December 2, 2011

Australia With Kids - Canberra

We are returning to our exploration of great things to do with kids around Australia by visiting Canberra with Jane from Kidaddle.

Jane is a 41 year old mother of two who took her kids to New Zealand in 2006.  She loved the PureNZ website and how it made life easier when travelling over there with children.  Her Kidaddle blog is her attempt to draw positive experiences of places in Australia together in one site for families.  She would welcome readers contributing their own comments and experiences and hopes to open the blog to guest contributions.

Kidaddle to Canberra

When you’re born and brought up in Canberra, you quickly get used to defending the place … unbelievably, people from other places think of Canberra as little more than a destination for school excursions to learn about Parliament.  Or a subject of just ridicule as the Government Town.  But we natives like to say that in Canberra you have the advantages of the nation’s capital in a village.  You don’t have to deal with hard core commuting.  You rarely strike a ridiculous crowd or a queue.  You have world class facilities to visit and learn from, alongside a community that’s into pretty much everything.  And acres and acres of parkland.
But how do we boil this down to the essentials?  The five things you have to do on a visit to Canberra with kids? 

Well let’s leave the icons aside … Parliament House (old or new), the National Gallery, the War Memorial … you all know about those already.  And let’s not worry about seasonal events.  If you were to land in Canberra right now – here’s where we’d send you kidaddling off to:


Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is only a 40 minute drive from Canberra's city centre and is a great place to go with kids when you feel like getting outside, stretching your legs, enjoying the local environment and learning something about the history of the region.  Tidbinbilla features a range of habitats for native animals including wetlands, grasslands, dry forests, wet forests and sub-alpine areas, supporting birds and animals including lyrebirds, kangaroos, possums, wombats, echidnas, platypus and emus. 

It’s also a bit of a fixture on the Canberra landscape.  The area is a place of deep significance to local Aboriginal people with artefacts and rock shelters in the park, alongside the considerably newer remnants of European pioneers.

There’s lots of things to do – drive around, have a picnic, take your bikes and ride them, go for a bushwalk.  Any visit to Tidbinbilla has to take in two things established since the 2003 bushfires swept through the valley:  the Sanctuary and the Nature Discovery Playground.  Our kids love the playground, complete with flying fox, water course and super slides. The Sanctuary is wonderful - a series of ponds attracting and nurturing birdlife.  There's no need to do a four hour “challenging" hike up front: just take the kids on the hour walk around the Sanctuary, and don't miss the side walk up the rocks (an extra ten minutes) or the kids' river crossing.


Questacon was established to promote understanding and awareness of science and technology.  Most kids don’t realise that.  They think it’s a place to go to have fun.  And that’s the best thing about it.  The clever people behind Questacon realise that we learn best by doing and hence the exhibits are all about providing fun ways to explore different ideas and concepts.

The second best thing about Questacon is it doesn’t matter who you have in your group – you’re all going to have fun together.  I have been with grandma plus toddlers, junior school age plus junior high school and father plus school children … and we’ve all had a great time together.  A lot of the exhibits are old favourites – the freefall, the giant spider, the dinosaurs, but it’s kept fresh and there’s so much that’s new each time that we’ve joined Club Q (costing little more than one family entry and we can use our membership for discounts at other centres).

The third best thing about Questacon would have to be the demonstration shows.  Especially the ones that involve explosions and loud noises.  But then I am the mother of a seven year old boy.


Did you ever watch the ABC TV series Seven Little Australians when you were a kid?  Some of it was filmed at Lanyon and kids today seem to enjoy it just as much as the Seven did.  There is the homestead to look over, but also beautiful gardens to run around and outhouses to explore with interesting carriages and bits and pieces.  There is a lovely café with tables overlooking the Murrumbidgee and I can’t think of a nicer place to have morning tea on the weekend in the winter sunshine.

Weston Park and the Miniature Train
Weston Park Train
You’ll think I’m mad proposing this one, but if this is truly about what kids enjoy … then the miniature train at Weston Park has to be included.  You can find Weston Park adjacent to Yarralumla and beside the lake.  Aside from a decent playground, the miniature train has been loved by generations of Canberra children.  It’s cheesy, very amateur and extremely run-down, but kids absolutely love it … the controversy over the train is played out in comments on Canberra blog The Riot Act when word got out that the Miniature Train might not survive the local government’s planning for the park.

A local unwritten law says you can’t go on the train without a gelato from the café firmly in one hand.  They’d have to be the best gelatos in Canberra.

Kingston Old Bus Depot Markets
We could have nominated the zoo, but in an effort to round out the selection let’s go with the Bus Depot Markets

Big winners of local tourism awards, the Markets satisfy a mother’s need to go shopping while delivering a cultural experience to the child/ren.  There’s plenty of beautiful food produce to sample including food from Ethiopia and Latin America, as well as the amusement of watching fruit turned into juice through a very entertaining machine.  Highlights for us have included balloons, having a go on a pottery wheel and collecting our own fired pot a week later, admiring the handmade model ships, or watching the freshly squeezed fruit juice come out of the strange machine.

It’s painful to stop there.  There’s heaps to do in Canberra.  It’s quite simply a great city to explore with kids.  Don’t tell anyone.

I hope you think differently about visiting Canberra after reading this.  I grew up there and have fond memories of many of these places, especially the water playground at Weston Park.  

Have you visited Canberra with kids?  What places do you recommend in Canberra?


Debi said...

Wow -- so many fun places for the kiddos to play! I always prefer traveling off the beaten path where sometimes the biggest treasures await. Thanks for introducing me to such a spot!

Sarah said...

We spent a week in Canberra back in July - I wish I'd seen your post then. We did love that little train - so old school! We adored MiniQ at Questacon and wanted to bring it home with us (to Hobart). We also really enjoyed the sculpture gardens at the NGA, the botanical gardens, the big observation tower and the zoo. We packed so much in, it's a great place to holiday with little ones.