Canberra revisited

A deeply underrated city, I loved Australia’s capital Canberra fifteen months ago when I first visited, and enjoyed it just as much second time around. First time round I wrote rather extensively about the place, this time I’ll restrict myself to a single post covering a few old favourites and some new discoveries.

To start with the things new to me, which weren’t many as I explored pretty thoroughly the first time around, but the National Arboretum was an unexpected delight. Less so for the trees themselves as they’re pretty small. The arboretum was only established just over a decade ago, on an area of former pine forest destroyed in bush fires in 2001 and 2003. They’ve built a couple of funky modern structures though, offering wonderful views across the landscape, along with a large collection of bonsai trees, very Karate Kid.

The other main discovery was the 50km of dedicated cycle paths around the perimeter of the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin. I’d explored parts of this last time but on a pretty rubbish bike hired from the YHA. This time I hired a decent one from Cycle Canberra on the university campus, and had a wonderful half day circuiting the lake. All the way round there are lovely views and things of interest to stop and see, including Government House, kangaroos, wetlands, beaches, historic buildings, and the Captain Cook Memorial Jet.

I visited previously in September, in part to see the flower fest of Floriade which filled Commonwealth Park. In late January the park was far quieter, and home to bats, which I’m pretty sure weren’t there in September.

The nearby Capital Exhibition explained why Canberra is the capital, and covered the international competition that led to Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin designed the master plan.

The model can be best compared from the Mount Ainslie lookout, for the classic Canberra photo opportunity, showing the clearly planned nature of the city.

There are also excellent views of the city and surrounding landscape from Red Hill and the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain. The tower has an entertaining video demonstrating how fashion and safety on building sites has changed since the late 1970s.

I had more time on this trip to explore the National Museum of Australia, which is fascinating but confusingly laid out, doesn’t really follow a logical flow, but is filled with great things.

As the capital Canberra is home to many embassies, which as all new builds reflect their national architecture. Two favourites of mine are those of Papua New Guinea and South Africa.

The National Gallery of Australia has a great collection, particularly of Australian landscape paintings, and 20th century international art, including memorable pieces by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon and David Hockney.

Saving the best for last, the Australian War Memorial is one of the greatest museums in the world, and certainly the best of it’s kind that I’ve visited, even better than the Imperial War Museum (particularly since they gutted the displays a few years ago). The exhibits, particularly those covering WW1 and WW2, are often quite overwhelming, and the Hall of Memory is both powerful and beautiful.

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