The capitals of Australia and New Zealand both have so much to offer visitors, including incredible city escapes, world-class dining and spectacular natural wonders.
And because you can fly on Singapore Airlines to Wellington via Canberra, and therefore get to enjoy both capitals in one trip, we’ve compiled this feature to highlight the best that each city has to offer.
Even though the modern city of Canberra is relatively young when compared to other major cities in Australia, the capital city has an interesting history and offers much in the way of cultural and natural attractions. When Canberra was founded as the Australian capital in the first half of the twentieth century, a great deal of thought and planning took place.
The result of this careful city planning is an abundance of things to entice every traveller, whether nature lover, museum addict or both. Australia’s premier museums and art galleries can all be found within Canberra’s city limits. These include the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia and the fascinating, fun and interactive Questacon (the national science and technology centre). These, as well as the other Canberra cultural highlights (like the Australian War Memorial; above), offer a rich insight into the country’s past, present and indeed future.
For those who prefer the outdoors and more botanically inclined things to do and see, Canberra will certainly not disappoint. Some of the city’s best points of interest for nature lovers would include Lake Burley Griffin (above), the beautiful man-made lake around which the capital is centred, the National Arboretum and John Knight Memorial Park, a 12ha park complete with picnic and barbecue areas, fitness facilities and a playground for kids of all ages to enjoy. An additional must-see Canberra attraction that beautifully marries Australian culture and nature is the iconic Anzac Parade – the perfectly manicured tree-lined thoroughfare that’s Australia’s answer to the famous National Mall in Washington D.C.
Situated on the southwestern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Wellington has been the Kiwi capital since 1865, having usurped that spot from Auckland. Famed for its harbour and surrounding hilly terrain, Wellington is an undeniably picturesque city.
With such abundant beauty in and around the Kiwi capital, there’s no shortage of attractions to keep tourists occupied. A trip to the Mount Victoria Lookout (above), which sits at some 196m above the city, is an absolute must for first-time visitors. Once at the lookout point, you’ll be rewarded with unending, postcard-worthy views of the city, harbour and their rolling hill backdrop. Access to the lookout is by car, on foot, or bike, through the beautifully green Town Belt, a series of tree-lined park spaces in and around the city centre.
Another of Wellington’s most popular tourist attractions, the Wellington Cable Car transports passengers from downtown Wellington up towards the leafy suburb of Kelburn and the Wellington Botanic Garden, which is a lush garden filled with 26ha of magnificent views, native flora and zen-inducing garden walks and trails.
Other Wellington attractions that should be incorporated into any visit: The Harbourside Market (above), for fresh produce, delicious local breakfast and lunch options, and a host of other artisanal food products. There are excellent beach destinations, such as the centrally located Oriental Bay, the strikingly beautiful Scorching Bay and Lyall Bay, the city’s most popular surfing hotspot.
Australia’s food scene has long been hailed as one of the most exciting in the world. Considering the high standard of Aussie dining, the fact that Canberra can nowadays hold her own with the country’s more established culinary stalwarts like Sydney and Melbourne, means that the city has more than enough to delight foodies.
From hipster-filled coffee shops, to lunchtime-loving cafes and fine dining establishments, Canberra offers up some of the best in Australian cuisine. Among our top picks would be The Cupping Room (above) concept cafe for the ultimate in caffeinated fare, Patissez, the charming patisserie that’s gone viral due to their famous, overflowing-with-goodies FreakShakes, and for contemporary fine dining Courgette, where Chef James Mussillon expertly prepares some truly flavoursome dishes.
Though it’s noted for its thriving cafe culture and independent eateries, Wellington’s food scene is so much more than just that, and indeed has just about anything and everything to offer food-loving travellers.
One of the city’s most well-known districts for dining would have to be Cuba Street, which features a diverse selection of restaurants such as Matterhorn (above), the famed fine dining establishment that’s become a bit of a New Zealand institution.
Naturally being a city on the water’s edge, Wellington offers abundant options for tasty seafood. For a relaxed atmosphere, head on over to Crab Shack, which is, of course, famous for their many dishes featuring crab. For a somewhat more upscale seafood dining experience try Ortega Fish Shack and Bar, which is an award-winning seafood diner, serving the most delectable seafood goodies, like fresh Clevedon Pacific oysters, crayfish and prawn ravioli and a heavenly aromatic seafood broth crammed with monkfish, baby octopus and shellfish.
For a dining experience with unforgettable views of the city’s famous landscapes, our favourites would include Lyall Bay’s Spruce Goose (above) as well as the Chocolate Fish Cafe, ideally situated on Shelly Bay Road, offering a casual dining experience that exhibits a typical Kiwi quirky sensibility.
Of course, because Wellington and Canberra have such an impressive range of dining options, the above is merely a sampling of what both capitals can offer. It’s therefore recommended to do some additional research before visiting so as to ensure you’ll get to those establishments that most suit your individual tastes and preference.
Arts and culture
Canberra boasts a wealth of artistic and cultural attractions waiting to be explored. Besides galleries and museums, other cultural highlights of the city include the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, an innovative centre that exhibits incredible multi-disciplinary artworks; as well as the Belconnen Arts Centre (below), an essential member of the greater Australian arts and culture community that offers interesting events, workshops and exhibits.
The city often hosts some incredible live music and cultural events with world-class acts and performers gracing the Canberra stages. The Canberra Theatre Centre is one of the capital’s premier event venues, with theatre productions, live music acts and other forms of entertainment regularly featuring on the centre’s events calendar.
Easily regarded as the epicentre of New Zealand’s arts and culture scene, Wellington is brimming with attractions to appeal to varying tastes. One of the most popular attractions, the Museum of New Zealand or Te Papa (above), is more than just a national museum. It’s an interactive educational experience that sheds a fascinating light on the country’s geological, biological, cultural and social history.
For film fans, Wellington provides some of the most intriguing cinematic tours and encounters. Due to its star turn in the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand visitors can enjoy special tours, where one can catch a glimpse of the magical settings for these (as well as many other) great movies. One tour operator that offers such tours, Rover Rings, has both full and half-day tour options that enable one to be immersed in the fantastical world of hobbits, elves and Middle Earth. If getting behind the scenes on film sets is something that interests, then a tour of Weta Studios and the Weta Cave (above) is an absolute must.
Finally, to experience one of the best contemporary art galleries in the world, a trip to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and the adjacent Len Lye Centre is all but essential. Internationally acclaimed for its multi-disciplinary collections and exhibitions, the gallery allows patrons to actively engage with the art, artists and performances on show.
For night owls, Canberra’s diverse collection of bars, pubs and clubs offer partygoers the full gamut of nightlife experiences. From cosy and intimate watering holes and bars to dance-music-pumping super clubs, Canberra has it all.
Lucky’s Speakeasy (above) at the QT Canberra hotel is an iconic Canberra establishment that offers a well-stocked bar, with some fantastic signature drinks on the menu. If a more laid-back drinking venue is up your alley, then look no further than King O’Malley’s, easily considered the capital’s best Irish pub. Boasting an impressive beer and whisky collection (with more than 80 premium whiskies on offer), the famous Canberra pub has something for everyone.
And finally, if dancing the night away is what you’re after, Canberra’s renowned Academy dance club is an absolute must. Able to accommodate up to 600 people and with state-of-the-art sound and lighting, a night out at Academy is one way to have an unforgettable Canberra experience.
Whether you’re looking for a dazzling cocktail affair, a cool spot to sip on some of New Zealand’s best craft beer, an evening of side-slapping comedy or just somewhere to dance through the night, there’s something for everyone in the Kiwi capital.
The centrally located street of Courtenay Place is considered the hub of Wellington nightlife and entertainment. With a formidable lineup of bars, nightclubs, pubs and theatres, there’s no end to the amount of fun you’ll have while exploring this lively part of the city.
For lovers of all things beer, the Malthouse on Courtenay Place is an essential inclusion on any Wellington itinerary. Purveyor of over 150 beers from around the world, the Malthouse is a brewing wonderland and one you definitely won’t regret visiting.
Also on Courtenay Place, the Library (above) is an intimate lounge bar set among a library’s worth of books. Away from the Courtenay Place hub, Foxglove on Queens Wharf is a prime spot for waterfront cocktails with stunning harbour views.
Stand-up comedy enthusiasts can catch some of New Zealand’s best comedic acts at The Fringe Bar on Allen Street, which also offers burlesque performances, karaoke nights as well as live music. And finally for the best spots to jive through a New Zealand night, there’s Public (above) and the famous Electric Avenue, both of which are on Courtenay Place; as well as Red Square, which is on Blair Street and provides partygoers with an elegant and glittering atmosphere by which to break out those dancing shoes.
– TEXT BY SAUL LIPCHIK
PHOTOS: SUPPLIED, LUCKY’S SPEAKEASY FACEBOOK, THE MALTHOUSE FACEBOOK, THE LIBRARY FACEBOOK, VISIT CANBERRA, THE CUPPING ROOM FACEBOOK, SPRUCE GOOSE FACEBOOK, BELCONNEN ARTS CENTRE FACEBOOK, 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.