In European minds, Australia is depicted as a wild land, where everyone’s daily routine involves surfing and kangaroos spotting. Well, there is much more than beautiful clichés.
Thanks to my Exchange Program at Uni I had the opportunity to visit and live in a hidden gem of Australia, which is the Australian Capital Territory. The rumours about this State were not captivating, but it is always in the less promising landscapes that a pleasant surprise can reveal.
Why visiting Canberra on a trip around Australia?
In my top three: nature, food and people.
1. The Bush!
Australia’s Capital City, is first of all a unique modern city in a yellow Bush.
The first thing I noticed from the little window of my early morning plane (and my last plane after a 22hours flight) from Sydney to Canberra was the yellow-dry-bushy landscape of the ACT. Everything was so yellow. I almost thought the plane was going in the wrong direction, since it was supposed to land in a modern, man-made-last-century’s city. But it actually landed after a couple minutes and everything was still bushy.
I realised only after a while that the bush, the outback, was exactly what made Canberra unique and stunning. From the eyes of a ‘city girl’, the house of governmental affairs surrounded of and imbued with nature is the ultimate spectacle. The contrast between the perfectly-shaped Parliament House and the possums bouncing around the streets at night is part of the show.
Nature is within the city’s roots, and all around it. Just a few miles north and south of what is the ‘center’ of the City, you can find a number of natural reserves. There is tons of unique reserves to visit, explore and get lost in and every each one of them has something that will stick to your heart and mind.
The most famous and big one is Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
I firstly visited the reserve on an organised tour, but since after that I visited it every time I had a couple hours off and I just wanted to enjoy the quiet and noisy landscape that only nature can create.
Top things to do in Tidbinbilla
- Look at the sunset from the top of the hill, 10+
- Hike up that mountain!
- Spot the tops: koalas, kangaroos, emus, platipus, redbelly snakes and amazing birds (at the Information Center you can also see the different types of poos, and even buy some!)
- Do your favourite thing, just with a better view
- Picnic, stroll and enjoy nature as wild as it can be
Another amazing hike and lookout is Corin forest, South Side of Canberra. Similar gigntic size to Tidbinbilla, I found this forest thicker and less men-influenced. Amazing during winter (bit cold and snowy), beware of the sun during summer. The top things to do here are similar to those in Tidbinbilla, with a wild adrenaline experience: the toboggan! This spectacular attraction allows you to see the forest from a rapid and inside perspective. The alpine slide takes you down the mountain for more than a kilometer, experiencing the forest from a different angle (remember your GoPro for spectacular videos worth a lot of likes on Instagram, or even just your smartphone).
2. The Food!
Being born and raised in Italy, my expectations on Canberra’s food were very low. I thought I was going to starve for a year, or only eat veggies. My pessimism was though thrown away after a couple weeks (yes, the first experience with vegemite was bad, but you learn to love it). Canberra offers a variety of delicious restaurants, from every part of the world (yes it is a very multicultural city, almost as much as Sydney) and the quality varies from fine dining to cafe and pub food.
Where to eat in Canberra?
- Brodburger in Kingston (try the lamb and double cheese, moorish food ever). And if you are not too full, a stroll on the lake is the best way to end your romantic meaty evening
- Patissez in Manuka (fat fat juicy freakshakes)
- Awesome Indian Restaurants (pick your fave, mine is in Tuggeranong’s shops)
- Thai food. Amazing thai food (Kingston and Civic)
- Some very good italian restaurants! (Civic, Braddon and Deakin my favourites, ps Italian picks)
- The Noodle Market in March for the Enlighten Festival (to try: meat skewers and mango waffles)
- The Multicultural Festival’s Markets (amazing food from everywhere, beware the crowd)
- If you’re looking for something more casual but moorish and fulfilling, try the different Homestead’s Cafes. You can spot cows strolling, visit Australia’s oldest buildings and eating amazing food at the same time.
3. The People!
The icing on the cake is for real Canberra people. Aussies are unique, but Canberra people are their own thing. The first positive shock I experienced was that everyone asks you how are you/ how is it going today, and you are not supposed to ask back. I mean, how mean does that sound? It is actually not. Like every culture, Aussies are one of a kind. However, every person in Canberra will tell you that you won’t find this kindness and mindset anywhere else in Australia.
The experience that allowed me to meet more Aussies was using Uber. Pick the passenger seat instead of the back ones and you will find yourself flying in between stories from all around the world. M., one of my favourite Uber drivers, came from a little village in India. The front of his car was full of indian sacred gold statues and photos of his family. The week after our ride M. needed to catch a plane to go get his wife back to Australia, along with their newborn daughter named after hope (aasha). H. comes from Vietnam, he was only born there but he moved with his family to Canberra when he was a toddler because of the war. Now he lives with 3 girls, 3 nephews and his mom always cooks vietnamese dinner at 7pm, no matter what.
These stories should give you an idea of the multiculturalism and beauty of the people that make this little city big and quaint.
If you want the ultimate Aussie experience, you should visit Canberra and experience the realness of the Australian countryside while visiting a city.