Aaron, who’s a friend of a friend, is coming to Brisbane. He’s asked me where to stay and what to see. Since I’ve lived in Australia for more than a decade and Brisbane for close to three years, I feel adequately experienced to talk about the following:
I live three blocks away from Southbank, on the boundary between South Brisbane and West End. It is a nice place to live, even and especially in the short term. We’re a short stroll to the CBD, just up the road from the Cultural Precinct, handy to a multitude of ethnic and local eateries, chic cafes, and within a stone’s throw of Brisbane’s famed fake beach.
However, rentals are in short supply in the 4101 area and cost much more than similar units in Kangaroo Point or Fortitude Valley, two other suburbs close to the city. How much more? Well, my good friend Tania paid $160 per night for a two bedroom two bathroom apartment in Kangaroo Point upon her return from the UK, as the building I live in was charging anywhere from $220 to $350.
The advantage with renting a service apartment over a hotel is that you can wash your own laundry and cook your own meals if you so desire. If travelling in a group, it also works out cheaper than staying in a hotel, motel or hostel (apart from those that sleep dormitory-style) as many of these establishments charge a fee for having more than two guests in a room.
With the abundance of “cheap eats” available, finding a meal within your budget will never be a problem. My favourite would be the “lunch specials” most Asian diners seem to have. As the name suggests, these are offers only available during lunchtime. For under $10, you can typically get a main meal the size of two regular serves back in Asia or an entree, meal and drink combo. Having said that, the serving sizes in Australia are usually humongous so irrespective of price, meals are bound to feed more people than what you intend.
If you are a lover of seafood, you must drive or train it to Darra in Brisbane’s south. Most restaurants there are affordable and of a decent standard, but the one I frequent with His Royal Highness and Amanda is Que Hong Restaurant at 139 Darra Station Road. Even though the decor is a little too gaudy for my liking, they do make a mean Hong Kong style crab. That’s crab deep-fried until its shell is crispy then tossed with fragrant black beans, garlic, ginger and chilli. It’s a pretty indulgent dish but who’s counting calories anyway when you’re on holiday? Most times we’ve dined there, we’ve paid around $100 for 2kg of crabs, 1 massive serve of kangkong belacan, that’s water spinach in a spicy sauce, rice for four adults and drinks.
What to see and do
Apart from planting your feet in the sand at Southbank’s fake beach whilst sipping on a cool lemonade, you must pay a visit to The Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), The Queensland Museum and the State Library across the road. If possible, grab a show at QPAC or just sit on its lawns while jazz musicians play live at night. Until early November, The Queensland Art Gallery will be hosting a collection of masterpieces from Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid so if you’re in town, be sure to catch that too.
About 6km west of Brisbane’s CBD you have Mt Cootha, the highest peak around, from which you can admire the city. It’s nice to grab an ice cream while you’re up there, but I wouldn’t recommend a meal for like most tourist spots, food tends to be over-priced.
Another way to see the city would be to take a CityCat from any of its stops along the Brisbane river. There’s much to see out on the deck during the day but it’s just as thrilling to have a ride at night, when the city is all lit up. Be sure to hop off at Eagle St pier and if you’re budget allows, try one of the fancy restaurants there. I’ve been to Matt Moran’s Aria, which I liked, and also Alchemy, which I won’t be returning to. Less upmarket is The Pig and Whistle, worth checking out if you’re in the area for they do make good British fare.
If you have the time, do stop by Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to pat a Koala and see the other native Australian animals there. I’ve been once with Amanda and her classmates on a school outing but it was certainly a fun day out. Just be sure to wash your hands after you’ve touch any of the animals as they do carry diseases. After our visit to Lone Pine, Amanda wound up with worms so I had to deworm everyone in our family. You can’t say you haven’t been warned!
Anyone who’s even been briefly to Australia will know that almost everything sold here is Made in China. Australian made, while of impeccable quality, tends to be priced beyond the means of the average buyer. An example of this price differentiation can be seen in clothes. A typical Made in China dress costs around $40; less than $10 if from the mark-down racks at the front of most small boutiques. An Australian made dress costs upwards of $150. For $170, I once bought a dress with a print I much admired from Nelson Molloy.
Apart from Nelson Molloy, which you’ve probably never heard of, Brisbane is also home to brands Black Milk, that makes funky $80 tights, and Vein, which sells Designer Footwear. Thanks to the Young Designers market held in Southbank on the first Sunday of every month, up coming designers here have the opportunity to showcase their wares. Although none of the items are cheap, most are one-offs or produced in limited quantity.
Be that as it may, if you must buy Australian made for family and friends but are short on cash, I’d suggest you try food instead of clothing or knick knacks. You can always fill your suitcase with Darrel Lea chocolates or pick up a couple of packets of Natural Confectionary Jellies to remind you of your wonderful holiday here. But if like me, skincare products with cutting-edge ingredients are more your thing, then try any of the Duty Free shops in Chinatown. It’s in these shops that you locate jewels like sheep’s placenta infused with green tea, mixed with hyaluronic acid and other cosmetics wonders created to cater to Chinese tourists’ penchant for nouveau ingredients in foreign-made lotions and potions.