I lived in sunny Brisbane in the state of Queensland, Australia for most part of my adult life (11 years) and love this city and its surrounds to bits. It has a warm sub tropical climate, not unlike my native country of Malaysia, a very tourist friendly transportation system, all the modern amenities and has nature right at its doorstep. There are so many things to see and do around Brisbane that it would be impossible for me to list all of them in this multi-cultural city, buzzing with life. So what I would do instead is give you a run down of some of the things "locals" love doing (and some of these cost very little in terms of monetary outlay). Getting around Brisbane is not difficult as it has very good train infrastructure, thanks to Queensland Transport. Most of the places mentioned can be accessed via buses and trains.
The Brisbane River Precinct, Southbank and Western Suburbs
This is where everything happens! Lying just opposite Brisbane's CBD, and easily accessed if you are staying in the CBD area, Southbank and the Brisbane River Precinct is one of the best places to explore. Whether it be day or night, you'll find Southbank bustling with activity. Visit the Queensland Museum and wonder through its various exhibits ranging from its T Rex and Triceratops exhibit at the main atrium, to the life sized humpback whale and calf at the side entrance. Entrance is free by the way. Go for a show at the Queensland Theater, or attend a trade expo if there is one going on in the convention center (some big musicals play here, such as Les Miserables and Miss Saigon). Wonder the weekend markets for trinklets and souvenirs, such as digeridoos as you treat yourself to a hot cuppa coffee and some snacks, such a the delicious greek honey puff balls. Or play in the warm waters during summer in a man made beach at Southbank! Be warned though this spot gets pretty busy!
Thinking of going for a river cruise? There is a very cheap way to get around the river. The CityCat (cat as in catamaran, a twin hull vessel) has multiple stops up and down the river, starting at the University of Queensland. Just hope on and off at your own convenience. The CityCat runs all day long! Another good spot to visit during the weekends, or at night, is Eagle Street Pier. There is a Sunday Market every weekend featuring arts and crafts, as well as hot and cold food. This area is is also home to several restaurants if dining by the river is you kind of thing.
For a change of pace, try taking a bus from the CBD to a neat little gem of a park known as Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Snuggled along the river in the suburb of Fig Tree Pocket, this is another local favorite. While it is not overly big, you get up close encounters with iconic Aussie animals such as cute cuddly Koala's. You also get to hang out with all manner of marsupials (Red Kangaroos, Grey Kangaroos, Paddymelons) in a big open enclosure (no fences here!). Kids love this place! You can even feed them by purchasing pellet food.
To see the whole of Brisbane, and further afield, look no further than Mount Cootha. You can take a scenic drive up, or even the bus. Mount Cootha is home to the Botanical Gardens and Brisbane Planetarium. Both these attractions are located close to the foot of Mount Cootha. The summit houses a cafe and eatery, as well as flat lookout where you can spend the day, or night watching the world go by. I recommend going up at night as the lights are just so pretty. On a good clear day you can spot Moreton island n the background, one of the large sand islands flanking the coastline!
North Stradbroke Island
North Stradbroke Island, or Straddie as locals affectionately call it is one of the favorite getaways of Brisbanites. It is also very easy to get to and move around, even without a car. Just hop on the Cleveland line from the main train station in the CBD area (Roma Street Transit Center), get off at the Cleveland stop. There is a local bus that brings you to the jetty where you can get tickets for the ferry. When you get across, there is another bus on the island that you can take for a fee. This bus allows you to get off at various stops, with its final destination being Point Lookout. For surfers Cylinder Beach is a good stop. Want a nice bushwalk and watch some marine life? Point Lookout is the place for you. This headland juts out into the Pacific Ocean and during season, humpback whales come in very close to the shore. This is one of the best land based whale watching spots on the east coast of Australia, and one that is used by researchers from the University of Queensland on their yearly survey! The hike along the craggy headland does not take a lot of time, and there are numerous spots where you can just sit, have a mini picnic and enjoy the scenery. There are two portions to the headlands, separated by a furrow. You can take the steps that connect the two. The headland furthermost from the bus stop is Whale Rock. Locals gave it this name as it has a crevice that "blows" like a whale when hit by strong waves. It also makes the distinctive blowing sound. From here all manner of marine life can be spotted. I have seen huge pods of surfing bottlenose dolphins, breaching humpback whales, minke whales, manta rays and even a pod of killer whales!
For those driving across, you can buy a ticket and drive your vehicle over on a barge. A 4 wheel drive vehicle is not needed as there are paved roads on this sand island, but they are recommended if you like driving on sandy beaches, and if you like some off road action. With a vehicle, you have more options to explore the freshwater lakes around the island. A good one is Brown Lake. The water is brown in color due to coloring from tannin from dropped leaves of Paperback Mellaluca and Ti-trees Leptospermum trees.
Moreton Island and Tangalooma Dolphin Resort
Another not so well kept secret, Moreton Island is yet another sand island found within a stones throw from Brisbane. Unlike Straddie, which is more developed with roads, Moreton Island, just like its northerly counterpart Fraser Island is all sand. To visit this island and explore its riches, the best way is to rent a 4WD vehicle and take the barge over. For those of you not willing to drive yourself (4WD driving takes a little getting used to!), there is always the option of visiting Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort. This resort runs its own ferry from close to the Brisbane CBD, and they have a good selection of accommodation to suit everyone's taste. They even run day tours out to the resort. The main attraction here is, of course the wild dolphins that come in to feed every evening. Note these are not trained animals and the numbers visiting the jetty here vary from night to night. However, those that do visit come in very regularly. I have had the privilege of feeding the dominant male of the group Fred! He has some nicks and scars from battles with sharks! Tangalooma has staff scientist study the pod dynamics of these dolphins, and they are all have names! Visitors are brought into the water in twos by trained staff and you get to hand feed the dolphins. Petting is strictly prohibited. Another cool thing is that these dolphins usually hang around after the feed so you get to see them frolick in the water. A tip...get up early and walk on the beach and by the jetty. Most times you will see these same dolphins just cruising the waters! Other things to do in and around Tangalooma include Quad Biking on the sand dunes (super duper fun!) and sand boarding (for the thrill seekers among us...highly recommended! For the divers out there, there is a good wreck dive just north of the Tangalooma Resort.
Redcliffe and Whale Watch
A visit to Redcliffe and the Redland Bay requires a day trip out on a bus. By car it takes a mere 20 to 30 minutes from Brisbane's CBD. I love Redcliffe as the waters here are calm and excellent for swimming during the warmer months. Also there are so many good parks in the area for picnics, BBQ's and kite flying. It is the perfect weekend getaway for families with young kids. The jetty area is very pretty as there are boardwalks just off the beach where one can take a dog for a walk. If you are a fishing enthusiast, the jetty is a good place to go too. An added bonus is that Brisbane Whale Watch (with Captain Kerry Lopez, the only woman captain in the South Pacific Rim!) runs their whale watch tours out of this jetty during the humpback whale migration season (June to November). The crew is very knowledgeable and they boast a 100% sighting success. While living in Brisbane, I went out with this crew every year! Had some extremely close encounters with humpback whales too. One reached out its flipper and touched the side of the vessel, while another rolled on its side and looked at me in the eye (yup eyeball to eyeball!!!!!!). Full day tours includes morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea! Out of season they host dolphin watch tours, plus you can rent their boat for parties just to cruise along the Brisbane River.
Gold Coast, Theme Parks and the Hinterlands
Also easy to get to via Queensland Transport as the train runs from Roma Street Train Station in the CBD to either Nerang or Robina. There are feeder services to take you to the main Surfers Paradise strip, or buses to the theme parks. The main tourist strip on the Gold Coast is Surfers Paradise. There are many high rise apartments here and the beaches are to die for. Since this faces the Pacific Ocean, expect to get some good wave action for the surfers. Food is also not a problem as there are many restaurants in the area. Among the most well known is the Hard Rock Cafe Restaurant, situated at the heart of Surfers Paradise. You won't miss it since the it has a big guitar marking where the restaurant is. Another good restaurant that I frequent is Hog Breath Cafe, situated much closer to the beach. Both serve pub food.
If it is theme parks you are after, Gold Coast is home to all of them. The three major theme parks are Warner Brothers Movieworld, Seaworld and Dreamworld. For movie buffs, WB Movieworld is a must. My favorites from Movieworld include the Police Academy Stunt Show Spectacular (now replaced by Hollywood Stunt Driver), Batman 3D ride, Scooby Doo's Spooky Coaster and of course the Main Street Parade. There are several new additions to the park with the Justice League 3D ride and Arkham Asylum. Seaworld is good fun for the whole family as the kids get to learn about marine life. Seaworld, Australia is run differently from the ones in the United States. There are no Killer Whales and the general public are not allowed to touch the dolphins unsupervised. This is to protect these sensitive marine mammals. Finally for the thrill seekers, the best place to go is probably Dreamworld. This is where all the big ticket rides live. Not for the faint of heart!
For those that hate theme parks, not to worry you are catered for. Just explore the hinterlands. Check out Lamington and Springbrook National Parks. Take a walk in the clouds on a treetop walk at O'Reilly's at Lamington National Park as you spot local wildlife. Visit the Springbrook Natural Bridge closer to dusk and see the famous glowworms. Another good place to stop while you are in the vicinity is the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and feed some cockatoos and Rainbow Lorikeets!
The Sunshine Coast
For the best and quietest beaches, head north to the Sunny Coast (as the locals call it). There are so many good beaches to choose from up here. Two main standouts include Mooloolaba, home of the Underwater World, and Noosa. Underwater World is an excellent world class aquarium and is worth a visit or two. Highlights include a turtle pool right outside the aquarium, tidal touch-pools for kids to have a hands on experience, ocean walk through zones and spotlight on billabongs and freshwater streams as well. The wharf area around Underwater World is also a great way to spend a lazy day by the water. Cafes and eateries abound!
Noosa is another amazing place to visit. It is unique in that it remains untainted by commercialization and has no fast food chains to be found in the immediate area. Every small business here is locally owned. The beaches are also nice and secluded. For those who like adventure, there is the Noosa Head headlands, another good place for spotting migrating whales and dolphins. There are several bushwalk trails of varying difficulty, plus you get to play spot the wildlife. They have koala's in the trees here so look out for them. On weekends, trinklet hunters can visit the Eumundi Markets, which is also in the Noosa area. Here you can get fresh produce, hot food and even unique handicrafts!!!!
Another place that might be of interest to some is Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo in Beerwah, close to the Glasshouse Mountains. Steve is an internationally renowned conservationist, most well known for his love for reptiles and crocodiles, and his unorthodox ways of handling these big critters. His TV show the Crocodile Hunter was so successful, they made a big screen version of the TV series. Unfortunately Steve passed away while filming a marine life special in Tropical North Queensland, when he was speared by the barb of a stingray. Still his legacy lives on in the zoo, and in the incredible work his wife Terri, his kids Bindi and Bob do. The zoo is home to many different species of reptiles, mammals and birds, but is most unique for the individually named croc's rescued by Steve and his team. A must do in my book if you are at the Sunny Coast.
I could go on and on about various interesting places to visit in and around this wonderful city, but that would probably fill a whole book! I am sure the Sydneysiders and Melbournites would disagree with me, but Brisbane truly is the place to visit in Australia!!!!!