In the novel Brisbane, local author Matthew Condon refers to his beloved city as “a book with no index”. I’m not thinking he meant that as a compliment. Sure, in the past it has taken a relegated position as the east coast’s sad little sister to Sydney and the poor man’s Melbourne, but with the spotlight thrust upon it for the 2032 Olympic Games, Brisbane buzzes like a chorus of cicadas. You’ll find a world-class cultural scene and entertainment, sultry rooftop bars and dining options with more hats than a milliner’s backroom.
I arrive in Brissy to a glorious day; it’s the capital of the Sunshine State, after all. Tonight, I’m staying in artsy South Bank at the uber-fashionable Emporium, a slickly modern five-star hotel smack in the centre of well, everything. After freshening up, I head to Lina Rooftop for a pre-dinner aperitif, and more importantly, sunset skyline views for days. Up here, it whispers Mediterranean beach club with daybeds and sunken lounges where pretty people sip colourful cocktails.
My booking at the Asian-influenced Southside Restaurant in the achingly-cool Fish Lane Arts Precinct has me meeting a friend for dinner. Tucked quite literally under the shuddering train tracks, amidst a jungle of climbing monstera and umbrella-esque ferns, it’s moody and subdued. Strategically placed uplights and softly illuminated table lamps make this a near-perfect date-night destination. Like most menus these days, everything is made for sharing, but I implore you… order the prawn toast.
After dinner, pop next door to see the mixologists at Maker, where patrons toss around words like “perfection” and “amazing” akin to confetti. It’s cosy: ask for the chocolate on your ice cubes – you’ll see why.
The following day, after a light breakfast at the hotel, I stroll to the Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) where the featured exhibition, Air, is for even this dilettante, spectacular. The centralised precinct for all things cultural is here, and just across the connecting concrete span lies the Queensland Art Gallery; it also deserves some of your time. A half-hour guided tour makes the most of what there is to see, from First Nations’ creators to their contemporaries. (Hot tip: do not miss the museum shop; it’s one of the best I’ve been to.)
Just steps away from the galleries and the State Library (great pastry, btw) I find the sightseeing cruise that coasts me down the meandering Brisbane River. The journey is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes, providing a historical perspective along with a more future-facing one, and helps to orient yourself in the city – plus, there are fresh scones.
I’m keen to explore West End and the new boutique West Village Precinct. Yamas (”cheers” in Greek) sits on the corner overlooking the to and fro of pedestrians next to Mollison Park. The menu takes inspiration from the portside town of Thessaloniki, which hugs the Aegean Sea, so much of the seafood is live from the tank. The usual suspects are all on the menu, though dialled up a bit in presentation – and looking around, I see that most of the other diners have ordered the banquet for a taste of everything.
After so much eating, drinking and sightseeing, I’m taking a bit of me-time. On the top floor of the West Village’s wellness hub, Soak is a casual urban oasis where you can have a massage, infrared treatments or simply immerse yourself in the temperature-regulated magnesium water. I pass on the 12C plunge, but the 34C pool is a salve to the soul.
Tonight, I’ll lay my head at the five-star Crystalbrook Vincent, located at Howard Smith Wharves and carved into the cliff to catch the dazzling glow of the Story Bridge. I love it the minute I walk in, smacked in the face with enormous photos by Australian artist Vincent Fantauzzo and an extremely eco-ethos. It’s luxury without fussy, and the coffee at the on-site restaurant Mews could definitely tell Melbourne’s best brew to sit down and wait its turn.
I’m capping off my whirlwind visit with a full-day trip to Tangalooma Island Resort. It’s just a one-hour door-to-door ferry ride from Brisbane’s Holt Street Wharf to the resort on Moreton Island, the third-largest sand island in the world. There’s a laundry list of things to do, many are included in the day rate, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the adventures.
On the island, families, couples and singletons enjoy quad bike tours, trekking the beach, paddleboarding and exploring underwater shipwrecks. Food options are broad, but why wouldn’t you order Moreton Bay bugs, right? From a bird’s-eye view gained via the helicopter circuit of this sandy isle, the clear blue waters appear littered with brown circles and … something else? “Those are turtles,” my pilot says, “and dugongs. There’s a lot of them, they thrive here.” As I found out later, so do bottlenose dolphins with their nightly pilgrimage to the pier as the boat heads back to Brisbane.
Perhaps this city doesn’t need an index quite yet.
For more things to do in Brisbane, see visit.brisbane.qld.au