If you’re a traveller that suffers from ‘been there-done that-bought the T-shirt’ syndrome, chances are you haven’t been to Brissy. The River City offers several experiences that are all but unique, and while there’s nothing completely new under the sun, as the old saying goes, you’ll go pretty darn close with these seven must-sees and dos.
Cuddle (aka ‘hold’) a koala
Ooh, those cute koalas with their fluffy ears and button noses. You could just hug them, right? Well they are wild animals, so that’s a step too far. But you can actually hold one under keeper supervision at Brisbane’s fabulous Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary at Fig Tree Pocket. This is one of just a handful of places in the whole country where koala holds are permitted. The experience will cost extra on top of your ticket price, but console yourself with the fact that proceeds to go towards the Sanctuary’s vital conservation efforts (including the operation of the onsite Brisbane Koala Science Institute). The easiest way to get to the Sanctuary sans wheels is onboard the famous Brisbane Koala Cruise with Mirimar Cruises, which departs from South Bank.
Play in a CBD sand pit
Speaking of which, when was the last time you were able to wiggle your toes in the sand without actually leaving the city? Streets Beach at South Bank is one of Brisbane’s best-loved recreational assets and allows you to do exactly that. This man-made, palm-fringed slice of tropical paradise is literally just a stone’s throw from the centre of the CBD. Paddle in the warm, crystal clear water, build sand castles, or catch some rays as those chained to their desks in the city’s high-rise towers watch on wistfully from above.
Abseil in the heart of the city
Abseiling from great heights in a city centre is generally the preserve of window cleaners with nerves of steel, but anyone can get in on the action in Brisbane. Look carefully at the soaring Kangaroo Point Cliffs directly across the Brisbane River from the CBD, and you’re likely to see amateur abseilers tackling the sheer rock faces under the expert guidance of the team of urban adventurers at Riverlife. The cliffs are around 20 metres high, which doesn’t sound all that extreme. But once you’re actually leaning out backwards over the drop, trust us, it’s a whole different story!
Conquer the mighty Story Bridge
Currently, Brisbane is one of just three cities in the whole world (along with Sydney and Auckland) where it’s possible, legally, to climb to the top of a major city bridge – so that more than qualifies the Story Bridge Climb for a spot on this list. The panorama of the CBD from the top of the iconic cantilevered structure (which turned 80 just this year) is truly epic, while the view of the traffic below is one usually reserved for the birds. The climb takes two hours and involves exactly 1,138 steps. On the popular twilight option, the lights of the city shimmy and shake just beyond your reach.
Climb an urban mountain
Brisbane’s Mount Coot-tha – located on the western side of the city – offers yet more amazing views of the CBD and surrounding suburbs from its popular summit lookout. Hardy hikers may like to do the brand new Spotted Gum Trail, which opened in early 2020 and leads from the Botanic Gardens at the base of Mount Coot-tha, up to the summit – a distance of 2.4 kilometres. The trail traverses previously inaccessible terrain.
Walk or cycle on water
Life in Brisbane literally revolves around its namesake waterway, which cuts a swathe through the heart of the city before eventually emptying out into Moreton Bay. There are endless ways to enjoy the river, but one of the most impressive is the almost kilometre-long Brisbane Riverwalk. Unlike standard riverside promenades, the pedestrian walkway and bike path skims out away from the shoreline and along the surface of the river itself. It’s stunning to look at and stretches from the Howard Smith Wharves beneath the Story Bridge, all the way to the trendoid inner city suburb of New Farm. There are shaded rest points along the way, but you’ll need a good hat. Hitch a ride back into town on a River Cat.
Do a country pub crawl – by chopper!
As you head west from Brisbane and neighbouring Ipswich, urban sprawl soon gives way to the rolling pasturelands and bushland reserves of the sublime Lockyer Valley – a region dotted with small heritage towns, most of which contain an atmospheric country pub. Some of the most characterful options are the Royal Hotel Harrisville, the Dugandan Hotel in Boonah (better known locally simply as ‘the Dugie’), and the rustic Mulgowie Hotel. You could cover one or two of them by road in a day out from Brisbane, but Archerfield-based Pterodactyl Helicopters makes short work of the ks in between on their fabulous Brisbane Country Pub Crawl by Chopper. True story! Touch down at four pubs in a helicopter (now that’s how you make an entrance) and enjoy a cold pint at each, along with a hearty lunch and lashings of good old fashioned hospitality.
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About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.