How I fell in love with Brisbane while having no expectations

How I fell in love with Brisbane while having no expectations

Brisbane was a city that surprised me a lot in a positive way. Since Melbourne until Brisbane I heard several negative opinions regarding this city. And probably this was what contributed for having such low expectations and having such a great experience.

Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland state, and not surprisingly, also the city with more population in the state. It is also the third city with more population in Australia, after Sydney and Melbourne (where I was before).

The trip to Brisbane was the shortest I had in Australia, only about one hour away from the Gold Coast, and I was fortunate to have the company of the Canadian guy I met at the hostel a few days before. I’ve been told before that it would be nearly impossible to travel always alone along the East Coast of Australia. We might start alone, but we will end up being part of a group, and this was the point when I started to feel that wave of backpackers following the same route…

A bit of my experience in Brisbane

I must confess that my expectations regarding Brisbane were close to null. I only decided to stop there because I had tours booked for the next stop, and I didn’t want to spend way too much time in a town waiting for the adventure. And why not Brisbane? Almost each time I mentioned I would spend three days in Brisbane, the feedback was always the same kind. It doesn’t worth the time. At certain point I even considered changing my plans and not even wasting my time with Brisbane, but I had also a voucher for a tour to visit the Australia Zoo, so I kept my plans as they were.

Water Dragon
Water Dragon

Going to Brisbane for a Zoo???

Yeah, it doesn’t sound like an amazing idea, right? But it is a special Zoo, founded by the famous Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. Unfortunately, my plans got canceled again, and this time because they didn’t have enough people for the excursion… Yes, I could have done that on my own, but I decided to stay by Brisbane. This cancellation was quite a stress, again, but it ended up as a good thing.

But how? Didn’t you say Brisbane doesn’t worth the trouble?

Well, but it does! I loved the city, and I left glad to stay those three days! The city reminds me a bit of Sydney, maybe only because of the bridge and the architectonic style, but somehow it reminded me a lot of Sydney.

The first day I explored part of the city center with Ben, and a bit of the night, but it was in the second day that I decided to go a bit deeper. First thing in the morning, and I headed towards to the city center and to the City Botanic Gardens, where I saw several water dragons, a kind of iguana (I guess). Really relaxed buddies, and certainly more than used to people, considering how close they let me take photos of them. I love being in the Nature, I think I spent the whole morning in such a small garden, but at some point I head to go back to the hostel, passing again through the city center.

View over Brisbane downtown from Brisbane River
View over Brisbane downtown from Brisbane River

The following day I met a Korean guy that had just arrived in my dorm, and together we went to Roma Park. At this stage I already had a really good opinion about Brisbane, but in this park I absolutely fell in love with the city! The park is really nice, with several theme areas resembling parts of Australia, with a tropical forest zone kept with a lot of humidity. One detail about Brisbane, and probably more in this park, is that there are a lot of spiders! Until my visit to Australia, I had a stupid and irrational fear of spiders…, in Brisbane I still had that fear, but this trip helped me to control my arachnophobia.

Getting to know Brisbane by bus

I love to get to know a city by foot, but when time is a constraint, one needs to be open to other options. I think this was the first I got myself inside a hop on hop off touristic bus, and it happens that the experience was really positive. Brisbane has two touristic bus routes, one through the center and the other one that will take you to Mount Coot-tha. Since I still had some time, I ended up doing both, to get a feeling how the whole city is. And like I said before, it resembles Sydney a lot, but instead of a bay and a natural port, it has a river. And maybe a bit more sharks…, yeah…, Brisbane has a few river beaches, but with several warnings to be aware of sharks…, nope, I was not into swimming anyway…

While driving, the driver will explain details and curiosities about Brisbane, the architecture, the local fauna and flora, etc. Due to the introduction of foreign species, Australia is now struggling to eradicate or even control them. Even though it’s said that everything tries to kill you in Australia, it seems that everything actually loves Australia. Often you’ll hear or see information awareness on how to protect the native species. And those efforts also pass by garden planning and encouraging locals to use native plants.

Regarding the architecture, a bit further from the city center you’ll see several houses a few centimeters above the ground , but these are suburban houses. The first thing I thought was that those houses could be subject to be damaged by floods, but then, they are on the top of hills… It didn’t take long until the driver explained the reason behind that, that gap between the floor and the house works as a ventilation system, because during summer months the heat is so high that one can’t even be inside the house…

Hop-on Hop-off bus in Brisbane
Hop-on Hop-off bus in Brisbane

One of the biggest advantages of these 24 hour tickets, is that you can get in and out of the bus as many times as you want, and therefore, you can explore parts of the city that are a bit further away. One of the stops I decided to get out was China Town, I walked a bit around the area to see the bridge and the neighborhood. After that bus, I just jumped into the next one and I changed to the next route, but that story I’ll save for another article.

NOTE: According to the website, these buses don’t run anymore… Though there are other alternatives to explore the city, unfortunately a bit more expensive as well.

Hostel Life in Brisbane

For those who travel with a backpack, luck in staying at a good hostel with the right companies is a really important factor to improve even more the travel experience. And this happened at my hostel in Brisbane, I was lucky to meet Ben at the Gold Coast, and also with the people I met in my dorm. I own much of it to Ben, he is quite easy going and he can start easily a conversation with strangers, and it was thanks to that that we spent a few hours playing One Night Werewolf.

Drinking always helps to meet new people, but playing games is also a great way. Of course, we ended up the night at a pub…, and this would be almost certain when we are staying at a hostel packed with young backpackers. From the bedroom we went to the pub that is right below the Hostel X Base Embassy, where we were staying. Of course, games came back to the equation, but this time…, drinking games… A lot of laugher, and we managed to meet even more people and get slightly tipsy, but that’s part of the experience. Even though, the following day I woke up early and energized to explore Brisbane!

The NOMADS / X Base hostel chain is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest hostel chain in Australia and New Zealand. It is really easy to book the next stop from the reception of any of these hostels. However, the NOMADS and X Base were two different chains, and you can clearly spot the differences between them. Personally I prefer the NOMADS, the conditions are better and more modern, even the staff I found them nicer…, but maybe this was also because X Base got into my nerves.

One of the biggest advantages of this hostel network is that they have a tourist office, where we can book trips, excursions and more without having to worry too much. The prices also seem to be very acceptable, which makes it even more attractive for backpackers. For those who are looking for a working experience of on year in Australia, this network of hostels also helps looking for these temporary jobs, or even in farms. Even though I still prefer the NOMADs, I still have to recommend them.

The hostel in Brisbane where we stayed is one of the two X Base in the city, the other one is much closer to the main bus terminal, but this one is much more central. Everything is just a few steps away from the hostel, and everything gets easier, to eat, drink coffee or even shopping. But to go back to the bus terminal, you still need to walk about 15-20 minutes, but it is perfectly doable. Or you can take a bus, if you don’t like to walk…

Lorikeet at Brisbane Botanic Gardens

Besides all the other advantages, staying at hostels is a great way to save a lot of money. In those days when we have time, or simply want to save money, we can use the kitchen and make our own delicacies. And with the right group of people, we can even prepare lunches or dinners together! It is a great way to meet new people and hangout. At the hostel in Brisbane I didn’t join anyone, but further in this trip I met a few people and we were eating together.

Viewing Brisbane from above, from Mount Coot-tha

Which better way to see a city if not from above? Brisbane has two hop on hop off bus routes, and one of them shows you around the center, while the other one goes to Mount Coot-tha, from where you can see a gorgeous view of the whole city. It is a stunning view, and the time that takes to get there is totally worth it. The hop on hop off routes cross at some points, and it is easy to switch buses to the other one, only the frequency of buses passing changes. The points of interest on this route are way less, in fact, besides the ones you can also visit through the city route, there are only two more.

Brisbane Botanic Gardens

The first stop was at Brisbane Botanic Gardens, not to be confused with the City Botanic Gardens, those are two different gardens! These gardens are outside the city and are way bigger, and more diversified than the ones at the city center. If you have this opportunity, don’t skip it!

They even have a bonsai garden, really impressive! I think I only stayed there for about one hour, until I had to take the next bus. I felt like I rushed it a bit, but I still learnt a lot about Australia’s botanic, mostly the ferns of Australia. And again, a lot of spiders…, some spiderwebs looked like full webs over my head… This helped to overcome a bit my phobia, in certain parts either I would go under it, or I would have to go back…

Mount Coot-tha

After one hour, it was time to return to the bus stop. I still had to wait a bit, but it is part of the experience… From there, the next stop was the top of Mount Coot-tha. Coot-tha, in the local language, means Site of honey, where the tribes from that area would get the honey from some kind of special bees, bees without a stingers. Upon the colonization, the name changed to One Tree Hill, due to the fact that they chopped all trees from the top, with exception of one eucalyptus tree. In 1880 the site was declared as Public Reserve, and they returned the original name to it.

As I have been mentioned along this article, the view from up there is simply amazing! But there isn’t much to do there either…, a café and the view. The options to return from Mount Coot-tha are either on foot, which is still a long walk though I regret not doing it, or taking the same bus back. The driver makes a stop of about half-an-hour, and that’s enough time to go to the toilet, take a few photos and still drink a coffee before going back to the city.

Back to the hostel

As soon as I went back to the hostel, I received the good news! My stay at Fraser Island was extended! But due to this…, I also had two hostels reserved for the same night in Noosa…, and I couldn’t cancel it without getting my money back, so I opted by not even cancelling it… Maybe I should have had done it though… But oh well, another night at an amazing island, I didn’t cry the wasted money!

How I fell in love with Brisbane while having no expectations
How I fell in love with Brisbane while having no expectations

I went out again to drink a few pints, at the same pub right below the hostel, with the Korean guy and it ended up in getting really drunk…, but this last night wasn’t as entertaining, we were just 4 at the bar, so we couldn’t play games but we chat a lot. Usually I don’t like going out with the goal of drinking, but when the night is spent with good company, the next day’s hangover is just a small problem.

This is traveling alone, being exposed to situations that otherwise most likely we wouldn’t experience, and meeting people that just by a chance we would even meet. If I talked with them ever again? With some I didn’t, but I am sure if I send them a message today telling them I will visit their country, I know I will have someone to welcome me. Someone with whom I just shared a few hours and beers.

Where is Brisbane?

Brisbane is the city capital of the state of Queensland, also known as the Sunshine State, and it is located close to the border with the state of New South Wales. Being the state’s city capital, obviously it is really well-connected, and it is also one of the main hubs for more routes of the Greyhound bus company, which I used during most of my Australia Adventure.

By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

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