It’s not a great start that Australia’s capital, an ex-sheep station, was born out of compromise, chosen to end a row between Sydney and Melbourne for the seat of power.
“Canberra: Why wait for death?” said travel writer Bill Bryson once. A bit harsh, maybe, but driving around its circular centre I felt as if I was stuck in a fake utopia – like The Truman Show, where the sky’s always blue but it’s all a bit… off. The roads are ridiculously wide, the vast verges are spotless, but where are all the people? The lack of them makes he leafy streets of neat modernist bungalows somehow disquieting.
But Canberra is often voted the best place to live in the world – it’s affordable, green, commuting is a dream, and all those fussy politicians mean the coffee is top-notch.
Yet people don’t like that the capital doesn’t have a beach, unless you count the yellow sands hugging are Murrumbidgee River. But I didn’t miss it. I sat on the hot, smoothed-out ancient rock at the top of Gibraltar Falls in the blistering sunshine, feet dangling in a cool natural pool and looking over uninhabited forested hills.
On Mount Taylor I saw the cockatoos strutting in the grass, spied the red flash of lorikeet in the silvery gum trees and, after trekking through wild flowers, reached the top and a reception party of strapping grey kangaroos.
I also cycled around Lake Burley-Griffin, a pleasant 30km bimble through rolling hills, woods and, wetlands, and past grandiose buildings like the National Library.
That’s the beauty of Canberra: one minute you’re in the bush spotting wombats, the next you’re sipping a flat white recommended by a terrifyingly informed barista brandishing a bean menu.