I wonder if Scott Morrison has considered a balloon ride. I can highly commend it for getting a fresh perspective on the world. As we drift silently over Yarralumla on a crisp morning of blue skies, the world looks a treat. Whatever cares, from pandemics to political controversy, are raging down below, up here it simply doesn’t seem to matter.
Perhaps we could get a basket big enough for the whole cabinet? After all, you wouldn’t need the burners to get enough hot air to rise above the trees and see everything in a different light.
We had come to Canberra for the ultimate braggers’ weekend away: an art exhibition featuring Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, fine dining at two leading restaurants and a visit to the National Museum of Australia.
Not bad for just 48 hours.
The plan had been to get aloft on our first day. But though we braved the chill at -2°C to meet at the historic Hyatt Hotel at 6:30am, our hopes were dashed. It was too windy.
Undeterred, we brave Canberra’s dawn chill the next day and this time we strike gold. After almost an hour of meticulous preparation to inflate the balloon, we clamber into the basket and take off from the frost-bitten grounds of the Royal Australian Mint in Deakin just as the sun peeks over the mountains.
The cold combined with the crisp air and clear skies makes hot air ballooning exhilarating. Each time we float towards the treetops, our Balloons Aloft pilot, Kim, tugs at the gas valves and blasts hot flames into the belly of the 350,000-cubic-foot silky monster holding us in the sky.
After an hour of floating silently over stunning rural landscapes, we softly land at Flynn, about 12 kilometres from the city centre, where the crew deflate our airship.
We are soon back at the stylish A by Adina for a warming coffee and porridge. We are staying in a one-bedroom apartment on the edge of Parliamentary Triangle.
Our room is fully equipped for longer stays: there is a kitchenette, coffee machine, mini-fridge, washing machine, dryer, dining table and lounge area. The generously sized apartment comes with your choice from the pillow menu, toiletries by Hunter Lab and evening drinks in the lobby. It is a very comfortable stay.
Our complimentary continental breakfast is served at Arc cafe next door, a popular meeting place for mums and their bubs.
We are surrounded by a variety of restaurants, but decide to walk the 15 minutes to bustling Lonsdale Street in Braddon to check out the lively, pan-Asian eatery Lazy Su. It is packed with Canberra’s cool millennials out on a Friday night and the bartender works overtime with an unending stream of cocktail orders.
Canberra is such a neatly laid-out city and many roads lead to Capital Hill. No matter how many times you see Parliament House’s distinctive forecourt and front façade walls of white Carrara marble with the Australian flag flying proudly from the roof you can’t help but be impressed.
Overlooking Lake Burley Griffin and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Capital Hill is popular with early morning joggers wearing beanies and gloves. As we walk past the British and Canadian high commissions on Commonwealth Avenue, we spot a large kangaroo watching us quizzically.
We lunch at The Meat & Wine Co, Constitution Place’s popular new restaurant, known for fine steaks and wines. Located next door to our hotel, the restaurant already has a strong following of pollies and well-to-do Canberrans. We decide to savour the South African beef sausages with coriander, cumin and chakalaka sauce (a nod to the restaurant owners’ homeland in South Africa), along with the lightly fried Szechuan calamari – both are outstanding. The pumpkin salad and salmon skewers with African chilli and miso are also delicious. But the star dish was the 300-gram Wagyu rib eye, served medium-rare – both tender and flavourful.
Canberra is in the midst of an e-scooter trial, and we couldn’t wait to hop on it. Hiring is easy via the app, and a helmet is part of the kit. We are soon whizzing around the city.
A visit to Canberra wouldn’t be complete without a dose of culture. And the city delivered in spades at the National Gallery of Australia. We catch the Botticelli to Van Gogh exhibition in its final weeks. An unprecedented 60 paintings by the rock stars of art – Botticelli, Rembrandt, Goya, Cezanne, Van Gogh – are on display from the National Gallery London until June 14.
One unexpected highlight of our stay was an evening with local food producers and a dinner called the Neighbourhood Series held at the charming Hotel Kurrajong.
Manager Jay Hore tells us the initiative was started as a way to help local artisans during the pandemic. They hold a market in the hotel’s back garden, allowing us to chat over mulled wine while our lamb dinner cooks on a spit before us.
We meet Ian Chu, the engineer-turned-farmer from Majestic Mushrooms, Gloria Cox from Leaning Oak Cheese who serves up yummy baked brie, Peter and Caroline O’Clery of Homeleigh Grove Olives, Fred McGrath Weber from Majura Valley lamb and French winemaker Celine Rousseau of Eden Road Wines. Not to be outdone, hotel chef Saju Rajappan prepares a delicious braised beef-cheek risotto served with Leaning Oak goat fetta and Majestic mushrooms.
It was a delightful evening filled with great food, fine wines and touching stories about producers fighting back at a time when tourism numbers are down.
Take me there
Fly: Qantas flies from Newcastle from $386 per person.
Drive: Newcastle to Canberra is about a five-hour drive.
Stay: A one-bedroom apartment at A by Adina with prices from $314 per night.
Adventures: A morning of hot-air ballooning with Balloon Aloft costs from $330-$380 per person.
Eat: Upcoming Neighbourhood Series events at the Hotel Kurrajong include a truffle and wine dinner on June 19 and a gin and vodka tasting special on July 3. Book at hotelkurrajong.com.au.
Explore more: visitcanberra.com.au