Guest Author - Michelle R. Mangio
Canberra, sitting between the Great Dividing Range of mountains and the coastal plans, along the borders to both New South Wales and Victoria, is the capital of Australia. Also called the ACT, or Australian Capital Territory, it is the smallest territory in Australia, and is only 177 miles from Sydney and 402 miles from Melbourne.
Canberra was formed back in 1901, when the cities of Syndey and Melbourne vied for the coveted spot of Capital of Australia. When no agreement could be made between the two cities, a compromise was reached on a site half-way between the two - and Canberra was born.
Many tourists never make it to Canberra, favoring the cities of Sydney and Melbourne over the ACT, but there are still many reasons to visit Australia's capital, whether it be the new and old Parliament Builings, the Royal Australian Mint, or the National Botanic Gardens (one of the best displays of Australia's native plants and trees to be found in the country). The National Museum, the National Gallery of Australia, and the War Memorial are also not to be missed.
The best time, by far, is to visit Canberra in the spring or autum, when spectacular flower festivals or hot air balloon festivals delight and captivate. As the city is located on Lake Burley Griffin, there are many water-related activities available, and the lake adds a calming quality to a city that is already clearly built as a combination of gardens/parks, attractions, and government buildings. If nothing else, Canberra has a very different feel than most cities. While people do make their home here year round, it often feels like a working resort area than a true city. Amazing views of the lake and city can be had from the Telstra Tower.
The National Aquarium - which really should be called Aquarium and Zoo, offers amazing recreations of the underwater worlds and marine life, everything from giant sharks to tiny colorful reef fish. But recent expansions have include other native wildlife, inlcuding wombats, wallabies, koalas, crocodiles, and Tasmanian Devils. Among its attractions: learn to shear a shep, or just enjoy a traditional Aussie barbecue when you get hungry.
Guided tours of the ACT are available, including an unusual and memorable way to see the city: on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle!
Namadgi National Park, an easy daytrip from Canberra city in the mountains to the southwest, offers great outdoor activities and soft adventure, ranging from bushwalks, camping, fishing, rock climbing, and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Though not the first place most tourists think of when visiting Australia, Canberra and the Australian capital Territory (ACT) make a great destination stopover. Certainly if you are considering a coastal drive from Sydney to Melbourne, a couple of days stopover in Canberra along the way will break up the drive - and allow you to experience Australia's capital and its attractions.