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Visiting Canberra For A Day
Out of all Australian states and territories, the Australian Capital Territory (officially abbreviated as ACT) is the smallest in terms of area and one of only two regions designated as a 'territory' than a state (The other territory being the Northern Territory). Unlike states, Australian Territories are governed by a 'Chief Minister' (rather than a Premier) as the head of government while the 'Head of State' 's called an 'Administrator' (rather than a Governor who acts as the head of state for a 'State').
The most populous (and only) city within the ACT is Canberra, which also serves as Australia's capital city.
Prior to 1911, Canberra didn't exist and was planned as a purpose built city so that the Australian Federal government could relocate there to conduct its affairs (based on the principle that the government should be separate from the daily hustle and bustle of big city lives in Sydney and Melbourne and not interfere with business).
Even today, anyone who visits Canberra (in particular from Sydney) finds the place extremely clinical and yet fascinating as one can freely roam about the city's (and as such Australia's) major political and historical landmarks such as the Australian Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the diplomatic enclaves in Yarralumla and Canberra's Deep Space Communication complex.
The following sub-sections will give a brief outlay on what one can do when visiting Canberra only for a day (as its easily possible when travelling by air from Melbourne or even driving down and back up to Sydney).
Some pictures were taken on my Apple I phone 5 during my trip to Canberra during mid-June 2014 and were modified on Instagram.
You can follow me on Instagram on #Haztagz.
Canberra's essentially a city built for car-drivers - the roads are spacious and wide and unlike other major cities (including Sydney and Melbourne), the speed limits on most arteries are a zippy 70-90 KPH instead of a slow 50-60 KPH while the highest posted speed limits on motorways (Such as the Tuggerong Parkway) and country roads (like Paddys River Road) are 100 KPH (62 MPH).
Canberra's connected by the Hume Highway and Federal Highway from Sydney and the distance of 300 kilometers can be easily traversed in under 3 hours in good traffic and weather. If driving from Melbourne, the journey can take roughly 7 hours when driving up the Hume Highway and then the Barton Highway between Yass and Canberra. If driving's not your thing, the city's served by its own airport along its eastern limits (near a suburb called Fyshwick) and is served by regular flights from across Australia on both Qantas and Virgin Australia.
Lastly, Canberra does have its own train and bus stations (the train station being a scheduled stop on most Sydney to Melbourne Intercity train services) so one really isn't spoilt for options to commute here.
Canberra's also en-route and a favored pit-stop for anyone travelling up the Australian alps (to the ski resorts of Thredbo and Perisher) as its more or less mid-way when driving from Sydney (The total journey taking roughly 6 hours one way).
Coming back to what one can do in Canberra in one day (like I did as I drove there from Sydney in the morning and returned in the evening), the following are my tips.
The Australian Parliament House
Similar to Capitol Hill in Washington DC or Westminster in London, the Australian Parliament House, located at more or less the geographic center of Canberra is where the Australian House of Representatives and the Senate conduct their sessions.
The Parliament house is considered one of the city's most beautiful buildings and is open to visitors 7 days a week between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM and at no cost.
Accessed via Northbourne Road and Commonwealth Avenue (which are essentially the Federal Highway as it enters Canberra's metropolitan limits), the Parliament House is easily accessed via an off-ramp and offers free-parking, free entry and a cafe called the 'Queens Terrace Cafe' within its complex.
A typical visit within the main building can take anyone an hour (including the airport like security screening process), a walk through the corridors, the outside perimeter and the function halls.
In my opinion, this should be your first stop when visiting Canberra.
More information regarding the Australian Parliament House can be found at: http://www.aph.gov.au
The Australian War Memorial
Situated east of the Australian Parliament House at the other end of Anzac Parade in a suburb called 'Campbell', the Australian War Memorial features a Cenotaph and a museum which commemorates those who've fallen during war or any other military engagement.
Situated at the foot of a hill and featuring a massive domed roofed cenotaph at its rear, the war memorial is a must visit for anyone who's even remotely interested in Australia's war-time history and such the general state of affairs during the first and second world wars.
The structural design and architecture of the memorial is pretty impressive - upon entering you're able to walk along two twin-level corridors featuring the names of almost every soldier and officer who's represented the Australian armed forces during battle and the outside walls feature the names of every global region where Australia's represented its armed forces during a time of war or crisis.
The war memorial also features an 'orientation room' (currently being refurbished as of June 2014) which allows a visitor to glimpse through some reading material and photographs from the time of the world wars and take in some lessons in history.
Overall, this is a must see site for any visitor to Canberra.
More information about the war memorial can be found at: http://www.awm.gov.au
Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
Situated roughly 45 minutes south of Canberra's City Center in relative isolation of the Tidbinbilla farming land, lies the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. Jointly run by NASA and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO, Australia's national science agency), the Deep Space Complex is the Southern Hemisphere's largest space-communication center and one of the very few which are operated by America's NASA.
The road to the Deep Space Complex goes south-west via outer Canberra suburbs like Wright before turning into a winding but speedy country road with plenty of crests and troughs giving visitors the chance to stop at a town named Cotter before proceeding further.
The Deep Space complex features 3 massive dish-antennas (numbered between DSS-30 and DSS-40 as per the NASA geographical numbering sequence) which constantly track communication from various satellites and vessels in space, including the famed Voyager-2 (which as per most recent reports has more less crossed Pluto's orbit.
Entry into the Deep Space Complex is free however visitors are required to turn off all portable electronic communication devices (like mobile phones) to prevent interference while the antennas do their work.
Inside the complex, you can read up about historical NASA space missions, check out samples of foods and clothing astronauts consume and wear and space respectively, check out a life-sized space suit and even watch a constant feed of space-exploration themed movies in the projection theater, which is situated opposite the on-site cafe, called the Moon-Rock cafe. The complex also features a live tracking-feed and schedule and a 3.8 billion year old piece from the moon's surface is also on display.
Overall, the Deep Space Center is a must do for anybody compiling a list of things to do in Canberra in a day and can be #3 on your itinerary after you've seen the War Memorial and the Parliament House.
More information about the Deep Space Complex can be found at http://www.cdscc.nasa.gov
Telstra Tower/ Black Mountain
At 195 meters high and at over 800 meters over sea-level, lies the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain, right next to the western perimeter of the Australian National University, which is considered Australia's best.
The Telstra Tower's essentially a communications tower but is open to visitors - like about any other tower it features a revolving restaurant (currently being renovated), an indoor and outdoor viewing deck and an on-site cafe.
Still, considering this is probably the only 'skyscraper' which exists in Canberra and one that offers sublime views of the city and beyond (including the Australian Alps), this is certainly a must-see for any day-time visitor to Canberra and given that the tower's open until late, you could make this your last stop before heading back home or to the city.
It must be noted however that while visiting Telstra Tower (which is accessed by road along the very scenic Black Mountain Drive), the intense radio-wave activity can result in certain electronic devices, including car central-locking systems! being knocked out while you're in the tower's vicinity so care must be taken if possible (My BMW 3 series central locking did get disabled so I know it happens).
More information about the Telstra Tower can be found at http://www.telstratower.com.au
Other Possible Activities and Conclusion
This more or less concludes my top tips of things to do in Canberra when visiting the city for only a day.
Other things you may do is visit the Canberra Shopping Center (The city's only shopping mall, which I must say is impressive) located smack in the middle of downtown Canberra (the suburb itself being aptly named, Civic), take in the cuisine at the city's increasingly gentrified restaurants, or even try your luck at the local 24/7 casino.
If you're driving, you can even drive around a suburb called Yarralumla, located north-west of the Parliament house and do a bit of High Commission/Embassy spotting (I personally did do this as it reminds me of the diplomatic enclave of New Delhi, India - the city I grew up in) or even walk within the Botanical Gardens.
Overall, a day trip to the Australian Capital is certainly worth it but in order to take in certain sights you must have an interest in what's on offer and moreover, travel with the right people :)