There's more to Australia's capital than stuffy politicians declares Jane Jurgens, who has experienced some of Canberra's charms first-hand. Find out why this small but important city was named third on Lonely Planet's Best in Travel list for 2018.
1 Sample the local food and wine
Think about it: Some of the most powerful people in the world visit Australia's capital on a regular basis — heck, some of them even live there at least part of the year. These dignitaries expect world-class food and beverage options, which is why you'll find excellent restaurants such as the two-hatted Aubergine and Ottoman Cuisine. Also rated highly by the nation's Good Food Guide are the one-hatted Temporada, Otis Dining Hall, Pulp Kitchen, Chairman & Yip, Italian and Sons, eightysix, Lilotang and Monster Kitchen & Bar; and up-and-coming Agostinis, Courgette and the charmingly named Morks. The main foodie precincts can be found on the Kingston Foreshore, NewActon and Braddon, and there are also city food tours on offer from Eat Canberra.
Although we know a thing or two about wine here in New Zealand, it's always good to stretch the palate and sample something new. With more than 140 vineyards and 30 wineries within a half-hour's drive of Canberra's CBD there's no excuse not to spend an afternoon or two finding your favourite. Common varietals in the area's three cool-climate wine regions include chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir and shiraz, and several of the cellar doors have restaurants too.
2 Explore on two wheels
Because it is a planned city built on limestone plains, Canberra is flat and easy to negotiate. The city has bike-sharing stations at seven of the major hotels, which will lend you helmets, locks and maps whether or not you are a guest. Rates are A$12 ($13) for one hour, A$24 for four or A$36 for 24 hours, payable by credit card, and there are children's bikes, toddler seats and bike trailers available. Bike paths circle the artificial lake that lies at Canberra's heart, Lake Burley Griffin, which is surrounded by art galleries and museums, and the city has a network of cycle paths, shared pathways and dedicated on-road bike lanes.
3 Smell the (one million) flowers
The annual Floriade celebrates its 30th birthday this year, so this spectacular floral display set in 8000sq m of inner-city parkland featuring more than a million bulbs and annuals promises something extra special. Its beginnings in 1988 as a single event held in honour of Australia's Bicentenary and Canberra's 75th anniversary, have evolved into ACT's biggest tourism event and the country's premier spring festival. The 2018 Floriade will be held from September 15 to October 18 and will feature cultural celebrations, food and wine, workshops, markets, cool light installations during its NightFest, live entertainment and those all-important birthday celebrations.
4 Pay your respects
Remember what the "A" in Anzac stands for with a visit to the Australian War Memorial, a free museum, shrine and extensive archive to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. As well as special exhibitions and several free daily guided tours of various lengths, the AWM holds regular events from wreath-laying ceremonies to talks, activities for the kids and art tours. Until September 8 guests can experience From the Shadows: Australia's Special Forces, a look at the men and women who "operate in the shadows" to help protect Australia's people and national interests, and also support its allies. It's worth staying until closing time to take in the moving daily Last Post Ceremony, during which guests can lay wreaths at the base of the Pool of Reflection. The ceremony also features the story of a person on the Roll of Honour as told by a member of the Australian Defence Force.
5 Take to the skies
The best way to appreciate Canberra's unique layout, which was designed by American architect Walter Burley Griffin (the artificial lake's namesake) in 1912, is from the air so you can see its orderly geometric patterns. Two companies offer hot-air balloon flights at sunrise — Balloon Aloft and Dawn Drifters — and flights last from 45 minutes to an hour. Mark your experience afterwards with an included traditional champagne celebration at the Hyatt, the base for both companies.
Alternatively, you can enjoy them from terra firma during the Canberra Balloon Spectacular held each March. The nine-day festival involves more than 30 balloons which take off at 6.15 each morning from the lawns of Old Parliament House, making for an amazing sight in the city's skies.
● For more information go to VisitCanberra.com.au