Ever since Canberra was created as Australia's national capital in 1913, many Australians have had a love-hate relationship with the city. Canberra was founded after Australia's federation in 1901 to resolve the constant bickering between Sydney and Melbourne over which was the new country's premier city and therefore its rightful capital. So, an area of about 900 square miles 200 miles southwest of Sydney was designated the Australian Capital Territory.
There's still a perception that the planned city, home to 320,000 people, is a pampered company town, dependent on government largesse and out of tune with the concerns of other Australians.
In fact, Canberra is a great place to live and also to visit. It has four quite distinct seasons: hot summers, balmy autumns, longish winters and flowery springs.
The springtime Floriade flower festival, held from mid-September to mid-October, is a major draw each year. (Don't forget: Seasons are reversed compared with those in the U.S.)
A g'day in Canberra
National parks sit at the city's doorstep. In town, the restaurants, cafes and bars run the gamut of cuisines and ethnic influences; in fact, it's said Canberra boasts more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Australia.
The magnificent Parliament House has become the major attraction in the city.
Arriving or departing from Canberra by air, visitors enjoy a marvelous view of the structure, its giant flagpole providing an excellent focal point.
Visitors should try to attend a parliamentary session during lively Question Time.
Mount Ainslie lookout offers the best perspective of the capital's triangular layout, designed in 1910 by Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin.
A refreshing way to see the buildings around the city's central lake, named for Burly Griffin, is to rent a bike near the ferry terminal and ride at a leisurely pace along the pathways.
Check out the National Library, listen to a recital at the Carillon or admire the Captain Cook water jet adjacent to lovely Commonwealth Park.
The National Gallery and High Court are impressive, if stark, examples of modern architecture.
The old Parliament House now houses the National Portrait Gallery. Nearby, the marvelous National Science and Technology Centre, also known as Questacon, offers a hands-on environment in which to finally grasp all those scientific concepts never really mastered in school.
The National Museum of Australia, located on Acton Peninsula, documents the stories of Australia and Australians, exploring key issues, events and people that shaped and influenced the nation.
Rare and unique objects that illustrate the complex origins of the Australian continent and nation are the focus for the wide range of stories and exhibitions.
The varied displays at the Australian War Memorial will appeal to young and old. Shrine, museum, art gallery and repository of priceless records, the exhibitions are continually updated.
One of Canberra's best features is its parks and gardens, although recent drought and water restrictions have left their mark. At the foot of Black Mountain lies the National Botanic Gardens, a restful haven from a day's sightseeing.
The gardens, which house the national collection of Australian native plants, are especially colorful in spring and summer.
Canberra plant life is also earning the city a new reputation: for marvelous cool-climate wines from the 30-plus wineries in the region.
Arguably the best-known face of Canberra wines is Ken Helm, unabashed champion of the industry. Of the city's wineries, Helm's Winery is the farthest north, situated to the north of Murrumbateman, and Helm's wines have been winning medals for some years.
Other wineries worth visiting include Brindabella Hills, Clonakilla, Doonkuna Estate, Pialligo Estate and Lerida Estate.
Art deco accommodations
Since its construction in 1924, the National Heritage-protected Hyatt Hotel Canberra has been the city's premier five-star accommodation. Extensions and refurbishments in recent years have restored the hotel's original art deco style.
Set in extensive gardens (there are croquet lawns within the grounds) close to the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, the hotel is centrally located and within easy walking distance of the city's main attractions.
Each of the 231 rooms and 18 suites is elegant, spacious and luxurious, decorated in warm earth tones. All modern facilities are available for both business and leisure travelers.
For an intimate drink before dinner, guests can opt for the Speaker's Corner Bar or Griffin's before moving on to the Promenade Cafe for superb dining.
Afternoon tea, daily from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Tea Lounge, is an enduring and popular tradition, with a mouth-watering array of cakes, sandwiches and other delicacies.
To unwind, guests can indulge in a sauna, hit the gym or saltwater pool or practice their strokes on the tennis court.
For more information on the Hyatt, visit www.canberra.park.hyatt.com. For more on Canberra, visit Tourism Australia at www.australia.com.