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.

Kayaking Canberra

Whether you’re a novice, or a serious kayaker, Canberra is the place to visit on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Australia.

For beginners, a popular introduction to kayaking is a guided tour. You can either go solo, or team up with someone else in a double kayak to explore Lake Burley Griffin. After you’ve been kitted out, had a full safety briefing and instruction, you’re ready to hit the water with your guide. The placid waters are ideal for beginners, and provide excellent views of some of Canberra’s monuments, as well as passing though the wetlands of Jerrabomera and the Molonglo River, so there’s lots of nature and wildlife to be seen. Whilst you’re enjoying your time on the water, guides will point out important sights, and that includes the Captain Cook Jet, which you might like to avoid, and tell you fascinating facts about the city and how it was built.

If you like the idea of the guided tour but prefer to do things under your own steam, why not try the self-guided version of the tour. You still have the briefing and
instruction if necessary, but then with map in hand you’re free to explore solo. This is an excellent way to explore the city from a different perspective, you also get to see areas you would otherwise miss on foot such as the Jerrabomera wetlands and the Molonglo River.

Now for the serious stuff, these are some suggestions if you’re an experienced

Cotton River: The Cotton River has Grade II/III and III+ levels of water with courses that last from 30 minutes to three hours.

Curtin Creek: Also known as Yarralumla Creek, Curtin Creek is Grade II/III. The river can only be paddled after heavy rainfall, when it consists of some fun rapids and a weir; remember to check out the depth first though!

Tuggeranong Creek: Normally a grade III, but after high rainfall can it can be classed as a grade IV. The creek is 20 minutes from the city, and a relatively short course lasting around 20 minutes. The first part of the course is considered the best, with some fun rapids and one challenging part.

If you’re really serious, the following creeks and rivers are also extremely popular
places, although they are between a one and a two-hour drive from Canberra.

Murrumbidgee River: There are three sections to this river all classed between grades III and IV. There are some significant rapids on all sections, as well as flat water and a few surprises, so this is best tackled by experts, or as a group.

Wingecarribee River: Another grade III-IV course will test your skills. There’s lots of variety with rapids, flat sections and gorges, another course which is best tackled as a group.

If you’re a serious kayaker, the link below will take you to some of the courses mentioned with more detail on what’s involved as well as driving distances and where you can put in and take out of the water.


Walking Tour Canberra

A motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Australia means you can cover a lot of ground in comfort, but as a bit of a change from the open road, how about taking a self-guided walking tour of the capital city.

Canberra is the perfect place to get out and walk, as the sights are all within easy reach, and well marked. One of the best was to explore the Anzac Parade, is just that, so we’ll start there.

Looking down Anzac Parade from the Australian War Memorial
Photo by Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons

Start your tour on the steps of the Australian War Memorial, the parade follows Walter Burley Griffin's original 1912 plan of the city with its red gravel central strip, originally made from crushed Canberra house bricks. The bricks were chosen to recreate the crunch of military boots during a parade, and the contrasting walls of Victorian Blue Gum, symbolise the connection with the Anzac’s or the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps'. The walk covers 2.5 Km’s and takes around one and a half hours to complete, during which time you pass memorials to the brave men and women who fought in battles around the world.

The Burley Griffin Walk takes you through parkland and along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, whilst passing some of the city’s most historic and important sites. The walk covers 5Km’s over flat ground and takes around two and a half hours to complete. Start your tour outside the National Capital Exhibition, where a mosaic in the pavement recreates Burley Griffins city plan, then, turn and walk towards the lake and the R.G Menzies walk, where you will pass The Captain James Cook memorial, terrestrial globe and water jet, which reaches 147 meters high. If you continue to your left you will pass the Canadian flagpole, a gift from the Canadian government made from a single Douglas Fir. Continue through Commonwealth Park to an area known as Gallipoli Reach on the shoreline of the lake. The site symbolises the battle site in Turkey where Anzac forces fought in 1915.

Captain Cook Memorial
Photo by Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons

As you continue along, one of the best lookout spots is from the terraces facing the lake. From here, you can see Capital Hill, the Australian War Memorial, Kings Avenue Bridge, Commonwealth Avenue, and the Parliamentary Triangle. Next is Blundell’s Cottage, a hands on museum, depicting the areas European history before it became the capital of Australia. Further on are the sites of HMAS Canberra, a five tonne anchor and chain, the naval memorial, and the National Carillon located on Aspen Island. The monument, with its 55 bells, was a gift from the British government, to commentate the Canberra’s Golden Jubilee. You then turn south, back to your starting point passing other monuments and gifts made to the city.

Just before you leave, and if you’re particularly fond of gardens, there is a short walk around the gardens of the Old Parliament House. The garden walk is just over 1km, and its paths pass by fragrant rose beds crickets pitches and tennis courts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Canberra, Nature City

Canberra, Australia's Capital and often called the Bush Capital, is the home of National Parks, forests and nature Parks- it is surrounded by these, making it the perfect place for nature-loving campervanners to stay a few days.

by Richard Gifford Flickr Creative Commons

The Australian National Botanic Gardens are in Canberra, and there you can visit the collection of native plants from all over Australia. There is also the Canberra Nature Park, which is made up of 33 seperate areas so you will find nature wherever you go in the city! It is made up of grasslands, reserves, bushland and covers most of the hills in the city. Canberra was a planned city right from the beginning, and the Nature Park was an integral part of that- most of Canberra's residents live within walking distance of a Nature Park area.

Further afield you can see the Uriarra State Forest, or Stromlo Forest Park which is home to many sports such as horseriding, cross country running, mountain biking and hiking. There is also Kowen Pine Forest, and many more. Canberra is surrounded by native flora and fauna.

The Australian Capital territory (the area surrounding Canberra) has several basic government owned campsites which are inexpensive and will get you closer to nature than parking your van in a Holiday Park. These can be booked online here. Click here for campervan hire Australia.