Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Brisbane, Australia -- City Tour -- September 2007

To get a good feel for the layout of the city, one of the first things I did in Brisbane was to take a guided tour. Several companies provide tours of the city, so I browsed the available tours at the Toruist Info Kiosk at the Queen Street Mall and found a fairly comprehensive all day tour, "Brisbane's Best," operated by Australian Day Tours.

The tour van picksme up on time in front of my hotel at around 9:15 AM, and, after a brief stop at the central bus station to exchange passengers, we head out for a look at the city.

The van is comfortable, and the size of the tour small (8-10 people) making interaction with Bob the Tour Guide easy and informal.

Brisbane was founded as a prison for convicts who were no longer welcome further south in the Sydney area, and grew over time into the State Capital of Queensland, in the Northeast quadrant of the Australian continent. The morning portion of the tour takes us to early historical sites of the city, with stops at the Windmill in Wickham Park, built by convicts to mill grain for bread, the old Treasury and Lands Administration buildings, now part of the Conrad Treasury Casino, the Parliament building, and City Botanical Gardens.

After midmorning tea at the Breakfast Creek Hotel, we board a boat for a cruise up the Brisbane River, taking in various cityscapes, the Kangaroo Point Cliffs (where early settlers hunted Kangaroo), and many examples of Queensland architecture along the river.

The boat trip ends at a point along the South Bank Parklands, where the tour group disembarks for lunch (not provided). As I explore the area, I encounter a Nepalese Peace Pagoda, quite unexpected in this part of the world. Apparently it was left behind after the World Exposition in 1988.

One of the great things about Australia and Brisbane is the wide variety of food available, and the large number of restaurants in the city. My favorite lunch places in the city are the various food courts, usually underground, which provide both Australian and ethnic food quickly, and at fair dinkum prices. Happily I am able to find a food court, and feast on some kind of kabob wrapped in flat bread -- delicious. After lunch I explore the South Bank. Being a weekend, the outdoor market is in session, and I wander the various stalls drinking in local crafts, fashions, trinkets, and other sundry items for sale until it is time to join the tour van again.

Following this, I meet up with the van, and we are off to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, located just a few miles from the city. Here we are turned loose to mingle amongst the beasts: kangaroos, wallabies, goats, sheep, and other species run wild in the preserve. Various birds, and wombats, and, of course, koalas, are confined in their various habitats. Here you can race a kangaroo, view a sheepdog demo, or have the obligitory tourist photo taken while holding a koala. Our visit goes into feeding time, so the koalas awaken from their treeborne naps and start munching on eucalyptus while flocks of colorful wild lorikeets and parrots fly in for the evening foodfest.

The final destination of the day is the top of Mount Coot-Tha, the highest point near the city, from which Brisbane, the Coral Sea, and surrounding panorama is observed.

Overall this tour was very worthwhile, as it gave me a good feel for the city and surrounding areas, and provided an internal map for further exploration.

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