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In the shade of skyscrapers and purple jacarandas

Costa Rica

Brisbane is one of Australia's most beautiful cities. Handsome cathedrals and churches stand alongside majestic old civic buildings and sleek skyscrapers, while purple jacarandas, fig and mango trees cast plenty of summer shade. And just out of town a bay full of islands and ancient rainforests beckon. I found six things you really don't want to miss, in and around the Queensland capital.

On the prowl with CityCat.

Best way to discover the city is to buy the bargain all day ticket (£2.10) and hop aboard the sleek feline patrolling the Brisbane river: CityCat. Stay aboard from start to terminus for the easy introduction. Next day, do it again. But this time, take your pick of the 14 stops. My choices: Story Bridge (climb up inside this monster Meccano marvel, the world third in-bridge ascent after Sydney and Auckland - £43.) There''s a jazz club directly below. Crammed into South Bank Parklands (''unlike any other lifestyle precinct in the world'') are formal gardens, a riverside promenade and Queensland Art Gallery, Museum and Performing Arts Centre. And Australia''s only inner city beach, with white sand, palm trees and rocky creeks. The Arbour is a gardening wonder, 443 steel tendrils supporting a half a mile long canopy of bougainvillea. They flood it with mood lighting at night.

Grab a Gabba tour.

If your memories of England’s recent drubbing in the Ashes series aren’t still too raw, take the tour of the Gabba, one of the world’s most famous cricket grounds, opened in 1895. The name comes from the Aboriginal word Woolloongabba. I like both meanings: ''whirling water'' could describe Australian bowler Shane Warne’s spinning a ball in a thunderstorm. ''Fight talk place'' sums up many epic cricketing battles, including the first “Tied Test” in 1960, when both sides finished exactly equal. There are regular one hour guided tours during the day taking in the players balcony, dressing room and dining room. You visit the umpires'' quarters and the pressroom, look down on the splendid ground from the top of the highest stands, and even stroll onto the hallowed pitch. £4.50. [Note to subs all prices for one person] 00617 3008 6166

Wildlife wonders

The late Steve Irwin''s Australian Zoo (www.australiazoo.com.au) with its full-on crocodile show, is 45 minutes N of Brisbane. But as the Queensland summer hots up, there’ s closer and cooler wildlife watching, in a true corner of original Australia. Lush subtropical rainforest begins just seven miles from the city, in the Brisbane Forest Park. Marked trails ranging from a few hundred yards up to five miles curl through forest gullies and stride along exposed ridges, past cool mountain streams and old gold mines. Guides lead bush walks and bird walks. Look for over 800 species of plants. Mount Coot-tha, with its Aboriginal Art Trail, gives commanding views over the city, out to sea and up to the Glasshouse Mountains. There’s regular public transport.

The yippee factor.

Is Mount Tempest the world ''s tallest dune, at over 800 feet. Or only the third highest, as some sandy anoraks will have it? Who cares? As you sit on a sandboard, about to whiz down the smooth golden slopes, the yippee! factor blots out any imprecision over dimensions. The great sandhill dominates Moreton Island, one of largest of the 100 or so which give such insula interest to Moreton Bay, less than an hour from Brisbane city, and easily reached by train or bus. A mighty flotilla of craft awaits to bear visitors across the water. You need two days to do the island justice. Stay the night, and join in evening feeding of the pod of (entirely wild) dolphins. www.seemoretonisland.com Pick of the rest are North Stradbroke Island, for spotting turtles, dolphins, and whales. And car-free South Stradbroke, for the surf beach, stargazing observatory, and resident artist who gives lessons.

Beer tradition.

Good pubs are as abundant in Brisbane . But for the most passionately defended tradition, nothing beats the fabled “Brekky”, Breakfast Creek Hotel.
In the 1970s the local brewery decided to replace the big wooden beer barrels that had always sat on the bar with a “modern“ way of serving beer. The outraged regulars rebelled. The brewery relented and spared the wooden barrels - this is one of the few places in Australia you find them. The other Brekky tradition is queuing to choose your aged fillet steak from the chilled cabinet; they char grill it in the open kitchen in front of you, and serve it with Idaho potato, bacon sauce, coleslaw, and tomato. Or try the Queensland speciality barramundi – a fierce fish with the most delicate flesh.

The lure of the Lure.

Australia play as hard in the kitchen as at the wicket. The place to eat is the Lure, a snappily designed fusion of cool glass and stainless steel and black and white surfaces. Notching up the prizes, it was recently voted best new restaurant in Australia. Executive chef Mark Maric is building an innings (modern Australian with Asian and Mediterranean influences) around seafood. He displays the day''s catch, line-caught if possible, at the entrance to torment your taste buds. Over a drink at the bar, watch him at work on your baked salmon with skordalia, zucchini and tapenade fritter, Persian fetta and rocket salad (£13). Or (for vegetarians) pan fried haloumi, with crumbed artichokes, oven dried tomatoes, grilled asparagus and rocket (£7). Follow with a passion fruit and coconut cream cassata (£5). 00617 3369 9955

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