Andrew woodward discovers that a trip to Australia’s national capital is not only an educational experience for kids, but one with a big fun factor for the whole family.
Andrew Woodward discovers that a trip to Australia’s capital can be educational and fun.
It’s not difficult to see why a visit to Canberra is an important experience for both overseas and Australian visitors. However, the capital has long outgrown its reputation as a place to visit for parliamentary excursions, developing over the years into the ultimate family-friendly destination with amazing attractions and a jam-packed, year-round events calendar that will keep you coming back time and again.
Ask almost anyone to think of a place that they associate with Canberra, and Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre is sure to be the first place they’ll mention … well, perhaps after Parliament House. A hit with generations of kids since opening in 1988, Questacon is a hands-on scientific adventure and a must-visit for families. The more than 200 exhibits – updated regularly alongside developments in the world of science – will thrill budding scientists by showing them first-hand the many applications of science and technology in their everyday lives. It’s all there, from robotic arms to earthquake simulators, but a definite highlight is the six-metre free-fall slide, which delivers a memorable lesson on gravity.
Next on your must-do list is the main event: a trip to Capital Hill to check out both the new and old Parliament Houses. First up is Old Parliament House, now home to the Museum of Australian Democracy, which houses a range of creative exhibits aimed at informing children about important real-world issues, such as immigration and children’s rights, in an accessible, engaging and fun way. Kids are encouraged to dress up and learn through play, and families have the additional option of borrowing a free Family Action Pack with a number of exciting missions to be completed throughout the galleries. Just a short walk away is Parliament House, an architectural marvel in its own right (don’t forget to snap a family photo out the front) and the place
where Australia’s laws are passed. If you’re lucky, you might get to visit while Parliament is in session to see our politicians at work.
Having developed an understanding of Australia’s political system, it’s time for a stop at the Australian War Memorial, which pays tribute to Australian men and women who gave their lives in service of their country in times of war. A deeply moving and perhaps confronting place to visit for young children, the memorial’s Discovery Zone softens the message and brings Australia’s military history to life in an age-appropriate way by providing opportunities for personal interaction with collection items, and even lets kids sit in the cockpit of a helicopter or peep through the periscope of a submarine.
No trip to Canberra is complete without a splash of culture, and where better to get your creative fill than the National Gallery of Australia with its collection of over 153,000 works of art and regular exhibitions from the biggest names in the art world. Developing connoisseurs will love taking in the whirl of styles and colours before heading to the dedicated kids’ NGA Play Space to try their hand at creating their own masterpiece. Or, if your kids have their sights set on a future as an athlete rather than an artist, a stop at the Australian Institute of Sport could be a winner. A guided tour gives aspiring Olympians a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to compete with the best, culminating with a visit to Sportex, an interactive sports exhibit where kids can test their athletic prowess in various fields.
Sometimes the best way to spend an afternoon in Canberra is to grab a picnic blanket and a packed lunch and head for one of the capital’s many beautiful parks. The sweeping green lawns surrounding Lake Burley Griffin in the centre of the city are perfect for just such occasions. The flat paths encircling the lake are ideal for cycling and scooting; a popular ride starts from the National Library where you can park the car and continues along Queen Elizabeth Terrace. Or if you’re eager to get out on the water, jump aboard one of the popular MV Southern Cross Cruises or Lake Burley Griffin Cruises, or take the helm of your own electric vessel with Goboat. These fantastic boats can carry up to eight people and no previous boating experience is required to hire one; just
remember not to get too close to the Captain James Cook Memorial water jet, which operates daily from 11am to 2pm.
The Pod Playground at the National Arboretum is arguably the best playground in Canberra. Kids can run, swing, hide and slide their way through this amazing play setting – comprising giant acorn-shaped cubbies on stilts connected by net tunnels, slides and swings – while parents enjoy a cuppa at the scenic cafe in the Village Centre. Yarralumla Play Station is another popular spot for families offering mini-golf, a petting zoo and a miniature railway, or if you simply want to get your nature fix, the Australian National Botanic Gardens has plenty of space for kids to run around exploring rainforests and spotting native flora and fauna.
There’s certainly no shortage of kid-friendly museums in Canberra, and the National Museum of Australia is bound to impress kids and parents alike. Kspace is the museum’s interactive adventure game for kids, allowing them to build their own time-travelling robots before blasting off to explore a mystery location in Australia’s past. Or, launch your journey of scientific discovery into the stratosphere at NASA’S Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex. This unique facility is hard to miss with its massive communications dishes, and visitors of all ages will be captivated by the story of Australia’s role in the past, present and future of space exploration; there’s even a piece of the moon on display! Exploring the other end of the evolutionary timeline, a visit to the National Dinosaur Museum, with its huge display of skeletons, fossils and almost-tooreal animatronic dinosaurs, will certainly satiate dinosaur-obsessed kids.
For something completely different, the largest glass studio facility in Australia, Canberra Glassworks, offers a fascinating and fun experience for kids. Whether they’re watching artists at work or learning how to make their own unique glass art, they are sure to be fascinated by learning how sand is transformed into whimsical works of art.
Feathers, fur and fins
If your crew is craving some animal antics in the capital, little animal-lovers will rejoice at the opportunity to pat a cheetah, feed a bear or meet a meerkat with the National Zoo & Aquarium’s amazing hands-on animal experiences. The zoo features a huge variety of native and exotic animals, and kids are sure to leave with some new knowledge about their favourite creatures thanks to the experienced and enthusiastic guides. Lucky
families staying at Jamala Wildlife Lodge won’t even have to leave at closing time, retreating instead to a once-in-a-lifetime luxury safari accommodation experience. This is one time when you won’t mind your neighbours behaving like animals.
Or if it’s feathered friends you seek, head to the Canberra Walk-in Aviary. With over 500 birds soaring overhead in the large aviary, the experience can be a bit of a flutter, but confident kids are guaranteed to have them eating out of their hands by the end of the visit. And for those that need to brush up on their scales, the Canberra Reptile Zoo has over 50 types of reptiles on display with some opportunities to get up close and personal. Depending on the day, you and your family could get hands-on with a blue-tongued lizard, a boa constrictor, or even a baby croc.
Every day I’m truffling
From June through August, it’s truffle season and this year marks the 10-year anniversary of The Truffle Festival – Canberra Region. Throughout the festival, 250 events are held across the region, showcasing the flavours and aromas of fresh black truffle. Families can taste the magic of this prized delicacy at restaurants, cafes, bars and wineries, learn from chefs and truffle experts at a cooking class or demonstration, or even rug up and join a truffle hunt with The Truffle Farm. Kids will delight in following the truffle-hunting dogs through the trees in search of truffle treasure, and parents will learn how to harvest and handle the truffles. The best part? Whether or not you find truffles on the hunt, you will be rewarded for your efforts afterwards with a truffle tasting.
Canberra Report Card
Eat trufflefestival.com.au thetrufflefarm.com.au Do questacon.edu.au goboatcanberra.com.au moadoph.gov.au nationalarboretum.act.gov.au aph.gov.au yarraps.com.au awm.gov.au anbg.gov.au nga.gov.au nma.gov.au ausport.gov.au/ais cdscc.nasa.gov nationalzoo.com.au jamalawildlifelodge.com.au nationaldinosaurmuseum.com.au canberrawalkinaviary.com.au mvsoutherncross.com.au reptilesinc.com.au lakecruises.com.au canberraglassworks.com
0504 Prehistoric capers at the National Dinosaur Museum © Vistcanberra 05 Paying tribute at the Australian War Memorial © Visitcanberra