Time of Year: Early August. Duration of Stay: 4 days
I landed two hours too early for my hostel check in on Sunday. After a double shift on Saturday, no sleep, no shower and no change of clothes, bedraggled was probably an understatement. But rather than faffing around in my bag for wash stuff and then having to re-pack and tuck it all away in storage, I strutted my disheveled stuff down the road and across a pristine white bridge to the picturesque parkland that lines the Brisbane River (imaginative, the Aussies; the city of Brisbane on the Brisbane River). I looked like shit, but trust me, right there in that moment I was THE shit; Sticky Fingers’ Gold Snafu blaring in my headphones, pale skin guzzling in the rays as if they’d not seen sun in months (four miserable Melbourne months to be precise), the grin could not have wrenched from my face. Brisbane I had landed, and I had already fallen in love.
To and from the airport – Connexions run air conditioned shuttle buses between the airport and the city and will pick up and drop off at your hostel. You can book these online, $15 for one person each way, or at the airport when you arrive and most hostels will be able to book the return journey for you.
I had good vibes already about Summerhouse Backpackers after their welcome email giving me ideas of things to do in Brisbane, options to get to the hostel from the airport and a warm welcome. The place didn’t let itself down either. They streamed Game of Thrones for us on a big screen with popcorn, need I say more! In case GoT isn’t your kryptonite, I will expand; I was in the huge 20 bed dorm ($20pn), super clean and with the most comfortable dorm beds I’ve ever slept in, a double plug socket and huge locker for each bed, plus Wi-Fi in the room. Everything was clean and each night there was some sort of event (free cheese and crackers/movie and popcorn/BBQ) to encourage socializing throughout the hostel, preventing the stagnant clique situation a lot of Australian hostels suffer from with so many long term guests. Plus the free breakfast meant I could sneak some sandwiches out for lunch later on as well as cereal for breakfast!
My disheveled strut took me down the tropical banks of the Brisbane River which transport you out of the CBD of Australia’s third largest city and into a place of lush tranquility; apart from the area of mangrove forest that is, which transports you somewhere more stinky than tranquil. A raised boardwalk leads you through opulent palms, restless fern fronds and other jungle flora to an intricately carved Nepalese temple with a fountain pattering away in its grounds. You pass through various sun drenched clearings in which to picnic, sunbath or just sit and read in peace. Eventually, you end up at the patchworked Brisbane sign where you’ll want to take a typical tourist picture and the Brisbane Eye for aerial views of the city.
Getting around – Go Cards are Brisbane’s version of the Myki (Melbourne) or Opal (Sydney) and they give you discounted travel on Brisbane’s public transport versus the price of an outright ticket. You can buy them at 7/11’s and they are technically free. You pay a $10 deposit which you get back when you hand the card back in at the end of your trip. I also got back the unspent money on it, although I don’t know if this is always the case.
There is also a free ferry with several stops up and down the river but make sure you get on the right one as there are two and one is chargeable! They can get packed on weekends and bank holidays so leave enough time to potentially miss one and catch the next.
Day one, I visited Lone Pine, a nursery, retirement home and assisted living sanctuary for koalas of all ages who suffer due to the increased urbanisation of Queensland; the slow moving animals find it difficult to get out of the way of cars and are constantly losing their homes to deforestation. Take the 430 bus from the city centre for ~40 minutes ($5.70 each way without a Go Card) out into the rough, scrubby forested lands outside suburban Brisbane and you’ll arrive at the sanctuary ($36 entry fee). I went on my first full day in Brisbane and was still acclimatising to the 25 degree temperature rise so was exhausted after a couple of hours exploring the enclosures of dingos, Tasmanian devils, platypus and of course koalas around every turn!
$20 gave me the opportunity of a cuddle and picture with Orinoko, a sleepy fellow much darker than his friends and incredibly heavy for his size! I offered the keeper my locked hands and he was passed over, releasing his clawed grip from the keeper’s shirt to mine and dopily turning his head in a slow motion hunt for any eucalyptus I might have growing out of me. Koalas smell pretty much like old people, a hint of wee with strong musty overtones interwoven with the sterile scent of eucalyptus. I believe you can hold a koala for free if you queue up and take your own photo, but it’s a lovely souvenir to have the printed professional one, and of course all the money goes towards saving the animals endangered by the encroachment our own species on their homes.
We took seats among the kids on school trips for a raptor show where Barking Owls flew low over our heads, grazing people’s hairdos and black kites performed aerial acrobatics in search of a hastily thrown mouse foot! A sheepdog show followed, where a kelpie demonstrated his skills by herding a group of 10 sheep through various obstacles and once penned, ran from the front of the heard to the back along their woolly backs! It made my day to have a cuddle with a fluffy boarder collie, Hunter, struggling in the heat with his shaggy black coat. I’ve not seen my collie Mac in 8 months now!
Mt Cooth-Tha was obviously next on my list, I love a good (but not too challenging) hike. I’d indulged in cuddling some cute, fluffy animals and next up I needed to get out and explore the landscape they call home. The 471 bus from Adelaide Street takes you around half an hour to reach the summit at Mt Cooth-Tha look out (around €3 each way with a Go Card). You can be dropped at the bottom, but many of the trails begin from around the look out and, with possibly the world’s worst signage, you really need a map from the gift shop (free) to work out how to get onto your desired trail.
Not really a walker? The J.C. Slaughter Falls there and back walk I picked was little more than a 2 hour stroll, but even if you take the bus to the lookout just for a coffee or some lunch in their rather expensive restaurant you won’t be disappointed for lack of a view. The hill falls away before you exposing the flat lands stretching either side of the river, rife with the visual buzz of human settlement in patterns swirling from the blue snake of the river, embedded in their centre. Brisbane’s CBD rises sharply towering above the low lying homes, looking so out of place in the level landscape, glinting shards of sunlight beaming from the glass adorned sky scrapers. Further in the distance were other mountains, Mother Nature attempting to limit the viral spread of concrete and cars. I visited during early August, controlled burning season and a haze lay over the city, giving the view a hint of an overexposed photo, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
Our walk took us through the winter forest, with naked trees, their dead foliage littered at our feet, crunching under the feet of those forest dwellers not hibernating through the life threatening 26 degrees!! There is still so much greenery, most of the trees here not being deciduous like we have in Britain, but the physical space and gaps between the trees gives the impression that during summer there is so much more vibrant life bursting from around the trunks! Kookaburras a plenty giggled above our heads, flitting from one branch to another following our path and the grating call of white cockatoos was never too far off, but there was very little life on the forest floor, and no wild koalas! At one point we heard the crash of footsteps so loud we thought it had to be a human about to emerge from the bush, instead, the scaled head of a meter long Goanna appeared and immediately froze upon viewing us. It whipped out its tongue, assessed the threat we posed then turned and leisurely stomped back where it had come from; clearly not a creature that relies on ambush to feed itself!
You can take a 1km aboriginal art heritage trail from this path which loops you back on yourself to continue the walk to the falls. The artwork was done for the most part in the 90’s and has definitely seen better days. There are some rock paintings which have lasted superbly and are still incredibly clear and vibrant, but many of the bark carvings and stone arrangements have been claimed back by the forest and are now unrecognisable. In August the falls are dry but there is a nice picnic point cleared with BBQ’s to enjoy before you head back uphill to the lookout point.
D’Aguilar National Park was meant to be Wednesday’s conquest, but Tuesday night was the $5 Peter Pans Pub Crawl!(free pizza, a couple of free drinks and discounts as well as Peter Pan prizes) so in came the hangover and out went the plans. It’s been a good 4 months since I’ve been on a backpacker budget and drinking $4 bottles of wine so trust me I was feeling it the next day! We decided a day by the artificial beach would be the best cure for our hazy heads and bikini clad, headed into the city centre where you can find Streets Beach (free); a huge lagoon with a sandy beach right in the heart of the CBD. It being a bank holiday there were so many screaming kids about that I didn’t brave the water which remained goose-bumpingly cold despite the suns intense rays that were breaking me out into a sweat. A cushioned bed called me on the grassy hillside opposite the beach and I settled for a nap in the sun and woke up feeling very refreshed, if a little pink and crispy!
I ended my four days in Brisbane with a sunset picnic on the Kangaroo Cliffs which rise rough and untamed from the river banks skirting the CBD. We settled on the rocky cliff edge with a feast from Woolworths to watch the sun descend behind the mountains in the distance, sliding down the many glass frames of the skyscrapers turning them to blinding, multi-faceted mirrors. At one point the reflection was so bright there genuinely appeared to be two suns in the sunset (maybe the human race is run).
Four days is far from sufficient to experience Brisbane, and the best time of the week to go is from Thursday to the weekend when you’ll get to peruse the Eat Street market (Friday to Sunday) for mouth-watering hawker style food and drink yourself silly in the clubs in The Valley. I missed out on all of this. There are also plenty of museums (one with the severed fingers of convicts on display! – Commissariat Store) and art galleries within the city to keep you occupied if you don’t fancy heading out of town. For free you can head up the clock tower in the Brisbane Museum for a view that up until the mid-1900’s was the highest in Brisbane; now hemmed in by commercial buildings, the view is less expansive, but still worth a trip up in the original metal caged elevator. I met the most fantastic group of backpackers in Summer House, thanks to the social atmosphere they nurture and was devastated to be moving on and leaving them and the city I’d fallen for behind. I’ve got to make it back there before I leave at Christmas and whether you’re a fan of urban living and nightlife or you want to head out into the bush to explore some wilderness you MUST make Brisbane a stop on your East Coast trip too!