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

Perth, A Great Reason To Visit Australia’s West Coast

After Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bali, we flew to Australia with the aim to visit several coastal cities from West (Perth) to North-East (Cairns). The country is so big that it’s not really possible to travel from a big city to another without taking the plane (unless you have a lot of time!) so we decided to make the most of each place we visited. We started off with the west coast and stayed 10 days in Perth.

Perth City

I’ll start by saying that we were so relieved to leave the heat and humidity we had in Southeast Asia since the beginning of our trip. A month spent sweating like never before was becoming a bit difficult to cope with (we’re from London, remember!) and we were really looking forward to a drier climate at least. Perth is a super cute city with some tall buildings but not in an overwhelming way, and many pretty pathways along the Swan river. It feels small and big at the same time, there is a free bus within the city but it’s probably a good idea to rent a car if you also want to discover the surroundings.

Kings Park War Memorial, with a view of the city in the background

It’s a dynamic city with cool events being organised, we were really happy to just sit on the grass and watch a Christmas Symphony Orchestra with locals. It was free to access for everyone and there were a lot of food stands around to give us more summer vibes – in December. Also, Perth has amazing sunsets. You can see it from parks, rooftops, or even walk along the coast. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a cormorant drying its wings.

Waiting for the orchestra to start in Langley Park

Perth is a bit isolated from the rest of the country, with no easy way to go anywhere (Indian ocean on one side and the Australian outback on the other) but there are many places to explore within driving distance. The wildlife is amazing in Australia, who doesn’t like a big cuddly koala for example? In Caversham Wildlife Park, you’re not allowed to touch them but you can take nice pictures. If you want more proximity with animals, there is a pathway among kangaroos too where you can feed them directly from your hand.

Sleeping koalas at Caversham Wildlife Park

Now I’m sure you’ve heard about quokkas… They’re famous for their constant smile on their face and their selfies with celebrities. Take a ferry from the harbour and head over to Rottnest Island to see them! We attempted to cycle around the island but it was so hilly and hot – around 40°C that day with no shade at all – that we eventually had to swap the bikes for the hop-on/hop-off bus instead. The island is surrounded by stunning beaches, you can go for a dip or just enjoy the scenery. Many quokkas live on this island (estimated between 12,000 and 15,000) and are really easily approachable. You just have to give them a berry you picked up from a tree and they’ll let you take a picture! You’re not allowed to touch them or feed them anything else though. The flora and fauna is under protection.

Smiley quokka willing to take a pose

Rottnest Island is very popular and therefore particularly busy so I would also suggest the slightly less popular Penguin Island. There are no quokkas there but wild penguins, pelicans, albatross… And maybe a few lizards. Penguins can be hard to spot in the wild but there is a conservation centre with an indoor pool to help penguins who wouldn’t survive on their own. This species is the smallest in the world, they’re only 30 cm tall. The ferry to get there is a very nice few minutes trip, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you!

Penguin island – Conservation Centre

Only 30 minutes drive away, there is another city often associated with Perth due to its proximity: Fremantle, famous for its fish & chips. You can feel the British influence there! But portions are HUGE, Australians do eat a lot. There isn’t very much to do there other than restaurants and shops near the port but it’s still worth a visit.

Was it for only 1 person??? Yes, it was…

Finally, below some additional random facts about Perth and thoughts on our stay:

  • The city of Perth offers free wifi around the CBD, quite convenient when you’re not using a local sim card in your phone.
  • There is also a free bus service called CAT (Central Area Transit), operating 7 days a week, apart from Christmas day.
  • We found fresh gluten free doughnuts in a market that we haven’t found anywhere else…
  • The Bell Tower is one of the world’s largest musical instruments, located in Barrack Square (5 minutes walk away from the CBD). We’ve seen lots of love locks attached to the fence there!
  • There is a shopping arcade in Perth called London Court with many small shops inside and a big clock at the entrance. It almost felt like we were back home for a moment!
  • “The Blue Boat House” is considered the Australian icon for Asian tourists. It’s just a boathouse but it’s painted in blue and is quite photogenic so Asian tourists come to Perth just for the purpose of taking a selfie in front of it! Social media can be quite powerful… You might have seen it among your Windows screensaver options too!
  • Perth is known for being the most isolated city in the world, but it’s also the sunniest with no less than 8 hours of sunshine a day in average.
  • One thing we wanted to do but couldn’t do is visit the Pinnacles. There were some fires blocking the route to get there… It happens when the weather is particularly dry. Unlucky this time but it’s a good excuse to go back someday!

This is another city we can’t wait to go back to, whenever it will be possible… Here’s a little secret: we watched all episodes of MAFS Australia just to recognise the places they were filmed in, it was our guilty pleasure. It says a lot about how much we miss this country. Tell me what you like or dislike about Perth if you know this city!

Big Girl x