Culture

5 Awesome Things To Do In Canberra This Summer

Brought to you by Versailles - Treasures from the Palace

Versailles: Treasures from the Palace is a once in a lifetime chance to see and experience here in Australia a mesmerising period in French history, exclusive to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Summer in Canberra: it’s hot, dry and many locals skip out for a trip to Bateman’s Bay. That said, there are still plenty of things to do beyond haunting the local library and eating your weight in icy poles so, as the thermometer creeps up, we’ve picked five of the best.

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Spend an afternoon in Versailles

This year’s summer blockbuster, Versailles: Treasures from the Palace, is an astonishing piece of exhibition design on behalf of the NGA. By far the largest number of works to ever leave Versailles – over 130, in all – it manages to impart a full sense of the decadence, sumptuousness, and political importance of the palaces and gardens of historical Versailles. The exhibition takes up after the Sun King, Louis XIV, compelled his court to reside in the former hunting lodge, overhauling it as a seat of aristocratic power in his bid to abolish feudalism, and this sense of establishing power through demonstrations of wealth is fully apparent in the works on display.

These include incredibly intricate, six-foot tapestries from the Gobelins factory; an intricately carved and gilded barometer the size of a small child; many, many paintings attesting to the fabulous sophistication of the French court; and samples of the parquetry designed so that the floors of Versailles would be as elaborate as its walls, doors, and sconces. Less intricate, but more fascinating, are fountain nozzles and spouts, illustrating the immense hydraulic engineering needed to make water play on the palaces swampy grounds. The immense amount of work dedicated to upkeep of the palace is paid tribute to in a cinema-sized projection of contemporary workers lovingly maintaining the site. Oh, and the exhibition has its own commissioned perfume, from French master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, so that even the smell of the palace comes alive.

Photo: Palace of Versailles/National Gallery of Australia

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Visit a bookshop

If your tastes run more to the literary, Canberra’s bookshops are alive with activity over the summer. Stalwart Beyond Q has just run its inaugural Jólabókaflóð celebration day, in honour of an Icelandic tradition that translates roughly as a ‘book flood’, whereby everyone exchanges the gift of a book on Christmas Eve and spends the night reading. Though the event itself has been and gone, there is still plenty of time to pick up a Jólabókaflóð treat, and the staff are knowledgeable about local literature if you fancy a Canberra-based author in somebody’s stocking. Elsewhere, Muse offers an idiosyncratic but excellent selection, and includes a café and bar, where you can settle in with your new purchase and a glass of wine.

Photo: Muse Bookstore Cafe/Supplied

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Spin some vinyl with strangers

When the weather gets too hot, the National Film and Sound Archive is a godsend, providing an after-hours alternative to cinemas and bars. On the first Friday of every month, the NFSA invites sound curators and audience members to either bring an album or choose one from the archive’s huge collection, sharing with the audience what makes their choice of track special and then settling in for a listening party.  If you miss it, don’t worry; there is something on every Friday evening over summer, with drinks, DJs and screenings in the NFSA courtyard from 5.30pm, as well as regularly programmed cinema nights.

Photo: National Film & Sound Archive/Supplied

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Swim in Lake Burley Griffin

The lake at Canberra’s heart presents a strong temptation on scorching days, and while most of its shore is inaccessible, there are a few places where it’s possible to swim. The Black Mountain peninsula is probably the most popular, with plenty of rowing, kayaking and sailing as well as a separate swim area. If accessibility isn’t an issue, you can also drive down to plenty of nooks along the banks of Canberra’s river systems, some of which, like Uriarra Crossing, are open to dogs. Casuarina Sands and Cotter’s Bend both offer facilities including toilets and barbecues so that you can make a day of it, lounging in the shade of gum trees and dipping into the water by turns.

Photo: Visit Canberra/Supplied

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Stay at the Jamala Wildlife Lodge

Finally, if you’d rather be in Kenya than in Canberra, you can book a stay at the Jamala Wildlife Lodge. Profits from the lodge directly support the zoo’s conservation efforts, which have focussed heavily on breeding programs for the Sumatran Tiger and Malayan Sun Bear; a stay is a Marie-Antoinette-level extravagance, but still more affordable (and environmentally friendly) than a long-haul flight to Nairobi.

Guests can choose from a number of living configurations, including a treehouse overlooking a herd of giraffes, one of whom, Humbehkali, likes to be fed from the balcony. (All feeding is supervised, and guests abide by strict rules around animal interactions.) The grounds include a dining room for communal dinners ,with a pan-African menu and an animal in residence. If you’re not comfortable taking a bath half a metre from a brown bear, the Jungle Bungalows may not be for you; otherwise, enjoy the proximity to a host of creatures who are just as fascinated by you as you are by them, knowing that your stay is helping to inch several species slowly closer to sustainable populations.

(Lead image: Visit Canberra)

Not only does Canberra offer plenty to do over summer, it’s home to many of our national institutions that host blockbuster events and exhibitions that won’t be seen anywhere else. Versailles – Treasures from the Palace is exclusive to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until the 17th of April, 2017. Find out more here.