Queensland: Finding the best of Brisbane

By Ellie Mitchell

Queensland's capital is full of delights, writes Ellie Mitchell.

The Brisbane Festival sees thousands flock to the Southbank area to watch a light show and fireworks display over the river. Photo / Ellie Mitchell
The Brisbane Festival sees thousands flock to the Southbank area to watch a light show and fireworks display over the river. Photo / Ellie Mitchell

Arriving in Brisbane via pretty jacaranda tree-lined streets offering glimpses of the Story Bridge, I can tell I've arrived in an exciting city and can't wait to get out and discover its thriving arts and entertainment scene. Being a Brit, I instantly feel at home in the Southbank area, with its Brisbane Wheel, waterfront bars, cafes and restaurants.

The cultural heart beats along the river with a collection of large venues all in one accessible precinct including the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (Goma), the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Museum and the State Library.

Kiwi Chris Saines is now the director of Goma. Showing until Christmas is a large exhibition of contemporary art by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders called My country, I still call Australia home which gives a modern insight into how its indigenous people see Australia.

I arrive during the final week of the Brisbane Festival, running annually for three weeks in September, and attend a show at The Powerhouse. This former powerstation is now an inspiring spacious arts venue. I watch in awe as local circus troop Casus performs Knee Deep, "a mixture of stripped-back contemporary circus acrobatics testing the limits of physicality" - I'd call it dangerous.

The following evening we head back to Southbank to visit the temporary Santos Lounge and recline under the starry night sky on beanbags with flutes of champagne along with the city's trendsetters for the ultimate view of the festival's spectacular light show, set to a cool soundtrack. I try my first taste of gunpowder-wrapped goat's cheese which definitely sets the mood for the grand finale "Riverfire" display from the Story Bridge.

A great way to get around and explore the city is with Brisbane Bicycle Tours. We pass the man-made beach, a bustling area for families and students, and cycle through the beautifully tranquil botanic gardens.

The weekly Wednesday market right next to the Treasury building (now a casino, funnily enough) is taking place, packed with fresh juices, roasted macadamia nuts, tasty sweet treats and colourful fruit and veges.

There is not a great deal of time to check out the shops so I meet Amanda from Shop in Style Escapes who shows me what Brisbane has to offer.

She fast-tracks me to the designer stores in James St and we check out the enticing shop fronts of Paddington's quaint Queensland cottages.

I try the best brownies I have ever tasted at Dello Mano and visit Sasha Drake, who shows us how to wear the same little black dress in 20 different ways. Later, I find myself sipping champagne at Libertine Parfumerie, learning all about their fragrant delights.

Another place to shop is the lively West End which is the bohemian heart of Brisbane, a fusion of multicultural, alternative and vintage retail with an electric personality.

Most shops don't open until 10am so there's time for a lazy breakfast at one of the many delightful cafes. I try Depo, a converted garage decorated with random objects, which is charming and ambient, with a great healthy menu.

I don't want to leave Brisbane without getting up close and personal with the native Australian wildlife. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary fulfils my childhood dream as I cuddle a cute koala and feed some energetic kangaroos.

I have a "ripper of a day" at the third largest sand island in the world, Moreton Island.

Tangalooma Beach Resort offers fun-filled family activities, including quadbike rides along the sand, snorkelling around 15 shipwrecks, 4WD tours through the desert, and sandboarding.

More relaxing activities include Segway and paddleboard hire, sailing and walking tracks. My highlight of the day is getting to feed Tinkerbell, one of the many wild dolphins that visit each night. Just delightful.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Qantas, Air New Zealand and Jetstar fly daily to Brisbane from Auckland.

Where to stay:

Limes Hotel - 142 Constance St, Fortitude Valley.

Punthill Apartment Hotel - 40 Astor Tce, Spring Hill.

Further information: See tq.com.au.

Ellie Mitchell travelled as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.

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