Canberra 2023

Canberra: Heading north

(Not much transport content here – check the next post for that!)

I’ve just come back from a road trip to Canberra.

Why Canberra? My partner M wanted to see the Cressida Campbell exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. And I was keen to see the new(ish) light rail line.

Why by road? Mostly so we could include visits to some of M’s family, some on a farm not accessible any other way.

We left Melbourne last Wednesday heading up the Hume Freeway. Thanks to lots of upgrades over decades, there’s lots of traffic – passenger and freight. By about Seymour it thinned out a bit and the drizzily Melbourne weather disappeared too, replaced by blue skies.

Turning off the freeway at Wangaratta, we headed to Beechworth for a lunch stop. The town was crowded with (more) tourists. There was a queue out the door at the bakery, but a nearby pie shop wasn’t so bad, so we ate there.

The heritage buildings are lovely – despite the amount of intruding car traffic, and it was nice to stretch the legs and walk around.

Beechworth post office

Then on to Yackandandah where we had a room at the motel in the town. It’s hidden in plain sight – a small driveway in amongst the shops – but the central location was terrific, making it easy to explore on foot.

The motel manager mentioned that Yack (as the locals know it) has two pubs: they have official names, but everyone knows them as the Bottom Pub and the Top Pub, based on their locations along the street.

We headed out of town to visit the relatives on a dairy farm, which was very entertaining, as on that day they had a cacophony of dogs present – some resident dogs, some visiting dogs.

The dogs ran around following us and each other, until one found a ball, and presented it to the humans to throw. But one impatient dog grabbed it first and ran away with it, the others chasing. Amusing chaos.

Dinner was at a Thai restaurant, where I ate way too much food.

Morning rush hour in Yackandandah

On Thursday, a quick (and small!) breakfast at the Top Pub where we watched as a bloke rode into town on a horse to buy a newspaper. Then we explored behind the main street, as I wanted to track down the Molyneux mineral springs, and a house related to my stepfather’s family – which we successfully found.

Then we headed north to Albury for visit with more family.

After that we got back onto the Hume Freeway. At some point we passed a Freedom Convoy, presumably making their way to Canberra to protest… something about freedom.

It seems they later filmed themselves (of course) harassing police for daring to ask them about their fake number plates and home-made identification under the “lore of morality”.

I wonder who the sovereign citizens think pays for the roads they’re driving on?

Next stop for us was Gundagai, where we didn’t find a shack or a track winding back, but instead found a bakery where due to the late hour for lunch, we bought the very last pie.

We also made a stop at the Dog on the Tucker Box. I have a photo of my aunt in a (very well dressed) tour group here, probably in the late 1940s. The gift shop and the fountain weren’t there at the time.

My aunt at the Dog On The Tucker Box, Gundagai, probably late 1940s - vs the same location in 2022

We refuelled in Yass (alas, missing out on seeing the legendary McDonalds sign) then headed into Canberra, where – just as I needed it – the phone decided the battery was too low, and my Google Maps directions stopped.

The problem with the Google Maps app on long drives is it leaves the phone display on as you drive for hours along the freeway, burning up battery for when you actually need it.

Anyway, we found the hotel, the Kurrajong, a heritage building close to Parliament and some of the institutions we planned to visit, then elected to get dinner at a nearby kebab place and eat on the hotel room balcony, which was very relaxing on a warm evening.

Got anything for me? Dinner on the balcony at the Hotel Kurrajong, Canberra
Any food for me?

Periodically a souped-up car would roar down the road. A few of them had been on the freeway too, and we realised we’d arrived in Canberra just in time for Summernats.

This is definitely not my thing, and we could only be thankful that the hotel was booked in Barton south of the lake, not Braddon where the event was being held.

An evening walk took us past both new and old Parliament Houses. It had been warm during the day, but got quite cool after the sun went down.

Looking towards Parliament House, Canberra, across the State Circuit and Federation Mall

Between the two Houses is the Federation Mall, which amazingly has a multi-lane expressway (State Circuit aka the A23) through the middle of it. Weird urban design, but it seems like a lot of the Parliamentary zone is like that. Designed more for cars than people.

I don’t know if this was all part of Walter Burley Griffin’s grand design for the area, but I’m not sure it’s as good as it could be.

This wasn’t the only issue from a pedestrian perspective. I found some locations had very narrow footpaths, with massive nature strips full of plants, leaving very little walking space. And crossing some duplicated roads such as Kings Avenue, the traffic lights made you wait twice.

Close to Old Parliament House was a classic old Canberra bus shelter. This one doesn’t seem to be in use, but it was still nice to see it. Perhaps it was appropriate that the bus stops near the current Parliament House were of a newer design.

Classic Canberra bus shelter, near Old Parliament House
Bus stop near Parliament House, Canberra

On Friday we found breakfast at a nearby cafe, then headed to the National Gallery of Australia for the exhibition.

It was pretty crowded in parts, and being COVID-cautious, we opted for masks.

Works by Cressida Campbell at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

After lunch, I headed off to check out some of Canberra’s public transport network… which will be the subject of the next post.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

12 replies on “Canberra: Heading north”

Seasons grettings to you and your family. Solving the issue of power hungry Google Maps is simple, and very useful once you how, very useful. There’s an offline option. Check out

Can’t wait to see your next post re Canberra Light Rail. I rode it for the first time on Boxing Day. Both the rolling stock and stops were spotlessly clean and not vandalised, nor did it appear they ever had been. Great running speed and good patronage on the up, especially at 0805 on a public holiday.

“we watched as a bloke rode into town on a horse to buy a newspaper” – what a classic. Glad you can still see this in Australia.
A nice road trip article, thank you.

The simplest answer to Google Maps chewing up your battery is to plug your charging cable into the car USB port or a USB charger in the cigarette lighter.

@AbleT, good stuff. I noticed a few signs up on homes that indicated a strong climate action stance among residents in Yackandandah.

@Andrew P, I thought the offline option was mainly about avoiding issues when travelling into areas without mobile coverage?

@Ross, I might need to get a USB double adapter… I’ve got a dash cam plugged into the cigarette lighter.

@moonfriend, thanks for that – the Google Help article says that too. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to continue to speak the directions once I turned off the screen. Maybe it’s an iOS issue.

Not sure about Android phones, but if you have an iPhone you can leave Google Maps running and turn the display off (by pressing the Right Side button) and it will happily keep the audio prompts going.

While the Griffins’ original design did incorporate wide boulevardes under the influence of the Garden City movement, there were supposed to be trams, and the roundabout-mad, pedestrian-hostile aspects of the place are due to a 1960s rebuild. This was done according to a design by British (originally South African) architect William Holford. In the 1960s he also perpetrated Paternoster Square in London, which replaced the former publishing district that had been obliterated by wartime bombing, and was probably the most hated development in London. It was torn down to the general glee of Londoners around 20 years ago. According to Wikipedia, he even proposed a car-oriented redevelopment of Piccadilly Circus in central London. Menzies could not have found anyone worse.

The ACT government has published plans to restore a long stretch of Northbourne Avenue to something resembling the Griffins’ original design, in association with the next stage of the tram project. It will look rather like our St. Kilda Rd. One of the roundabout loops at the south end will be removed.

One legacy of the car-centric era in Canberra’s development is Parkes Way, the almost-motorway that runs along the north shore of the Lake and blocks it from the city. This is going to be very hard to get rid of, given it is the only east–west link in the ACT’s motorway network. About the only way I can think of is a tunnel, which they obviously cannot afford with their population base.

Canberra suffers from having a lot of unplanned (by the ACT government) exurbs in surrounding NSW towns, from which people commute stupid distances by car, generating traffic within central Canberra.

If I turn the screen off, the Google lady continues to speak to me. Android.

I live in the inner city but heavy and congested doesn’t annoy me half as much as heavy traffic in small towns. The noise seems to amplified in someway and I am much more cautious when crossing a road.

‘Lore of morality’, very strange but not as strange as the freedom protestors who are free and can travel about freely, within the law. I am pleased I did not know of this protest, meaning there is little media interest in their nonsense.

Yack is a nice town. I recall the massive gutters in the main street.

The late former Prime Minister Ben Chifley used to stay at the Kurrajong Hotel in preference to The Lodge.

I only recently heard about the old Canberra bus shelters. Maybe you tweeted about them. They are quite something and should be preserved, especially as they still look quite practical.

I have some memory that one of the guys who designed the roads in CBR was active in ‘defending’ them from changes that would see them more pedestrian and otherwise human-friendly. But alas, I cannot remember his name.

If you need a USB charger for you car, you should check out the RAVPower four port charger. Sometimes two ports isn’t enough, especially if you have passengers.

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