Located within New South Wales, some 300 km (185 miles) southwest of Sydney, Canberra is Australia's capital and its political heartland. The city was planned in 1908 as the new seat of federal parliament to end rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. The surrounding Australian Capital Territory features bush and mountain terrain.
Canberra was once little more than a sheep station on the edge of the Molonglo River. American architect Walter Burley Griffin won an international competition to design the city. He envisaged a spacious, low-level, modern city, with its major buildings centered on the focal point of Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra (its name is based on an Aboriginal word meaning "meeting place") is a city of contradictions. It consists of more than just politics, diplomacy and monuments. Lacking the traffic and skyscrapers of Australia's other main cities, it has a serenity and country charm suited to strolling around the lake, bush driving and picnicking.
Canberra is the national capital and the centre of political and administrative power in Australia, yet it is also a rural city, ringed by gum trees, with the occasional kangaroo seen hopping down its suburban streets. The city holds the majority of the nation's political, literary and artistic treasures, and contains important national institutions such as the High Court of Australia, the Australian National University and the Australian War Memorial, but it has a population of fewer than 500,000. These contradictions are the essence of the city's attraction. Canberra's hidden delights include Manuka's elegant cafés, excellent local wines and sophisticated restaurants. Special events include the annual spring flower festival, Floriade, which turns the north shore of the lake into a blaze of colour, and the spectacular hot-air ballooning festival in April.
Outside the city lie the region's natural attractions. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is home to wild kangaroos, wallabies, emus, koalas and platypuses. The Murrumbidgee River is excellent for canoeing, and the wild Namadgi National Park has bush camping, Aboriginal art sites, alpine snow gums.
Central Canberra lies around Lake Burley Griffin, framed by the city's four hills - Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie to the north and Capital Hill and Red Hill to the south. Most of Canberra's main sights are accessible from the lake. Scattered throughout the northern suburbs are other places of interest such as the Australian Institute of Sport. To the south lies the wilderness and wildlife of Namadgi National Park.
Many of the sights around Lake Burley Griffin are within walking distance of each other. The Canberra Explorer red bus also travels between attractions. The city center's layout can make driving difficult, but to explore the bush suburbs a car is essential as there is no suburban train system. Most of the sights in ACT are within half an hour's drive of the city.