Coolest? We don’t mean climate, otherwise we’d be talking about Australia’s High Country and snowfields — depending on the time of year. Or, our wonderful Tassie.
No, there’s the more modern meaning of “coolness” — not exactly favoured by those of us who grew up before the ‘60s, when “cool, man” was the statutory ending to every sentence.
So, Canberra? Orange? How do they qualify?
Each boasts unique attractions which make them a great place for a short break. And, while already easily accessible from Sydney by train, plane or car, Tigerair now offers direct flights from Melbourne and Brisbane to both regional cities.
Of course, there’s a huge difference between the nation’s capital and a regional city, but there are similarities as well.
The common defining factor may well have something to do with fresh country air, great regional produce and wine, a range of activities from very active to quite passive, and simply a surprising “vibe” — to use another of those ‘60s words that have crept into our language.
Let’s see what each city has in store:
If you’ve thought of Canberra as a place for “serious” tourism — Federal Parliament, the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery, and so on — you’d be right. Those places should be high on every Australian’s bucket list.
But you’d only be half-right. There’s another side to the city, which is attracting a new wave of visitors looking for fun, excitement, good food and wine — and lots of activities that will keep you busy with Facebook or Instagram posts for everyone back home to see. It's no wonder it's been ranked the third best city in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2018.
For example, hot air ballooning on a frosty winter morning is one way to get the pulse racing. It may sound a bit nerve-racking, but ballooning is statistically safer than driving down the street and it’s a lot more fun. In the hands of experienced operators such as Balloon Aloft, you get a wonderful bird’s eye view of the city and the picturesque countryside — a joyflight you won’t easily forget.
The view of the Canberra surrounds from a hot air balloon is absolutely stunning
Ballooning is just for starters. Here are more fun things to do in Canberra:
- Stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge at the heart of the National Zoo & Aquarium. Here, you can choose a room or suite “up close and personal” with a lion, tiger, bear or cheetah — or next to a shark tank! Our favourite is the Giraffe Treehouse where you can feed the handsome Humbekhali from your balcony.
- Take a Segway tour around Lake Burley Griffin — it certainly beats walking and the guides give an amusing commentary.
Lake Burley-Griffin offers a serene place to relax in the middle of Canberra
- Try your hand at glass blowing at Canberra Glassworks, a unique workspace for glass artists where visitors can get arty and make a glass paperweight under the patient guidance of a professional artist.
- Visit the new Capital Brewing Company in Fyshwick, an industrial area fast becoming a trendy urban precinct. Enjoy superb craft beers, and tasty food from the famous Brodburger food truck.
- Spend an hour (or three!) at one of many wineries in the district. The closest to town is Mount Majura Vineyard and if you’re anything like us, you’ll want more than a sip of their excellent Tempranillo.
- Dine at one of Canberra’s hot eateries like Italian and Sons, ONA Manuka for great locally roasted coffee, or Pialligo Estate on the banks of the Molonglo River which incorporates a vineyard, olive grove, market garden and smokehouse for a true gourmet dining experience.
- Book well ahead for Floriade in September 2018 — one of Australia’s premier flower and garden shows, now in its 31st year.
Canberra's Floriade festival is a highlight event of the calendar
Many may remember the motor events of the past, at the Gnoo Blas car races, which set out to rival Bathurst’s Mount Panorama circuit with famous drivers like Jack Brabham and Bob Jane competing.
Today, motor events have given way to food, wine, art, and music festivals, attracting a very different kind of visitor. In addition to the usual procession of Sydneysiders and interstate grey nomads in shiny rigs, direct flights from Brisbane and Melbourne are bringing trendier lifestylers seeking new pastures for grazing and graping.
Regional wine is at the forefront of the “New Orange”. This is made apparent by a visit to the Orange Wine Festival, showcasing a huge selection of cool climate varieties from mainly family-owned boutique wineries.
The emphasis here is on high quality, limited production, with altitude the key defining attribute, along with the usual variables of terroir: geology, soils, climate, and temperature.
According to Justin Jarrett, President of the Orange Region Vignerons Association, the annual Wine Festival has had extraordinary success since it started in 1999; it now runs over ten days and last year’s attendance topped 23,000. That’s a lot of sips at the various venues, translating to the sellout of many vintages on offer. The bubblies were a particular favourite, encouraging the plantings of more grapes for Prosecco — popular with the Surry Hills and Carlton crowd.
The Agrestic Grocer is a must-visit destination for any foodies visiting Orange
But the city offers more than wine, of course. The foodie scene in Orange and nearby Millthorpe has been recognised with several Chef’s Hats, and top reviews at places like Charred, the Agrestic Grocer, and The Greenhouse in town; and Tonic, the Old Mill, and Le Billot de Boucher in the quaint Millthorpe village.
To top it off, there’s the Origin Organic Chocolate factory where you can make your own bespoke chocolate in a Masterclass, and pair it with local wine, beer, and cheese.
The ideal road trip
Perhaps the perfect way to spend a week or so would be to combine visits to Canberra and Orange in a single road trip — they’re less than four hours apart by car if you don’t dally along the way.
But then, you’d miss some beautiful country scenery and some excellent coffee stops. So, why rush?
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Image credits: (feature) AlecTrusler2015 / Shutterstock.com; (in-text) Fon Hodes / Shutterstock.com, Phil Hawkes.