Brisbane, The Australian City I Hold Close to My Heart

Brisbane, The Australian City I Hold Close to My Heart

Brisbane is the capital city of the Australian state of Queensland, it’s also the most populated. I’m writing this today as it’s snowing in London… Strange feeling to think I was there at the same period of the year in 2020! January is one of their hottest months. I’ll tell you why I love this place so much and share my experience below.

It all started in June 2006

It takes me back to when I was still a student, in my 2nd year of university. As part of the program, we all had to choose between a regular internship or work experience in an English-speaking environment. There’s nothing like an immersive escapade to practise a language! So I picked the second option and I didn’t do it the easy way… I could have just gone to England but I always loved Australia and it was a great occasion to finally go. That’s how I spent 6 months of my life there, from June to December 2006. Among all the cities, Brisbane was the best choice:

  • It’s on the Gold Coast with easy access to plenty of other cool cities around (Surfers Paradise for example)
  • They have more than 280 days of sunshine a year
  • It’s a vibrant city, known for its youthful vibes
  • There is a nice river to cruise along with an iconic bridge (even more stunning at night)
  • It’s a pretty safe city
  • There are a lot of green spaces, a super cool artificial beach and many places to eat, drink and socialise
brisbane story bridge

There are so many reasons to visit Brisbane, it was by far my coolest experience in my 20s. Immersing myself among locals and working there as a charity fundraiser (ideal job to talk to people!) definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Needless to say my level of English skyrocketed, I just got lucky I didn’t pick up the Aussie accent… But I kept the Aussie spirit in my head, dreaming to go back one day.

13 years later

Happy moments, good vibes, freedom feeling… It all came back to me. Time flies and it’s easy to be vacuumed into this big adventure called life. It was only in January 2020 that I had the occasion to go back and relive all these fond memories… with my fiancé this time. It was one of the stops during our road trip from Sydney to Cairns. We decided to stay 5 full days there, giving us enough time to suck in all the vibes of the city.

Memories vs New reality

It’s amazing how much Brisbane changed since 2006. South Bank was still under development back then, now looking amazing. They built more skyscrapers, new walkways, a big wheel… There was also a free ferry service to take you in and out the city (called the CityHopper), which we found amazing. It runs everyday from 6am until midnight and you don’t have to pay anything to enjoy great views. We definitely made the most of it. Below a picture of the stunning icons at night: the Story bridge and the Brisbane river:

brisbane story bridge by night

The 2010-2011 Floods

Unfortunately, there are some risks associated with a long river flowing through the city… Brisbane experienced floods in the past but the last time it happened was between my 1st and 2nd visit. Unprecedented and prolonged rainfall started in November 2010 in Queensland and continued into January 2011, causing river levels to peak at 4.46 metres. Approximately 200,000 people were affected by the floods state wide. In 2020, we saw many restaurants still displaying a high water line from this natural disaster on their facade. Back in 2006, I worked a few weeks in a restaurant that didn’t seem to exist anymore – Not sure if the flooding has anything to do with it but I remember it was located right in the middle of the most affected areas.

Mount Coot-Tha offers a great view of the city

This place is ideal to have a panoramic view of Brisbane city. Mount Coot-Tha is 287 metres above sea level and just 20 minutes drive away. Luckily, we had a clear view that day. There is a lot more to do over there than just admiring the views… You will find a lot of hiking trails to explore the area, so don’t forget to wear comfy shoes! Some are easier than others, but the time needed to complete them is indicated beforehand to avoid nasty surprises. You can also chill out in the café afterwards.

view of brisbane city from mount coot-tha

Australia Zoo, home of the crocodile hunter

When you visit Australia Zoo, you’re making a contribution to conservation. Their mission has been to protect wildlife and wild places for 50 years now. This type of place is vital to educate people at a young age and learn more about animals we’re responsible for. For the wildlife, we are their greatest enemy and their only hope! Located roughly an hour drive away from Brisbane, I’d say this place is worth a visit.

If you used to watch Steve Irwin on television, this is his legacy. His wife Terri and their 2 kids Bindi and Robert suffered a huge loss when he died, after being attacked by a stingray on the Great Barrier Reef in September 2006. I was actually in Australia when it happened…

crocoseum at australia zoo

Another thing I would mention about this zoo is how impressed I was with the African section! If I was a giraffe, a rhinoceros or even a meerkat for example (see below), I would love to live there. The space they have is huge, they can play, hide, run away… and stay protected without predators around. I would even say that being there made me feel like I was in The Lion King movie. The associated song stayed in my head all day.

meerkat safari australia zoo

Holding a koala is not allowed everywhere

Everyone has a soft spot for koalas… They’re so sweet, calm and soft, and you can only find them in Australia. But be aware that holding a koala is only allowed in 3 states (out of 8): Queensland – also known as the Australia’s koala-cuddling capital, South Australia and Western Australia.

It is possible at the Australia Zoo, I’ve done it myself. They have big claws but they’re such harmless creatures. They smell like eucalyptus (they eat so much of it!) and feel a bit like an old thick carpet to touch. You can’t really cuddle them for long, carers only let you hold them in a certain position. If you want to see koalas especially, the best place would probably be Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary though. It is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and is located just outside of Brisbane!

Do I see myself living there? Yes, if it wasn’t that far away from Europe… Among other Australian cities worth visiting: Perth & Melbourne.

Big Girl x

Our Road Trip in Australia, From Sydney to Cairns

our road trip in australia

Rather than taking the plane again to the next big city, we decided to drive all along the East coast of Australia, from Sydney to Cairns. You need 3 things for the perfect road trip: time, a good car and a good partner. Australia is a vast country and sometimes you drive for long hours on very lonely roads with nothing around, you need to stay focused as wildlife doesn’t warn you before they cross your path. From Sydney, we stopped at 8 places before we made it to Cairns. For us, everything was planned ahead just to make sure we stuck to our budget and time frame but also to get the best accommodation in advance.

Stop 1: Port Macquarie (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia port macquarie

Our first stop was a city known for its lighthouse, you’ll get a stunning view from it. There is also the only hospital for koalas in the world in Port Macquarie. Only 4 paid employees and more than 150 volunteers are doing a great job to preserve this threatened species. They were particularly busy as it was in a middle of the bushfire crisis. Otherwise, you will find the Breakwall along the Hastings River, displaying painted rocks that people originally created for an art competition in 1995. Nowadays, anyone can contribute their own way with diverse messages on it. I spotted one that I liked, saying: “Maybe you’re the lighthouse in someone else’s storm”.

Stop 2: Byron Bay (4 hour drive)

australia byron bay

A lot of travellers stop in Byron Bay for the beaches and the atmosphere that I would qualify as hipster. The Cape Byron Lighthouse offers a really nice walk with great views of Tallow Beach and a pathway to the most Easterly point of mainland Australia. If you’re not really into surf, you wouldn’t necessarily love this place as much, but there are some pretty cool trendy restaurants too.

Stop 3: Surfers Paradise (1 1/4 hour drive)

australia surfers paradise

Surfers Paradise was not new to me, I’ve been there before and I loved the vibes of this busy city… It literally is a paradise for surfers, as its name indicates, quite dangerous for swimmers if I’m honest, but the beach itself is stunning. Go on the 77th floor of the Q1 Tower Observation Deck and you’ll be able to see the Gold Coast all the way from Byron Bay to Brisbane. It’s simply amazing and probably the best viewpoint I’ve ever been to. It’s not really a place you go to relax though, the city is busy and there is always something going on.

Stop 4: Brisbane (1 hour drive)

australia brisbane

Brisbane is where I lived, back in 2006… I was only 21 at the time, I was using a working holiday visa and didn’t care about how difficult my paid-by-commission job was (I was doing door-to-door for charities), I was just so happy to be in Australia. This is pretty much where I learnt English, there is nothing like full immersion. I’ve had so many good memories in this city, so we stayed there almost a week to add even more memories, together this time. Brisbane definitely deserves a full post so I’ll write about it in more detail another time!

Stop 5: Noosa Heads (2 hour drive)

australia noosa heads

After we left Brisbane and on the way to Noosa Heads, we stopped at Australia Zoo for its famous Crocoseum and because my partner used to watch Steve Irwin on TV when he was a kid. When you visit Australia Zoo, you’re making a contribution to conservation. Their mission has been to protect wildlife and wild places for 50 years now. You can also hold a koala – it’s allowed in Queensland but forbidden in some other states – if you fancy your picture taken with the most adorable Australian animal. Also, the safari part of the zoo is incredible, you feel like you’re witnessing a scene of the Lion King in real life. It’s one of the best zoos in Australia and really sets the bar high!

We originally planned to stay in Noosa Heads to access Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. We heard about this place so much that it was very frustrating when we realised we didn’t book ahead properly enough and that we had no choice but to give it a miss. It’s very tedious to organise a full trip and sometimes you miss some parts of it. This is what happened to us at that time, lesson learnt for next time! Instead we went for a wander along Hastings Street which seems to be full of beach-style clothing shops and restaurants. Noosa Botanic Gardens were empty at that time of the year.

Stop 6: Seventeen Seventy, or 1770 (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia 1770 kangaroos

Once arrived at 1770, we stayed in a secluded place surrounded by kangaroos. This area was home to the Aboriginal group before the arrival of Europeans. On 24th May 1770, James Cook had set foot on Australian soil, landing at the south point of the bay. This is a very quiet and peaceful small town where there isn’t much to do, but it was a nice place to rest before the longest part of the trip the next day.

Stop 7: Airlie Beach (8 hour drive)

flooding in airlie beach road

This was the riskiest part of our plan… So much driving in one day! I imagine most people use a campervan and sleep in the middle of nowhere to break it down in smaller parts. We experienced 700 km of nothingness, just plenty of wildlife coming up from nowhere: frogs, lizards, turtles, kangaroos, emus… And just to entertain us, we had various road signs reminding us how “fatigue kills” (probably also boredom as you just follow a straight road for hours). The weather was very changeable too, from clear sky to heavy downpours. When it started to get dark, that’s when it became really dangerous. We arrived at Airlie Beach safe and sound but mentally exhausted.

We were not really lucky with this stop as our 2 day stay had bad weather pretty much all the time. Australians never complain about the rain though, because they need it so much! We had a full day plan to go to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands but it got cancelled due to the weather. Some roads were closed due to flooding so we couldn’t even visit the area by car (and don’t even think about crossing on foot, it’s full of crocodiles!). So we decided to do a Scenic Flight instead and luckily we managed to find an hour window where the weather allowed us to fly. We had an awesome view of the Great Barrier Reef from above (the famous Heart Reef is only visible from the air), as well as the Whitehaven Beach which has the reputation of being the most beautiful beach in Australia.

Stop 8: Townsville (3 1/2 hour drive)

the pier restaurant in townsville australia

The only reason you would stop at Townsville is to access Magnetic Island, a ferry will bring you there within 25 minutes from the harbour. Once arrived, we hired a 4X4 to drive around the island but we didn’t realise how badly the roads have been affected by various flooding. Some parts of the road even collapsed so sometimes we had no choice but to leave the car behind and keep going by foot to access some remote areas. All the efforts we had to make to access those places all paid off with plenty of incredible views. The island is really full of scenic spots!

Stop 9: Cairns (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia cairns

Finally, we made it to Cairns! “In the middle of nowhere” would be a good way to describe where we spent our last few days in Australia. We had access to a huge green space, beautiful mountains in the background and a nice creek full of fish and turtles. This part of Australia is very humid and tropical, fresh water is not lacking and they don’t suffer from bushfires. We found the weather there similar to Southeast Asia, a good aircon makes a big difference. Fun fact: I’ve never seen so many bats than in Cairns, at day or at night. In the high street we just had to look up to see them everywhere!

Don’t forget to visit Kuranda if you’re in Cairns. The 35 minutes drive to get there is a visual feast: tropical coastline on one side and the rainforest on the other. Kuranda village offers many things, from local market to wildlife experience. The Aboriginal influence is strong via street art and various shops. It’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in the history and heritage of Australia.

All in all, it’s a bit risky to have a tight schedule when you’re road tripping, you never know when something unexpected could compromise your entire plan… We got lucky! I would still recommend doing it that way to people who already have a return ticket back home, it removes the stress of running out of time. People say: It’s the journey that counts, not the destination… So it’s important to plan it well! For us this road trip took 4 weeks, 9 stops and 3,700 km all in all. Have you ever been on the road for so long yourself? Or are you planning to do it soon?

Big Girl x