Australia is a country with its eyes set on the future and nowhere is this more evident than in its most aspirational and energetic city. Brisbane, or 'BrisVegas' as locals proudly describe their hometown, fairly crackles with new enterprise.
Once regarded as a convenient stopping-off point en route to the Gold Coast, Brisbane is today a destination in its own right, offering a wealth of outdoor, cultural and gastronomic experiences.
Sporting types will find an especially warm welcome at the Breakfast Creek Hotel, which is party central during big matches. The landlord told me: “Every publican in Brisbane was phoning around to get more kegs of beer.”
Apart from serving some of the juiciest steaks in Queensland, the Brekky Creek is the only place still serving XXXX from wooden kegs – a tradition dating back to 1889.
Another place not to miss is the Spanish Garden Steakhouse, which is housed in a shady courtyard.
Famously laid back, Brisbane is rapidly becoming one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Australia with a vibrant arts scene, a burgeoning restaurant quarter and a new-found reverence for its early European history – the city’s old buildings and parks have been lovingly restored.
The City Botanic Gardens are a great place for a stroll, while Old Government House, a grandiose pile dating back to 1862, was the home of Queensland state governors until 1910 and provides a rare glimpse into the gilded life of those who once ran this colonial outpost.
The Queensland Art Gallery is the state’s premier cultural institution and also comprises the Gallery of Modern Art. It is accessible by bus, train and ferry; admission is free.
Then there’s the Queensland Maritime Museum, a must for anyone with an interest in maritime history, wooden boats, shipbuilding or lighthouses. Exhibits include the historic frigate HMAS Diamantina.
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Visitors in search of outdoor recreation have traditionally driven south to the Gold Coast. Just 50 miles from Brisbane, here are some of the whitest sand beaches and a gaggle of theme parks.
Many of the country’s wealthiest citizens retired to this part of Queensland, so for people-watching the Gold Coast takes some beating – you might even glimpse some bikini-clad Meter Maids, employed to feed the parking meters of day trippers.
I also recommend the Dolphin Adventure on Moreton Island. A catamaran whisks you there from Brisbane to hand-feed dolphins, hire a catamaran, go snorkelling or join a whale-watching cruise.
Brisbane is also the ideal jumping off point for trips to the incredible Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands and Daintree National Park, the latter being a pristine tropical rainforest that contains plants as old as the dinosaurs and where the mangroves teem with crocodiles.
Further north are the townships of Cairns and Port Douglas, both of which are springboards for exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
Stretching along the Queensland coast, the reef is the only living organism visible from space and its sheer scale, intense beauty and profusion of fish, corals and underwater mammals attract scuba divers, yachtsmen and adventurers from around the globe.
What is perhaps less well known is how easy it is to explore this fabulous natural wonderland. Cairns, a two-hour flight from Brisbane, and Port Douglas, a short drive further north of Cairns, offer every imaginable reef experience – from day cruises and snorkelling excursions to 'liveaboard' charters lasting a week or more.
Many boats heading out to the reef each day are high-speed catamarans that maximise your time snorkelling, diving and visiting one or more islands, where you can lie on idyllic beaches and look for colourful birds.
Peaceful Heron Island, for example, is part of the reef itself. Its coral gardens grow right up to the glorious beaches and it has a healthy population of turtles and birds. It’s great for divers and snorkellers as it’s close to about 20 world-renowned dive sites.
For something extra special, take a seaplane trip to the Outer Reef from the mainland. This is one of my favourite ways to experience the reef, well away from the crowds.
Whether you choose Cairns or Port Douglas is a matter of preference but the latter provides easier access to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef meet.
This part of North Queensland remains incredibly wild and sparsely populated. Sugar cane flelds line the highway north from Port Douglas and the old frontier towns, with their big wooden pubs, belong to another era.
Cairns also has its charms, not least the chance to explore the hinterland beyond the cool Atherton Tablelands. This rich farming area produces valuable crops of tropical fruits and coffee.
And try a trip to the Mareeba Wetlands, a wildlife sanctuary home to 204 species of birds and mammals such as echidnas, wallabies, kangaroos and possums. I believe this magical place should be on every itinerary.
After your tour, you can enjoy some 'native tucker' (croc, roo or emu) at the city’s Red Ochre Grill.
You’ll soon realise why so many people come to this part of Australia for a holiday and never leave. “I’ve lived here for 20 years and never owned a jumper or an overcoat,” one local told me. “We call it God’s own country.”
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This article was written by Mark Chipperfield from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.