As some of you know I decided to spend a month in Australia to avoid the harsh NYC winter – a week in Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney, exploring each city and its surrounding areas.
Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city and is surrounded by great beach towns including Noosa, Gold Town, Byron Bay and as well as Fraser Island, Moreton Bay, North Stradbroke Island and Lady Elliot Island.
Here are our must dos:
Lone Koala Sanctuary – This is where you can take pictures with a Koala, and play in field of Kangaroos and feed them. They also have Emu’s and a variety of other birds and animals.
Walk the Story Bridge – We didn’t have time for this but it’s on our list for next time. The Story Bridge Adventure Climb supposedly has unbeatable views of the city and is a 2.5 hour climb of the southern half of the bride over the Brisbane River. It’s about $100/person and recommended you book in advance.
Brisbane is also known for their galleries, bars, restaurants and world-famous Australia Zoo.
Dolphin Feeding – There are two places near Brisbane to feed wild Dolphins, one is Tangalooma which is on Moreton Island (you can catch the ferry from Brisbane) and the other is a hidden gem at Barnacles at Tin Can Bay, which is a few hours north of Brisbane (between Noosa and Hervey Bay).
We skipped Tangalooma since it was a bit of a production and more expensive (although we heard it’s gorgeous). You have to go to the island and then stay at their resort to night feed the dolphins, which isn’t guaranteed. And from what we heard they only pick a handful of people in the crowd. Whereas at Barnacles in Tin Can Bay, does a morning feeding in front of their café everyday. From 7-8am you can stand in the water with the dolphins for $5 and for an additional $5 at 8pm you get a fish and can feed one and get a photo opp. The staff is lovely and everyone that buys a ticket gets to feed a dolphin.
Another popular destination is Fraser Island, which you can get to from Brisbane, Noosa or Hervey Bay (which is about 3 hours north of Brisbane). We we opted to do Lady Elliot Island instead. We additionally didn’t make it to Moreton Bay, or North Stradbroke Island which are easy ferry rides from Brisbane as well.
Next we went to Gold Coast, which is an hour south of Brisbane and is described as the Miami of Australia. (Although it’s somewhere between Miami, void of South Beach and Ft, Lauderdale, if you ask me). It’s easy to see why once you get to Surfer’s Paradise where the strip is, with shops, restaurants and tons high-rise hotels. It also houses theme parks with roller coasters and Sea World (which we didn’t visit) and has ample night life.
We found the main shopping part a little touristy (the beach is beautiful though) so we stayed a half mile out of Surfer’s Paradise at the Sheraton Mirage Gold Coast, which made the experience. It’s an easy walk, run or drive to the city and yet its private beach is secluded and gorgeous! And the property itself is ridiculous and open (you can read the full review HERE). Across the street from the Sheraton is this great seafood shack called Peter’s Fish Market. You actually pick a piece of fish you want (they are all displayed around the store by type), put it in a bag and then they cook it fresh for you in any style you’d like. It’s totally down to earth with limited seating out front and the best fish in town.
Springbrook National Park:
We took a day trip to Springbrook National Park, which is about 40 minutes from Gold Coast (most of which is driving up the mountain). There are four sections of the park of which we only explored the Natural Bridge and did the easy 1km walk around the circular trail with steps weaving around waterfalls and water-formed cave.
Next we should have kept going south to Byron Bay but ran out of time. It’s probably one of our biggest regrets after hearing the best things about it throughout our trip – it’s supposedly a really beautiful laid back, hippie surf town. It’s an additional 1-2 hours south from Gold Coast and we had plans to go up north to Noosa and Lady Elliot Island so we turned around and went the other direction.
Noosa is 1 hour north of Brisbane (2 hours from Gold Coast) and is picture perfect resort town. It’s a mini-Hamptons in New York terms and the Sunshine Coast’s premier resort town. We stayed at the Sheraton Noosa, which is in a dream location, right on Hastings Street (which is filled with upscale boutiques and restaurants) and across the street from the beach and canal on either side. We can’t say enough great things about the hotel, staff or location. At the front of the hotel there’s a kiosk to rent kayaks, paddle boards, rent boats, take ferries and do sunset cruises.
The Sunset Cruise – it’s about an hour and BYOB. (Or as they say in Australia BYO). And there’s nothing quite like a boat ride during sunset with the Glass House Mountains as your backdrop.
Noosa National Park – it’s free and takes about 1.5-2 hours to walk the entire National Park. The walk is along the coast and offers incredible views and secluded beaches. We didn’t see koalas but they do make appearances in the trees.
HERVEY BAY, Lady Elliot Island, Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef
From Noosa we drove 1.5 hours north to Hervey Bay, which is a jumping off point to visit Fraser Island and Lady Elliot Island that house the southern portion of the Great Barrier Reef. We only had time to do one of the islands and picked Lady Elliot Island since it’s right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef and it doesn’t require a 4WD vehicle to explore it. It’s an easy day or overnight trip, and the island offers a great itinerary from the moment you land to snorkel (or dive) off the sand and see turtles and amazing marine life. (Read our whole review HERE from our amazing day at Lady Elliot Island).
Fraser Island – It’s the world’s largest sand island and the only place where rainforest grows on sand. Filled with tropical forests, freshwater lakes, birds, dingoes, and amazing marine and wildlife, the only way to explore as I mentioned is with a 4WD vehicle (there are tours for hire).
Between Noosa and Hervey Bay is Tin Can Bay where as I mentioned before, you can feed the dolphins. Fifteen minutes north of their is Rainbow Beach, which is known for it’s multicoloured sand cliffs (you can also access Fraser Island from here). Both are worthwhile to stop at for a meal or stretch your legs especially if you’re on your way to Hervey Bay.
Hervey Bay – As we said, there isn’t much there but it’s a nice walk or bike ride along the esplanade, which is also where all the main restaurants are. Everyone will tell you to go to Coast (which offers a sharing menu) and Santini (Italian) for dinner. They are next door to each other and are deserving of their praise but you need a reservation (even though half the restaurant may be empty when you get there). Otherwise, there are loads of great restaurants along the water to pick from. (We enjoyed our burgers from Badger & Brown’s Burgerie – it’s younger crowd and no reservation needed).
While on the esplanade, make sure to walk the historic Urangan Pier during sunset. It stretches about one kilometer into the ocean and offers beautiful views of the water and Fraser Island. If you’re lucky you’ll catch some dolphins and whales, which are mostly viewable from August to early November (there’s also whale watch tours in Hervey Bay) otherwise, just enjoy the fisherman and scenery along the pier.
We did all of the above in a week and if I had to do it again I would have made it a 10-14 days so we could fit in Frazer Island, Byron Bay, and more time in Brisbane.
Next up we’re off to Cairns, and will be making stops in Fitzroy Island, Green Island, Palm Cove, Kuranda, and Port Douglas. Be on the lookout for our next guide and be sure to follow us on Instagram @prettyconnected for up to date photos and reviews.