Bustling Manuka in Canberra’s inner south is something of a contradiction – a mix of urban chic and historic buildings, with a healthy dose of parks and recreation thrown in for good measure.
But the beating heart of this small precinct just 6 km from the CBD is its community, according to those who know it best.
“Manuka is like one big family,” says Stella Ding, manager of Typica cafe on Manuka Lawns which, like most hospitality businesses, has been selling only takeaways since social distancing rules came in.
“People in the area have tried to support us as much as they can during COVID-19, and it’s not just about financial support … it’s spiritual and mental support, too,” Stella says.
“We have so many regulars – people who live nearby and people who work around here. We see ourselves as their extended family and they see us like that as well.”
View this post on Instagram
I am continuing to review on a daily basis my open or closed status. At present I am open because I have had customers dropping in to buy warm essentials for winter, and I am happy to be here to serve them in a safe (one customer at a time in store) and hygienic environment. But if you are homebound and want to buy something fresh, like this Kin 'Abiquiu' tunic in cotton/silk denim and Tightology 'Luxe' wool tights in cinnamon, just give me a call on 0431372956 or direct message me on Instagram. I am eminently flexible at the moment!
Susan Taylor, who has owned fashion boutique Department of the Exterior in Manuka Arcade for 16 years, says the community spirit is writ large among Manuka’s business owners, too.
“Manuka Arcade has become quite a little hub. There’s a real community vibe among those of us who’ve stayed open. And we still have a nice, steady flow of people coming in,” she says.
Susan believes the area’s great appeal is its character and diversity.
“Manuka is one of those lovely and unique areas that is a bit older, has a great environment and a lot of traders who have been here a long time,” she says.
“It’s a beautiful little shopping centre with a lot of outdoor space. It’s not a place you have to be inside all the time. There aren’t a lot of shopping strips like that in Canberra, in the way there are in Melbourne.”
Susan says Manuka’s hidden gems lie beyond its main thoroughfares.
“I really encourage people to explore the laneways and alleyways,” she says. “That’s where you see the interesting coffee shops and stores … that’s the real beauty of the place.”
Barry Morris’s development company Morris Property Group completed an extensive upgrade of Manuka’s shopping and entertainment precinct in 2000, which also included a $2 million upgrade to Palmerston Lane. Morris has just received planning approval to redevelop the area’s old Stuart Flats public housing site into a new urban precinct called Renaissance. He regards Manuka as one of Canberra’s most appealing lifestyle areas.
“People want to live here, it’s as simple as that,” he says. “It’s on the doorstep of Lake Burley Griffin, Parliament House and some of the country’s most famous museums and galleries. But it also has a great neighbourhood feel.
“Coming back 20 years after we did the work on the shopping area to build Renaissance makes perfect sense from a business perspective. We know there’s strong demand to live in Manuka and, until now, there just hasn’t been enough available property in a location that meets our exacting requirements.”
Five great things to do in Manuka
Meet and eat: Manuka Lawns is a hive of activity at weekends – kids frolicking on the grass, bloggers snapping pictures at Patissez café while their FreakShakes melt, brunchers and lunchers tucking into buttermilk pancakes at Urban Pantry or queueing for locally roasted Ona coffee from Typica Cafe.
Tucked at the back of Manuka Court, independent fashion boutique Department of the Exterior‘s owner Susan Taylor has a keen eye for talented Australian and New Zealand designers. Her handpicked garments, often in limited editions, are singularly stylish and, better still, you don’t have to be a size 8 to pull off the look. Genius.
In the swim
Manuka Pool is an art deco gem, now back to its original Brunswick green and salmon self after a multi-million-dollar refurb. A worldwide search to match its original 1931 square tiles saw replacements shipped in from the Czech Republic. A 30 metre, six-lane outdoor pool, toddlers’ splashing area, playground and café make it a must for summer.
Manuka Oval has staged the iconic PM’s XI cricket match since the 1950s. The 13,550-seat venue is the home of cricket and AFL in the nation’s capital and rugby gets a guernsey as well. Settle in for a glass of red at Manuka’s buzzing Public nearby, a beer at the Kingston Hotel or cocktails at Joe’s Bar in the East Hotel.
The write stuff
There’s a lot to be said for this digital era, but breathing in the scent of paper and ink and losing yourself somewhere between true crime and travel in an old-style bookstore can’t be replicated. Paperchain Bookstore has row after row of wooden shelves packed with books of all kinds. Pretty stationery, quirky gifts and staff who clearly love the magic of books seal the deal.