Brisbane was a short stopping point on my way up the coast towards the main tourist activities of Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. Family friends, Paul and Kirsten, were kind enough to let me stay with them in their new home for the four days that I was there. I was also graciously tolerated by their dachsund, Sadie.
Brisbane is at the southern tip of Queensland, which stretches almost 7,000km along Australia’s coast. For this reason – unlike the rest of the country – the state doesn’t follow daylight savings time. It did feel odd to drive over a timezone barrier on the way from Byron, which is in northern New South Wales.
I didn’t spend much time in Brisbane itself, which is really just a city – although it does have a wide selection of markets. I spent one whole day wandering street food markets in the CBD. The lingering memory of that day, though, will be that it was the one in which the world progressed even further up Shit Creek.
Before we glimpsed the start of World War III, though, I met up with Cat again to visit the Australia Zoo: commonly held to be the best zoo in the country (entrance + return ticket on the Greyhound: $95). It is dedicated to animal conservation, established by Steve Irwin’s parents and still owned by his family. Animal interaction is encouraged: Cat was practically jumping out of her seat on the way there in excitement at being able to hold a koala.
As well as the little grey fuzzballs, Aussie animals like kangaroos, cassowaries, dingoes, wombats, snakes and – of course – crocodiles are housed in the zoo. Tigers, otters, lizards, birds and even some African animals like rhinos and giraffes also have enclosures. Not all of the animals are on display; many have their own private areas which cannot be viewed by the public.
Although the zoo is focused on animal conservation, there are some shows throughout the day. I’m not sure how putting animals on display for our entertainment like this is justified, although it could be argued that they bring in more money for conservation efforts. I wasn’t enough of a hard-nosed animal activist to miss a few of the events, though.
The main show is in the ‘Crocoseum’: a big, open-air stadium where the trainers allow birds to fly free, including a condor (one of only six in Australia) and a parrot that would take a $5 note from an audience member and return it to the keeper; she loved that bird. Crocodiles were, of course, the main attraction, and thanks to the extremely clear water in the main pool we were able to see exactly how they hunt.
Cat and I also attended enrichment sessions with some of the zoo’s tigers and otters – separately, of course! According to the keepers one of the otters, aptly named Mayhem, used to gather debris from around his enclosure and build himself a ladder every night, then roam around the zoo. The ladder was taken apart and hidden when they arrived in the morning! They only caught him after installing CCTV cameras.
Other activities in Brisbane included visiting the artificial beach at Southbank (Brisbane is not a coastal city, no matter what the natives insist) and heading up Mount Coot-tha, which gives great views over the city. The Botanical Gardens are on the way down the mountain, and also worth a visit: they are big, peaceful and free!
My next stop was Hervey Bay, the closest town to Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island, and my favourite place along the coast after Byron.