New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published September 19th 2016
Update December 29th 2017
Sadly, this café has now closed.
Drive up to the top of the mountain for a cafe with a view
Mount Stromlo Café (also known as Southern "X" Stromlo) and Visitor Centre is located at the top of Mount Stromlo, 25 minutes south west of the city. There are 360 degree views of the city and surrounding region as you drive up to the top of the 770m high mountain. Along the way, look out for the occasional kangaroo on the side of the road, who will look back at you with open curiosity. Also along the way, you will see the headquarters of the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, a world-respected community of researchers exploring the wonders of space. This ideal location for astronomy has been used to study this science since 1911.
When you finally reach the top, park your car and then walk into one of the most scenic cafes in Canberra. On the day of our visit, this new café (open mid September 2016) had been open for a week and judging by the numbers of cars in the carpark, word has spread about the new café in town - with a view.
Floor to ceiling windows with 180 degree views. Source: Southern Cross Club Facebook
This café site has been sitting empty since 2014 when the last owners left, however new owners Canberra Southern Cross Club (who have clubs in Woden, Tuggeranong, Jamison and Yarralumla), have moved in and have brought the café back to life. The staff are friendly and efficient, with a genuine love of this new café and its spectacular rural views. With fresh white walls, high ceilings, modern furniture and simple design, it makes the vista over the verandah the main attraction of this welcoming café.
This scenic cafe has impressed many Canberrans with their first decision - to sell local Canberra company Lonsdale Street Roasters brand of coffee, with their own unique blend. They also have a range of light meals such as baguettes, croissants, lasagne, salads, pizza and cakes for dessert. As this is a new venture for the Club they aim to see what is popular with visitors to the café and extend the menu to suit the clientele. On our visit, the other diners were ANU staff and students, seniors, families and bike riders in their lycra after riding up the mountain. See here for the current menu, at the time of writing. From the looks of the happy diners who were all enjoying the lunch time fare, Mount Stromlo Café has hit the mark from the very beginning.
Choose from a range of light lunches and sweet treats
When you have finished your meal, wander next door and have a look at the Visitors Centre which has detailed displays of the workings of the Observatory, what they have found in the solar system and how their telescopes work. This is quite intense reading, not for a general peruse, so if you are interested in the technology behind the Observatory then allow some time to wander through and read the fascinating panels. For kids there is the Mount Stromlo Astrozone upstairs, with children's books and colouring in to keep them entertained.
As you walk outside, take some time to walk through the burnt out ruins of The Yale Columbia Telescope, which was destroyed in bushfires in 2003. Fire rampaged up over the mountain and destroyed telescopes, forest plantations, wildlife and 400 homes in the area of Weston Creek below. The firestorm was fuelled by 200km winds and high temperatures. 4 people died. It was a day that Canberra will never forget. You can walk around this ruin and learn more about its history and what happened that fateful day.
Stromlo Cafe and Visitors Centre (centre) amongst the ruins
Outside the café and Visitors Centre there is also a half an hour walk called the Heritage Trail , which has 12 interpretive signs around the top of the mountain to follow. If you have visitors to the city, this is an ideal venue to take them for a bird's eye view of the area and a relaxing morning on top of Mount Stromlo. There are also a few picnic tables at the top if you just to grab a takeaway coffee or sandwich and sit outside in the sun. However you decide to experience Mount Stromlo, you can't help but walk away impressed by the whole experience and also touched by the devastation of the 2003 fires. Wherever you walk, your eyes are simply drawn to the views that are through every window.
The ruins - a poignant contrast between beauty and devastation
Hello, this mountain was my childhood home. We kids used to watch the stars in that telescope, now all gone. I grew up walking all over this land and have refused to go back since the fires. I am in tears, but it is good to see from your story that things are renewed and people are coming back here again.