Ditch the thermals and bask in the warmth of the Sunshine State this winter, writes Mike Yardley…
My first stop on a recent swing through Queensland was Brisbane, lapping up the diversity of urban temptations in this most hospitable of cities. Snaking around the inner-city like a serpentine artery, Brisbane River sets the stage for the city’s photogenic credentials, inter-connecting so many distinctive pockets of goodness and underpinning Brisbane’s heart and soul.
After taking my fill of South Bank’s cultural heft, I struck out on the stunning River Public Arts Trail, taking in the artworks on this 2.4km trail that meanders along the river at Kangaroo Point, starting from the Maritime Museum and ending down at the Thornton St Ferry Terminal. Amid the trove of works is a throwback to Expo ’88, the iconic sculpture, Man & Matter. Few suburbs can match Kangaroo Point for its skyline views and natural beauty. Standing atop the ancient cliffs, the unmasked views of the river, skyscrapers and mountains show Brisbane at its best. You may well notice people conquer their fears by abseiling from the top of the golden-hued Kangaroo Point Cliffs. Not me! Gazing across the river, kayakers were out in force, while Segway and scooter riders, strollers and cyclists all whizzed by on the riverside paths.
In a city that seems to be in a constant state of self-improvement, a monumental construction project is underway that will endow the city centre with a world-leading entertainment precinct. Queen’s Wharf Brisbane is on track for completion next year. It will transform the CBD and river’s edge with an iconic design that embraces Brisbane’s inviting subtropical climate and celebrates the precinct’s Indigenous and European heritage. The $3.6 billion development will change the face of the skyline with the tallest towers already taking shape.
Along with four new luxury hotels, the glittery new landmark set to spangle the Brisbane skyline will be The Star Casino. This signature ‘Arc’ building, which seems to have been inspired by Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands includes a breath-taking Sky Deck (from a height of more than 100 metres), with restaurants and bars fully accessible to the public. Spanning the size of 12 rugby fields, the Queen’s Wharf development is not demolishing any heritage buildings.
Instead, the grand old Lands Department building will be revitalised as a Ritz-Carlton, while the spectacularly ornate Treasury Casino building will be transformed into a designer shopping emporium that is being billed as the Harrod’s of Brisbane. With the city set to scoop the hosting rights for the 2032 Olympics, Brisbane firmly has its eyes on the future.
I learnt much about this blockbuster urban development on a flavourful stroll with Leanne Harris from Walk Brisbane. She offers a wealth of personalised walking tours to suit your interests, whether it be history, culture, coffee culture, hidden laneways. I felt like I was wriggling under the city’s skin as she shared with me so many insider gems, threaded into the city centre’s fabric. I highly recommend hooking up with Walk Brisbane for a tailormade exploratory. www.walkbrisbane.com
As a caffeine-fiend, I was particularly keen to stake out some star specimen cafes and Leanne delivered in spades. Two must-try cafes are Bean Magic and Coffee Iconic, a true hidden gem down a laneway. I gazed in admiration of City Hall as Leanne pointed out the curious sculptures comprising its magnificent pediment frieze. Designed by Daphne Mayo in 1830, alongside the obligatory kangaroo, the sculptures include naked convicts. The view from building’s clock tower is a stunner, accessed by one of the oldest lifts in Australia.
Taking in other heritage nuggets in Queen Street Mall, Leanne pointed out to me Room with Roses, a city institution for splendid high teas, situated in Brisbane Arcade. We headed over to Eagle Street Pier, a beloved riverfront precinct, brimming with premium dining options. There’s a lot of buzz about City Winery, a cellar door, restaurant and wine experience right on the water’s edge. I adore the swish new Greek mezze bar, Opa, which opened on the waterfront just a few months ago. The pier is also home base for Kookaburra Showboat Cruises, offering a winning blend of great food and entertainment with a spectacular cruise. Crossing the river on a City Cat ferry to the leafy embrace of Kangaroo Point, I farewelled Leanne, because I had a hot date with a big bridge.
I knocked off the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb some years ago, but this lofty ramble on a super structure will be an absolute highlight of your visit to Brisbane. Do it as twilight as the slumping sun gilds the city and the sky throws up bewitching hues like the pink tinged clouds. We lucked out big time on my walk, as we got a massive rainbow theatrically arching over the city, too. The guided walk is not as scary as you may think, as you’re safely enclosed by railings to hold and tethered to a carabiner, as you stride across the tall and long limbs of Story Bridge, to the 80 metre high summit. The panoramic views are magical, deeply underscoring the beauty and importance of the river to the city’s essential make-up. Our effervescent guide happily snapped a stash of action shots of us as we conquered the bridge at a leisurely pace over the course of 90 minutes. Connecting Fortitude Valley to Kangaroo Point, it is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia, and come nightfall, the bridge is emblazoned with different coloured lights from one night to the next. You’ll glean all manner of heritage nuggets and anecdotes about the bridge, since its construction just over 70 years ago. It is a glorious piece of engineering and central to Brisbane’s architectural personality. https://storybridgeadventureclimb.com.au/
At the base of the bridge, Howard Smith Wharves (HSW) is another on-trend and characterful hospitality precinct to add to your Brisbane check-list. The site is steeped in history, originally built in the 1930s and largely abandoned since the 1960s’ when the port moved further downstream. Spaces including air-raid shelters, a two-storey office building and wharfage are now heritage-listed and a rare surviving example of early infrastructure in the city. Felons Brewing Company is the flagship resident of HSW, one of the first outlets to lay its roots in the precinct – and it’s kept sprouting. Enjoy their freshly-brewed classic Brisbane riverside beers, a particularly popular spot for an afternoon drink, although they’re open late into the night. Wrap your lips around one of their incredibly tasty potato pizzas. Felons Barrell Hall is the sister venue, located right next door. This is a modern Australian take on a German beer hall, with picnic-style tables, ping pong tables and live music every weekend. Another in-the-know nocturnal haunt at HSW is the overwater bar, Mr Percival’s. Fawned over for their inventive selection of cocktails, the late-night atmosphere is cranked up with a DJ perched above their 360 degree bar.
From HSW, it’s just a five minute stroll up the hill to the thriving hospitality scene of Fortitude Valley. With every twist and turn through this famed inner-city ‘hood, you’ll discover something new. From cafes in hidden laneways and live music venues, to boutique shopping and rooftop bars – the valley is awash with temptations. Here’s a round-up of some of my favourite finds. Fuel up at Chur Burger, located on Constance Street. Hoe into the signature burger of crispy pork belly, chilli caramel, slaw and aioli. Throw in a side of buffalo wings with blue cheese mayo and you’re onto a winner. Sink a late night cocktail with a side of sophistication at The Palace Lounge. The Valley is laced with a tapestry of hip lanes full of cute boutiques, bars and diners, in addition to the glittering parade of homewares and boutiques on James Street. Try Winn Lane for new threads, California Lane for cute boutiques and international bites and Bakery Lane for bustling eateries. Want to party like it’s 1999? The Valley is your nightclub hotspot with everything from live music venues, to clubs with DJs hitting the decks spinning every genre of music you could think of. Try Sound Garden for live music, or X Cargo for Brisbane’s ultimate beer garden experience.
I had the pleasure of staying at the brand spanking new Hotel X in Fortitude Valley, which is a show-stopping specimen of a mid-sized lifestyle hotel, brimming with personality, comfort and indulgence. Towering above the city’s bustling streets, the white geometric façade is unmissable at night with a custom facade lighting system, playing on the hub’s artistic candour and eccentricity. The 146-room destination is designed with a contemporary palette, custom furnishings and enthralling artwork by the Justin Nicholas. I was impressed by my top-end amenities, designed by high fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld – the brand’s first international hotel collaboration to date. Fashioned in the heart of the Valley, Hotel X’s distinctive design features and premium facilities celebrate the neighbourhood through ultra-cool art, Avant Garde lighting and exceptional views of the cityscape. Bisou Bisou is the beautiful ground floor restaurant and bar, beating to a French bistro tempo. There’s an expansive gymnasium and event function space, but the Mediterranean-styled rooftop poolside restaurant and bar, Iris, is its crowning glory. Whether you’re staying in-house or not, it’s one of Brisbane’s hottest new haunts, for superb food, salivating libations and blissful river and city views. It’s a cocktail of playful wonder at Hotel X. https://hotelx.com.au/
Discover the soul of Brisbane, Queensland’s cosmopolitan capital for arts, culture and destination dining. With stunning natural assets, a laidback charm and a subtropical alfresco lifestyle, Brisbane fast lays on the seduction factor. For timely tips and trip inspiration, start your exploration on the Sunshine State’s official visitor website. www.queensland.com
I travelled to Australia with Cover-More Travel Insurance, which has embraced the Covid age with added benefits and protections, over and above the typical travel cover, for the likes of medical treatment. Their single-trip policy covers you if get COVID-19 or you’re placed into quarantine due to contact with someone who has COVID-19 and you cannot travel. You are covered for $250 per night if the person you were planning on staying with gets COVID-19 or they are placed into quarantine. You are also covered for cancellation or new accommodation expenses if your pre-paid accommodation is shut down for cleaning and for cancellation costs if your prepaid holiday activities are closed down. When you’re booking a trip to Australia, lock in travel insurance you can trust. https://www.covermore.co.nz