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The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was created as a compromise: both Sydney and Melbourne thought that they should be Australia's capital city and the authorities decided that the only answer was to create a new city, within its own territory, between the two rivals. ACT is landlocked in the mountainous state of southeastern New South Wales; Sydney is 190 miles (306km) to the northwest. The territory is tiny by Australian standards: it is 50 miles (80km) from north to south and about 20 miles (30km) wide.
The capital city, Canberra, and its surrounding suburbs are in the northeast of the territory and surrounded by the artificial Lake Burley Griffin. The parliament and other government buildings are located to the south of the lake and to the north is Civic, the name for the city's central business district, where visitors will also find the university and the main shopping and nightlife streets. Civic is a lively district and fun to explore for travellers, but Canberra seldom features prominently on the itineraries of foreign tourists, despite being the capital. Two or three days in Canberra will be sufficient for most travellers, but luckily many wonders await just beyond.
The Namadgi National Park occupies the whole southwestern area of the Territory, providing a great opportunity to explore some of Australia's natural abundance for visitors to Canberra. Many travellers visit ACT as a daytrip from Sydney, and Canberra is a popular weekend getaway for Australians.
Opened to the public in 1979, Cockington Green at Gold Creek Village is an award-winning display of miniature buildings and landscaped gardens and one of Canberra's best-loved attractions. The park was created by Doug and Brenda Cockington and has been a family-run business ever since. The family make sure to keep the park in perfect condition, adding new attractions whenever possible. As well as the wonderful miniature displays and breath-taking gardens, there is a Heritage Rose Walk, a maze, several cafés, a barbecue, picnic and playground areas, and a steam train ride that circles the grounds. A fairly recent addition, created with funding from the Sultanate of Oman, is a small-scale replica of Oman's Jabrin Fort. Other international small-scale replicas include one of Israel's Masada Northern Palace, and a large collection of great historical Australian homes.
Located on the south shore of the lake, the National Gallery has the best collection of art in the country. The Australian collection ranges from traditional Aboriginal art through to 20th-century works by Tom Roberts, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker. Aboriginal works include bark paintings from Arnhem Land, burial poles from the Tiwi people and printed fabrics from central Australia. A permanent feature is The Aboriginal Memorial (1987-88), an installation of 200 painted hollow log coffins by the artists of Ramingining in Arnhem Land. The Memorial, a collaborative work involving 43 artists, is dedicated to all indigenous Australians who have lost their lives defending their country since European settlement.
There's also plenty of foreign art from all eras, and many important international exhibitions are featured in Canberra on their way around the world. The collection is not confined to paintings: sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, furniture, ceramics, fashion, textiles and silverware are all on display.
Consistently voted Canberra's premier tourist attraction, the Australian War Memorial is not only a fitting tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in service of their country, but also a fascinating, highly-informative museum that seeks to educate modern Australians about the conflicts that have blighted their country's past. Housing an in-depth exhibition for every war Australia has ever been involved in, and boasting passionate, knowledgeable tour guides, visitors are strongly advised to set aside at least half a day to do the museum justice. The Australian War Memorial is a must-see for anyone seeking a sobering, humanising reminder of how dearly war can cost a nation, and it is a good introduction to the country's history for foreigners. Entrance to the Memorial is free, and there are free tours conducted daily by knowledgeable volunteers.
On average, Canberra has seven hours of sunshine a day all year round, which, together with a low rainfall average, makes this a fine holiday destination year-round. The city enjoys an oceanic climate, with the chance of rain in any month, but plenty of sun. Summer weather in Canberra is generally hot and fairly dry with mild easterly and northwesterly winds prevailing. Nights become cooler when autumn sets in, and winter is characterised by the arrival of numerous cold fronts. Temperatures are lower in winter, but the sun still shines most of the time. In summer, between December and February, temperatures average between 52°F (11°C) and 82°F (28°C); and in winter, between June and August, temperatures average between 33°F (1°C) and 55°F (13°C).
The Capital Territory experiences warm summers and cold winters, often with light snowfalls. It rains throughout the year, especially in the mountains, and strong winds are common. Canberra enjoys an oceanic climate, with fairly mild summers and frosty winters. In summer, peaking between December and February, temperatures average between 52°F (11°C) and 82°F (28°C); and in winter, between June and August, temperatures average between 33°F (1°C) and 55°F (13°C).
Buses are the main public transport option in Canberra and the Action bus company's routes cover most tourist attractions from four town centre bus interchanges: Civic, Woden, Tuggeranong and Belconnen. Passengers can either pay cash for their fares or use the prepaid MyWay card.
Cycling is also a popular means of transport in Canberra and there is an extensive network of bicycle paths around the city. Taxi ranks are available in most major areas of the city and, when taxis cannot be found on the street, they can be ordered by phone. The light rail system, Canberra Metro, provides a quick, direct way to move between Civic and Gungahlin.
Canberra is a well-organised city with top-class amenities, lots of leisure opportunities and some brilliant cultural sightseeing options. Sites like the Australian War Museum, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Museum of Australia are proud Australian cultural landmarks and well deserving of the time of travellers. But these stately attractions aside, Canberra is also a fun city for families travelling with kids, offering attractions like the National Zoo and Aquarium, Cockington Green, Questacon and the Australian Railway Historical Society, where old-fashioned steam train rides can be enjoyed.
Special tourist discount deals are available, including 3infun Canberra which provides one ticket to visit three of the city's most popular attractions: the Australian Institute of Sport, Cockington Green, and Questacon - The National Science and Technology Centre. If purchased online this ticket gives something like a 25 percent discount.
Canberra's city centre is relatively compact and easy to get around for visitors, with many of the top attractions close together. Possibly the best way to see the city of Canberra is on a hot air balloon ride, and those who happen to be visiting in autumn shouldn't miss out on the grand extravaganza of Canberra's Fiesta, during which dozens of colourful hot air balloons rise gently into the early morning air from the lawns in front of Canberra's Old Parliament House. Canberra has a busy events calendar and tourist numbers peak during popular events like the Fiesta and the spring festival of Floriade.
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