive through the suburbs to see the embassies which are in styles appropriate for the countries they represent. She also recommends getting out of the city to climb Mount Ainslie or to visit Black Mountain Tower for views of the city. Further afield you can visit Namadgi National Park or Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
The Multicultural Festival is Tenele’s favorite event of the many festivals in the area. “It’s all about multicultural food so there are hundreds of food stalls set up in little tents and there all cooking their own cuisine from the country they’re from. And they have big stages set up so they’re doing local dance and song performances from their local countries. It’s really fantastic.”
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Answer my travel question on Trippy.com and I will read my favorite responses on next week’s episode. This week’s episode: What is your favorite capital city?
Hungry Planet Blog
History of Canberra
The Big Merino
Australian Big Things
Australian War Memorial
National Gallery of Australia
National Portrait Gallery
National Museum of Australia
Australian National Botanic Gardens
Australian Water Dragon
US Embassy, Canberra
Chinese Embassy, Canberra
Suburbs of Canberra
Lake Burley Griffin
National Arboretum Canberra
Black Mountain Tower
National Zoo & Aquarium
A. Baker (Closed)
Lonsdale Street Traders
The Spit Shack
Tongue & Groove
Namadgi National Park
Tidbinbilla Tracking Station
Hungry Planet Blog (Facebook)
OK to take your wheelie bags to Venice
Thanks for providing such a useful and entertaining podcast. I’ve been listening for many years and downloaded loads of the earlier ones and got tips for many places.
I wanted to write with some experiences I have had a relation to a couple of podcasts.
I had planned a Californian vacation with, amongst others, a stop in Lassen Volcanic NP. I was holding off listening to the podcast on the park until close to my departure to help plan my time there (I had listened to ones on San Francisco and other planned stops). However, a few days before I was due to fly from the UK to San Francisco I had a heart attack.
I am much better now but long haul flights are out of the question (for the moment) so I was thinking of a possible short haul flight when the episode on Luxembourg was broadcast. Not a place I had thought of but the enthusiasm of your guest motivated me to book a trip and I did that at the weekend and really enjoyed this underrated city. The fascinating Casements and the contrast between the old city and new. I also got a Christmas market for good measure. Many thinks for such a timely episode.
Maybe one day I’ll get to go to Lassen (and listen to the podcast!) but thanks for the work you do and the enthusiasm of your guests.
Best answer to last week’s Trippy.com question “Where is the most remote beach you’ve ever gone to in the world?” was the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.
Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 446 Today the Amateur Traveler talks about museums, botanical gardens, outdoor cafes and kangaroos on the lawn as we got to Canberra, Australia.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 20 of them here on my bookshelf. Learn more at dk.com. This episode is also sponsored by trippy.com. Trippy.com is a leading travel community and a great place for you to get answers to your travel questions or to answer to the travel questions for other people or connect with fellow travelers. Check that out at trippy.com.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more from both of our sponsors later on but first let’s hear about Canberra, Australia.
I’d like to welcome to the show Tenele from hungryplanetblog.com who’s come to talk to us about Canberra in Australia. Tenele welcome to the show.
Tenele: Thanks for having me Chris.
Chris: And when we say Canberra, to many people it may come as a surprise that Sydney is not the capital of Australia.
Tenele: I was going to touch on that actually. Yes, a lot of people out there think it is Sydney. I had a friend who actually grew up in Lesotho in Africa and their school text books actually said that Sydney was the capital of Australia. It is commonly mistaken, but it’s definitely Canberra.
Chris: Well, to be fair, I don’t know about a lot of Australians, but a lot of Americans couldn’t find Lesotho on a map so. It does go both ways. You come to talk to us about Canberra which I think most people when visiting Australia don’t get to, they get to Sydney quite often, Cannes, maybe Brisbane or Melbourne, but don’t get to Canberra. Why should we go to Canberra, Australia?
Tenele: Yes. I do think a lot of people do pass us over which is a shame. It it is the capital of Australia so it’s got a lot of unique things going for it. Canberra itself, it’s a low rise planned city. The city area itself doesn’t actually have any skyscrapers in it. It was designed by a Chicago architect called Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion in the early 1900s. They won a competition with their design for Canberra, and their design had Canberra set around a big man made lake called Lake Burley Griffin. It has corridors of bushland extending right down into the city. It is really quite unique. It is very much a bushland setting which is unusual for a capital city, really from anywhere in Canberra you can drive 15 minutes in any direction and you end up in the Australian bush. It’s really unique in that way, and it’s only a young city. It’s 100 years old. We just had our centenary, and it’s a very progressive city.
There has been a lot of change in the last 10 years, a lot more culture and entertainment. I really think Canberra is really finding its identity. I don’t think a lot of people realize how fantastic it is now. It has actually suffered a bad reputation particularly with people comparing it to Sydney and Melbourne. They like to say that Canberra is dull and boring but it has changed so much that I want people to know that it’s a fantastic place to come especially for tourists. It’s a perfect city for tourists. Being planned it’s very easy to navigate, it’s well laid out, it’s very safe and it’s got a very low crime rate. So perfect for tourists to come to.
Chris: When you say it’s a planned city and only 100 years old, we should say first of all that the capital of Australia is not in Canberra because it was at the time the most important city, in fact it’s there because it wasn’t.
Tenele: Exactly, they build it, it was purpose built so-
Chris: Why didn’t they pick a different city? Give us a little bit of that history.
Tenele: Sydney and Melbourne they couldn’t pick and I don’t know if there was a dispute or I don’t know the full history over, but they couldn’t pick one or the other to be the capital, so they decide to scout out aside just for Canberra to be the capital, so it ended up in it’s own territory which is called the Australian Capital Territory and it was pretty much just farmland and bushland and then they built the city from their Walter Burley Griffin’s design, so it’s all purpose built.
Chris: And the capital territory is surrounded by New South Wales?
Tenele: It is, yes.
Chris: I say that as if I knew that before we started talking five minutes ago, but I know that now. Excellent. What would you recommend for an itinerary if one was going to come see Canberra?
Tenele: I would plan an itinerary for Canberra that would include some weekdays and a weekend. The weekdays are really good time for seeing more traditional tourist sites, museums and art galleries, and that way, you’re avoiding the domestic tourists that come to Canberra to see those things on the weekends. You can spend your weekends doing things more like the locals do, so eating and drinking and socializing, there’s fantastic bush walking and sports and markets and things like that.
I would plan it over something like a Wednesday to Sunday. Most people I think would be coming from Sydney if they’re coming to Canberra because most of their international flights would come into Sydney. I would actually recommend driving from Sydney to Canberra, it’s only about two and a half hours and it’s all on highways. It’s very easy driving. You can fly that’s about a 45 minute flight but it’s awfully expensive. We’re probably talking $120 to $250 for a 45 minute flight, so it’s really not worth it.
Take the drive along the highway. Your drive to Canberra will take you by Goulburn which is actually my hometown, it’s about 45 minutes out of Canberra itself and you should pull in off the highway into Goulburn to see The Big Merino which is a very, very large concrete shape which sounds completely crazy, but it’s a part of Australia’s . . . really we had obsession with what we call the big things and I don’t know if you’ve heard of these but the-
Chris: I have not.
Tenele: You haven’t? Okay. They’re dotted all over Australia. You’ve got The Big Merino in Goulburn, you’ve got The Big Prawn, The Big Banana, The Big Pineapple, The Big Lobster. It’s completely Bizarre, and they are all things that are a representative of industry in the area, so Goulburn-
Chris: Okay, I lived near the giant artichoke in Castorville so I understand.
Tenele: I’m sure it’s along those lines. People actually do road trips to pop in on these things and take pictures of themselves in front of them. I did once see on TV, some Swedish tourists doing just that but they were taking pictures of themselves, in front of all of Australia’s big things and they were completely naked. It’s a beautiful thing to tour around and see those things, and you get to see one and I personally think and I’m probably biased because I’m from Goulburn, but the Big Merino is the best big thing in Australia, it’s the most impressive-
Chris: And the Merino, pardon me ignorant question, is a type of a sheep?
Tenele: It’s sheep yes, and the locals have named it Rambo. That’s his nickname.
Chris: Let’s take a break here to here about the first of our two sponsors and that is DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. As I mentioned, I approached them to be a sponsor in the show because they happen to be one of my favorite guidebook series. They are very colorful guidebooks. Lots of illustrations, lots of useful information. I happen to have the guidebook for Australia and so I checked to see what it had about Canberra. It has lots of good information and it has two two-page spreads on Canberra, one in the Parliament House that has a diagram of that and one on the Parliament Triangle, a map of the larger area. Those are in edition to a map of the capital territory as well as a map of the War Memorial and also of the National Gallery of Australia. Each of those are surrounded by smaller pictures and small articles that give me an idea of what I will see in the capital district or what I will see in that particular museum which makes them particularly useful for a visual learner and photographer like me and so that’s the kind of information that I enjoy about the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. Learn more at dk.com.
Tenele: So from Goulburn you’ll take the federal highway past Lake George which is, a lot of the times a year, it’s actually a dry lake. Obviously, Australia is a dry Country, so the water dries up in summer and sometimes even in winter but it’s really pretty. It’s sort of nestled in among some hills. When the water isn’t there, you’ll have kangaroos grazing out there are on the lake and sometimes you’ll have farm animals and cows grazing, so that’s really nice. There’s a big wind farm built along the back of that now which was a bit controversial when it went in, but I think it’s quite pretty. That will take you into Canberra.
Chris: And one assumes we’re driving through sheep country since there’s a great big concrete sheep.
Tenele: Yes, definitely sheep country.
Chris: Sheep and kangaroo country.
Tenele: It’s not really wet enough for cattle country like the dairy cows further towards the coast, so definitely sheep country.
Chris: Well and then more of the cattle stations are further north up in Queensland.
Tenele: Oh, the big ones. Ye, they are in the out back, yes. Once in Canberra, for weekday itineraries I’d be doing your big tourist sites. There are many of them in Canberra, so I won’t go through them all. These are the sort of things you’re going to find in a good guidebook. So I’m going to touch on my favorite spots. I’d start at the Australian War Memorial, which is an absolutely brilliant attraction, it’s-
Chris: Is this for World war I?
Tenele: All the wars actually, yes and it’s a beautiful building, sort of Art Deco style, it’s nestled at the bottom of Mount Ainslie which is quite close to the city area. It’s got this big wide boulevard leading up to it when you look one way, you’ve got the War Memorial, and when you look the other way you’ve got across the lake and they are perfectly lined up because when you have a planned city these things happen. You’ve got old permanent house and then right behind that, you’ve got new Parliament House and they all line up along this big boulevard.
The War Memorial itself has really nice reflection ponds and the list of names you can put poppies on and all that type of thing you’d expect, but it’s also got an amazing interactive museum which is really well done. The main hall where they’ve got the G for George Lancaster bomber which is quite a well known bomber because it did 96 combat mission in World War II and it brought home every crew man who flew on it live. They’ve got that set up in the main hall and they do sound and light shows around it which is just fantastic. One of the more recent shows they put on was a video sort of presentation, that was done by Peter Jackson who did Lord of the Rings. Very, very high standard and anyone who ever goes there raves about it. So I definitely recommend doing that.
Chris: And when you say poppies, this is something that I was less familiar with, red poppies with brown centers as in “In Flanders fields the poppies blow..” is where we get it from.
Tenele: Exactly, yes. And it’s traditional if you’ve got a family member’s name on the wall you’ll take a poppy along and there are sort of little gaps in the wall next to the name and you can pop the poppies in the slots there so it’s like a remembrance. The poppies are for remembrance.
Tenele: I would also recommend of course doing some of the galleries. We have got the National Gallery of Australia which is Australia’s largest art gallery, and I should mention pretty much everything I’m telling you here all these attractions are free. If you’re on a budget they’re fantastic. The National Gallery really covers a fairly wide range of art styles and it has a lot of touring exhibition. You might want to see what’s on whilst you’re there. The touring exhibitions, you often have to buy a ticket for online and get like a time slot to turn up because they’re extremely popular. They’ve had in the past things like, The Impressionist and Rembrandt and that type of thing come along, so that’s well worthwhile. Right nearby there you’ve also got the National Portrait Gallery. As the name suggests it’s all portraits and they are of prominent Australians. Then you’ve go their stories on plaques that go along with it. It’s quite good for reading a little bit of history, and there are a lot of people in there certainly I’ve never even heard of, it’s not just say politicians or people that you’ll know. There are some really interesting little stories there.
There’s a really amazing painting there which is the most recent portrait of the queen that was done by an Australian and it’s just stunning. You’ve also got near the lake there the National Museum of Australia. It’s all about interpreting Australia’s..our social history. It’s quite a lighthearted museum. It would be suitable for the kids. The displays are quite varied and it’s really about things that have made or what makes Australia iconic. That’s nice. There’s a nice cafe in most of these galleries actually-
Chris: What sort of things make Australia iconic and therefore are featured in the museum?
Tenele: I haven’t been for a little while. I do remember some of the original cars being there, I’m not going to name what models because I’ll get it wrong and they’ve probably got fun little things like the Hills Hoist clothes line. I don’t know if you know about Hills Hoist clothes line.
Chris: Not a clue.
Tenele: Australians are really weirdly proud of their Hills Hoist clothes line, and everyone had one of these when they were growing up. I know we did. It’s like a clothes line that has a crank handle and it goes up and down and when we were kids and everyone has broken one of these when they were kids, you would swing around on it. I don’t know why Australians are obsessed with their clothes lines, but just funny little things like that and then stories and parts of our history that really stand out. It’s quite good.
There’s also the Botanic Gardens, that’s really just about having a wander through the native flora. You can just head in there, again there’s a nice coffee shop, and you can just leisurely wander around. It’s all native Australian plants and they’ve also got a large population of gippsland water dragons. It’s in a rockery setting with water and the water dragons do that thing where they sit really still, and you don’t even see them. Then you walk by and you think what’s that? And you realize there are dozens of water dragons all sitting there and they’re quite big. They’re really impressive.
Chris: When you say quite bit and you say they were dragon, I’m probably getting the wrong size, so how big are we talking about?
Tenele: A very large lizard? Maybe I don’t know 30 centimeters.
Chris: Like the size of an iguana?
Tenele: Probably not that big, or maybe a smaller, yes okay, now I think about it, maybe an iguana.
Chris: So 30 centimeters would be roughly three adults hand widths.
Tenele: Yes. They vary. You have small ones and quite large ones so big family groups there. So that’s worth doing.
Chris: This seems like a good time to stop and talk about our second sponsor which is trippy.com. Trippy.com is an online travel community for getting your questions answered about destinations you may be thinking about going to or answering other people’s questions. One of the core values of Trippy is experience over possessions. As they say, “we live by saying take only pictures, leave only footprints. We would rather have a passport full of stamps than a house full of stuff.” One of the ways that you can support trippy.com that is supporting this show is to go over there and answer this week’s Amateur Traveler question of the week. And the question for this week is “What is the best capital city that you have ever been to and why was it the best? Was it the food, was it the music, was it just the most beautiful capital that you had been to?” I’ll read some of the good answers to that question on next week’s show and the answers to last week’s questions later on in this episode. To get to this week’s question, go to amateurtraveler.com/trippy2. That’s Trippy with a y.
Tenele: There’s also an interesting trip you can do in the car, through the suburbs that have the embassies in them, which may sound completely boring but Canberra has themed embassies. All the buildings are in styles that are particular to the country that they are an embassy for. The US Embassy is a beautiful Georgian building, and I read that it’s in a southern style. It sits up on a hill, they’re heavily guarded, they’re all gated houses, but it’s like taking a little bit of a mini world tour when you drive around them.
Chris: You say the US one, a Georgian style, the Japanese one, a Japanese architectural style and what..a little Taj Mahal for India. How themed are wet talking here?
Tenele: Some of them are better than others. The Chinese one has the traditional sort of pagoda style roof. They vary quite a bit, some have gone heavily themed and some have just got sort of touches of an architecture style that you would recognize.
Chris: The three that you would say we really ought to see are?
Tenele: Definitely the US Embassy is worth seeing, but there are only so many and you can actually get a list of those embassies on the VisitCanberra website. You can print a little list. It’s visitcanberra.com.au and just have a drive around. They are all very close together, so you can pretty much see them all in probably half an hour. The suburbs are Yarralumla, Deakin and O’Malley but they all right near each other. So you can just a little drive.
Chris: When we talk about Canberra, we haven’t talked about it’s scale yet and my understanding is it’s size is relatively large but it’s population isn’t so big.
Tenele: I couldn’t tell you how many kilometers or anything it is, but we’re talking of a population of about 350,000 or 380,000, fairly low density. As I said, in the city there’s no sky scrappers, you’ve got some apartment buildings, but fairly low density sort of housing. On one of these weekdays you also might want to head into Lake Burley Griffin which is right in the city, so you can walk there probably from a hotel you’re staying in, and there’s a walking track around the lake, so you can walk around, you can hire a bike to ride around, you can hire paddle boats to take out on the lake. There’s a company now set up to do Segway tours. They’re standing vehicle things. So you can do a Segway way tour around the lake. And the lake itself is really center for activity. A lot of local events are held here like there’s a Big Tulip Festival around the lake in September. There’s a big firework show called Sky Fire in March, they’re doing Canberra Day concert in March. It’s sort of real hub of activities and all the locals head down there on the weekends and go walking around the lake for exercise and it’s really pretty.
Chris: Burley Griffin after the architect who designed the city?
Tenele: Exactly, yes.
Chris: Got it. Walter Burley Griffin. Okay. I did not get that at first.
Tenele: You also want to head out to one of the viewing points so you can see the city area in itself and really get a perspective on how the bush really comes right into the city, so there’s a couple of places you can do that from. There’s a very big hill you can go up that’s in the Arboretum and you’ll definitely need a car to do that, you can’t really walk there from the city.
You can walk up Mount Ainslie which is behind the War Memorial and you could actually walk there from the city, and there’s a walking trail that goes to the top to the lookout, and there’s also Black Mountain Tower. You have to go pay to go up Black Mountain Tower though, but I think it’s only about $7.50, and you head out there and they’ve all got great views so you can see the lake. I say you can see the city but it’s so low rise.It really is just sort of nestled in the bush. It’s quite an interesting perspective to see a big city, nestled in bushland.
There’s a couple of things I’d recommend for families as well, if you’ve got kids. There’s an interactive science museum called Questacon. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, but it was heaps of fun. They have a big lightening generator that shoots bolts of lightning around room and it’s all very hands on [SS] yes, that one. All that type of thing and the kids can really let loose in there, and there’s the National Zoo and Aquarium. That’s a really fantastic zoo and they do some really good interactive programs. I’ve done the zoo venture there which is a program. It runs for maybe two hours, and you actually go around with the zoo keeper and you get to feed all the animals.
It is through the cages like what.. they will smear honey on your hand and you hold it up and the bear cage and the bear licks the honey off your hand, and that’s more exciting for Australians because we don’t have bears in Australia like you do in America or in Canada. And you’ll feed the tigers though the cage with some tongs and it’s all very getting up close and personal, and they have the walk on the wild side tour which is a full day where you get to be a zookeeper for the day. So they’re not cheap programs, but they are very well done.
Chris: Excellent. So this is all for what we’re doing during the week?
Tenele: Exactly and I’ll say that’s probably most of what I would recommend during the week. There are other things, do check your guide book before you come. A lot of it is really niche interest stuff though. It depends what you’re into. Personally I’m not really into the mint, and there’s a National Film and Sound Archives and a lot of National this and National that, because we’re the capital. It’s going to depend on what you’re really into, so they are the ones that.. they really are my favorites.
Chris: And you mentioned, check the guidebooks. Are there things that the guidebooks are going to tell me too that you’re going to tell me, yes, you’ve been to that, we should just skip it?”
Tenele: Nothing specific that I think is a total waste of time depending what your interests are again. If you find plants completely boring, don’t go to the Botanic Gardens, or if you’re not into art The Art Gallery is going to be a waste of time, so because there are so many attractions here, I think it’s about planning out the ones that interest you and leaving out the ones that you find a bit dull because you’re not going to have time to see it all because, it depends on how long you’re coming for. There are a lot of things here.
Chris: I’m sort of assuming that people are fitting this into a larger trip to Australia.
Tenele: Exactly. You’d be pretty crazy to come all the way to Australia and just see Canberra. I think you’d be pretty crazy to come to Australia and just see any one destination, it’s well worth driving around or flying between a few spots. Canberra would be maybe five days within a bigger trip.
Chris: You’ve mentioned driving quite a few times and I would have to say for the people who are from North America or from outside of English influenced areas who drive on the right, don’t get too put off by driving on the left. It takes a little getting used to but it certainly can be done. I have done it and you just have to remember once you’re making those turns at the intersections which one to turn in to.
Tenele: I have never attempted driving in America so..
Chris: There’s at least one Australian couple I think that is still a little traumatized by a turn that I made right at them but you get used to it pretty quickly.
Tenele: Yes, and you know what? Canberra is designed for drivers and this is the way I would recommend for getting around because you’ve got to remember it was a city that was planned in the time of the car. It was designed for that. The roads are big and wide, there really is barely a peak hour. Our population is low enough, the peak hour is barely an hour and that is it. The rest of the time there’s very little traffic on the road, there’s lots of signposts. If you got a GPS you are not going to have a problem driving.
That’s what I recommend. There’s a bus network here, but it’s average. I don’t like being limited by when the buses are going and the schedule, so I definitely recommend getting a car for when you are here.
Chris: Okay, and it’s also little more spread out than being an ideal working city, is my impression.
Tenele: It is. A lot of it is within walking distance but there are certainly things that aren’t. There used to be a tourist bus here called the Explorer Bus which possibly could still be here but I just think, grab a car. As I said, the roads are so wide and the driving is pretty easy. So just give it a go.
Chris: And then on the weekends we’re going to be hanging out with the locals, you mentioned sport and music and other cultural activities. What are your recommendations?
Tenele: Canberra really has a growing cafe culture which I love and there’s a funny little story behind Canberra’s cafe culture, and it started in the 60s with a guy called Augustine Peter Soccker. He was from Vienna and he wanted to bring the continental practice of outdoor eating to Canberra to his cafe, but unfortunately, it was considered unhygienic back then to eat outside. So he mounted a [SS]
Chris: I’m not hygienic, okay.
Tenele: Yes, who knows? He mounted an epic battle against that council and the bureaucrats and he even at one point petitioned the
Queen to allow him to set up tables on the street in the city. In 1968, he did succeed and he was allowed to put out tables for his customers out on the streets. That cafe called Gus’ is actually still there and it’s the original outdoor eating venue in Canberra. Since then, outdoor eating and the cafe culture seems to be bit of an obsession with Canberrans. The first year I moved to Canberra must have been about 10 years ago, it was the middle of winter that I was moving here, and it was probably six degrees, windy, rainy, cloudy, and there were people eating outside with no heaters and I thought, what is going on here? And I was coming from a country town where there was no outdoor eating. I thought it was pretty weird. That’s what the Canberrans do, they love to eat outside.
Chris: Six degrees centigrade or Celsius is still a lot better than some of the people who are listening to this are seeing in the mid west or the East Coast of US or in other places in the world. So it doesn’t sound like it gets all that cold in the winter comparatively.
Tenele: No, yes winter-
Chris: I’m guessing the summer is a little warmer.
Tenele: Yes, we have far more extreme weather than Sydney, do come prepared for that. Sydney being coastal is a lot milder. Our average winter morning would be about minus three.
Chris: Okay, so just below freezing.
Tenele: But it certainly could go as low as minus eight and that minus eight will be the coldest day you would get on a winter morning. The average daytime temperatures would be anywhere between say 6 and 12 but then the summers are really hot.
Chris: When would you recommend coming then?
Tenele: It depends what you’re coming for. Like summer is festival season, so there’s a lot of things to do and see, but it’s just really hot, you have to come prepared. It’s not even summer yet and we had a 39 degree day the other day.
Chris: That’s hot. Okay.
Tenele: If you’re coming for festivals, which we’ll talk a little bit more about at some point…
Chris: And just to put it in perspective, body temperature in Celsius is roughly 39?
Tenele: Yes, 38 I think. You’re going to need water and hats and sunscreen and the sun is harsh with I guess it’s the hole in the ozone but you will get burned and I certainly still get burned even though I’m used to it, I can go out, I just went out on that 39 degree day and we wandered around markets and did some things and I came home completely roasted. You’ve got to be really careful, and I’ll say especially if you’re coming from England.
Chris: So sunscreen and a hat.
Tenele: Absolutely. If you’re coming for wildlife, spring or autumn would be better because on the really hot days all the kangaroos that are normally out grazing all hide under the trees until the sun goes down because it’s just too hot. It really depends what you’re coming for. Spring is beautiful though, so if you want a happy medium September, October, November that type of thing might be the way to go.
Chris: Okay. Although you mentioned festivals in the summer, so we’ve got to get back to that. What sort of festivals would we find if we brave the heat and come in summer?
Tenele: There’s all sorts of things and some are yearly events and some are just one off type of events. So my favorite by far is the Multicultural Festival, and that happens every early March, and the whole city area basically gets.. the roads get blocked off and it gets shut down for about three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s all about multicultural foods so hundreds of food stores set up in little tents and they are all cooking their own cuisine from the country they’re from and they have big stages set up, so they’re doing local dance and song performances from their local countries. It’s really fantastic.
We actually now, because I live about 25 minutes from the city, we actually get a hotel room in the city now, so at least for one night. So we have a base to go back to because the festival goes from midnight, all day until midnight for three days in a row. The hotel room is good to have as well because if it’s really hot, you can escape the heat from the middle of the afternoon. Last year it was about 39 degrees on the Saturday of the multicultural festival. But down in the tents with all the cookers and the burners going it was just stifling and it’s extremely crowded so it was good to have somewhere to go and have a drink of water and just relax and go back out again because it is very, very hot.
As far as other festivals go, it’s well worth checking what’s going to be on when you’re here because there are lots of things that are just sort of almost like pop up, totally random. We stumbled across something just the other day, called The Forage Festival, which was set up in an airport hanger, near the airport and it was a big another sort of food festival and also vintage clothes and music and that type of thing. We didn’t even know what was going on but apparently it happens four times a year. Lots of things like that sort of happen all the time but mainly from November to March is sort of the season when that sort of stuff is going to happen. It’s just too cold in winter to even bother.
Tenele: So there’s a few different suburbs you can do this in if you want to sort of experience Canberra’s cafe culture. There’s Kingston and the new development called the Kingston Foreshore which is waterfront dining. That’s fairly upmarket though so I don’t do there too often, it’s a bit pricey. There’s Manuka, which is right near Kingston. It’s got some historic buildings which . . . I say historic but Canberra’s only 100 years old, so they’re probably from the 20s and that’s got some really nice eateries and things. My favorite area is called Dickson and it’s like a little China town. It’s all Asian food, Thai, Vietnamese, noodles, that type of thing. It’s not so much outdoor eating but just fantastic Asian food.
I would recommend though starting out say a weekend, in Canberra in a Suburb called New Acton which is right next to the city, it’s a new area of town that sort of popped up and it’s got some really modern buildings with crazy angles and rusted metal, and just really funky and modern and on the weekends it’s really peaceful and there’s very little traffic in the area. There are lots of public art works and big old trees to sit under, and there’s some really lovely little cafes in there. There’s one in particular we tried recently called A. Baker. It’s just doing really funky, food, almost you might even call it a little bit experimental surprisingly reasonably priced, you get a big breakfast for under $20 and the building itself is really cool. The shop that was in there before the cafe that’s in now was a wood fire pizza place that burnt down. When they refitted it they left the burnt walls and everything. So it’s just like these strange burnt walls and exposed piping and it’s just very funky so I’d give that a go. It’s got a big outdoor area as well, and they actually do breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they have a bar so it’s open all the time. They do afternoon music sessions out in the courtyard, it’s a really lovely spa.
Once you try that I would head over to a suburb called Braddon. Braddon’s on the other side of the city to New Acton. You could walk to all of these suburbs though really. Braddon is an ex sort of semi-industrial suburb that had car yards and mechanics and things like that, but like in a lot of cities as the apartment buildings go up and more people come in, those suburbs start changing, it’s suddenly become this really funky part of town. There are pop up shops and bars, coffee roasters and it’s just a really lovely spot now. It’s totally changed.
I recommend there trying out a place called The Bentspoke Brewing Company which is a new micro brewery there. I’m not really into beer, so I couldn’t tell you much about beer. It’s got all the big vats behind the bar, bench stall tables, and you can have lunch and drinks and it’s pretty cool. Once you’ve done that you might want to try out the Lonsdale Traders which is an old mechanic’s workshop that has been set up full of pop up shops. They are sort of selling quirky things that you wouldn’t find in a mall or anywhere else. Bit of hand made stuff, unusual designs, knickknacks and things, so definitely give that a go, and I believe there is very soon a new development coming there as well, more pop-up shops and mixing those with food trucks. Food trucks are fairly new to Canberra, but they are suddenly sort of popping up everywhere, so I believe they’re going to be bringing to Braddon, the Spit Shack, which is a food truck. Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?
Chris: That’s as in cook on a spit.
Tenele: Yes, and they do lamb and pork and they serve it on these massive rolls with gravy and mint sauce and all that type of thing.
Chris: With some beetroot thrown on there just for good measure.
Tenele: I’ve heard that Americans don’t eat beetroot the way Australians eat beetroot.
Chris: No not so much. The first time I had that on my hamburger it was quite a surprise.
Tenele: No, I wouldn’t have it on a roll full of roast meat but I would have it on a hamburger, it’s the best. So yes, the food trucks there are sort of popping up as well which is really cool. When you are in Braddon you are literally across the road from the city itself, you walk across one set of traffic lights and you’re in the city. I think the city is the area that’s changed the most in the last 10 years and is what will really surprise people who haven’t been here for a while.
It used to be kind of dull, it had a fairly generic mall there and kind of a seedy night club and there really wasn’t much there, it’s been completely revitalized. The shopping center is probably three times the size it was and very modern now. Still sort of the standard shopping you get in a mall as opposed to what you get across the road in Braddon, but underneath the mall all these beautiful restaurants with outdoor eating have opened up. So they’ve got big gas heaters, so you can have outdoor eating year round which obviously Canberrans love. It’s a really great spot just to go for dinner and drinks and just to chill out.
Chris: Excellent. I assume that somewhere down in the center of the town there is also a capitol building?
Tenele: No, we don’t do capitol buildings.
Tenele: Yes, I’m not even sure what that is.
Chris: It’s the capital of the country but there’s no one building that’s sort of the center of the government.
Tenele: Parliament House.
Chris: Parliament House. Okay.
Tenele: Yes, yes. Parliament House is next to the lake, but we definitely don’t call them capitol buildings. So you’ve got old Parliament House and new Parliament House, but the current Parliament House is obviously where parliament sits and all politicians fly in for that so. In that city area as well there are a couple of places I would recommend. There’s Tongue & Groove, Honky-Tonk’s, and Playground which all sound very fun, don’t they? But they are all great spots just to have dinner and drinks and that type of thing.
Chris: And those are three different places?
Tenele: Yes, yes.
Chris: Because otherwise that’s a really long name.
Tenele: Yes, three different places that I’ll give a go. They are probably, getting borderline expensive though so it depends on your budget and there are certainly cheaper places to eat. For me, Canberra is all about multicultural food. I just think multicultural food here is brilliant, and you’ve got Vietnamese street food, Malaysian street food, Chinese dumplings, all that type of thing in the city as well and they’re much cheaper than those sort of trendy bars. It depends what you are into.
Chris: Well, Australia’s getting a reputation for being a little more expensive, so I hear in 2014, when we’re recording this can we say inexpensive you are putting roughly in what dollar range and expensive in what dollar range?
Tenele: I’d say if I went to one of the Vietnamese or Noodle places I would pay for beef noodle soup or a plate of noodles something like $15 at one of those places.
Chris: Okay, 15 Australian dollars?
Tenele: Australian dollars. If I went to something like Tongue & Groove and had a plate of sliders or trendy burgers or something cool like that, you’re probably looking, getting close to $30, but then if you went to the nicer restaurants again, and so the next level above you might pay $60 to $80 for a meal. So it really just depends. There is something for every budget, though middle of the range ones are probably $30 to $40 dollars. The time you buy drinks and you probably out for a couple and some drinks and a meal, $120 that type of thing.
Chris: To me that does sound especially when I calculate that that’s Australian dollars that sounds a little more expensive than we would pay.
Tenele: Exactly, and definitely I know when I’ve eaten in America, I’m always like “Oh, my God this is so cheap.” Our food is certainly more expensive, there’s no tipping though which helps and there’s no tax being added on, so the price you see on the menu is the price, unlike in America, so you’ll know that was $15 dollars for noodles, it is $15 for noodles you don’t have to tip anyone, so that’s a little bit different.
Chris: Okay. Good to know. Anything else you would recommend for the weekend? You mentioned sports, but we haven’t covered what the most popular in Canberra. I know what it is in Melbourne for instance. It’s more known for it’s sport.
Tenele: I’m not a big sports lover. There are cricket games that come to Canberra and there’s sort of historic oval that the cricket games come to near Manuka. There is Rugby League which is like the opposite of the AFL. You either like AFL or you like Rugby League, one or the other. You generally don’t watch both so the big game around here is Rugby League and the local team is called the Canberra Raiders.
Chris: AFL, just to make sure that I have the correct name, that’s Australian rules Football?
Tenele: Yes, yes. Rugby League is the game around here but I can’t tell you.. I haven’t been to a match since I was a child, and I used to go with my dad. But there’s a lot outdoor activities here that people generally do on the weekends as well. What we would call bush walking and you would call hiking, is really popular and you can head out to . . . you can actually do bush walking almost right in the city, because of the nature reserves, how they come down to the city and we certainly used to live at the base of the Mount Majura which was a 10-minute drive to the city even in peak hour traffic and in the afternoons we go bush walking.
You can do that in the city, or you can head out to Namadgi National Park. That’s the National Park that borders the south side of Canberra, it’s very close though from the city, you’re probably talking a 45 minute drive, and it’s free to go into so that’s unlike New South Wales parks which you actually have to pay to go into. So you can head out to Namadgi and they’ve got anything from short walks that might take an hour or two, you can do full day walks and then you can do multi-day walks.
There are some camping spots as well, I believe you should book your camping spots some of them in advance and keep in mind also that most of the Australian summer you’ll have total fire bans. It may not be camping like you’re used to in America, you’re not necessarily going to be able to have a camp fire, because of the danger of bush fires.
Chris: I live in California where things catch the fire all the time in the summertime so I understand that.
Tenele: Exactly and it’s just like that.
Chris: Because we don’t have rain for months at a time.
Tenele: Just like that.
Chris: Although we don’t have trees that tend to explode with fire like you do but-
Tenele: Yes the Eucalyptus.
Chris: Actually [inaudible 00:41:30] we actually have a lot of Eucalyptus trees. It’s just they are imported.
Tenele: Yes, it’s funny when you go around the world how many Eucalyptus trees you see and you think, oh, that’s very Australian. I’ve done lot of the shorter walks out in Namadgi but if you’re really into hiking there’s some longer ones and the big one you can do is actually 650 kilometers and it will take you from Canberra to Victoria. It’s very remote though it’s quite different. I’ve read a little about like the Pacific Crest Trail and some of those American trails which you sort of come out in towns quite often. This is totally remote and you’ve got to arrange your food drops, you’ve actually got to go and hide your food in the bush basically before you go, otherwise you won’t have anywhere to get food.
Chris: We’ve actually done an episode on the Pacific Crest Trail, and people want to hear about that and trail angels and all of that and how you get your water and such, but-
Tenele: Yes. So this is a little bit different and it’s certainly not something I’m going to be running out doing, but there’s something unique. You’re in Australia’s high country here and I know Australia’s high country is not particularly impressive on world’s standards, but you will go through the snowy mountains, you’ve got Mount Kosciuszko, our highest peak out there, which is to put it in perspective, it’s about half the height of Mount Whitney. It’s not super impressive but that’s Australian mountains for you, but it’s really pretty out there like even in just Namadgi if you’re going for day walk, you’re in the undisturbed Australian bush and you’ll see kangaroos grazing like hundreds of kangaroos grazing, you might see wombats, but they’re pretty elusive. You’ll see wombat poop you may not see the wombat. And they poop in towers.
Chris: Not quite the same.
Tenele: That’s how you recognize it, they’ll go find a rock, they poop on the rock and then they poop on top of the poop, it’s completely bizarre. I’ve seen echidnas out there. You definitely see lizards, things like blue tongue lizards which are native and you might mistake the lizard for a snake at first and run the other way. You might see snakes but generally they are lizards. Don’t go running too far. Lots and lots of native birds, so if you’re into bird watching, the Australia native birds are just stunning. Things like cockatoos, galahs, gang-gangs, rosellas, kookaburras. All those types of things so they are everywhere and you won’t miss the cockatoos. They make a hell of a racket. That’s what we call bush walking.
There are a few other outdoor pursuits people do in Canberra, mountain bike riding is another really big one. That’s mainly done in the state forests, so state forests are completely different to national parks. They are planted to be logged, but in the meantime while we are waiting to log them you can go mountain bike riding in them. That’s extremely popular and they have a lot of races like there are 24 hours races and things like that they do there. Other things out of Namadgi or various places abseiling, rock climbing, all that type of thing. Canberrans are known to be very active. Also out that way near Namadgi you might want to pop in at the Tidbinbilla tracking station. That is one of three NASA tracking stations worldwide.
Chris: Radio telescope.
Tenele: Yes, exactly. I believe you’ve got one there in California and then the other one is in Spain, and then we’ve got one in Canberra. There’s a space museum there. It’s not of a super high standard but it’s worth a wander around, there’s nice little cafe and it’s in the bush so you can see some big satellite dishes out in the bush, which is unique. Yes, I think that pretty much covers what you’re going to do on the weekend. It’s all about the cafe seen and and the adult pursuits for me.
Chris: Excellent, well I think that’s close to winding us down here. Before I get to my last three or four questions, anything else we should know before we come to Canberra?
Tenele: I think people should definitely check what’s going to be on while they’re here.
Chris: You mentioned that Canberra site being the best place.
Tenele: Yes and there’s I think also a site called What’s on in Canberra, that’s another good one which gets updated with the things that are changing because with a lot of touring exhibitions, like the population’s sort of not big enough to sustain things to be here on a permanent basis, but they’ll come and go, so we might have a Cirque du Soleil show here for a month and they pop up tent type things or we’ll have one of the big art shows coming by for a month. Check the websites before you come, so you know what’s going to be on and also keep your eye out because like I said, we stumbled across that food festival on the weekend. We had no idea it was going on and it was absolutely fantastic.
So keep your eye out and see what the locals are doing that weekend, and of course be prepared for the weather. If you’re going to Sydney or . . . a lot people just assume Australia is going to be hot. And most of Australia is hot, and sometimes I question why I live in the cold part of Australia in winter. Certainly if you are coming in winter be prepared, but also . . . when I say that about winter, the winter days are still stunning, we’ll have blue skies, beautiful clear days, very little rain, it’s just cold. You can completely prepare for that clotheswise, even in spring or sometimes even in summer though, although the days can be really hot the nights can then cool off. Just come prepared with your layers and things. It’s not like Sydney which . . . Sydney will stay 20 degrees overnight, we will never do that. It will be back down to-
Chris: [inaudible 00:46:52]
Tenele: Yes, overnight just be prepared for them.
Chris: Excellent. Last questions, so you weren’t born in Canberra but moved there, how did you know when you were really a real Canberran?
Tenele: I did grow up just down the road and Canberra was certainly nearest town, like city that we would go shopping in and entertainment that type of thing. I was amazed when I moved here and I would have thought living in the country you would have more wildlife and things like that but I really knew I was in Canberra when we moved to an inner city suburb where we had possums pounding on our roof at night, they dive out of the trees and thunder across the roof and wake you up. We get woken at 6:00 A.M by screeching cockatoos and laughing kookaburras. In the winter we would have kangaroos living on our front lawn.
Chris: On the front lawn?
Tenele: Literally on the front lawn. We lived in a suburb called Hackett. It’s at the bottom of Mount Majura but it’s an inner city suburb. Kangaroos in winter would come down from the mountains looking for more grass and they would come on to the lawn and sometimes we’d have a little family group or a mother with a joey and pouch, but every single winter you could guarantee we had this big, old male kangaroo. I think they’re a bit like elephants with the old males leave the family group and so he would come down every winter and he’d live on our lawn for days and days and days at a time. I’d open the front door in the morning and he’d be right there at the doorstep. I’d nearly have a heart attack.
Then I’d go to work and come home eight hours later and he’s still sitting there just eating, hanging out. So that’s extremely strange. I can almost guarantee you’re not going to get that in any of the other city in Australia. The funny thing is you’re not going to get that in country towns because I grew up in a country town and that never happened. That’s one really unique thing, you know you’re in Canberra when that’s all happening.
Chris: Sorry, yes. That does sound unique, you’ve got me at a loss for words here. I normally say one thing that makes you laugh and say “only in Canberra,” we may have answered that question as well, yes.
Tenele: I think we just answered it. Yes, definitely.
Chris: Excellent. One last question. If you had to summarize Canberra in just three words what three words would you use?
Tenele: Bushland, blue skies, and progressive.
Chris: Excellent. Where can people read more about your travels and about food too since you write about travel and food.
Tenele: I do. I am at hungryplanetblog.com and you’ll also find me on Facebook at facebook.com/hungryplanetblog.
Chris: Well Tenele, thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love for your hometown of Canberra.
Tenele: That’s okay, thanks for having me.
Chris: One update in a new story and that’s the new story from last week that Venice was banning roller suitcases. They have either back-pedalled on that or clarified that oh no, no, we only intended that to be for vendor’s carts. So no problem. Take your roller suitcase to Venice.
I heard from Simon this week who wrote this letter. “Thanks for providing such a useful and entertaining podcast. I have been listening for many years and downloaded loads of the early ones and got tips for many places. I wanted to write about some experiences I have had in relation to a couple of the podcasts. I had planned a California vacation with amongst other stops, a stop in Lassen Volcanic National Park. I was holding off listening to the podcast on the park until close to my departure to help plan my time there. I had listened to the ones on San Francisco and other planned stops. However, a few days before I was due to fly from the UK to San Francisco I had a heart attack. I am much better now but long haul flights are out of the question for the moment so I was thinking of a possible short haul flight when the episode on Luxembourg was broadcast. Not a place I had thought of, but the enthusiasm of your guest motivated me to book a trip and I did that for the weekend and really enjoyed this underrated city. The fascinating casements and the contrast between the old city and the new. I got a Christmas market for good measure. Many thanks for such a timely episode. Maybe one day I’ll get to Lassen and listen to the podcast but thanks for the work you do and the enthusiasm of your guests. Regards, Simon.”
Simon, thanks so much for your letter and certainly our best wishes for a speedy recovery. I hope you’ll be taking long haul flights again soon and let me know if you’re in the San Francisco Bay area and that goes out to the rest of you as I live in San Jose.
I also mentioned that I would be sharing with you the results of the question from last week on trippy.com on the best hidden beaches. One is you’re just going to have to go..there were some really good suggestion and that’s going to be amateurtraveler.com/trippy1 but the top answer that people voted and the beach that was named most often was the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. As Ross from Fort Collins said, it looked like no one had ever been there. Just the noise of holler monkeys and scarlet macaws. He posted a picture. “Those are my footprints and the only ones we saw. It looked like dinosaurs were going to jump out of the jungle at any moment. The Osa is the only real part of Costa Rica left.” Heidi from New York had a great picture of the skeleton coast of Namibia. “A wind swept expanse of nothingness.” And Sherry from San Francisco had a beach in Okinawa, Kaiji Beach which is one of the few beaches with star sand and if you don’t know what that is, you’re going to have to look it up like I did.
So again, check out the answers from last week’s question at trippy.com. With that we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions feel free to send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet post a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. Don’t forget to support our sponsors dk.com and trippy.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @chris2x and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.