Welcome to the bush capital
When you think of Australia, you’d think of Sydney’s Opera House, the Great Ocean Road off Melbourne, the majestic Uluru or the sweeping wine country surrounding Perth. Rarely does one think of Australia’s capital city – which isn’t Sydney and isn’t Melbounre but Canberra. That might change. This month, Singapore Airlines launches direct services from Singapore to Canberra, allowing the access to the Bush Capital, a city that has a little bit of everything that makes Australia special.
Air is the best way to get acquainted with Canberra. Each dawn, dozens of hot air balloons take to the sky, propelled upwards by the rising temperatures of the morning. From up here, it is immediate why Canberra is quite unique. For one, it is the largest inland city in all of Australia, a country where a reported 85% of the population live within 50km of the coast. It is also very geometric, a formation of elegantly laid grids punctuating the larger circles, triangles and hexagons that demarcate the Australian Capital Territory. That’s because Canberra is a planned city, one of the few in the world other than Washington D.C and Brasilia, all of which were designed from nothing to become a nation’s capital. In Australia’s case, the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne was so intense that neither wanted the other to be capital, resulting in a compromise: Canberra was chosen as the site of Australia’s new capital in 1908. A blueprint by American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin was selected, and the city began to take shape with the man-made Lake Burley Griffin as its centrepiece.
From the vantage point of the hot air balloon drifting languidly, all of this revealed as a breathtaking panorama. Sights to watch out for include the Parliament House, the Old Parliament House, the High Court, the War Memorial and dozens of other gracefully laid-out federal buildings. And as the balloon heads back to solid ground, celebrate the flight with a champagne breakfast at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra, a heritage hotel built with1920s art deco motifs that is one of the most luxurious establishments in the city. Tradition and charm are the key words here, harkening back to a bygone era of pomp and circumstance.
If the legacy of decades past doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe Jamala Wildlife Lodge will. Located within the National Zoo and Aquarium, the wildlife-themed resort takes you on a safari without having to venture to Africa. The 18 rooms get you up close and personal with wildlife, in the day and in the night, with thrilling experiences from bathing next to bears, dining alongside lions and waking up eye-to-eye with giraffes.
Canberra has also been caught up in the great Australian food revolution, boasting a number of gastronomic gems. Among these is Aubergine, an intimate setting to indulge Chef Ben Willis’ modus operandi of making the best of seasonal produce that reflect the city’s distinct seasons. Elegant and visionary, Aubergine is a winner, as is the Petit Feast Saturday spread at the Buvette Bistro & Wine Bar – a bounty of savouries, charcuterie, cheeses, desserts and fresh oysters, that would define the vice of gluttony.
If you want to venture out into the great outdoors – Canberra is called the Bush Capital because in was built in the midst of great forests and mountains – then a trip to the city’s wine district to taste the best local drops is a must. Canberra is within striking radius of more than 30 boutique cellar doors, including Clonakilla, where winemakers like Tim Kirk will be more pleased to meet you. Making distinctive and handcrafted wines, Clonakilla’s liquids bear the hallmark of Canberra wines – with a depth that reflects its majestic terroir.
With all the traipsing, tripping and tasting, a spot of rejuvenation is called for. And look no further than Jindii EcoSpa, found in the most unexpected of places – the base of Rainforest Gully in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, surrounded by prehistoric ferns and if you’re lucky, the occasional lyrebird. With four double treatment rooms, hydro therapy spas and a yoga room, Jindii is the perfect place to bring the body and mind back into balance, if only in preparation for another exciting day out in Canberra tomorrow.