Canberra may be Australia’s seat of politics but, over a weekend stay, JULIE JONES discovers the many accessible family activities in Canberra and well-disguised educational opportunities.
Catering to everyone on a family holiday can be tricky, and we have the additional need of finding wheelchair accessible accommodation and activities. I’m happy to say that Canberra delivered on all fronts. Although within easy reach of Sydney for a weekend visit, there was so much to do we wished we could stay for a week.
Accessible, family-friendly accommodation
With only two days to explore Canberra we chose centrally-located accommodation at the Novotel Canberra, in the heart of the city and within easy reach of all the main attractions. The hotel is family friendly with kids menus, an indoor pool and a small play area for young children, and our two inter-connecting rooms – one was an accessible room and the other a regular hotel room – had all of the facilities we needed, like a wheelchair accessible bathroom, as well as plenty of space to spread out.
The cost of travelling as a family adds up so any inclusions in an accommodation package are always welcome! Novotel Canberra’s 3infun Family Package includes a buffet breakfast daily and a family pass to three of Canberra’s most popular attractions including Questacon, Cockington Green Gardens and the Australian Institute of Sport.
Before heading out for the day the kids loved making their own juice and using the pancake machine at the Novotel’s buffet breakfast. Then they were raring to go, and well-fuelled for their jam-packed day.
Australian Institute of Sport (AIS)
I felt a bit of a fraud doing the AIS tour. I don’t have an athletic bone in my body and only take an interest in sport when the Olympics roll around every four years. So it was surprising that I loved the AIS. Our guide for the morning was Reece, an athlete training in track and field for a future Olympics, and the first stop on our tour was an interactive experience that was a hit with kids and adults alike. We tried out lots of activities including wheelchair basketball, soccer, bike riding and rowing.
With the Olympics so close it was lovely to be able to show the kids real Olympic medals, an Olympic torch, team uniforms and photos from previous games.
We spent the rest of the tour learning about the training routines of the athletes, including the Paralympians, and at the training facilities we were lucky enough to see male gymnasts practising their routines, and other athletes working out in the gym. For any budding athlete it’s a good insight into the dedication and work that goes into becoming an elite athlete. For the rest of us, it’s a reminder of why we never became one!
Cockington Green Gardens – Miniature Fun
We’ve visited Cockington Green many times so there was an element of sentimentality to seeing the miniature village and gardens again. We watched our old home movies before our trip and I was reminded just how quickly kids grow! It also reinforced the ways in which travel bonds families, through shared experiences and memories.
Cockington Green is set on just over 2ha and the displays are all at perfect pram and wheelchair height. Children excitedly rush from one display to the next and there is so much detail to be appreciated in the small buildings that set a scene of village life, with quirky touches including a dog running off with sausages from the butcher shop, Stig from Top Gear hiding, and someone performing CPR in the street! The kids always love the interactive displays where they can guide the trains or make the windmills move. An absolute must is a ride on the steam train – not only is it fun but it gives a great view of the displays – followed by a stop at the café, because the home-made scones are divine.
We saved our favourite attraction for our last day. Questacon’s aim is to make science fun for all and judging by the anticipation around our visit, they succeeded. Questacon encourages hands-on experiments and play and it’s wonderful to see the interaction between parents and kids as they explore the science behind the displays. We caught the lift to the top and worked our way down, stopping at each level.
The earthquake exhibit has had a makeover since our last visit. We were asked to use blocks to create a building that we thought could withstand an earthquake, and our efforts were then put to the test with a simulated earthquake! As many of them came crashing down, we were given the opportunity to learn from our building’s weaknesses and try again.
Mini Q is an area of Questacon designed for children 0-6 years where little ones are encouraged to explore and use their imaginations in the different spaces – from the water play area (my personal favourite!) to role playing fun in engaging activities across various settings including a bakery and a vet surgery! Mini Q is very popular and at peak times visitor numbers are limited. Get there at opening to ensure you don’t miss out.
The Australian War Memorial
Although we didn’t have time to look inside the War Memorial we visited at closing time for a special ceremony. Each day at 4.55pm the Last Post Ceremony starts with the singing of the Australian National Anthem, a laying of wreaths and the story of one of the 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war. It is moving and a wonderful way of connecting children to the sacrifices made by our service men and women.
Novotel Canberra was the perfect base for our weekend adventure. All areas of the hotel are wheelchair accessible and staff went out of their way to ensure we were comfortable.
All the attractions in the 3infun pass are also wheelchair accessible and suitable for families travelling with a pram.
Canberra is home to a popular inclusive and accessible playground, aptly named Boundless. With ramp access to the main play equipment, sand diggers that can be used by wheelchair users, and an accessible boat, the playground’s inclusive elements mean that no one misses out.
Canberra is truly a wonderful family-friendly and accessible destination but be warned, there is so much to do you’ll wish you had stayed longer.
TIP: The Old Bus Depot markets are on 10-4pm every Sunday. The market is a mix of hand made items, gourmet foods and live entertainment. The bagels are the best.
Julie Jones is the creator of Have Wheelchair Will Travel, where she combines her skills as an ex-travel consultant with her life and experiences as a mother to her daughter AJ and son BJ, who has cerebral palsy.