Canberra For All Ages
For Littlies, Kids and Teenagers
Fun can be had for all ages in our nation’s capital, writes Aleney de Winter, Lauren Muddell and Andrew Mevissen.
Canberra for Littlies
Writer: Aleney de Winter, Family: Rafferty (eight) and Marlo (five)
An activity-packed family weekend in Canberra with our children Rafferty and Marlo proves to my husband and I once again that Canberra is truly Australia's capital of kids. The
Australian War Memorial, having just nabbed the top spot on TripAdvisor’s list of Australia’s Top Landmarks, is our first stop. This amazing monument and museum commemorates the sacrifices of Australians who have died in war. While the subject matter is sombre, they’ve made it both accessible and educational for kids and mine are soon taking cover from enemy fire, flying high in a Vietnam War-era helicopter and peering through the periscope of a Cold War submarine.
No such thing as too much play
Escaping the trenches unscathed, we decide to unleash our inner Olympians at the Australian Institute of Sport. Rafferty is hooked on the rock climbing and Sportex, an interactive sports experience, while Marlo keeps busy challenging her dad to football penalty shoot-outs. Me? I head to the GG espresso café for a cuppa. The kids are soon ready for a bit of fresh air so we spend our afternoon at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. It’s hard to get the kids past the Discovery Playground and its flying fox, massive climbing tower, slides and corrugated iron cubbies from which they excitedly spot an eastern grey kangaroo. Eventually, we tempt them away with a stroll along the Sanctuary boardwalk area to see if we can spot a wild platypus. We have no luck, but the kids seem happy enough with sighting a wallaby or two.
Their desire for animal encounters unsated we head to the
National Zoo & Aquarium, located just 10 minutes from the city centre. The Family Tour allows us to get up close and personal with the zoo’s inhabitants – taking us behind the scenes to feed, pet and cuddle the friendly creatures – including deer, emus, dingoes and corn snakes. It starts to rain, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the tour, the zoo providing us with ponchos and umbrellas. There is no such thing as too much playground, so we finish our day at Canberra’s coolest: Pod Playground at the National Arboretum. The kids go nuts, if you’ll pardon the pun, amongst the playground’s giant stilted acorn cubbies and banksia pods, crafted to reflect the arboretum’s forests. The shaped pods are set at various heights and connected by tubes and rope tunnels, and the spiral slippery slide and massive climbing frame prove a big hit with both kids.
Museums for kids
We start our Sunday on our bikes, cycling around Canberra’s picturesque Lake Burley Griffin, the city’s centrepiece, stopping at the occasional playground. Fuelled up after breakfast at a lakeside café, we head for the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House where the kids play up!
But for once, they’re supposed to. ‘PLAY UP’ is the museum’s living and evolving space curated for, with and by children. The hands-on exhibit celebrates the role children have in the cultural life of our communities and Rafferty and Marlo both leave behind a little of their own work on the walls and media screens as they learn about democracy.
Our visit to the National Gallery of Australia is admittedly more for mum to explore its fantastic collections, but the kids happily distract themselves creating some of their own masterpieces in the Create Space. Kids are also invited to delve into the art world with programmes like ASI: Art Scene Investigation and stART with Art for little ones two to five. The Gallery certainly stimulates the imagination, with my two littlies convinced that ‘Cones’, a polished stainless steel creation in the NGA’s lakeside Sculpture Garden, is an alien spacecraft and together they create a whole epic back story as they hunt extraterrestrials in the surrounding gardens. While they’re still in the mood for a little out-of-this-world action we head to Canberra’s intergalactic mother ship, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. Part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, there are no actual extraterrestrials on site but the kids are pretty excited by the real moon rocks, spacecraft models and space memorabilia.
But our time in Canberra is up and before the kids can beam themselves up, it’s time to bid the capital goodbye and return back home to the real world… until next time that is.
Canberra for Kids
Writer: Lauren Muddell, Family: Mikayla (10) and Jayden (nine)
A weekend in Canberra with my children, my husband and myself is always a weekend of entertainment, education and excitement – with the capital truly offering a bit of everything, with its array of museums and galleries, outdoor activities and yummy food.
Creatures great and small
This time round, our first stop is the Australia’s only combined zoo and aquarium (aka the National Zoo & Aquarium). With its variety of both native and exotic animals, as well as the largest inland saltwater tank in Australia, there is enough to keep you busy for days. Keeper talks take place on weekends and school holidays, and include a dingo walk, owl and penguin feeding, and a reptile meet and greet.
After some brunch at Cafe Copenhagen in Woden we drive the 15 minutes to the National Dinosaur Museum. Located in Gold Creek, the museum has a display of lifelike dinosaurs in the front garden for people to walk through. When we arrive, kids of all ages are posing for selfies and my own little palaeontologists bustle their way to the front for the classic ‘running from T-Rex’ snap. Inside, we explore
the Ice Age exhibit which is complete with a mammoth skeleton and caveman arrow tips, and browse the display of minerals and fossils.
Following the dino footprints up the stairs, we wait for our free half-hour tour to start. Our guide patiently explains all the different types of dinosaurs and the various eras they lived through. She even teaches them about the mysterious megafauna that once inhabited Australia, the little learners oohing and ahhing at the idea of an oversized kangaroo.
Move, spin, squeak, fly, splash!
Our next stop for the day is the one and only Questacon. Currently, the interactive museum has a spider exhibit. But don’t worry... all the creepy crawlies are behind glass. The kids love learning about the burrowers, hunters and weavers, the hands-on activities and discovering the differences between the males and females. My daughter loves looking through the microscopes for a hair-raising close up of the anthropods – I personally like the holographic spiders better.
Moving through the galleries, the kids make all matter of things move, spin, squeak and fly. My favourite exhibit is also my daughter’s – the harmonograph – a suspended platform with a pen attached that moves with the arms
drawing intricate patterns on the paper below. My son delights in playing a game of air hockey against a robot and seeing the caged lightning strike again and again. At the end, we can’t resist the gift shop and are now the proud parents of a build-it-yourself robot spider.
The weather clears up for a quick dip at the Big Splash Waterpark at Belconnen and we soon find this water wonderland is big on attractions: Twister Slides, Speed Coasters and Hurricane Slides for the adrenaline junkies, and family slides, a kiddie pool, splash island and inflatables for the little swimmers. We stay until our fingers turn into prunes, and then pack the kids into the car to wearily return to Sydney.
Canberra for Teens
Writer: Andrew Mevissen, Family: Jaspar (16)
The transformation of Canberra over the years from a daggy place teenagers were forced to visit for school excursions to a hip destination brimming with cool hotels and eateries means teens like mine now love visiting the capital. And the beauty of Canberra, with its galleries, museums and national institutions, means teens can have fun and learn at the same time.
The lynchpin to ensure your teenagers enjoy Canberra is to organise a fun place to stay. At East Hotel Jaspar and her friend get busy snapchatting this arty, on-trend, left-of-centre hotel as soon as we enter the foyer with its rows of free hire bikes, jars of free jaffas, freckles and jellybeans – and free Wi-Fi of course! Close to Parliament House (which, we learn, is Australia’s largest building with the largest Australian flag in the country), East boasts spacious, interconnecting apartments and a list of things teens can do in Canberra.
Number one for most teens is eating. So after settling in, we wander downstairs to East’s new restaurant, Joe’s, a buzzing Italianflavoured eatery specialising in share plates. An added bonus is the late noon checkout (perfect for hard-to-wake under 18s) and the fact that teens can raid the room mini-bar without breaking the bank; chocolate bars are priced at just $2.50 and soft drinks $3.
On Saturday we give the hotel’s free retro bikes a whirl around Lake Burley Griffin, with the hill-free bike track also easy and whingefree. However, we speed things up at our next destination, Power Kart Raceway, one of the biggest indoor go-karting centres in Australia. Perfect for frosty ACT winter days, the huge complex boasts a 320-metre-long track that begs to be conquered by daredevil, speed hungry teens. In fact my leadfoot 16-year-old daughter is just two seconds slower than me on our fastest laps – a sobering thought as I’m currently teaching her to drive in real cars! Power Kart Raceway also offers a new indoor, glow-in-the-dark Jungle Golf course packed with fun obstacles.
Up close and on high
After all our early morning adventures, we fill our grumbling stomachs at the cosy Pancake Parlour with buttermilk pancakes topped with eggs and bacon and draped in maple syrup.
Deciding to channel our inner zookeeper, we join the Walk on the Wild Side tour at the National Zoo & Aquarium where we pet a cheetah, have morning tea with a cougar and hand feed a shark. What could get better than that? Well, how about feeding pears to a sun bear and beef to a tiger with tongs! The two-hour behind-the-scenes Zooventure Tour for over 12s gives visitors the chance to get cosy with lions, otters, brown bears and giraffes, not to mention the friendly python.
Dominating the skyline is the mountain-top Telstra Tower. In search of the perfect Instagram shot, we ascend its lookout to see Canberra’s vast greenery unfold before us. And, because we all see it so often on telly, we pop our heads inside the cavernous halls of Parliament House to check out where all our taxes go. Just down the hill is Old Parliament House, which now serves as the Museum of Australian Democracy and is a great place for all ages to learn how the Aussie political system works (or is supposed to work). Seeing the frozen-in-time office suites once occupied by our nation’s leaders is simply fascinating. Well, for me at least, but the girls eventually said it was time for retail therapy so we hit the Old Bus Depot Markets, a quirky collection of stalls inside an industrial building. With (a little) money left to spend we head to the brandname hub of the Canberra Centre where we further boost the city’s economy.
Declaring the Capital of Cool
We awake on Sunday with the girls itching to get creative at the Canberra Glassworks, where over 14s can shape molten glass into paperweights and tumblers. The art theme continues at the National Gallery of Australia where, sure, there are a lot of exhibits teenagers will find boring, but there are also plenty which challenge and intrigue.
Stomachs again rumble, so we head to Canberra’s food trucks at the über-cool urban village of The Hamlet in Braddon. Here, we all make short work of Broddogs’ new hungerbuster, the Frank Burger.
Had we been visiting in between June and August, we could have joined a spooky night walk using self-made lanterns at the Australian National Botanic Gardens or in the July school holidays we could have rugged up for the Winter Festival, complete with ice-skating, toboggan rides and European food stalls. With so much to see and do, who said Canberra was anything but the Capital of Cool?