Australia: The (Not Much) Sunshine State

As I strolled along the promenade of Shorncliffe, a quaint Queensland town, the calm water to my right and the clear blue sky above me, I heard a lady remark to her friend, “We’re so lucky to live here” and I couldn’t help but agree. That’s been my sentiment throughout my time in Sydney and now Brisbane – how lucky people who grow up and live here are.

However, nothing’s perfect and when I first landed in Brisbane on my flight from Sydney, it was a different story. I had left the clear blue skies of Sydney and, despite it being only a one hour flight, it was tipping it down in Brisbane, capital of the “sunshine state”. After getting out of the airport, I headed for Brisbane’s AirTrain, the quickest and easiest way to get to the city (or even as far as Gold Coast if you want to go that far). It was about A$18 for one way ticket to Roma Street, one of the main train stations in the city centre, which was conveniently located about a 10 minute walk away from my hostel, Banana Benders.

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Brisbane

The location of the hostel was its best asset, a stone’s throw away from Caxton Street which has a great selection of pubs and restaurants. It also had a great terrace with a lovely view of the mountains which was particularly great at sunset. Beyond this, it was fairly standard and basic. You annoyingly had to pay for Wi-Fi after 300MB of data, showers were few and far between and my dorm room backed onto the terrace with only a grate for a window so it got pretty cold/noisy. Also make sure you check out before 10am sharp or they won’t give you your deposit back. I cut it fine and rocked up at 9.58am because I’m just that much of a maverick. It was, as I recall, the cheapest option in the city though. If you are a Wi-Fi fiend, you can literally walk 2 minutes out of the hostel and connect to Brisbane’s fab, free city Wi-Fi.

I spent my first night dodging the rain and checking out the pubs along Caxton Street. The Caxton is a good traditional pub option, with $7 pints, outdoor seating (with heaters!) and a bloody good bangers and mash. Other good options along here include the Fritzenberger and Brewski. Most nights there was a very chilled out vibe along here so it was a good place for an evening pint and comfort food.

The next day the rain had stopped though it was still pretty overcast, though noticeably warmer than Sydney. I had a great wander around the city, stopping first at Roma Street Parkland not far from the station. This is a huge park, complete with lakes, plants, BBQ areas, a mini waterfall and more. It’s a great picnic spot and I imagine it gets pretty packed in summer. Even in winter though it was lovely to wander round. It’s definitely worth a look.

Just a bit further along from Roma Street is St. George’s Square, which leads into an extensive pedestrianised area filled with shops, bars and restaurants. I arrived there at lunchtime so it was quite buzzing. The square had street food stalls and an ice skating rink (which I wisely did not try) whilst the shopping areas were filled with outdoor bars and buskers which made the centre feel more vibrant than quiet Sydney. I grabbed some lunch and then continued, heading for Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens.

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Roma Street Parklands

Whilst not as impressive as Sydney’s, the gardens were nice and peaceful, benefitting from the location along Brisbane River. What I’ve loved about everywhere I’ve visited in Australia is the abundance of weird and wonderful wildlife wherever you go. It reminds me almost of the creatures you see in Star Wars because nothing is ‘normal’ – everything has a unique feature that tells you, despite the fact elements of the cities of Australia feel like home, you truly are on the other side of the world. Creature spotting has become a highlight of my trip and the city gardens are particularly good for locating bizarre birds.

However, to find the truly iconic wildlife, I boarded a bus to Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, on the outskirts of the city. Getting there is easy since it has its own bus stop. Take bus 445 from stop 41 on Adelaide Street (the next road along from St. George’s Square). It will be obvious where to get off. Note that the buses only run once per hour so maybe Google the bus timetable first. Despite its name, the sanctuary is not just home to adorable koalas but also houses dingoes, alligators, birds, reptiles and, of course, kangaroos. It costs a fairly hefty A$38 (£20) to get in but it’s such a good experience and the whole park is done out very nicely.

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The most unique feature of this park is how close you can get to the animals, particularly the kangaroos and koalas. The bulk of the koalas are housed in ‘Koala Forest’ which surrounds the main dining area. With very low fences and the koalas spending most of their time clutching the trees and chewing on leaves, you can get within a metre or so of the cuties. Whilst it wasn’t the first time I had seen koalas, it was the first time I had seen them active(ish) and awake. They were climbing the trees and eating food and everything they did was just adorable. I want one.

For the kangaroos, you can go one step further. They live on a huge gate field which you can freely walk in and out of to meet and greet the kangaroos properly. If you fancy feeding them, you can buy food at the shop but other than that you’re free to walk in, wander amongst them and try in vain to get that selfie. They were really tame and chilled. A sign gives you instructions on how to properly feed them so they don’t punch you in the face but on the whole they were very relaxed. Actually seeing kangaroos jumping was a real squee moment for me.

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I visited the field twice, once when the weather was very overcast and once when the sun came out. They seemed to be much more active in the cloudy weather. Once the warm sun came out, the beach bums all just lounged about sunbathing whilst the more sensible roos headed to their private area to get in the shade. So I’d actually say visiting on a cloudy day allows you to see these wonderful creatures at their best. It just felt so good to have finally met these two Aussie icons properly – I went to bed a very, very happy man.

On my final day in Brisbane, the sun finally came out in all its glory so I took the train up to the seaside town of Shorncliffe, wandering along the promenade all the way up to Redcliffe. I stopped for fish and chips, I stopped for a quick schooner (I’ve gone so native) and enjoyed the dazzling sunset. The stresses of the past few months were behind me and I felt fantastic.

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Sunset in paradise

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