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Brisbane may be on of the most underestimated cities in Australia. People talk about Sydney, Melbourne, even Perth gets a lot of praise, but no one seems to mention ‘Brissie.
The city contains a little bit of everything. Its city center is similar to what one would find in Sydney or London, though at a much smaller size. But a short ferry ride across the Brisbane River or walk across one of its many bridges and people can escape to the beach, small town markets, even a nature center. As for nightlife, while the city may calm down from Monday to Wednesday, on all other nights it gets pretty wild.
The people of the city are even more unique than its layout. While you won’t be bombarded with people walking on city sidewalks, there are heaps of people taking advantage of its wonderful climate, whether it be with a picnic or a run in the Botanic Gardens. And most of these people take time to offer a smile and “G’
The best thing to do is not travel Brisbane, but let it travel you. It’s easy to get around (most things are within walking distance of each other) and offers something special just about everywhere you look.
Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art and State Library of Queensland
All three could use their own spot on my five favorites, but located in the same complex on South Bank, people should visit this area for the architecture alone. Very modern, glass and full of open corridors and spaces, the complex almost gives a people a feeling of being in an open air market.
Parents walk around this space with their children, holding balloons and sporting some sort of animal print on their face, taking in the sun and making the most of activities offered nearby on weekends and holidays. There’s even a lot of shaded grassy patches, public art, water fountains and great views of the river and bridges around this area.
Travelers with some time should stop in both museums to peruse their collections. The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) has a vast collection of works by artists across the world. It has an extremely large collection of art involving video as well as work by Asian artists. People are welcome to enter and touch some of the pieces. But what really stands out in the museum is how everything in it is art, from the stationary tapestry in the stairway to the Charwei Tsai Hand washing project in the ground floor restrooms.
A shot of live feed from Hiraki Sawa's video exhibit at GOMA. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
While I did not have a chance to stop in the Queensland Art Gallery during my trip, it comes highly recommended in guide books and online resources.
Backpackers longing for free internet and comfy couches will have to retain themselves from not spending the entire course of their stay in the city at its library. Not to sound like a complete computer nerd, but this is one of the coolest libraries I’ve ever set foot in. Let’s start with the fact that they offer free internet to everyone. On top of that the internet can be used on comfy wooden benches in an open corridor between the library and a restaurant. Further, people can grab a coffee and sit at the open-air cafe and restaurant next door and still take advantage of the library’s internet. And this is just the outside of the building.
Inside the library looks like a haven for backpackers. They’re all over the massive, brightly colored space. Lounging on its white leather couches, skyping and chatting on Facebook and Twitter. People were quite focused on their screens but whenever I made eye-contact with anyone it was like we exchanged a secret backpacker glance saying, “How great is this place?”
All are free to enter for general admission. Check ahead for special exhibits as well as hours.
Running South Bank
Anyone who usually gets bored on long runs won’t have that problem in Brisbane. There’s never a dull moment running in the city’s Botanic Gardens, over its bridges, but especially around South Bank. I felt like I developed ADD in my 30-minute run around the city.
“Oh, beach! Oh, water fall! Oh, playground, flower, magician. Is that a statue in the air?”
Needless to say I’ve never kept my eyes off the clock on my iPod that long in my life. My suggestion is too just run along the South Bank sidewalks, even if you are going back and fourth. Here is my favorite route.
Before visiting Brisbane, I wondered why people kept referring to it as ‘BrisVega
Great bars, beer gardens and clubs are all over the city, but if people want to see the best of Bisbane’s nightlife, go to the Valley. After passing Chinatown, patrons are surrounded by a sea of rowdy people from all over the world. I’m not sure if James, Bruswick and Ann Streets are naturally blocked off at night, or if the mass of people bouncing from bar to bar just block it off themselves, but party patrons can freely move around the area stopping at various bars only exit and find the biggest party is outside.
Bobbi-Jo and I visited the area to check out Alhambra Lounge on McLachlan Street. It was a swanky spot with plenty of dark corners and enclosed seating areas to hide out. It also had great mojitos.
But what really stood out to me about this bar was the attitude of its staff and bouncers. Usually the word ‘swanky’ in a bar description implies pushy doormen and snobby bartenders. That was not the care here. Alhambra had one of the friendliest and most attentive staffs I’ve ever met. It was like hanging out at a dive bar, except everyone and everything was pretty.
Other suggested stops are The Elephant and Wheelbarrow on Wickham Street and Cloudland Bar on Ann Street. The Elephant and Wheelbarrow is a laid-back spot with indoor and outdoor party areas. It features live bands and tons of TVs showing whatever is most interesting in sports at the moment. Unfortunately, I never got into Cloudland Bar, because of my thongs (sandals). Other than that, it didn’t seem like a difficult venue to get into and its retractable glass roof seems like reason enough to stop in.
Bars may require a cover on certain nights, check ahead.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Opened in 1927, Lone Pine allows its visitors to mingle with koalas, kangaroos, lizards and more. There are heaps of sanctuaries in Australia, but I’ve never seen one where the animals were as lively as this. Bobbi-Jo and I stared at female koalas for about 30 minutes, watching them hop trees, walk on the ground, play with one another and even make some noise. Even the sanctuary's platypus was visible, which up until then I doubted any zoos or sanctuaries in Australia actually had a platypus in their motionless tanks.
The main attraction at the sanctuary is of course its koalas. Over 130 koalas call Lone Pine their home and patrons can hold one (the sanctuary constantly rotates which koala is held) the cuddly grey marsupials with the purchase of a $16, which includes a souvenir photo and the opportunity to take photos with a personal camera. Unlike I was told, the koala did not claw me and felt quite content chewing eucalyptus in my arms.
I cuddled a koala at Lone Pine for Easter 2010. Photo by Bobbi-Jo O'Gilvie
People can hang out with heaps of kangaroos in a fenced-off area. Many were petting the roos. The sanctuary even has red kangaroos, but people are not aloud to play with them. The sanctuary also offers an array of shows, including sheep dog, kangaroo feeding and snake feeding.
Lone Pine is only 20 minutes by car and 40 minutes by public bus service from the Brisbane CBD. Public bus service leaves people off right in from the the sanctuary and there is plenty of parking for those arriving in their own vehicle.
General admission is $30, but the sanctuary offers discounts for concessions, children and members of various hostel organizations, including VIP Backpackers. Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., check ahead for holiday hours.
Not a lot of cities offer adventure activities, such as kayaking, rock climbing, and abseiling, right in the city. Riverlife Adventure Center has made good use of the peaceful Brisbane River and climbable Kangaroo Point Cliffs. The center offers a retreat from the city without a long car ride.
Take part in one of its more extreme activities or rent roller blades, bicycles and kayaks and see the city on your own. It’s only a few kilometers from the beach and museum area of South Bank. The staff is helpful and prices are affordable.
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