16 Days of Brisbane

I’ve had a pretty good couple of weeks in Brisbane, although most of that is owed to a couple of people, the city probably only kept me amused for about a day before I ran out of things to do on a budget. Vicky and Darryl came through the city the day after I arrived and it was great to be catching up with the first people I’d seen from home for over 10 months. We were going to check out the XXXX Brewery (yeah, that’s four ‘x’s) but it was booked out, and I was feeling crap since I’d got off the smelly Greyhound the day before, so a chilled out arvo was had before checking out Fortitude Valley for my first beer in 7 weeks. There’s a wee Italian place near the top of the street, on the right as you walk up, that did really good gnocchi arrabbiata, not that I can really comment seeing as it was my first taste of the stuff.

Being a YHA member, I usually book into one of their hostels when I’m going to a new town, partly cause they’re never dumps, and they’ve got a good mobile website so I can book everything on the bus or train en-route if I’m feeling particularly disorganised. They’re hardly ever the cheapest hostel in town though – ‘course, sometimes they’re the only one – so after a couple of days I checked out the bunch of hostels literally next door. The direct neighbour – a wee house with a friendly but very old owner – looked like it might just have as much atmosphere as a funeral so I skipped on to the City Backpackers and got a pretty decent weekly rate for being in a city. That was for a 30-bed dorm though, which promised to be a new and interesting experience, especially for my nose, but that was balanced out by the hostel having a way better atmosphere than the YHA, as well as a really decent TV/movie room plushed out with surround-sound and leather sofas, and free internet in the dining area.

Eventually I got round to having a clear day to check out the city and headed for the City Hall, mainly so I could climb the Bell Tower and get a decent view of the city for free. That plan fell apart as I spied the gate across the entrance then saw the sign that declared the place was closed, since last November, for renovation, until 2012. The city hall apparently housed a museum and I coincidentally walked past the building it had relocated to and checked it out. It had an interesting interactive exhibition of a set of glass photographic slides presumed to be taken by Alfred Elliot between 1890 and 1921. That kept me visually entertained for a while but the jackhammer, ripping through the office next door, detracted from the ambiance somewhat. After that I pretty much walked around aimlessly, hitting the north bank of the river and checking out the botanic gardens before heading back through the city. I think it was the day after that I discovered the south bank and the idyllic Streets Beach.

So after 4 days I was pretty much done and bored of Brisbane but luckily was due for my second Scottish rendezvous, this time with an extremely jet-lagged Claire, who’d came over to do a year of her primary teaching degree in Brissy. I was going to leave at the end of the week but ended up staying for an extra one now that I had an excuse to go see films like Toy Story 3 (really funny, don’t believe it’s still not out in the UK) and Shrek Forever (really disappointing, especially after seeing Toy Story) and do some pretty epic walks round the city. We checked out a fair bit of the town south of the river one day before realising we were miles from anywhere, it was freezing and starting to rain, and did a wide circle round the north to check out Claire’s QUT campus – highlight was definitely Nandos, think that’s where most of my student loan would end up – and the Story Bridge. We didn’t bother walking over it cause we couldn’t be bothered with an even longer walk back home, but then felt bad watching the news that night to find out it was the 70th anniversary of the bridge opening.

We met some of Claire’s flatmates and then I learned that sometimes looking older than I am doesn’t guarantee I’ll get into pubs, and missed out on a great night watching Germany playing with Argentina, settling for a chilly midnight walk through the city to the hostel. I did a day-trip to North Stradbroke Island, realising it definitely would be better to have stayed on the island for a couple of nights to see it properly, although not in the climate of this time of year. There are lots of interesting things to do at the Culture centre, just across the river from the CBD, so I had a look round the art gallery, and we both checked out the history of swimwear exhibition in the museum. I actually got bored of that surprisingly quickly but at least Claire got to see that shot of Daniel Craig from Bond that she’d been hoping for. It took me a while to notice the posters for the Ron Mueck exhibition but it was a must-see, and the $12 was well worth it to get up close to the amazingly realistic and often evocative works in the modern art gallery.

It was great to be catching up with Claire and taking a few weeks out from the usual ‘hey where are you from? how long have you been here? Where have you been?’ conversations that dominate back-packing life to spend time getting to know someone a bit better. Once I found we both were into photography, that was it: we were straight out to the south bank that night trying to do long exposures of the skyline reflected in Streets Beach. Only then, talking to a security guard for the corporation-owned land, did I realise that Streets was the Australian version of Walls ice cream, and it was they who sponsored the beach and gave it its name. Eventually I had to go and opted for the train to Cairns, as I still hadn’t got into the back-packing mood after 7 weeks on the farm, and wasn’t feeling like hopping between hostels all the way up the coast, or spending much more of my money. On the last day that decision came back to bite me a little as one of Claire’s flatmates was doing a road-trip to Darwin could have given me a lift at least to Cairns. Travelling the west-coast taught me not to plan my travel past a few days, but on the east coast the best opportunities happen on even shorter notice.

Day-Tripping North Stradbroke Island

On Monday I thought I’d knock off my first Lonely Planet ‘highlight’ of Queensland and check out Stradbroke Island, just off the coast in Moreton Bay, not far from Brisbane. In a nutshell, staying a couple of nights would have been way better. I left my camera at Claire’s place for all of Sunday so recovering that meant I didn’t leave Roma St station till 10.30. The train to Cleveland took most of an hour and by the time I got to the harbour I’d realised that I’d not be on the island till well after 1 as there was a break in the hourly-service over lunch, a feed I’d half-hoped to have in some nice cafe overlooking the pacific ocean. The Stradbroke Island View cafe filled a hole, and a half-hour, though, and gave me time to work out what the deal with all the ferry options was. There seem to be at least two companies that run a regular passenger service but the lady at the cafe told me the one that didn’t do the vehicle ferries ran to the island a bit quicker, which sounded like just what I needed.

So 3 hours after I’d left Brissy I was on the island, but of course now I had to get a bus to the other side to see the interesting stuff. Talking to Asaf – an Israeli who was day-tripping from Brisbane as well – about how I’d been travelling with an Israeli in Australia, it was funny to hear him ask for my friend’s name on the grounds that ‘it’s a small country, sometimes you know people’. Usually I’m explaining to people from outside the UK that Scotland is actually big enough that I don’t know everyone in it. The bus from from Dunwich to Point Lookout took about 20 minutes without much stopping so even if I’d been on the island overnight and had, say, a bike to explore the place on, I’d still have needed all my time to get round the island.

I didn’t really have much of a plan for the island, but luckily had been told at the info centre that the Gorge Walk was worth doing, and it was. The views down the beaches, the gorge and of the blowhole were pretty nice, and the blowhole really sounded like what I’d expect a whale to sound like. I checked out a bit of the village on the way back to the bus stop, there wasn’t a lot going on but then it is winter. With the sun now heading down I could either get the bus back to the ferry and be back in Brissy before dark, or check out Amity Point and be cruising back to the mainland at sunset, but I wasn’t really feeling like exploring what could just be another couple of beaches, in winter, so back to Brissy it was.