You can’t miss the sight of the lean space-like probe protruding from the top of Black Mountain, a constant icon overlooking Canberra, visible from around the city. That beacon is Telstra Tower.
Rising 195 metres above the summit of Black Mountain, the tower is a communications tower for Canberra’s mobile, TV and radio; but there’s more. It’s their observation deck, which I was told has incredible views across the Territory, which was the reason for my trek up the mountain.
With a 4:00 am wake up for the Canberra Balloon Spectacular and then bad weather cancelling the takeoffs, I had plenty of time to explore and there was only one place I wanted to go to get some great sunrise photography!
Canberra may be small but without a lot of public transport options, I opted to rent a car from Avis for the weekend’s jaunt giving me freedom to stop to take photos and run on my own schedule. As I booked the car through the Qantas site, I also got 4 frequent flyer points per dollar spent!
Black Mountain is about a 5-minute drive from the city centre, and QT Hotel Canberra where I was staying. It was clear I was going to miss the sunrise, having stopped off for a quick coffee at the hot air balloon landing site.
On the drive up the mountain, there’s a shoulder you can pull off and stop with views across the city. While the view beyond is beautiful, the vantage points are often obscured by the wild scrub growing uninterrupted.
There is a benefit of this wild scrub though. Wild kangaroos roam the mountain, most commonly seen at dawn and dusk. I very luckily managed to see one bounding across the road before peering at me from the higher up scrub.
Continuing up the winding roads of Black Mountain Road, it surprised me just how many cyclists made the steep ride up – I counted three and it was barely 7am!
Farmers Daughter is a quaint cafe in a local neighbourhood, tucked away off Yarralumla’s main shopping strip. With no need to rush having seen the storm clouds begin to roll in for a morning of rain, I settled in with my latest read (‘The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop‘ by Steve Osbourne), a freshly squeezed juice and a matcha tea cake – bliss!
A tour of Telstra Tower
It wasn’t until the next day I returned to Telstra Tower. The grey clouds were still lingering, but I wanted to go up to see the view.
In its heyday, the Canberra icon housed a cafe, revolving restaurant and museum. Unfortunately, 37 years later, the tower isn’t shown the same love as other city sights and the revolving restaurant has long since closed. The stark modern concrete, modern at the time of its 1980’s opening, remains unchanged. Even the original elevators that has likely carried hundreds of thousands of guests up the and down remain.
After purchasing a ticket, you take the elevator to the indoor observation deck. The views across Canberra are beautiful, with each window labelled with the main sight seen from the waist to ceiling windows. On this level is also a cafe and gift store and Canberra’s tallest post box.
If you want to, you can climb another flight of stairs to the outdoor observation – a much nicer vantage point for those wanting to take photos. By the time I reached the outdoor observation deck the rain had began to fall so I wasn’t able to get any shots – Telstra Tower, I will be back!
There is one thing that bothered me about the observation decks: there are so many wasps and wasp nests from growing on the indoor observation deck. While it didn’t bother me indoors – and was kind of fascinating to see them up close with protection surrounding me, I was a little anxious seeing them flying around the outdoor observation deck. As a person who has been bitten by a wasp before, it is not something I would like to experience again. (Note: this was in March 2017. They may have gotten rid of them now).
Wasps aside, I will say it again: the views are great.
Both of the observation decks allow for 360-degree views of Canberra and the surrounding city and countryside, right across into NSW. It also helps you see how why Canberra is often referred to as ‘the Bush Capital’ being located between mountains, and still covered in plenty of lush green foliage.
Acton, The Australian National University and Canberra’s City Centre
Acton and Lake Burley Griffin.
You can even see the National Museum of Australia on the very tip of the land right along the lakefront (the orange and black building!)
Lake Burley Griffin looking over to Deakin and Yarralumla.
Looking out across to Belconnen
I mean, where else can you get such a beautiful view of Canberra?
The Telecommunications Museum
On your way out, head down the stairs opposite the ticket booth to see what remains of the former exhibition “Making Connections”. The exhibition, which traced the history of Australian telecommunications, is mostly removed but a video remains, as well as an example of different types of phones through the ages, including a Nokia 3310 and Blackberry! There’s also some placards about the different types of flora and fauna that call Black Mountain home.
Come for the views (and maybe a chance sighting of a wild kangaroo!) to say you’ve been up to this Canberra icon.
Let me know in the comments
Have you been up Telstra Tower?
What are your tips for visiting Canberra?
100 Black Mountain Drive
Acton ACT 2601
Opening hours: 9am – 10pm daily
Admission price (correct as of March ’17):
Aged pensioners $3.00
Children 4-16 years $3.00
Children under 4 years Free
Family Pass (2 adults & 2 children) $17
How to get to Telstra Tower:
Currently, the only way to get to Telstra Tower is by vehicle, bike or foot.
If you have a vehicle, there is plenty of (unfortunately) paid parking at the base. From memory, it cost me around $3 per hour.
How to get to Canberra:
Canberra Airport is the territories main airport and has flights from capital cities and some regional towns. The most common flight route is via Sydney, though the capital is connected with regional towns as well.
Qantas is the airline which has the most flights to Canberra, though Virgin Australia and Tigerair also operate flights. Newcastle and Dubbo are served by with FlyPelican.
Currently, there is only one international airline that flies to Canberra. Singapore Airlines offers four flights weekly from Singapore via. Canberra to Wellington, New Zealand.
Qatar Airways has also announced that they will begin flying from Doha – Canberra by 2018.
You can also drive to Canberra. From Sydney, the journey is around 4 hours. From Melbourne, it will take you around 8 hours.
You can also take trains or buses to Canberra from Melbourne or Sydney.
How to get around Canberra:
I highly recommend renting a car when you are in Canberra. I chose to rent with Avis because I was offered a discount when I booked my flight, but you can earn 4 Qantas frequent flyer points per dollar on car rentals with Avis or Budget.
Another option is renting a bike. Many of the hotels rent bicycles to guests and a lot of the bus are fitted with bike carriers.
Unlike other east coast cities, Canberra’s public transport infrastructure is basic with only buses in operation. To plan your journey, you can visit the Transport Canberra website.
They are currently building a light rail that will connect the city to Gungahlin, and expected to be completed in 2018.
Where to stay in Canberra:
Accommodation in Canberra is fairly reasonably priced. Over the past few years, I’ve stayed at a number of properties; some great and some so-so.
On this trip, I was staying at the QT Canberra. The boutique politi-pop hotel is located on the cities edge and is home to the award-winning Capitol Bar & Grill and Lucky’s Speakeasy bar, both must visit on a trip to Canberra. Rooms are a good size with comfortable design focused amenities, and offer views of Lake Burley Griffin or the city.
For a hotel right in the heart of the city, check out the Novotel Canberra. It’s a great spot for travellers on business or visiting for pleasure. Plenty of buses run past its doors and the light rail will stop directly outside! Read my review of the Novotel Canberra here.
I also really enjoyed my stay at East Hotel. Located on the cities edge, the hotel offers apartment-style hotel accommodation with free bike rental! Best of all, it’s near my favourite part of Canberra: Kingston! Perfect to visit the Bus Depot Market, Canberra Glassworks or Brodburger – yum!
Click here to find out all my favourite boutique hotels in Canberra.
For more great hotels in Canberra, check out the rates here.