For lovers of technology and science
You don’t have to be a science, chemistry or tech nerd to be a fan of this cool place. Or even have kids. Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre – is a maze of fascinating surprises that’ll have you thinking way beyond your usual parameters. Within a suitably imposing white, glass-walled building that looks more like a laboratory than a museum, is a spiraling ramp takes you from one ‘gallery’ mind-boggling things to another, and at each exhibit within, everything you know is questioned or played with.
In Wonderworks you can explore colour, movement, light and sound, while in Awesome Earth, you can witness a replica tornado in action, attempt to build a miniature building with the aim of it withstanding an earthquake, or see how lightning gathers and strikes. And it’s fair to say that the adults often get more excited and involved in the exhibits than the children.
In the Q Lab you can check out species and pieces of the world beneath microscopes and see live scientific demonstrations. In the H20 gallery, discover how water shapes the world and what we can do to save it, while in Perception Deception, you can get into 60 hands-on multi-media exhibits that are all about testing the mind and the power of illusion. Whether it’s the confusion of running your hands across steel cords and feeling silk, seeing images and puzzles that are out to trick your sense of perspective, or playing air hockey with a (very talented) robot, this science and technology hub will not only teach you many things about the world and the many elements that play a part in its existence, but also make you think about your own life and place on the planet.
Fun and games at Questacon in the Excite@Q exhibit
Before leaving, check in for an adrenaline hit. In the Excite @Q exhibit, you can slip into a cotton one-piece suit and climb a staircase to the top of a 6-metre slide. That might not sound scary, but when you are asked to sit at the top of the slide and hold on to a bar above your head, then the idea of free falling off a building sinks in. Some people, both children and adults, shrink back in fear and decide not to drop. Others let go and experience an incredible, brief moment that brings a huge grin to most faces after a look of shock is wiped off. The guides at Questacon describe it afterwards: “Normally, you feel you have weight, because as gravity pulls you downwards, the floor pushes up against your feet. While you are falling, there are no upward pushes on your body, so you feel as if you are weightless or there is no gravity. The weightlessness (aka zero gravity) that astronauts experience when orbiting the Earth is because they are constantly free falling around the Earth. The shape of the Free Fall slide lets a visitor fall (for a very brief moment) as if they were falling through space.”
For garden lovers
There’s something magically voyeuristic about miniature towns. They make you feel as though you’re a giant looking into the lives of little people, and the more detailed and meticulously executed they are, the more intriguing they become. It’s remarkable to think of the hours and soul put into the construction of the buildings, gardens, rivers, roads and every other tiny detail that is at first not noticeable. Wandering around a model village, or in the case at Cockington Green Greens, hundreds of different scenarios from around the globe, is like discovering a land where daily life has been frozen, like in the world of Narnia.
Cockington Green Gardens was lovingly created by Doug and Brenda Sarah 35 years ago, opening for the public in 1979. It has been family-owned and -operated since its inception, with over four generations getting involved over the past few decades. Usually you can meet at least one family member in the gardens and have a chat to them about how everything is made and maintained.
The ministure steam train travels through the International sector at Cockington Green Gardens
The ‘International’ sector of the gardens offers guests the chance to roam the globe, seeing some of the most iconic buildings on the planet up close in all of their glorious detail. From a temple in Indonesia to a church in Croatia, to a fortress in Israel and a castle in the Czech Republic, the gardens are an ode to Australia’s (and indeed Canberra’s) multicultural society, with the local embassies from over 30 countries commissioning the replica buildings.
The fascination doesn’t stop with the buildings however, as the ‘little people’ – over 1500 of them – are just as enthralling. They’ve all been made from clay, then bisque fired and painted, and each one has to be repainted at least once a year.
The Sarah family also has an evident dry sense of humour that comes through in the many funny situations that the little people are arranged in. If you look closely, almost every exhibit has a funny tale to tell and while the children roam about, adults can spend hours picking up some ‘in-garden’ jokes. There’s also a full-time artisan model maker in residence - Robert Pavlekovic, who creates and repairs the models. In one case, over 45,000 bricks and tiles went into the construction of a single building, and depending on the size and detail of exhibits, models can take anywhere from four to 18 months to create.
Garden lovers are drawn to Cockington for its obvious beauty and impressive horticultural accomplishments, but also for the range of plant species – of which there are over 400 types. And it’s a bonsai lovers’ heaven and the flowers in spring are a sight to behold, but anyone who knows anything about Canberra understands that resplendent gardens, tree-lined streets and greenery in general, is something that this city does really well. Testimony to that is Floriade — the country’s biggest celebration of spring that is being held from September 12 until October 11 this year.
For lovers of cool hotels
In the middle of the city on one of Canberra’s main thoroughfares — Northbourne Avenue — is one of the most recent additions to Canberra’s rapidly developing cool hotel scene: Avenue Hotel. Gone are the days when the Capital’s hotels were all aimed at the business crowd. This hotel is not only stylish in every sense — from the rainfall showers and plush carpets, to the colour palette, luxuriously high thread count linen and cool furniture — it’s also super comfortable. Guests can stay in hotel rooms, luxurious spa suites or fully self-contained one and two bedroom apartments. The hotel is also less than a ten minute drive to all of Canberra’s major attractions including the Australian War Memorial, Questacon, Cockington Green Gardens, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and Parliament House.
However if you don’t want to head far after checking in, make sure you book a table at the Marble & Grain restaurant downstairs, as the meat there is treated like precious gems and the wine list is one of the best in the city. With great, educated staff and comfy booth set-ups by the window, it has the feel of a funky New York-style steak restaurant.
For lovers of conservation and luxury
Speaking of the cool hotel trend in Canberra, if you like to mix your getaways with wildlife, education and conservation, then one of the latest and seriously greatest experiences in Australia is a 15-minute drive out of town, at the National Zoo & Aquarium in Weston Creek.
Jamala Wildlife Lodge is an oasis of African style within the zoo’s sprawling grounds. The enclosures surrounding the lodge were created to give the resident animals exceptionally large and comfortable spaces in which to roam.
The zoo’s focus is on conservation and the aim is that funds from Jamala Lodge will allow the zoo to continue to grow and support a range of innovative breeding programs. The experiences offered to guests within the zoo have been designed to subtly get the message across that everything possible should be done to ensure the survival of magnificent animals in the wild.
Jamala Wildlife Lodge is the first of its kind in the world. Not only is the main lodge built around the aquarium and house where the family who own it once lived, but guests staying in its suites are able to share quarters with some of the world’s most rare, beautiful creatures. Cleverly, the suites have been created with cosy animal resting areas surrounded by glass — in some cases right by the bathtubs or beds. These areas have heated floors so that resident white lions, bears (grizzly, black and brown) and the beloved Sumatran tiger often wander in to the suites to have a nap, warm up (it gets cold in Canberra) and check out the human inhabitants. Animals are free to roam wherever they like in the zoo, but staff have found that they are often just as curious as the humans, and so enjoy the contact that the suites offer them.
Each guest can also choose a close encounter with an animal of their choice, such as stroking a cheetah, feeding the sharks or patting a white rhino. And if you are staying overnight, then you can also walk around the enclosures and aquarium after the public has gone for the day. It’s a rare experience to have such peace and quiet in a zoo that is normally so busy.
Dining at the lodge is also a remarkable experience, and is offered as part of overnight packages. The lodge’s dining room in a cave-like space below the aquarium with two glass walls that allow views straight into the white lions’ den, and a cave where the resident hyenas hang out. It’s an unforgettable experience — enjoying a three-course meal while African animals lounge about in the room only metres from you. You are literally surrounded by some of the world’s most wonderful wildlife, while spending a night in good old Canberra.
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