Biking it in Canberra
She looked quite a sight, my friend, with her body hunched over a tiny kid’s bike with training wheels. With her hair streaked across her face, and her face and body tense, she shrieked to us, “Hey, wait for me!” I looked at my two other friends, and we burst out laughing.
It was not a particularly tough stretch to cycle on but my friend is a novice cyclist. When she finally caught up with us, we asked her whether she wanted to return her bike and explore Canberra on foot instead, but she declined. Thankfully, she got better as the day progressed.
In fact, the Australian capital city is made for cyclists. It has a great network of on and off road cycle paths, and most of the city is fairly flat. It’s also an ideal way to get around the city as the attractions are fairly spread out.
As a planned city that was only built in 1913, Canberra is often overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbours Sydney and Melbourne. Mention that you’re going to Canberra, and the common question is why? In response to that, I would say, why not?
The city is located about midway between Sydney and Melbourne, and it makes a logical stopping point between the two big cities. Canberra is also set in a landscape of scenic beauty – not breathtaking, but tranquil and soothing – and there are more than enough attractions to keep one entertained for a few days.
Canberra’s top attraction is the Australian War Memorial, which besides commemorating the sacrifice of Australians who have died in wars, also contains several fascinating exhibits like helicopters used in the Vietnam War.
Stepping through the front entrance of the memorial, the first thing we saw was the commemorative courtyard, with its colonnade reflected onto the waters of the rectangular Pool of Reflection. Somehow the whole setting managed to evoke a mood of calm contemplation.
Lake Burley Griffin, a huge artificial lake in the centre of Canberra, is just a stone’s throw (by bicycle) away from the war memorial. As we headed there, we discovered that many people had the same idea as us – to take advantage of the sunny winter day by cycling around Canberra.
Being located in the centre of Canberra, the lake is naturally the focal point of the capital, and it is ringed by several prominent institutions like the National Gallery, National Museum and High Court.
Just south of the lake is the parliamentary zone, with the old and current Parliament House of Australia. Seeing that my friend was now more comfortable on her bike, though still looking oversized on that tiny bike, we decided to cycle across the lake to the Old Parliament House.
The Old Parliament House was the house of the Parliament of Australia from 1927 to 1988. Built in a simple, classical style, the white three-storey building now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy. We decided to join a guided tour so we’ll know what we’re looking at.
Nearly all areas of the Old Parliament House are opened to the public. We were brought around the areas like the red-coloured Senate chamber, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Cabinet Room and the Ministerial Party Room. The guide told us many political stories relating to the old building which can probably be developed into a television series – stuff like political intrigues, backroom chatter and leaks of information.
And because the Old Parliament House is also said to be one of the most haunted places in Australia, we were also regaled with tales of the various spooks residing in the building – one of whom is known as Malcolm. But if truth be told, the stories were more entertaining than scary, but maybe it’s because we were not alone in the building…
From the Old Parliament House, we decided to bike it to the current Parliament House. Like the Old Parliament House, the Parliament House is also open to the public, and we could visit areas like the House of Representatives and Senate Chamber.
After doing an Amazing Race-style tour of the building as it was near closing time, we ended up on its roof where we quietly admired the distant snow-capped peaks of the aptly named Snowy Mountains – Australia’s highest region – which were illuminated by the setting sun.
We would have stayed there longer if not for the fact that we had a bus to catch to Melbourne. So, with more than a little reluctance, we left the Parliament House to pick up our bikes and started cycling back to our hostel.