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Things to do in Brisbane and Southern Queensland

Published 21 June 2016

Sophie Hart snorkelling

Sophie Hart

Where else in the world can you skip between island paradises, lose yourself in lush rainforests, dip into delicious beaches and explore chic cities and towns? A visit to the southern corner of Queensland and its capital city will give you a taste of all of this and more. Brisbane is a small city, but as a local I can attest that what it lacks in size, it makes up for with incredible urban offerings and a laidback attitude. What’s more, it’s the perfect gateway to see this sunny region, so slip into Brisbane’s slow-living with my favourite Southern Queensland recommendations.

Outside GOMA along the Brisbane River

View modern art at GOMA

If you begin your visit in Brisbane city itself, be sure to take a 10 minute stroll across the river to South Bank, Brisbane’s foremost cultural destination and home to the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). A creative hub for art, music, fashion and design, GOMA is neighboured by the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), Queensland Museum and a stone’s throw from the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, all of which are worthy of exploration. GOMA however, is a key favourite and a renowned leader in the Australian and Asia Pacific contemporary art scene. The gallery boasts a joint collection of 16,000 artworks with QAG, and an impressive rotation of exhibitions from the likes of Andy Warhol, Valentino, Cindy Sherman, Cai Guo-Qiang and key Australian artists such as Tracey Moffatt and Ron Mueck. Its shining jewel is the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, the gallery’s flagship exhibition that returns every three years and showcases 80 artists and groups that make up the world’s largest exhibition from this region. 

Brisbane skyline from Mount Coot-tha

See the city from Mount Coot-tha

I love a good vista and Mount Coot-tha offers one of the most photogenic sights in Brisbane. Atop the mountain is a panoramic view of bushland lingering on the city edge and buildings sprawling across the horizon. The best time to visit the lookout is at sunset – I recommend packing a picnic basket and waiting for the sky to switch on the stars. To reach the top you can either drive up the winding road or set off on a bushwalk from J.C. Slaughter Falls Picnic Area on a 2.5 mile round journey. There are a number of longer bushwalks in this area and if you opt for these routes you might stumble upon a waterfall or two.

Fortitude Valley intersection in Brisbane

Shop, wine and dine in the Fortitude Valley

Affectionately referred to as ‘The Valley’ by locals, this nightlife and entertainment hub is where you’ll find the Brisbane’s nightclubs, designer stores, trendy restaurants and 5-star hotels. While one end of the area is jam-packed with nightclubs and Chinese restaurants, the other end, on James Street, enjoys a sophisticated air with designer boutiques and some of Brisbane’s best restaurants (of which Gerard’s Bistro and Tinderbox Kitchen are my favourites). To enjoy Brisbane’s more independent scene, be sure to swing by Winn Lane where you’ll find a community of young designers and store owners, as well as one of my favourite burger joints, Ben’s Burgers. 

Stairs going down to Lake Mackenzie on Fraser Island

Get back to nature on Fraser Island

A four hour drive north from Brisbane (and a barge ride over), lies the natural paradise of Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island featuring beaches, freshwater lakes and giant sand dunes. A dip in the surf is an obvious choice when visiting any island but Fraser offers something a little extra for its visitors; a series of beachside rock pools known as the Champagne Pools. This area is also the perfect spot to pick out a slice of brilliant blue shoreline, throw in a fishing line and enjoy pure tranquillity.

As captivating as Fraser’s coastline can be, inland is where you will find stunning hidden gem’s such as Lake Mackenzie. A freshwater lake concealed by thick green bush, here you can bask in gorgeous isolation and wade in its perfectly clear waters. Astonishingly, Fraser Island is home to 99 other lakes just like this. All in all, this island is pure magic.

Sunset on Burleigh Heads

Enjoy some beach time on the Gold Coast

Located an hour’s drive from Brisbane, the Gold Coast is a sparkling city boasting 35 miles of pristine coastline. When visiting, my go-to beach is Burleigh Heads where its rocky point ensures there are always waves to ride or just around the headland are sheltered waters for a calmer swim. After a swim, the nearby restaurant Rick Shores is a perfect place to enjoy lunch with a view.

A bench at the Coolangatta lookout

Another favourite located further down the Gold Coast shoreline is Coolangatta. A laidback town steeped in old-school vibes, the area is a great casual dining scene brimming with flavoursome creations (don’t miss the Malteaser Beignet at PoBoys Cajun and Creole). While you’re there be sure to trek up to Pat Fagan Park for a view of the seaside reaching so far back you can see the glamorous Surfer’s Paradise high-rises.

Chasing more incredible views? I recommend booking a helicopter ride to take in the full coastline from above.

Cedar Creek Waterfall at Mount Tamborine

Go hiking at Mt Tamborine

Known as the ‘green behind the gold’, Mt Tamborine is a charming town in the Gold Coast hinterland. The area itself is a natural phenomenon sitting amongst the third oldest national park in the world and atop a plateau formed by lava from neighbouring Mt Warning’s volcano some 22 million years ago. When visiting Mt Tamborine, my favourite thing to do is go bush walking, particularly to the nearby waterfalls. The Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk is also an incredible experience that will have you traipsing between ancient trees 40 metres above the ground. If you prefer something more relaxed, the region is home to some fantastic award-winning wineries, brewery and distillery, each boasting their own unique charm and flavours.

Explore Brisbane and its surrounds on a fly drive holiday of Australia's East Coast.

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