Top 5 things you must do after moving to Canberra

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and move to Canberra? While most Australians will swear they will never move to Canberra (too cold!), every single Canberran will swear that they never want to live anywhere else, ever (it’s the lack of traffic, isn’t it?). But Canberra has its own unique way of functioning, with quirks and local lore that set it apart from every other major city in Australia. To help you with this we’ve put together a list of the top 5 things you have to do after moving to Australia’s capital city.

Buy a bike

If you’re an Australian student, or have even been researching Australia’s capital city, then you’re sure to know that Canberra was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin with a plan that focused on geometric patters: in particular, concentric circles. Due to this, once you get a hang of the city’s layout, finding your way around is easy (locals know the biggest obstacle isn’t the streets themselves: it’s getting around the artificial lake named after Walter Burley Griffin). Due to all of this however, Canberra has quite a number of well-planned and often-used bike paths throughout the city. A bike is a convenient, efficient and healthy way to navigate the city.

Buy yourself a bike when you move to Canberra
Buy yourself a bike when you move to Canberra (Photo by Danny Howe on Unsplash)

And we would also recommend getting a bike that you might like to use mountain biking, if that’s your thing. Canberra has several well-known mountain biking paths in the surrounding hills, so there’s heaps of ways to stay active throughout the year (Canberra is one of Australia’s most liveable capitals, due in part to the fact that shortened commutes mean more ‘me-time’ for the gym/staying active).

Dust your skis off

Due to its proximity to Perisher and Thredbo, Australia’s most well-known skiing fields, residents of Australia’s capital city can often be found perfecting their moves on the snow during the winter months. You can fly, drive, and bus to Thredbo, which is about two and a half hours away by car, making weekend trips ideal and easy to sort out.

If you’re new to skiing though — which may be the case for a large number of Australians, given the fact that the rest of the country rarely receives snow, if ever — then we recommend investing in some good classes and some warm clothes. The locals will be able to help you find the best deals, and it’s a great way to make some new friends.

Learn the slang and local quirks

With the prevalence of the Australian Public Service in Canberra, you’ll have to learn the local slang quickly — because the locals won’t wait for you to catch up, APS 1 (newbie), and will use every manner of acronym under the sun in everyday conversation. Just so you know: APS 1–6 are public service employee levels, EL1 and EL2 are executive employee levels in the public service, and SES 1, 2 and 3 are the most senior public servants. The local universities are ANU (Australian National University) and UC (University of Canberra), and the RMC (Royal Military College) is the military school. CIT (Canberra Institute of Technology) is the local TAFE-equivalent. DFAT and AFP are two of the more commonly abbreviated departments. Oh, and you’ll find that locals refer to the CBD as the ‘civic’, not the city.

Canberra 'Civic'
Learn the local slang (and quirks, because no one will wait for you to catch up!) (Photo by Aditya Joshi on Unsplash)

Residents in Canberra also tend to have a few quirks. This is includes an immense love of politics (polly gossip is more juicy than celebrity gossip, especially when there’s a chance you might know/get your coffee from the same place as some of the politicians you’re gossiping about), month-long holidays in January, and are divided on the ‘Skywhale‘. Expect all to be hot topics at dinner parties. Canberrans are also very into specific date-related events: you can’t plant tomatoes before Melbourne Cup Day (always the first Tuesday of November), planting sweet peas before St. Patrick’s Day is a no-no, and real Canberrans head ‘down the coast’ for Easter (but no more than a week before the event).

Also, soft, white fluff in the sky during spring is a clear indication that:

  1. Hayfever season has started! and,
  2. University students need to start studying in earnest

Figure out exactly how far it is to your local coffee shop (and your closest pub so you’re prepared for budget night)

There are a couple of things every Canberran has opinions on: politics, the local rugby team (The Canberra Raiders and Brumbies), and coffee. Often, you’ll find people discussing the first two over the latter, owing to the growing cafe culture in the city. No matter where you live, there is bound to be a good coffee shop close by.

Coffee Shop in Canberra
Your new favourite coffee shop may be hidden away — but it’s worth investing the time to hunt it down (Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash)

Of course, get ready for budget night. Every year, the locals enjoy the news by engaging in all manner of parties, drinking games, and legendary hangovers the next day. Word on the street is that you can pick the newbies by the fact that they are so chipper the next morning, so get excited to party budget night away (or drink your woes, whichever suits).

Become friends with your local mechanic

It’s a fact of life that if you live anywhere outside of the Canberra CBD, then you’ll need a car to get around. Despite the fact that you can drive from one side of the city to the other in minutes, Canberrans, on average, own more cars per person than any other Australians. Do not fret though — traffic in Canberra is well-known for being incredibly good (although parking spaces are a different matter) making getting to work, dinner or a show extremely easy. Canberra isn’t called the 20-minute city for no reason! If you’re heading to the beach, expect the drive to take between an hour and a half and just over two hours, depending on where you’re thinking of going. The new light rail is making Canberra far more accessible for public transport, but we still recommend a car.

Canberra mechanics
You’ll be going most places by car if you live a little outside of the city, so invest in you relationship with your local mechanic — it’ll pay off, we promise! (Photo by Alexander Serzhantov on Unsplash)

Due to all the driving you’ll be doing though, we suggest making friends with your local mechanic. Not only will it help smooth the way during your yearly check ups, but it will also help out if you run into a spot of trouble.

Written: 23 August 2019, Updated: 7 September 2020

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