Sunday, December 18, 2016

Canberra: Family Trip TRAVEL REVIEW


Have you been to our nation's capital?

If not, you simply must.

If you have a terribly outdated idea that Canberra is 'boring' stop reading!

Actually, keep reading! It's the best thing you could do as a Sydney-ite as this Australian city has so much to offer, and it's under two hours away.

We, and by we I mean my family and a fellow blogger's family in tow, visited Canberra in October and fit in much as we could in a matter of days.

Think: Cockington Green Gardens, Questacon, Floriade, National Zoo and Aquarium, National Arboretum Canberra.

The National Arboretum Canberra is something to see! Not part of our schedule, we kinda stumbled across it while driving past.

(We originally published this post HERE at sister site Josie's Juice, but we've added some elements here to suit the 'Our Autism Adventures' audience).

It's here you can actually see "the forest for the trees", with its 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees from Australia and around the world.

We loved that we could drive up the breathtaking, winding driveway and park, then walk right into the Arboretum, grab a table (try to get one as close as possible to that fabulous view,  although each table has a 360 degree view of the vast expanse of trees), peruse the menu and grab a delicious bite to eat (there is something for all, young palates and more refined palates), then stroll to the large kids 'Pod Playground' just outside, or stay inside the awe inspiring Arboretum structure and have wine and dessert.

For kids with autism, it's the PERFECT spot to let them expend their energy and explore their sensory needs. My son LOVED all the activities on offer: the acorn cubbies, the climbing nets, the banksia cubbies and the tube slides.

It's designed to challenge and excite, and it does its job!

You can walk through, drive in, cycle about, or even horse-ride around the 250 hectare site. You’ll be gobsmacked at all its beauty, including the living artworks in the National Bonsai and Penjing collection. 

You can enjoy a free guided and self-guided tours, loads of interactive displays, outdoor sculptures, or pack a picnic to enjoy an outdoor meal with some of the most spectacular views in our capital city.

Download their 'augmented reality' app and listen to soundscapes, interesting stories about the trees, and holograms featuring stories about a fire fighter, harpist, landscape architect, Ngunnawal man, volunteer guide and bonsai artist.

Here is a video round up:

And now, the zoo!

The National Zoo and Aquarium is possibly THE best zoo I have been to.

It's just ten minutes drive from the city (EVERYTHING is easy to navigate and get to in and around Canberra), and it proved a big hit with big and little people.

The zoo itself is super easy to get around, and all its all in the way they've planned out the zoo - it's a clear path between sections and the most popular animals like the majestic lion and the funny meerkats - and you can enjoy the opportunity to help feed animals (including meerkats!), 

AND: it's Australia’s only combined zoo and aquarium. You guys, it's SO good. Families, singles, bunches of friends, first dates, grandparents' days out - it's perfect for all, especially because of way it's set out, and how easy it is to get from A to B.

The zoo and adjoining aquarium is only 10 minutes’ drive from the city, you can go behind-the-scenes at the National Zoo & Aquarium.

You can try: a ZooventureFamily or Walk on the Wildside tour. You can help feed animals, handfeed a giraffe or bear, and at kids over the age of 12 can do the Meet-a-Cheetah encounter and pat a cheetah.

My son LOVED the zoo! So many animals he has seen in books, and seeing them come to lie is always a pleasure. They are REAL!

While he has been to zoos before, this one seemed more intimate and close up to animals, which was a really lovely experience for us to point out the detail.

You could also experience a stay overnight here! THE ultimate stay for animal lovers, we saw the precinct from afar and know that you are right in the middle of it all. So fun - imagine waking up to that. Here is more on that:

Seriously, get to the zoo as soon as you can! If the last time you went was as a child, and you're not sure you can find interest in looking at animals, no matter how cute, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you'll enjoy it, just as we did.

Next up, Australian Institute of Sport, Cockington Green Gardens and Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre.

Best tip straight up: buy the 3 In Fun pass to get access to all three of the above - AND this means you save more than 25% on the usual price.

And guess what: the 3infun ticket also offers a FREE return visit to one of the participating attractions! Yes.

Yes, before you head to the mini manicured gardens, consider this: the 3infun ticket gets you all THREE attractions:
Australian Institute of Sport, the delightful miniature world of Cockington Green Gardens, or 200 (YES!) exhibits and experiences at Questacon - it's ALL available with ONE pass.
The 3infun ticket lets you save more than 25% on the usual price. PLUS, and I love this, 3infun is offering a FREE return visit to one of the participating attractions. So, go back and  revisit any of the three attractions for FREE!

For more on this 3infun ticket, click HERE.

Another tip: call ahead at Australian Institute of Sport and ask when they are able to host you. The AIS is open daily, but tour times are specific.
Listed on the site, the times are: 10am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm
Tours are closed only on Good Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day, and New Years Day.
The AIS is Australia's premier elite sports precinct, which attracts 200,000 visitors from Australia and overseas.  
Set amongst 65 hectares of native bushland, the AIS offers an insight into Australia's sporting past and shows what our nation is capable of from a sporting perspective.
Like seemingly everything in Canberra, it's only minutes from the CBD, with plenty of free car and coach parking.
Here you can get a sense of what it takes for a high perfomance athlete to make it, with a behind-the-scenes tour of the AIS, where the country's best athletes train.
It's located at Leverrier Street, Bruce and you call for more info here: 02 6214 1444, or go to:

Here's a video on what the AIS has to offer:

With the tour of the AIS - an award-winning guided 90-minute tour - you even might catch some of Australia's top athlete's in training!
Here you can also challenge yourself in Sportex, one of Australia's leading interactive sports exhibits, set amongst a unique collection of Australian sporting memorabilia - this is part of every AIS Tour. You can even give wheelchair basketball, virtual downhill skiing, rock climbing, football penalty shootouts and much more a red hot go.  
You can also dive into the world-class AIS aquatic and fitness centre which offers both 50-metre and 25-metre heated pools in an indoor complex, plus there is a fully equipped gym with the latest fitness equipment and a range of unique fitness and group training sessions, or you can even hire an experienced personal trainer at the AIS. Fees apply: check the website for times and session and pool availability.

Onto Cockington Green Gardens! One of my fave parts of Canberra!

No way is this miniature world just for littlies, instead it's most definitely for big and little kids.

My son LOVED Cockington Green Gardens. Think: trains, trains, and more trains. Miniature ones, ones you can ride on (with adults), and a world of miniature delights to inspect from near and afar. This often appeals to the child with autism, and it certainly did for my son.

Created by Doug and Brenda Sarah, Cockington Green Gardens is a family owned and operated attraction, with four generations involved in it’s operation over the past 35 years. It opened to the public in 1979, and has won an Australian Tourism Award and many local tourism industry awards. And you can see why! Step into the world of Cockington Green Gardens and immediately you are transported to another land - a whimsical, very green, perfectly manicured mini world of miniature trains and gardens and immaculately kept flower beds.

Step into Cockington Green Gardens and be seriously dazzled by the attention to detail in each and every section of every themed, manicured garden, completed with doll like elements which genuinely fascinate and engage people of all ages who visit. Our group was two sets of adults and fours kids if varying age, and we were all enthralled and engaged the WHOLE time.

Cockington Green Gardens always has something to see: it's constantly growing with the popular addition of the international display area, which complements the original English Village and the established gardens.

You can also pop into the Rose Room indoor exhibition, featuring ‘Waverley’ a 34 room Dolls House, or have a coffee in the Parsons Nose Garden Café, or bring a picnic lunch.

Don't forgo the cute miniature steam train ride, which goes right around the international display, giving you a complete, leisurely total view of the whole attraction. Awesome fun for young and old!

Here is more on Cockington Green Gardens:

And of course, there is Floriade.

Floriade is now in its decades' long run in Canberra, and is a leisurely way to see flowers in season and clever and beautiful flower installations, for both young and old.

It is set on a huge expanse of land alongside the iconic Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra’s Commonwealth Park, and has been there since its beginnings in 1988, when Peter Sutton and his colleague, landscape designer Chris De Bruine, developed a proposal for a grand floral display to celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary and Canberra’s 75th birthday.

Well! Hasn't it grown since! Josie's Juice went along to the very first Floriade that year with nature loving mamma in tow, and it has changed markedly since then, growing bigger and better each year.

There are stunning floral displays of exotic bulbs and annuals, which thrive in Canberra’s cool climate. Every single year, more than one million blooms (yes, over ONE MILLION!) are on show to create a stunning backdrop to a month-long festival filled with music, cultural celebrations, horticultural workshops, artistic displays, entertainment and recreational activities.

Floriade runs from mid-September to mid-October and attracts almost half a million attendees each year.

While Floraide has free entry for adults and kids, it's advised that families bring some money along for the kiddie rides and of course food, if you like. Or, BYO sandwiches and drinks.

If your child is obsessed with particular rides, it's also a bit of warning for parents to steer away from them, or at least be prepared for them.

So, where did we rest our heads?
We stayed at the Breakfree Canberra, which is situated at 2 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra.

An older style hotel complex, it has all you need for a family stay with all the amenities you need, lots of room, the opportunity to cook for yourself and your guests, centrally located and a short stroll to shops, Floriade (when it's on in Spring each year - allow for around 15 minutes from your hotel), and cafes and restaurants.

The hotel has a partnership with Bicicletta Restaurant (around five or so minutes away) and here you can  eat your hotel brekkie (there is no other restaurant offering at the hotel), and it is DELICIOUS and has that 'thing' many restaurants around this precinct have: the cool factor. Anyone who rattles of that antiquated notion that Canberra is uncool should be MADE to come here. Cafes buzzing with excellent coffee, a park with shipping containers set up as food truck heaven, and just a cool vibe.

Back to the hotel. Reasonably priced (click HERE for rates), here are some photos of the different room variations the hotel offers:

 And some snaps from my @josiegags Instagram account:

The view from our hotel, Breakfree:

And read more HERE.

To see more and read more about what Canberra has to offer, click HERE.

Want to know where Canberra's most Instagrammable locations are? Visit Canberra has a link for that too! CLICK HERE.

Make Canberra your next family, couple, or solo destination. We think you will love it!

From the perspective of holidays for kids with autism, it's such an ideal place for open space and activity, and expending energy and breathing in fresh air (and getting off those electronics). 

Josie's Juice blog was a guest of Visit Canberra, looking after our passes for each precinct. Josie's Juice was a paid guest at the Breakfree Hotel, Canberra.


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