Matt Heath finds the Queensland capital is in a league of its own.
Everyone knows Brisbanians love their league. Everyone knows it's warm in Brisbane. Everyone knows Brisbane's in Queensland. But did you know Brisbane is a place of culture, fine dining, art and architecture? I didn't.
A couple of weeks back a few mates and I headed over for the inaugural NRL Magic Round at Suncorp. It was a spectacular weekend but the real surprise was Brisbane itself.
Like many Kiwis, my Brisbane experience has generally been leaving the place as soon as I arrived. Touching down and then getting straight on a train to the Goldie or renting a car and fanging up to the Sunshine Coast. This time we really put Australia's third largest city through its paces.
Things kicked off with cocktails on several rooftop bars in the mid-May subtropical heat before heading out to a couple of interesting underground bars. Including Lefty's Old Time Music Hall. A stylish live venue decorated with dead animals and velvet curtains, it was like drinking inside a Nick Cave music video.
Next morning, we were up super early, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and feeling 150 per cent healthy and good. So we jumped straight into an Elite Helicopter. Our informed and devilishly handsome pilot flew us 35km northeast in a little Robertson R-44 across the city, over thousands of large houses with pools to Moreton Island. It's the fifth largest all-sand island in the world and the water around it is so crystal clear that from the air we could see sharks, rays, a bunch of shipwrecks and even dugongs. Dugongs being large bottom-feeding sea cows.
Waiting for us on a remote paradisiacal beach were the friendly people at Go Fish Queensland. They had rods, food and refreshments. All we had to do was eat, drink and cast right off the beach. It was one of those mornings when you think "I can't believe how lucky I am". Then back on the choppers and back to downtown Brisbane all before lunch.
Unfortunately, there was a mix-up in our next transport option. I and two other big units ended up on one tiny Green Cab tuktuk. Although comfortable for us, it was a brutal ride for our little peddler. Australians have a strong sense of sav-sucking fairness and seeing that poor guy struggling up over the Victoria Bridge pulling us fatties got some solid comments. "Come on guys, you're killing the poor fella." Then another comment from a friendly couple as we raced passed the artificial Streets Beach: "Why don't one of you big fellas do the peddling?" But we weren't going to be pushed around while being dragged around, so we sat tight and 15 minutes later we arrived sweat-free and ready to party at the Jetty. A great spot serving Indonesian/Australian food. Followed by an hour or so of bubbles by the river watching the beautiful people whizzing by on their Lime Scooters. So many breaths of fresh air.
Mid-arvo it was off to the NRL Magic Round which was . . . well, magic. Every team in the competition playing over a weekend at one stadium — Suncorp. What a stadium too. Centrally located with the kind of high angled seating that gives even the top back row a great view. It's one of those grounds that focuses completely on the action in the middle. Obviously, our enjoyment was heavily enhanced by the Warriors come-from-behind victory over the Dragons. Twenty unanswered points! Australia is such a great sporting nation with such passionate fans. That's why as a Kiwi visitor its so good to watch them get smashed.
A massive 140,000 people attended this first-ever Magic Round. They were treated to a slick entertaining event. A great idea and a huge success. One we celebrated heartily at the Valley (the party district) afterwards.
The Story Bridge was built in the Great Depression to get people working. It's a massive iron structure that spans the brown snake. The Story Bridge Adventure Climb is spectacular, high up and exhilarating in a slightly terrifying way. What better way to start a day than sightseeing at sobering high altitude. Luckily we all passed the breath test. You're not allowed up there steamed. So as soon as we were back down we headed underneath to the Felons Brewing Co. The place is named in after the four felons who discovered Brisbane. Apparently, they escaped a prison colony stole a boat and when the official discovery party turned up they were already on the banks drinking beers. Years later they are brewing tasty beers by the river in honour of these great Australians/ criminals.
More spectacular Magic Round action followed and some further terrible behaviour in the Valley. This city has a lot of active hours. We ended our final night at Death and Taxes, an old-world cocktail lounge and wine bar in Brisbane's oldest laneway, Burnett Lane. Sitting in the flash leather-clad interior trying the widest array of obscure whiskeys this side of Ireland or Scotland or somewhere where they have lots of whiskies. Delicious.
The NRL Magic Round is a great event and it's happening at Suncorp for at least the next two years. Well worth the flight over. But when you go make sure you take the time to experience Brisbane. A place of fantastic food, people, buildings, choppers, boats, islands, fishing, culture, cocktails and beers. Love Brizzy.
Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Brisbane.
For more information on visiting Brisbane, see queensland.com.