Leah Explores … Canberra

I’ll admit it, I haven’t met a single backpacker so far who has told me they have been to Canberra, or that it is on their list of places to go. Even some of the Australians I have met so far, haven’t even been. So after a week of job hunting and feeling a bit blah about everything, I decided to pack up Bertha (my backpack) and head off on a weekend getaway to the ACT and see what Canberra had to offer. I’m not going to lie, my expectations were pretty low, I mean I’d literally not heard a single thing about the place. But, I figured that as it is the capital city it had to have something going for it.

House of Parliament
House of Parliament

Stay:
There wasn’t a load of options when it came to hostel accommodation in Canberra, in fact when I checked Hostelworld, I had a grand total of two options. I went with the Canberra City YHA. It was higher rated, in a better location and I know I tend to have good experiences staying at YHA’s. I managed to get a weekend deal through the YHA website, which included two nights accommodations, daily breakfast and a full days bike hire for $99. The hostel was nice enough, and on the empty side, which made a nice change coming from Sydney.

Do:
I checked my Lonely Planet guide before heading out, and it was without a doubt the smallest section in the whole guide book. I also went looking for inspiration on Pintrest and good old Google, but there weren’t a load of blog posts or guides available. I was so pleasantly surprised by just how much there was to do and see in Canberra.
Big Red Explorer Bus
A bit like your average hop on/hop off bus, except on a smaller scale, and much more personal. Michael was my driver and he was amazing. It takes you to all the main galleries and museums that you would want to see, as well as around the embassies, and down ANZAC Parade. Canberra is definitely a city where you need wheels, 2 or 4, so this is the perfect solution. The only downside of it, is that you don’t get long between pick ups, so you have to race through places. If you have more time you can make your ticket into the two day pass and solve this problem.
War Memorial
Without a doubt, one of the best things I saw in Canberra. This isn’t just a memorial, it is also a museum dedicated to conflicts from WW1 onwards including recent conflicts. It is not only incredibly poignant but full of interesting information about smaller battles that happened within larger conflicts. As well as this there are planes and a Japanese submarine to look at too. If you go towards the end of the day you can be there to experience them play the Last Post, which I imagine would be extremely moving.
National Library of Australia
Honestly, I was a little disappointed by this, the NSW State Library is magnificent and this one just didn’t quite live up to my hopes. They had an exhibit all about 1968, and also a permanent exhibit both of which were interesting.
National Portrait Gallery
I really enjoyed looking around here. There was a great mixture of photography and more traditional painted portraits, all of which were stunning. Definitely recommend stopping in for a look around.
National Art Gallery
The main draw for me here was the Cartier exhibit, which I happily paid $28 to see. It was absolutely stunning, and being able to see the tiara that Duchess of Cambridge wore on her wedding day was amazing. Sadly, I didn’t have time to look around the rest of the gallery, as I had to hop back on the Big Red Explorer, but it was pretty huge and looked amazing, with a good mix of art.
Parliament House
This was my final stop of the day, and I really enjoyed being able to wander around and enjoy all the art that was displayed. I stopped off at the Queens Terrace Cafe for lunch, which I would highly recommend, not just for the food but also for the amazing views of the Old Parliament House, ANZAC Parade and the War Memorial.
Lake Burley Griffin
Hire a bike and cycle around this spectacular manmade lake that is at the heart of Canberra. Choose from the East, West or Central Basin, or if you’re feeling sporty, you can tackle all three. The views are stunning and it’s the perfect way to see the city from a new perspective.

War Memorial
War Memorial

Getting There:
I took the coach from Sydney with Murrays, and it was a painless three and a half hour journey straight through. I went with Murrays as it was cheaper than the train or flying. And the same price as Greyhound, except they had a lot more departure options daily. It cost me $38 each way. I was also really lucky both ways as they didn’t charge me extra for having a second bag – thanks guys!

Lake Burley Griffin

Top Tip:
Pack light
Don’t take a backpack when exploring the galleries and museums. It is a huge pain, as you have to leave it in the cloakroom every time, which is free of charge, but still annoying.
Time your visit
Visit when parliament isn’t in session. Accommodation and transport is much cheaper. As well as this, the city is a lot emptier and getting into restaurants is so much easier.
Have wheels
Either a car or a bike, or a ticket for the Big Red Explorer are needed to best experience Canberra. There are a lot of things to see just outside of the city, vineyards and mountains but you’ll need wheels to get there.

 

Leah Explores … Guadalest

Guadalest is a tiny village located up in the mountains with stunning views of the valley below. Not too far outside of Benidorm, Alicante and Denia it is the perfect place for a quick day trip. There isn’t too much to do there, it is a village after all, but the views more than make up for a lack of activities.

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There was a restaurant located at the bottom of the mountain, which we stopped for lunch at, but it is worth keeping in mind that there were more choices once you to up to to the top. As well as restaurants and cafes there were also abundant souvenir and gift shops, in the village square. As well as plenty of places to stop in and get an ice cream to cool off and reward yourself for climbing up to the top.

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We decided to do the self guided tour of the castle which only cost a few euro’s, and provided some beautiful views of the surrounding valley, as well as an insight into the history of the area. Plus it didn’t take too long, and provided some cool shade from the blistering heat.

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simply stunning
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the castle
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taking in the views

 

There was a car park at the bottom of the mountain, pretty much opposite the entrance of the village, which was convenient. The cost of parking was cheap too, around two euro’s.  Whilst I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest a trip to Guadalest, it is worth remembering that the walk up to the top of the town (where the killer views are) involves cobblestones and stairs, making it a bit of a challenge for anyone who struggles walking, is in a wheelchair, or small children in strollers.

views from the top
views from the top

Leah Explores … Fonts De L’Algar

The Algar Waterfalls or Fonts De L’Algar, are a protected wetland area located between Denia and Alicante, close to Benidorm in the Costa Blanca region of Spain. And trust me when I say this place is like a slice of paradise. There are trails that you can follow that lead you to the waterfalls as well as pools that you can swim in, and if you are feeling brave there are even places where you can jump into the crystal clear but cold water. Whilst there are some restaurants dotted around the area, it is worth remembering that you are still pretty isolated. If you want to spend the day there I would suggest taking some snacks or a picnic along too. Rather than me babble on I’m going to let the photo’s do the rest of the work, in convincing you whilst you should make the Fonts De L’Algar part of your itinerary if you are in the area.

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Top Tips:
Drive until you can’t drive any further
My friend Sarah told us about this and I am so happy that she did. As you turn off the main road and follow the signs to the waterfalls there are loads of places to park, but if you park in one of these earlier ones you are going to have to walk quite a distance to get to the entrance of the waterfalls. So, drive along the road until you cannot drive any further and then park up, at which point you’ll have a two minute walk as opposed to a ten minute walk uphill.

Take waterproof shoes
If you want to go into the water, you need to take waterproof footwear with you. The pools are filled with rocks and stones, and without appropriate footwear you’re in for some very sore feet. I noticed that some of the small shops near the car parks sold waterproof shoes but I’m sure you can get them a lot cheaper.

Getting There:
We drove there pretty easily, and there are sign posts leading you to the waterfalls from the main road. The streets are quite narrow, but I’ve definitely driven down worse in parts of rural England and even around the town of Denia. Another option would be taking a bus or taxi from the centre of the closest town of Callosa d’en Sarrià.

Leah Explores … Capilano Suspension Bridge

My dad was just here for a visit, and since he has been here many times before it’s getting harder and harder to find new things to do with him, it’s a challenge, but a fun one! On his final full day in the city I decided that since the weather wasn’t that great, we would embrace it and go full PNW. We headed over to North Vancouver to explore Capilano Suspension Bridge. I’d taken him to Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge (a free, smaller bridge just down the road) a few years ago, and always just skipped over Capilano as a bigger and more expensive version of something he’d already done. But I was running low on idea’s and this seemed like the perfect dad-friendly activity. I worked it out on the way over that I hadn’t been to Capilano since December 2011 when I went with some friends to see the Christmas lights, so it was about time for a do-over.

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Extreme nature ahead!

The Bridge: This is definitely the main attraction, a 450ft suspension bridge that hangs 230ft above the Capilano River, it is a sight to behold. The bridge itself had a definite wobble as you walk across it, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your feeling about heights, and suspension bridges. I would urge you to brave it because there is some cool stuff on the other side, plus how often do you get to walk across something like this?

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The bridge

Treetop Adventure: This might just be my favourite part of the park. It’s a route of seven smaller suspension bridges that lead you through the treetops, giving you an alternate perspective of the park. Walking through these bridges and lookouts makes me feel like I am in Neverland from the film Hook and I love it.

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Treetop exploring

Cliffwalk: The cliffwalk is a series of thin walkways that jut out from the side of the cliff face, leading you along the side of the cliff allowing you to gain stunning views of the river, trees and bridge.  It’s a great way to get a different perspective of the park, and the walk ways don’t wobble like the bridge does so it’s a great alternative for anyone not brave enough to face the bridge.

Other things: Make sure to check out the gift shop, which I was pleasantly surprised to see had a bit more than just the usual tourist junk in there, any gift shop with a counter full of fudge gets my vote. There is plenty of other stuff to check out in the park including totem poles, the story center that lays out the history of the bridge, a cafe,  and nature walks to name a few. If you want to take advantage of the stunning surroundings and get some killer photo’s its worth bearing in mind that it can get very busy with tourists, and selfie sticks. We went on a Wednesday afternoon in early November and it was nice and quiet. If you’re going to visit at a busier time of year, or  a weekend, I’d suggest going early in the morning. Also, if you are a BC resident make sure you take advantage of being able to switch your ticket for an annual resident pass which means that you can go back and visit as many times as you want in the year!

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Totem poles

Getting there:
Getting to Capilano is surprisingly easy. They offer a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver which picks up (and drops off) at four convenient spots around the downtown core and takes you straight to the entrance of the bridge. Check out the schedule on the website here for pick up times and locations. If you are feeling a bit more independent, you can also easily drive and park across the street, or take public transit.

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Admiring the Christmas Lights

This visit to Capilano has helped me out of a rut and to appreciate all that Vancouver has to offer. I honestly enjoyed my trip to Capilano much more than I thought I would. It had been a few years since I visited, and I remember the last time I went there that it felt a bit tame and on the family friendly side. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just didn’t see the point in paying $40 when I could go to Lynn Valley for free. That said, absence makes the heart grow fonder and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I will be making a conscious effort to go back and see the Christmas lights and throughout the year with my BC resident pass.

Head over to the Capilano Suspension Bridge website for more information on things to see and do at the park. Happy exploring!