If I were going to choose a place to stay in Brisbane that was centrally located but in a pleasant area, I would choose a hotel near Southbank. In fact, when I lived just outside of Brisbane that’s what my family and I did one year; we booked into the Mantra for a week. From here we could stroll to restaurants and cafes, swim at Southbank pool (for free!) or walk up to the Southbank Cinemas on the corner and catch a movie.
At the Western end is the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Museum, State Library, and Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). So during the day you can view the latest exhibitions and at night see a play, go to the ballet, or a performance by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Or you can just sit and play the piano in the walkway under QPAC.
The Nepalese Peace Pagoda is one of the few remaining structures left from the World Exposition held in 1988. Before Expo ’88, the Southbank area was a seedy industrial area. It was transformed into a six-month-long party venue that brought the world to Brisbane, showing it that it was cool to stay out after 8pm.
The pagoda is surrounded by a rainforest through which a rocky stream flows and you can sit in the shade, breathe the cool air, listen to the water flowing, and pretend you’re miles away from the city. Except you’re not, so either keep your eyes closed or squint.
When you’re done basking in the serenity, you can fire up the barbecue at the covered picnic area next to the rainforest. Tables and chairs are provided here, or you can loll about on the wide grassed area and get sunburnt.
If it’s Spring, watch out for the Bush Stone Curlews. If you get near their nest or offspring, these long-legged birds will lower their heads and start goose-stepping in your direction. They won’t do you any harm, but their mournful cry and the creepy way they stare at you will psych you out. Also watch out for the Plovers, who make their nest on the ground and will dive bomb you if you get near it. Oh and of course the Magpies; they will swoop if you happen to get near the tree where they are nesting, which you will. Just wear a hat and sunnies, which is advisable in Queensland wherever you are. Harmless but probably more annoying are the Ibises, otherwise known as Bin Chickens. They’ll hang around wanting your food. Don’t feed them or they’ll just become more annoying. In the warmer months it is also possible you will also see the odd snake, but don’t let that worry you.
If it’s hot you can then go to the beach. Southbank beach has everything you expect on an Australian beach, except for waves and salt water. The first section is a standard pool, with a ramp and railing providing easy access for those who need it. The middle section is the sandy beach and is divided into shallow and deep sections. Then there is the section for little kids: wading pools and shallow streams, water features that rain water down, or tip it from buckets, and gismos to allow kids to create dams or turn water wheels. All of these are patrolled by lifesavers, dressed in yellow and red, from 7am to midnight. After that you’re on your own.
Snaking its way through Southbank is the arbor covered with bougainvillea, a beautiful plant with vicious thorns that creates a colourful shady path the length of the parklands. This will take you to other picnic areas, including one on its own island. Don’t be startled by the water dragons sunning themselves on the rocks by the water; they are harmless and will disappear into the water if you get too close.
There is also an edible garden growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. You can eat this garden but there are rules, so don’t just hoe in.
The path along the river leads to the Riverside Green where music plays on Sunday afternoons and people sit and drink alcohol; however, you must be over 18 and have food to go with your drinks, so get your ID sorted and make sure you pack a bag of chips. If you prefer to eat and drink in a more refined manner, there are several excellent restaurants at this end.
NB: On the days when people most want to get drunk, i.e. Australia Day (aka Invasion Day, January 26) and New Years Eve, you’re not allowed to drink in the public spaces and the police can (and most likely will) issue on-the-spot fines. Typical.
At the tail end of Southbank is the Maritime Museum where you can see the tiny, pink yacht that Jessica Watson sailed around the world in 2009-10, the youngest person to do so at age 16.
If you need to go to hospital, keep staggering towards the Mater or Queensland Children’s hospitals, but if you’re feeling well you can keep walking along the south bank of the river, under the Captain Cook Bridge to the cliffs of Kangaroo Point and beyond, or cross the Goodwill Bridge to the Brisbane Botanical Gardens and city central.
Brisbane City Council offers free classes at Southbank, including yoga, tai chi, Zumba, and dancing, after which you can undo all your good work by having a beer at the Plough Inn, which has been in operation since 1864 (really old for Australia), a chocolate fondue at Max Brenner’s, or a Happy Pop.
For more info on Southbank go here.