My trip to Canberra was complimentary, with all expenses paid. I was invited to attend by Porter Novelli PR. I did however, pay for my breakfast at Urban Pantry.
Our last day in Canberra. So soon? Really?
After a solid night of sleep, I woke up a little bit earlier just to have time to have my cup of tea on the little balcony alcove at EAST Hotel. Seriously. When I move out, I need one of these. That would be nice.
I met Ashleigh and Janelle early in the lobby and we strolled on over to Manuka, as they both were on the hunt for a good coffee and refused to potentially have another burnt coffee from Ox, like the day before.
Manuka is such a cute area, sort of like an outdoor pedestrian mall, cafes rolled out onto the streets, with kind of an almost European vibe.
We wound up at Urban Pantry, and as the sun was shining, the sky blue, we plopped ourselves down on one of the outdoor tables.
Coffees were put down. Sips were taken. Happy sighs were had.
Whilst I will not fully understand what a cup of coffee does to one first thing in the morning, especially a good cup, I was still brimming with enthusiasm for my soy chai latte. The first in a good couple of days. Creamy and sweet, what more could you ask for?
I was quite excited to see gluten free fruit toast on the menu, I don't think I have ever seen it on a menu in a cafe in Melbourne! Toasted golden, fresh and zingy with a bit of marmalade, it was nice to have something a little different to the usual! For me at least! The girls were also suitably impressed with their meal choices.
We had to quickly scoff down our food and then make our way back to EAST hotel, to get on the bus to go to the Australian National Botanical Gardens.
Our buses winded their ways up a narrow road, flanked with nothing but trees, I was half worried we wouldn't make it there! Fortunately we did, and we were greeted with neatly packed picnic boxes, absolutely bursting with goodies, the youth orchestra from Canberra providing a little background music, picnic rugs and of course, tea and coffee stations.
Totally a must. Especially for those who might have gone to check out Canberra's night life the night before...
Our picnic boxes included a vast assortment of savouries, and savouries, which incorporated some of the flavours and native flora, to keep in theme with our surroundings. Lovely bush tomatoes (which made for a delicious salsa), wild limes and lemon myrtle and davidson plums (Dean loved the jam) were just a few of the many flavours we encountered.
It was the perfect way to start our third day, after our massive itinerary the day before, relaxing in the gardens surrounded by so much native flora (the largest collection in the world I think), basking in the sunlight.
A couple of speeches were had, including one about Canberra's centenary next year, where they will be holding events throughout the whole year to celebrate. How often do you turn 100 after all? You may as well party all year!
Afterwards, we had the option for a few short tours, on different areas of the park. I opted to go check out the orchid collection, as my mother absolutely loves orchids.
The tours were conducted by volunteers, who give their time to look after all the plants, which I think is wonderful. Our guide was an American, who had married an Australian and now retired, spends a lot of his time tending to the orchids and educating others about them. Did you know that orchids are the second largest group of flowers in the world?
The gardens are huge, and although I would have liked more time to explore, snap and go on a few more tours, we had to hustle back to the buses to move on to the next part of our itinerary. Not before we checked out the very misty undergrowth though. Think we were all a bit mystified by this part of the gardens...yes pun mildly intended. I'm sorry!
The food and wine track were again split into two groups, and sent off to different wineries to meet up with winemakers and check out more of the wines that the Canberra region had to offer.
The group I was with pulled up at Jeir Creek, in Murrumbateman. Stepping out of the bus, it was hard to believe how much the scenery changed in 40 minutes! Lands that extended out to hills, far far away and deep blue skies, crisscrossed with clouds.
We were taken on a tour around Jeir Creek and given a bit of a history lesson and a lesson in wine production as well. Did you know the Canberra district has been making wines since the 1800's? Surprising people don't know more about them if they've been around that long!
Greg Gallagher, with a smile and a bushy moustache, was on hand to give us our first glass of wine as we popped around to the barrel hall. He generously wielded two of his sparkling wines, the Gallagher 2007 Blanc de Blanc, a crisp and quite dry bubbly, and the NV Sparkling Duet, which I found dangerously delicious with a full vibrant apple fruit flavour.
Did you know that whilst the alcohol in beer and scotch takes 20 minutes to get to your bloodstream, champagne just takes a minute and a half! No wonder it goes straight to the head! And funnily enough, whilst champagne is well known as a French drink, a lot of the first sparkling wines were actually made in England, as they had better bottles and since they were trading with the Portuguese, better corks as well. Bit of trivia!
We then went back to the wine tasting room where we were introduced to the Canberra District Centenary wines, a collaboration between the wineries in the Canberra district to produce this limited edition range of wines, to celebrate Canberra's Centenary.
They chose 3 wines, that are very distinctive of the district, a riesling, shiraz and a sparkling wine, the riesling and the shiraz being made from a 2008 vintage. I did try them all. I totally forgot to take notes. I blame all the vino. Allll the vino.
We also then got to try some of Ken Helm's rieslings. Ken had been entertaining us all afternoon with his vast knowledge…of just about everything! His mind must be a steel trap! You get him talking about one thing, he'd then roll it on to relate to a different topic and another one and another one after that...he was quite eager to practice his Chinese on me when he heard I was Chinese-Malaysian....ah, what a let down I was!
Ken was a gentleman, just casually showing us the coolest way to uncap a screw top wine bottle…
He also produces some of the most gorgeous rieslings I had come across (Canberra rieslings have been winning awards for years apparently…), he has regularly been a guest of the German government and is flown over to judge the rieslings over there!
Although the 2011 Helm classic dry riesling was a treat, I think we all fell in love with the half dry riesling, which was smooth with a bit more richness to it, just yummy and fruity. I'm still quite tempted to get some sent over to me…
A couple more bottles of wine later (between the group of course), and we were all too soon put back on to the bus to prepare to go home. How could you after such an amazing weekend? I think I needed a holiday to get over the holiday! And yes I did actually manage to check in 6 bottles of wine home…(I had to carry one on board with me!)
During and post Human Brochure, it has been interesting to see what people have thought about the campaign and Canberra as well, and so I thought I would wrap up with a couple of thoughts about our whole weekend.
I am fully aware that others who visit Canberra will not have the same trip as us. We were chauffeured everywhere, which would be one issue for people visiting, it doesn't take long to get around, but things are pretty well spread apart. And really, having to drive to a winery is not as fun as being carted around so you can indulge yourself silly! Money, obviously, also plays a big factor and not having to pay for our trip and the activities we did also make it that more enjoyable.
However, at least on the food and wine track, not counting food, a lot of the things we got to see and tours that we went on, are actually free to the general public as well i.e the Australian National Gallery has free tours a few times a day, and the Australian Botanical Gardens and Australian War Memorial do as well.
For me though, I think the biggest hurdle I would have with visiting Canberra again, is just the cost to get there and the cost to stay there. I know my flight to Canberra was around $500, and for a little bit more, if I got a sale ticket, I could fly off to Asia instead and stay in super cheap accommodation. Those from Perth definitely supported this view, and with flights so reasonable to Asia, why would they go to Canberra? I think that's one thing Australian tourism needs to look at in general really though…flying anywhere domestic can be so expensive these days!
However, I absolutely have come to love what Canberra had to offer over this weekend. And I really do mean that. I have actually been hunting around for wines from the region since I've been back in Melbourne (not too hurriedly though), and it's not come up with much. Or anything really. But I'm not looking too hard. Yet. I'm certainly now more keen to learn more about the region there, and more about wine in general, as I loved the conversations I had with the winemakers while there. And I may have also developed a mild crush on Ken.
I was also extremely impressed by the food we had, and have heard from word of mouth that the restaurant quality in Canberra is pretty high on a whole.
One thing that did also come up, was the revisit factor. If you had visited once, what would draw you back again? I think that sure, you've been to a museum once, you probably don't need to go back, but there are always visiting exhibitions and personally, even having had about 2 hours to go around the Australian National Gallery, I actually do want to go back and take in more, because the place is so damn big. And I do want to go back to find more wineries. So I think there is definitely some revisit factor to Canberra.
So was the Human Brochure a success? It seems like it's something that would be hard to gauge, and something that can only be tested with a bit of time, but I do find myself still going on about the wines in Canberra to my friends a couple of months later….