Exploring the New Brisbane

By Bonnie Waycott
May 8, 2014
Adventures, Lifestyle

Sandwiched between the Sunshine Coast up north and the Gold Coast down south, Brisbane has long been a stopover for visitors en route to the beaches. But Australia's third-largest city, which the locals call "Brizzie," has now also become young and vibrant, with a laid-back approach to life. Compared to my last visit 10 years ago, many new bars and restaurants have since opened, bringing hustle, bustle and energy. Eating, drinking, relaxing and even hitting the beach are all big business here in the warm and welcoming capital of Queensland.

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In the City

South Bank is a two-kilometer stretch with an artificial beach, riverside parks, a Ferris wheel, cafes, restaurants and grassy areas offering spectacular views of the city. It is also home to the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, which hosts a range of international art. During our trip we enjoyed Cai Guo-Qiang’s Falling Back To Earth, which consists of four installations inspired by the landscapes of southeast Queensland, which Cai Guo-Qiang visited in 2011. While you’re in South Bank, don’t miss out on Streets Beach, an aquatic playground and artificial beach area leading in to a very large warm pool, complete with clean white beaches, subtropical trees and exotic plants. As night falls, head to the center of Brisbane’s nightlife and live music in Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley, where local singers, upcoming acts and DJs take to the stage. Meanwhile the CBD, or Central Business District, is one of Australia’s major business hubs and home to Queensland’s Parliament House, Brisbane City Hall and The Queens Gardens.

Shop Till You Drop

Queen Street Mall in the CBD is the center of the Brisbane shopping experience, which is exciting and relaxing as you don’t need to dodge traffic while passing through the many stores. The Wintergarden Shopping Complex offers designer fashion, footwear and accessory labels while the South Bank Art & Craft Markets held on weekends sell local crafts, fresh produce, clothes and artwork.

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Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Close to our hotel was the wonderful and funky Jak + Hill, a cafe/restaurant that offers everything from breakfast, lunch and dinner to coffee and baked treats from the counter. Although its location is somewhat tucked away from the bustling city center, this attractive place is worth knowing about. Our favorite breakfast option was the avocado and feta smash, two slices of toasted brown bread covered in rich avocado and creamy feta, with cherry tomatoes and basil leaves on the side. If you want something a bit more substantial, have a big cooked breakfast at The Coffee Club on Eagle Street, and also try the gourmet smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich filled with red onion, capers, chips and a side salad. The waterfront en route to South Bank is also a stylish place to dine, with wood-topped outdoor tables in some of the bars and the restaurants’ more intimate atmosphere, which is beautiful in the evening.

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Down by the Water

The river that wiggles through Brisbane is the longest in southeast Queensland. In January 2011 it flooded dramatically, but the recovery process has been pretty impressive. Walking along it is another way to enjoy the city—that is, when it is behaving! Further down from Eagle Street is the Botanical Gardens on the edge of the Central Business District, and from here you can wander through to the river’s edge and cross the Goodwill Bridge into Southbank or stop en route in the gardens, which are well worth seeing. Home to a mix of historic specimens and other plantings from Australia and the rest of the world, the gardens are perfect for a picnic on a warm summer’s day, and events such as music festivals are often held as well. If you’d rather not walk, head to the water and hop on one of the CityCat boats that crisscross over the river, ferrying people to and fro.

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Beyond Brisbane (North Stradbroke Island)

If you’d like to dig a little deeper into areas outside Brisbane, in particular along the coast, head east to Cleveland, which is a little over an hour away by train. From there you can take either a fast or slow ferry to North Stradbroke Island, a world of rugged coastal landscapes, white sandy beaches, cafes and restaurants. A bus from the ferry terminal takes you to Point Lookout, where you can try the North Gorge Walk, one of the island’s main attractions. The walk is about 20 minutes, but it’s a shame to do it in one go. Take some time at one of the many lookouts and head to the cliff’s edge overlooking the bay. The red-brown rock of the cliff face, the green of the grass on top and the turquoise ocean below are absolutely gorgeous. From May until September, Point Lookout becomes one of the best land-based whale-watching locations in Australia, while schools of dolphins can be seen regularly, most often off Frenchman’s Beach. For scuba diving, get in touch with the Manta Lodge and Scuba Centre, which can take you to Manta Ray Bommie, one of the top 10 dive sites in Australia. The island is a pristine, secluded paradise, a relatively cheap and easy getaway from Brisbane’s hustle and bustle, and well worth visiting.

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The Deets

Getting there: Jetstar, Qantas, JAL and Korean Air fly to Brisbane via Cairns, Sydney or Seoul from Tokyo.

Where to Stay: Try some of smaller boutique hotels in Brisbane city like The Diamant Hotel, or if you visit Cleveland, a motel-style place such as the Pacific Resort.

More Information: For further details, check out the website Visit Brisbane.