You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and my first impression of Brisbane was very good indeed. It may have helped that I was a little punchy after 15 hours in the air, plus a 3-hour layover in Los Angeles enroute to Australia. It might have been that second cup of coffee right before landing. It might even have been the adrenaline rush of finding myself in a place absolutely new to me. Whatever the extenuating circumstances, I liked it immediately.
Traffic was light riding in from the airport at about 8 a.m. Brisbane time, temperature was about 72 degrees F, with a light breeze and sunny skies. My employer mercifully granted us our first day in-country to re-synch our internal clocks and settle in, so I had time for a little exploring before my body remembered it had been mostly awake for over 24 hours and crashed me.
Having done a bit of what the Army calls “route recon” before the trip, I knew my hotel adjoined Brisbane’s Riverwalk, which provided a nice straight-line path to the Botanic Gardens, about a 15-minute walk. Seemed as good a destination as any to begin with, so I tossed my bags in the hotel room, pausing a moment to gasp at the magnificent view of the river and downtown (see the previous post), and set off.
As you can see from the map here, central Brisbane is dominated by the Brisbane River. The city is in some ways defined by it. The s-shaped curve of the waterway sets limits on how traffic can move about the city and where things can be built. It favors vertical rather than horizontal expansion. A network of public ferries, including a fleet of sleek, modern catamarans, zigzag up and down the river, connecting the north and south banks. The Riverwalk hugs the river on both sides and is a magnet for pedestrians, joggers, bikers, and skateboarders. Does everybody in Brisbane enjoy a vigorous daily workout? Probably not, but the steady stream of well-toned athletes who passed me on the Riverwalk offered convincing evidence that this wasn’t a city of couch potatoes.
Story Bridge is a major point of interest on the river, an impressive sight by day and lit by an array of lights at night that seem to vary in color depending upon which local sports team has a game on. The adventuresome tourist can even book a guided expedition along the bridge’s maintenance catwalks to the top of the span, but that particular attraction was beyond the limits of my time and budget for this trip. Perhaps next time. Or not.
As for the Botanic Gardens, a fixture in this town since its early history, it was every bit as expansive and beautiful as I’d hoped. Even in the Australian mid-winter, it was lush and green, dotted with tropical flowers, palm trees, ponds, and fountains.
There were dark, thick, mysterious groves of bamboo and the occasional bit of sculpture hidden in a quiet refuge off the main pathways. Birds were abundant—rainbow-dipped lorikeets, ibises, ducks, ravens, and even the occasional brush turkey, a bit smaller and leaner than our American Thanksgiving fixture, but clearly part of the same family.
My energy lasted longer than I expected, and I completed a loop of the central district, crossing a footbridge over the river and passing through the water park and museum campus arrayed along the south bank. I spent more time there on the last day of my visit, so I’ll talk about that in a later post.