Brisbane has a real buzz at the moment, a positive energy that’s inspiring locals and visitors alike to embrace the new and rediscover some old favourites. Here is an insider’s guide to Brisbane with all you need to know about what’s hot right now in the Queensland capital.
Free Brisbane Greeter Tours
Brisbane Greeter tours are free and conducted by passionate volunteers who love sharing their city with visitors (and locals who’d like to learn more about their home town). We began our tour at Customs House, a grand colonnaded building with an impressive copper dome, which once formed the administrative gateway to the City of Brisbane. Surrounded by bustling wharves and trams, it became one of Brisbane’s best known buildings and remains one of the few reminders that Brisbane was once a great river port. Next we walk down to the Riverside CityCat terminal and catch a public ferry, travelling upstream and under the Story Bridge which was built in 1940. No one on our tour knew that the same engineer also built the Sydney Harbour Bridge but the similarities are obvious once our guide lets us in on the secret. It’s a neat bit of history and one of the many hidden surprises we encounter along the way.
Our guide is so full of lively stories about the many historic buildings we cruise past that it almost comes as a shock when we dock at the Brisbane Powerhouse. What was once a coal-fired power station is now a vibrant arts centre pulsing with the excitement of cutting edge photographic installations, music, theatre and dance. It’s also home to Jan Power’s Farmer Markets which happen on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month – and they’re on today! Ordinarily we’d jump back on the ferry with our greeter and return to where we started, but we can’t believe our good luck and decide to stay and explore the myriad food stalls. Greeters aren’t allowed to accept payment or tips but we do manage to cajole our guide into joining us for a coffee and something delicious. Our convivial lunch amongst the store holders is the perfect end to our tour.
Riverlife Kayak Tour
I realise there’s a good chance I’m going to get wet when our kayak tour guide suggests we leave our cameras behind unless ‘they’re really, really waterproof’. Fortunately I end up staying dry but it’s a close run thing. Kayaking turns out to be easy but navigating the long ladder and getting into and out of the kayaks in the strong current is harder than it looks. Our group gathers in an unstructured flotilla and paddles up the river towards South Bank, negotiating the strong current with determined strokes. I’ve watched people on this tour from the riverbank and wondered why they were going so slow. Now I know. Ferries and CityCats create lazy waves that jostle our kayaks from side to side but it’s fun rather than challenging. After about 40 minutes we turn around and virtually fly back the way we have come thanks to the outgoing tide. Our attempts to get out of the kayaks and back up the ladder at the end of the tour are so hopeless they’re almost vaudevillian but everyone stays dry.
Story Bridge Climb
Brisbane’s bridge climb isn’t as scary as the one in Sydney – there are more stairs than ladders and it isn’t quite as high – but the experience still gives you a good workout. The fashionistas in our group laugh about the amount of accessories we get to wear. They change into their jumpsuits and strike poses, swinging their hip belts which contain a walkie talkie with headphones so we can hear our guide during the climb. I slip on my earphones and we head out onto the bridge. The silver metal gantry clanks under our feet and traffic flows overhead as we march beneath the road. Unlike the climb in Sydney, we access the bridge using stairs which makes this Australian bridge climb ideal for first-timers or those who are somewhat nervous about climbing.
Brisbane’s Story Bridge is now a well-loved icon but it wasn’t always popular. Think of the highest building in your state’s capital city. Can you imagine how you’d feel if someone told you that a bridge twice the height of that building was being constructed in the CBD? At the time it was built, the Story Bridge was twice the size of any other structure and the locals were outraged. In an effort to appease the city’s residents, the bridge was named after a popular public servant. As the construction continued, everyone gradually began to admire and embrace the new structure. The Story Bridge has two ‘peaks’ and we climb to the top of the first one to discover a vow renewal in progress.
Our group waits for the lovebirds to finish and move onto the next part of the span before we continue. We walk down and then up to the second peak, grateful for a rest and another look around. It can get hot in the climbing suits so light clothing is essential, something a few people in our group only discover once the climb has commenced. After our guide takes some photos we walk back along the other side of the bridge, looking down at the shortest highway in Australia. I look towards the city and imagine what Brisbane once looked like. Even though times have changed, the river is still the beating heart of the city.
Disclaimer: The writer experienced Brisbane as a guest of Tourism & Events Queensland.
If you’re looking for accommodation in Brisbane, we have reviewed the Treasury Hotel, The Calile, Ovolo The Valley, W Brisbane, Capri by Fraser Brisbane, Hilton Brisbane, The Johnson, NEXT Hotel Brisbane, Sage Hotel James Street, The Westin Brisbane, Oaks Brisbane Festival Suites, Royal on the Park, Ibis Styles Elizabeth Street, Sofitel Brisbane, Crystalbrook Vincent, The Inchcolm by Ovolo, Alex Perry Hotel & Apartments, and Pullman Brisbane Airport.