By Vivian Macdonald
BRISBANE, Australia — Three-year-old Carrie is shrieking with delight.
“Faster, faster,” she urges the captain of the catamaran.
When the boat picks up speed, she shouts: “Yee haw!”
The rest of us couldn’t agree more. This is the best and most affordable daily cruise you’ll ever find – sailing the Brisbane River, with no extra charge for shore excursions.
The river is the heart of this Queensland city and the catamaran, along with smaller ferries, is a major component of the public transportation system. It’s not only fun but it’s an efficient way to explore, with 15 stops along the way; if you transfer to the ferry, there are six additional stops. Both run from 6 a.m. until midnight.
North Quay is the best place to start. It’s the city centre dock, just a short walk from the Queen Street mall, which is shopping central and where eats and drinks are served al fresco into the wee hours of the morning. It’s perfect for soaking up the summer heat and watching the world go by after that long, long flight from home.
One block away, up Albert Street, is Brisbane City Hall, the city museum and the newly redesigned King George Square, which has just reopened after a controversial redesign (check it out for yourself). Have a look, too, at Anzac Square – the impressive garden memorial to Australians and New Zealanders who served in World War I and II, those who fought and those who nursed the wounded.
Five blocks from the mall, along George Street, is Parliament House and the Botanic Gardens. The gardens opened in 1855 on the site of the first vegetable farm for the local penal colony. Sit, stroll or cycle (a bike-rental kiosk is located at the main gate). The former curator’s cottage is now a luncheon room (with attached snack bar if you want to eat rather than dine).
South Bank is a not-to-be-missed shore excursion. It’s culture central as well as a fun park. Thankfully, it has reopened after terrible flooding earlier this year.
South Bank got its start after the Brisbane World Expo of 1988. When Expo closed, the government had a plan to develop the site for commercial properties. The wise folk of Brisbane didn’t like that idea one bit and, after a public campaign, it was agreed that parkland was a much better plan.
This is where the Queensland art gallery and museum are located, as is Streets Beach swimming area for adults and children. Even if you don’t have kids, it’s great fun to watch the tiny tots splash about in the water. All are swathed in sunscreen and they all wear hats (Australians know a thing or two about preventing skin cancer). There’s a lovely garden and lots of eateries for casual dining. If you’re looking for more upscale dining, nearby Stanley Street is the place for international cuisine.
From here, you can board the “cat” again for the trip down river to New Farm, a riverside park where the locals love to picnic. The Brisbane Powerhouse at the river’s edge is a popular dining room/bar and a multi-media entertainment venue – music, film, art and dance.
On the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, there is also a farmers market with 120 stalls where “all products are made, caught, dug, plucked, picked, bottled or baked by the person serving you.”
As you sail further down river, there’s a great view of life along the water. An industrial region at one time, urban renewal has made the area between New Farm and Bulimba a choice residential community. Former wool warehouses have been converted to upscale condominiums; beautiful single-family homes line the riverbank. If you want a close look, get off at Hawthorne or Teneriffe. Or just stay on board and choose the place you want to live when you win the lottery.
Bulimba is a definite shore excursion. A former village, it’s now part of suburban Brisbane, the town centre a mere 10-minute walk up Oxford Street from the “cat” terminal. Its appeal lies in its quiet beauty, its upscale boutiques and wide choice of cafes and restaurants (everything from fish-and-chips takeaway to fine dining). Its fabulous historic Balmoral Cinema, with six screens and show times from 10.45 a.m. to 9.45 p.m. is ideal if it’s one of those days you need to escape the heat or, more rarely, the rain.
As the lights come on after a hot Brisbane day, the entire riverside becomes a place of magic. You don’t have to wait until late night for the romance; this is the tropics and the sun sets about 6.30 each evening.
Have dinner and/or drinks at Eagle Pier (from the Coffee Club, there is a perfect view of the city lights and the sparkle of the Storey Bridge). In addition to the café, there are many fine – but expensive — restaurants at the pier, but none with a better view.
Night or day, the Brisbane River is the best way to travel in the capital of Queensland. Check here for schedules and fares.
All photos by Vivian Macdonald, a Canadian travel writer.
See more of her work by clicking guest posts.