Canberra in the cold is cool

It’s not an obvious thing to do, leave the winter sunshine of Byron Bay for a holiday in chilly Canberra, writes Candida Baker, but she discovered a winter wonderland, a city full of surprises – and a lot of hot chocolate…

There we are whizzing around Lake Burley Griffin on our Segways at exactly 12 kmh, and I swear the wind chill factor is making it several degrees minus nothing.  I’m rugged up to the nines but I’m still cold – but I’m having such fun I don’t care.

A Segway for those that haven’t tried one yet, is a two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle.  The name Segway is derived from the word ‘segue’, meaning smooth transition.  I couldn’t exactly say that the first five minutes were smooth, as our group which included myself, my daughter and her friend, did our initial practice around the trees near the hire kiosk, but once you get the hang of it, smooth is exactly what it is.  It works on your body weight, and rather than conventional steering, all you have to is lean on the handle and it turns – with a remarkable zero-point turning capacity.  (You can contact them on:

Having mastered the balancing art, we’re off, up beside the lake, along the paths that pass Questacon, around the ornamental gardens below old Parliament House, and pretty soon we’re all wishing it could go twice the speed.  Our half-hour passed in a flash of smooth transitions, and the next burning – or freezing – question was where to go to warm up.

A friend had told me about Lonsdale Street Roasters  – one of the numerous funky cafes that have sprung up in Canberra in the past few years, and so we made our way there and soon had our hands wrapped around a piping hot chocolate.

It might seem an odd thing to do, living in Byron Bay, one of Australia’s best known holiday destinations, to head to Canberra for a week in the middle of winter, but old friends beckoned and this was the second time we’d made the trip down south at this time of year.  We’d flown to Sydney from Ballina, picked up our Redspot hire care, and headed down the highway straight into sub-freezing conditions.

But the fact is that in the cold Canberra is a wonderful destination, full of a perfect combination of activity, education and indulgence.  As well as our Segway experience there was ice-skating in the middle of the city, trampolining at Flipout, and of course, the highlight for all of us, tobogganing in the snow at Corin Forest.  Last time we were there we spent an entire day at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, a sensory-filled hands-on experience if ever there was one – this time our chosen experience was the War Memorial, which was both enlightening and inspirational.  As we moved through the sections in this extraordinarily elegant building, each of them dedicated to Australia’s involvement in different wars, my daughter, her friend and I were all moved beyond measure by the bloody and brave history laid out before us.  For me, to have paid a visit this year, the 100-year anniversary of the start of the First World War, was particularly poignant.

As for indulgence, that was an easy call.  A long time fan of the Max Brenner (Chocolate by the Bald Man) shops, I’d heard of the San Churro chocolate shops but never been to one – and on a chilly Canberra morning what better way to start the day than with a hefty overdose of chocolate?  The San Churro stores are an Australian success story – the first store opened in Fitzroy, Melbourne in 2006, and they now have 38 stores operating around Australia. We headed to Woden with a group of five kids and two adults, and when the beautiful plates of fruit, churros, meringues and hot melted chocolate arrived it was love at first bite – the kids almost dove into their chocolate pots in their eagerness to start.  I was an immediate fan of the funky mix of paintings, takeaway offerings such as dark-chocolate coated cherries and spicy Aztec hot chocolate and the beautifully delicate meringues.  Named after the monk who, legend has it, made it his life’s mission to take hot chocolate to the Spanish people – San Curro has certainly been embraced by the Australian people, of all ages.

It was no doubt a good idea that an entire day separated our chocolate breakfast and our trampolining experience (for those that wanted to trampoline anyway, which didn’t include me!)  Flip Out is no small endeavor – it’s an entire warehouse filled with trampolines, with three distinct areas, one where smaller kids can bounce without fear of being trampled by a horde or rampaging teenagers; two runway trampolines where you can bounce yourself straight into a pit of foam tubes, and the largest of the sets where it’s a free for all on a massive collection of trampolines which also go up the sides of the walls.  It’s a perfect way to exercise kids in bad weather, that’s for sure, and it’s been so successful that booking is essential.

We’d saved our snow experience up until the last day when the weather was supposed to be at its best, and we were glad we did because it was a perfect day – cold, crisp and sunny.  The previous days cold snap meant there was snow in Corin Forest which has a designated snow area, toboganning and when it’s not wet a 1.2km Alpine sled ride.  It’s not super-cheap at $15 entry fee into the snow area and $5 for a toboggan but it’s much easier than a five-hour round trip to Thredbo or Perisher, and much less extreme if you just want to tick the ‘We Saw Snow’ box on your outing sheet.  Only 40 minutes from the city, it’s a beautiful drive up through the hills and into the forest, where everything was glistening with white, and more than enough (just on the very of melting snow patches) to make the obligatory snowman once we’d spent several hours sliding on the toboggans – followed by the by now (you guessed it) obligatory hot chocolate at the café, which came complete with roaring fire and a beautiful wide verandah.  Once we’d left the actual park, we found a track not far away which took us into the woods where the kids made snowballs, had snow fights and were determined to complete Frosty, even though he was not the largest snowman I’ve ever seen.

Our snow day was our last day in Canberra and we were sad to go, but we had a date with some friends in their house at Robertson in the Southern Highlands on the way back, where we had a Christmas in July experience at the Fountaindale Grand Manor House, full of Christmas kitsch, nativity scenes and Devonshire teas, with plastic Christmas trees scattered through the spacious grounds and the occasional screeching sound of a peacock.  (It was at my friend’s house that I discovered the joy of our Holden Malibu’s camera when I was reversing up their normally hard-to-negotiate driveway, and discovered how easy it was.)

At Robertson it was a balmy three degrees as we started our journey back home, shedding layers as we went, but as we headed back towards Byron Bay and a more temperate winter climate, I have to admit to a twinge of sadness that we were leaving behind the crisp cool winter weather, our daily hot chocolates and, of course, the snow.

The car for our Canberra trip was provided by (




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