Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Canberra Festival

If you are planning a campervan trip at the still-warm-but-less-busy tail end of summer and beginning of autumn, make sure you time it to put you in Canberra from the 11th to the 20th of March 2012 for the Canberra Festival.

The festival will feature different events that showcase the Canberra Community each day. One of the main ones is Celebrate in the Park, a huge party with live entertainment, rides, food and more. The Festival is also set to include a Balloon Spectacular, a Symphony in the Park, an event named 'Lights! Canberra! Action!' and a public holiday for the residents of the city.

The Festival is an annual event, and if you are road tripping again in 2013, make sure you come back for the Canberra Centennial, celebrating 100 years of Canberra!

History of the Nation

Canberra is Australia's capital city, and is home to many museums and galleries which tell the story of the island or continent (Whichever way you choose to see it) of Australia.

by Richard Gifford Flickr Creative Commons

The Canberra Museum and Gallery is free to enter. Exciting exhibitions, programs and projects recount the social history of the area. The Canberra stories gallery showcases the permanent collection, whilst changing exhibitions tell various stories at various times and make it a great place to re-visit! There are several art galleries with paintings, photography and other works reflecting the local area.

The National Museum of Australia, also free of charge, is also located in the capital, and is a social history museum that presents the history of the Australian people, both indigenous and later settlers. There are permanent and changing exhibitions and galleries with awesome activities for kids. See the Landmarks gallery, exploring different and iconic styles of life in Australia, experience the audiovisual journey of Circa, and learn about the First Australians.

National Museum of Australia
by Eugene Regis Flickr Creative Commons

Another important spot in Canberra is the Australian War Memorial. This includes a museum, open from 10am-5pm daily, also with free admission. On the northern terminal of the city's land axis, this is an impressive building, a fitting tribute to those who fought for the country. It consists of the Commemorative Area, the Museum and the Research Centre. The Museum includes exhibitions such as ANZAC Hall, a remembrance of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, areas for the First and Second World Wars, the Discovery Zone for children to get a first-hand experience of what the wars were like, an Aircraft Hall, and much more. The Commemorative Area includes a Hall of Memory, the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier and the Sculpture Garden for quiet contemplation.

There are numerous other galleries to be explored in Canberra, and hands-on history experiences at places like Calthorpe's House, which has been restored with original furniture and fittings to tell the story of life in Canberra's early days. Blundell's cottage, once a home for Duntroon Estate workers, is now a museum holding the history of the pioneers of the limestone plains.

So, if your road trip takes you to Canberra, make sure you hear and see a bit of the history of what makes the capital and the country an amazing place to live and visit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Canberra Dining

Whether you enjoy elegant dining, or a café on the corner, a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Canberra, gives you plenty of opportunity to try out some nice places to eat.

Australian food has always been an enormous assortment of cultures and styles, with some of the biggest influences coming from Asia, and today is no exception. As well as traditional Australian dishes, there are now what is known as ‘modern’ Australian, native Australian, Italian, French, Turkish, Asian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Korean, Greek, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Mexican……get the picture?

So you'll probably want to know are which are the best, after all, you’re only here on holiday and can’t try them all. Here are a few suggestions from other travellers about the best restaurants in the centre of Canberra.

Indian/Italian fusion dishes are certainly unique, and at Digrees Restaurant and Lounge, that’s what they serve up. It may seem a strange combination, but apparently it goes down terribly well, with dishes such as tandoori chicken pizza, pasta, salad, and then real Indian dishes. If you’re not sure, then head for the lounge area where a distinctive style of Tapas is served, but one thing you will notice is the service is excellent. The Digrees is on 11 Akuna Street, not far from the Wales Centre.

The Courgette Restaurant is not the cheapest restaurant in Canberra, but it is considered one of the best. The Courgette offers Australian dishes from a la carte and degustation menus, and the wine list is long, so takes a while to go through. If you’re feeling REALLY hungry why not go for the roast sucking pig done five ways, and if you’re the type of person who can’t choose between a starter and a dessert, go for the starter, they’re spot on. You can find the Courgette Restaurant at 54 Marcus Clarke Street, near the Australian Business Academy.

The Chairman & Yip Restaurant is a bit of an institution in Canberra. As you’ve probably guessed by the name, it serves up an array of Chinese dishes such as roast duck and shitake pancakes, grilled field mushrooms with pesto, and Shantung style crispy lamb. It gets crowded here, especially at weekends, so either book or come early, unless you don’t mind a long wait to be seated. The Chairman & Yip restaurant is at 108 Bunda Street, west of the Veterans Park, and if you want to book the phone number is 02 6248 7109.

Finally, if you’ve got nothing in the cupboards for breakfast, or you’re just after a quick bite on the run, visit Dobinsons. Dobinsons is a bakery and café situated on Bunda Street, a short walk from Veterans Park. For breakfast try the delicious raisin toast which fills you up until lunch. Talking of lunch….that’s when you can enjoy superb burgers and salads, pies, quiches, and sausage rolls, and then maybe the apple crumble, or white choc cheesecake. Heavenly!

So, these are just four of the most popular places to eat out in Canberra on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday, try these, or add to this one with your own personal favourites.

Canberra Vineyards

Names such as the Hunter Valley have always made wine lovers shiver with 
excitement when enjoying a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in the fabulous Australian vineyards, but there is another hidden gem; Canberra.

The area around Canberra is home to over 33 wineries with 140 vineyards, all within an hour of the capital, making it the perfect day out from the city. Canberra’s vineyards produce distinctive wines, different from those in other regions due to their soil, altitude, and weather patterns. It also has a lot to do with the winemakers themselves, as these wineries are smaller, boutique style cellars, producing redefined, characterful wines, and offering an original, interactive service for visitors.

What can you expect?

Many of the wineries offer tours where you can meet the winemakers, walk through the vineyards, and of course taste the wines. To make things a little easier, the wineries in the region have produced a local guide, known as the Canberra District Wineries Guide, which includes a map, directions and information about the wineries themselves, as well as the tours and special events such as markets, new releases, and festivals.

What types of wine does the district produce?

The altitude and soil types create cool climate wines, very diverse. Grape varieties include everything from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz to Sangiovese and Riesling, and each cellar does something entirely different with their grapes.  Shiraz and Riesling are the most favoured wines to originate from here.

What are the closest vineyards to Canberra?

That would be Hall, no more than ten minutes outside the city. The wineries are set in the rolling hills with views over the Brindabella Mountains, Eden Road Wines, Mount Mmajura Vineyard, and the Pialloigo Estate are the three which are closest to the city. See the link at the bottom of the page for a map and directions.

There are two other areas, which are still within easy reach, Murrumbateman and Yass, and Bungendore, Wamboin and Lake George. Murrumbateman and Yass is a 40 minute drive from the capital and has over 10 wineries to visit, as well as some beautifully resorted historic buildings, and excellent places to try out local specialities in food, as well as wine. There are also places where you can stay overnight, so you can genuinely enjoy a wine experience. The other area is Bungendore, Wamboin and Lake George, this area produces yet more fabulous wines, as well as some award winning restaurants. The lake has a different microclimate, and the areas around the historic villages of Gundaroo and Collector are well worth stopping for a wander round, before heading to the higher altitude wineries around Bungendore and the Wamboin.

Are there any options for visiting the wineries without having to drive?

Yes, and unless you’re staying locally its better to take a tour of the vineyards, otherwise you can’t truly appreciate the wine at its best. The wine guide gives details of companies who operate tours, the other option is to stay overnight in your motorhome rental or campervan hire at Murrumbateman, when you can explore on foot.

A tour of the vineyards and wineries close to Canberra is a fantastic way of experiencing a different perspective of Australia’s capital, and it’s nice to know that in your home away from home, you can enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, and still have extremely comfortable surroundings, whilst you enjoy a bottle of something tasty.


Tidbinbilla Tracking Station

If you’re a Sci-Fi fan on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Canberra, you have to visit the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station. It’s the stuff films were made of, lots of outer space activity and satellites, history and technology, and it’s one of only three such complexes in the world.

The complex is officially known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex or CDSCC for short. Situated half an hour from Canberra, the ground station is part of NASA's Jet Propulsion Deep Space Network. One of the most momentous times in the complex’s history was during the Apollo Space program, which landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin along with the Apollo lunar module on the moon; Tidbinbilla was used for tracking the module.

The complex was built during the 1960’s along with two other stations in the Australian Capital Territory, the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, and the Orroral Valley Tracking Station. Its location, on the Murrumbidgee River, was chosen because of protection against radio frequencies that was given by the Coolamon Ridge, Urambi Hills, and the Bullen Range. Today the complex’s claim to fame is that it’s the only NASA tracking station in Australia still in operation.

Today, the Station has three large antennas, and there are plans to built three more.
For the ‘techies’ who are interested in facts here are more details:

The DSS-34 is a 34 m beam waveguide antenna, a parabolic dish that sends a signal to or from the transmitter or receiver to a movable dish by a beam waveguide. The dish uses radio frequency mirrors to locate the receiving and transmitting equipment underground, rather than on top of the dish.

DSS-43 is a 70 m is the largest steerable parabolic antenna or dish in the Southern Hemisphere.

DSS-45 is a 34 m dish built in 1986.

An in addition, not working but on display, is the DSS-46, a 26 m dish which was built in 1967 and moved from Honeysuckle Creek site 1967. In May 2010, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics declared the antenna a Historical Aerospace Site.

Even if you’re not a deep space fan, the site is still a fascinating place to visit on a motorhome rental or campervan hire trip, and who knows where it might take you!

Batemans Bay

At one time famous for its sawmill industry and agriculture, today Batemans Bay is a place to chill out on the beach, take to the water, or explore in the forest; and with a motorhome rental or campervan hire vehicle, you’ll also have an extremely comfortable home away from home.

If you’re into history visit the Old Courthouse Museum which has a large collection dating back to the time of Captain James Cook in the 1770’s.  If its food that interests you, the bay was also a significant supplier of oysters, even today the bay’s oysters are considered to be of exceptionally high quality, and are shipped to some of the best restaurants and markets in Sydney and Melbourne.

Batemans Bay
Photo by kelvincheong, Flickr Creative Commons

However, what most people come to Batemans Bay for is a break, and there’s plenty to keep a family occupied here.  The area also has some excellent restaurants and café’s; especially if you love oysters, they couldn’t be any fresher, it’s also home to Batemans Marine Park, a very popular place to visit.

The Marine Park is where you will find opportunities for swimming and snorkelling, diving, fishing, kayaking and Jet Skiing, there are also land based activities such as headland walks, and lots of sports.  The100 Km’s of protected coastline protects a whole host of marine animals and plants which live out at sea on the reef in sea gardens and sponge meadows – sounds comfy doesn’t it?

Despite the environment being protected, there are still lots of fishing and water sports to be enjoyed.  In fact, because the area is protected, there are more fish in the surrounding waters, so sports fishermen are in heaven.

With all these leisure activities, there’s no shortage of places to spend the night in a motorhome rental or campervan hire, two such places with excellent facilities are East River Side Holiday Park, situated on the Clyde River, and Batemans Bay Beach Resort, as the name suggests, right on the beach.  Both are owned by the same group, and both have facilities such as camp kitchens, pool with loungers, modern toilet facilities, barbeque facilities, and internet access to help you stay in touch with the folks back home.

As well as some excellent places to visit and stay, Batemans Bay is also close to some other fascinating towns such as Mogo, the early Gold Rush Colony.  This is where you can pan for real gold, enjoy guided tours, and experience what life was like back in the Gold Rush days of the 1850’s.  It’s also worth a trip to the pretty town of Nelligen.  The sleepy village is just 10km away, and sits on a still reach of the river, there’s also some beautiful views of the bay and the river from the Holmes Lookout.

Take time and stop off at Batesmans Bay, relax, put your feet up and enjoy a few days of relaxation, before hitting the road again on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Canberra Zoo

Canberra is an extremely historical city, but for a more light-hearted, fun day out, why not visit the Canberra Zoo during a mototrhome rental or campervan hire holiday in the city.

Just five minutes from the centre of Canberra, the zoo is set in 7 hectares of land, and as well as being a traditional zoo with all the animals you would expect to see, there are also those you might not expect to see as well. But it’s not just a zoo, it’s an aquarium too, and a place where you can enjoy a large number of tours and hands on experiences. However, one of the nicest things about the zoo is it’s also a centre for breeding and conservation, and in particular it concentrates on gorillas, orang-utans, bears, and the exceptionally beautiful Snow Leopard.

Click here to view a video of the zoo

There is always something new and exciting happening at the zoo, with new arrivals always being popular. Most recently, the Ring-tailed Lemurs and the Meerkats have been recent additions to the zoo’s residents, as well as the White Lions, so make sure you don’t miss them.

Little Penguins at Canberra Zoo
Photo by Stephen Dann, Flickr Creative Commons

The Aquarium

Visit the open ocean without even getting your feet wet, and it's probably an excellent idea, as this is where some of the most feared of the aquariums predators live; the sharks. Watch as the school of Reef Sharks swims just a short distance away, in Australia’s largest inland aquarium, holding 200,000 litres of seawater. If you’re feeling particularly brave join one of the tours where you can join the sharks for lunch, but don’t get too close to the edge when you feed them, or you’ll be the lunch!

As well as the ‘big boys’ the aquarium is also home to the ‘pretty boys’, the fish and plants of the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef may be a few days drive from Canberra, but at the zoo, you can experience one of the Seven Wonders of the World without the long journey. On the ground floor, you can also visit the inland rivers area, where you can come close to the inhabitants of Australia’s rivers and lakes, as well as reptiles, frogs, lizards, snakes, and alligators that also live here.

Zoo Tours

There are lots of opportunities to get involved, and one of the most common ways to do that is to take one of the zoo’s specialist tours. These do cost extra, but if you’re interested in conservation, or getting up close, this is the best way to do it.

Walk on the Wildside – Be a zookeeper for the day, and support one of the keepers as they go about their duties with some of the zoo’s larger and dangerous animals.

The W.O.W tour is a meet and greet type of tour. It's where you may get to go inside the enclosure and pat a cheetah, have morning tea with the bears or cougars, have lunch with the giraffes, hand feed sharks, cuddle an emu, and meet the tiny Tamarind monkeys, or maybe even meet and hand feed the lions and tigers. Now you can see why it’s called the W.O.W tour.

White lions at Canberra Zoo
Photo by peter_holland_australia, Flickr Creative Commons

Meet a Cheetah – The worlds fastest animal, the cheetah, is one of the friendliest big cats, and the zoo is where you actually handle one in the enclosure. A keeper is always by your side for safety, but these animals are used to human contact.

Zooventure Tour – What an experience, get to feed the animals! Hand feed giraffes, bears and tigers, yes, even the 110kg Sumatran tiger leaps up at the fence to take a piece of meat from your hands, lions too. Enter the den of the Brown Bears who will lick your hands, or watch the otters as they dive and swim to catch her lunch, or maybe you’ll be luck enough to have a python will crawl over you.

The zoo is open every day, except Christmas day between 10am and 7pm, and there’s ample free parking, so no problems on that score.