Discovering the Daintree

Discovering the Daintree
By Sue Fuller

It’s a little known fact that the Daintree Rainforest, an ancient World Heritage-listed wonderland in our own backyard, is older than the Amazon.

Every year, several hundred thousand people from around the world make sure the Daintree is on their travel itinerary, but this most magical of ancient rainforests is a great drive destination and is still a well-kept secret from many Queenslanders.

It’s here the velvety green mantle of the forest slopes plunge to the aqua waters

of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where fringing reefs grow almost to the shore. No where else in the world can you experience these two natural wonders side by side – where World Heritage-listed reef and rainforest actually meet.

The Daintree Village, just an hour-and-a-half drive from Cairns or 45 minutes from Port Douglas, is the perfect base from which to explore the region.

Accommodation caters for all budgets, from the ultra-swish, multi-award-winning Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa with its private cabins perched in the rainforest, to the recently-refurbished Daintree Riverview Caravan Park with its stunning views of the Daintree River.

If you’re looking for five-star, the eco lodge here is the one of the world’s ultimate eco retreats, complete with luxurious spa treatments, personally-guided rainforest tours and a restaurant perched amongst the trees which specialises in bush tucker, exotic fruits and local seafood.

We stayed at Daintree Cloud Nine, which offers self-catering accommodation, and there are also B&Bs and homestays, and a few secluded resorts further north.

A great spot for lunch is the Big Barramundi Garden, which serves local barra, crocodile and emu lunches until late afternoon daily, just a stone’s throw from the river.

From the village, the wonder of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation is on your doorstep. There are flora species that have survived almost unchanged for 110 million years. Indeed, these rainforests actually contain several of the first flowering plants (called angiosperms), which were the origins of all plant life.

No great shakes in the botanical department, I was lucky enough to hook up with one of the region’s great characters, Dan Irby. One of the most magical ways to experience the Daintree is with Dan Irby’s Mangrove Adventures . At sunrise and sunset, Dan runs small, personalised tours of the Daintree River, focusing on the area’s natural history. Dan has years of experience in medical and zoological research. His passion for the Daintree is absolutely infectious and we were soon enthusiastically croc spotting, bird watching and learning about the unique flora and fauna.

You can make your own way into the Daintree via the Daintree Ferry. It’s the only cable ferry in tropical Australia, and drops you on the southern part of the lowland Daintree Rainforest. The ferry operates from 6:00am to midnight every day, and the cost for a standard vehicle is $20 return.

There are plenty of day trips and activities to choose from including Aboriginal-guided rainforest walks with the local Kuku Yalanji people, river wildlife cruises, guided bird spotting, Cape Tribulation safaris, river fishing, horse riding and bike riding, exploring secluded beaches and 4WD safaris.

Cooper Creek Wilderness offers guided day and night interpretive rainforest tours. Or you can tackle the tracks on your own on the Marrdja Boardwalk, a 1.1km loop which takes 30 minutes.

You don’t need a champagne budget to explore this beautiful region. It’s one of the best driving adventures around and it’s right on our doorstep.

 

Capricorn Caves – An Underground Adventure

Caves – An Underground Adventure
By Suzy Young

Caves have always had an aura of spookiness and mystery. They attract people who enjoy the thrill of being underground, surrounded by strange shapes and an element of danger, like some subterranean carnival ride. But for others, they are dark, enclosed, unpredictable places that evoke secret fears.

I am one of the latter and feel a bit like the girls in the film Picnic at Hanging Rock as we wander through the dappled shade of the oddly named ‘dry rainforest’ towards the entrance of the Capricorn Caves, just north of Rockhampton.

“Caves intrigue people,” says Ann Augusteyn, whose family owns and operates this unusual natural attraction, and she’s right, because I’m compelled to see this place despite an instinctive reluctance.

Our guide gives us the good news that the caves are actually above ground, lying within a massive ridge of limestone that rises from what was once sea bed.

“You’ll find that there is none of the damp, musty atmosphere that you get in underground caves,” he promises, reassuringly.

The entrance to the cave complex is a vast and very operatic-looking canyon of rock, draped in fig tree roots and vines, which our guide explains is actually a collapsed cave. This is less reassuring, but once inside the dreaded enclosed space, I find it is quite, well, cavernous, with plenty of light and air, and my fears recede a little.

Passages are well-lit, bridges over chasms are sturdy, and the variety of shapes, shades and surfaces in the caves are so interesting that fear soon vanishes. Guides are well-trained in both the history of the caves and their geology and biology and soon the strangeness of wandering around under a pile of rock disappears as well.

There are many ways to explore the caves, from the sedate one-hour Cathedral Tour to a two-hour adventure in wild caving and there are any number of educational programs on offer for school groups to special interest groups, covering areas such as the ecology of the caves and the dry rainforest, geology, heritage, fine arts and ecotourism.

It seems that no cave system would be complete without a large room called ‘The Cathedral’, but this Cathedral, while beautiful, is more like a graceful old country church with its vaulted ceilings, pale creamy walls, rows of pews and simple iron candleabra. Soft hidden lights play over natural features like dripstones resembling organ pipes and, from the ceiling, there falls a long fig tree root that looks rather like a bell rope. It’s taken 20 years to grow down here from a tree 50m above us.

I try not to think of the 50m of rock over my head as the guide plays a recording of Amazing Grace to demonstrate the wonderful acoustics in the room, while slowly extinguishing the soft, reassuring lights. The effect is powerful, but not so pleasant for a claustrophobe like myself when the last light goes out and one is actually plunged into utter blackness, despite the inspiring choice of music.

The room is used for weddings, complete with red carpet, candles and flowers, and a special Christmas Carol service is held here very year which benefits Access Recreation, an organisation which seeks to improve disabled access to tourist attractions. The Augusteyns have made sure that the main caves are open for wheelchairs and actually have two chairs on hand for people who aren’t up to the walk.

For those who are not disabled (either physically or by sheer crawling fear) there is a special treat – adventure caving. Cave helmets are provided, but bring a torch and very old clothes, if you have a yen to crawl into parts of the caves with names like, Fat Man’s Misery, The S-bend, Thin Man’s Misery, The Guillotine, The Laundry Chute, and the one which makes me take a very deep breath, The Rebirthing Tunnel. You can also climb inside The Devil’s Coach House which is a rock climb on a steep rock face above a bed of pointy piercing rocks that you don’t want to fall on.

I am unwilling to do more than watch people disappearing into these unspeakable places, but, Ann was right; caves do intrigue people and despite my bad moment in The Cathedral, I feel intrigued enough to face the challenge of The Deep Vault. While the entrance is just a crack in the rock that doesn’t look big enough for a wallaby, it turns out to be big enough for a full size human like myself, so I take the plunge and venture in. First just my head, and then the rest of me when I see that inside is a large space, like an anteroom. From here you can climb onto a platform that looks down over a large cave with some wonderful decorations and interesting corridors leading off into the darkness.

The decorations are bits of accumulated limestone which have literally flowed through the rock and formed interesting shapes as they dry. There are many names for these and a much more scientific explanation, but for the casual visitor, it’s fun to describe what they look like.

Amazingly, my interest has overcome the fear. I am actually finding these horror holes interesting. Our guide explains that since the cave is warm and airy, not cold and damp, it’s a great acclimatisation cave. This is where the male bats hang out while the females are busy giving birth and rearing the young.

“Shouldn’t they call it The Pub?” I ask. Now I’m making jokes instead of making for the exit. These caves are great, I conclude, for facing all sorts of fears, low ceilings, enclosed places, the dark, small spaces, bats, heights, the lot. Luckily, I am not afraid of bats and these Little Bent-Wings and Ghost Bats are so tiny, rare and endangered that it’s a treat to see them, flitting occasionally through the tops of caves as we pass, especially in the belfry of The Cathedral.

These caves are also a great way to learn about a highly specialised and fragile ecosystem. Once they were a chance to experience an offbeat thrill and visitors were actually encouraged to break off bits of interesting dripstone to take home as souvenirs. Now guides are strict about not allowing anyone to even touch the cave walls, lights are only turned on when tours come through, and many parts of the caves are off limits in order to protect the bats who live there.

And happily, the Augusteyns have avoided the once-popular fashion for filling caves with plywood cut-outs of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and obscuring their natural beauty with lots of hideous coloured lights. We are not here to be entertained by cheap tricks; we are here to be educated about the place of caves in the bush ecosystem.

The Augusteyns take very seriously their responsibility for the well-being of this patch of bush with its spectacular centrepiece. The big holes in the ground have come of age and are no longer the sideshow alley of nature, but natural phenomena, interesting for both their beauty and their part in the ecosystem. The Capricorn Caves have been given EcoCertification.

Capricorn

Everything under the Capricorn Sun
By Tony Walsh

Centred around Rockhampton in Queensland, the Capricorn Region offers an unusual mix of attractions and retreats for visitors with a wanderlust.

 

For a part of Australia that is generally recognised as being the Tourist State of Australia it takes a fair degree of self-assured expression to claim the title of being Queensland’s oldest privately-owned tourist attraction.


Cave adventures

Step forward Capricorn Caves near Rockhampton. While some may argue with their claim, no one can deny that they have a very special natural attraction which has been a magnet for visitors since it was discovered in 1882 by Norwegian pioneer John Olsen.

Unlike most of the cave systems in Australia which are set underground, these caverns are located above ground level in a high limestone ridge and provide a very pleasant atmosphere even for the most claustrophobic person. The caves are wheelchair accessible, with ramps to the major gallery, Cathedral Cave.

Ken and Ann Augusteyn took over ownership of the caverns from the descendants of John Olsen.

All tours are conducted personally by a well informed guide. The most popular is the one hour exploration to Cathedral Cave. This tour meanders through large caverns with stalactite and stalagmite decorations set against the beautiful natural colours of the creamy limestone, rusty iron oxides and greens of the mosses and algae. But it is when visitors enter the 20m-high Cathedral Cave that the loudest ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ can be heard.

Restored church pews offer a place to sit and take in the magnificence of this environmental wonder. The Augusteyns have installed a sophisticated stereo sound system; its music enhanced by the natural acoustics of the cave. Small wonder that the Cathedral Cave is now in demand as a special wedding venue. In December each year, it is also used for the local Carols by Candlelight celebrations.

A very unusual natural phenomenon occurs in one of the caverns during the Summer Solstice on December 22 each year. Ann Augusteyn explains,” Because the caves are located close to the Tropic of Capricorn, the Sun shines directly overhead at around 11am during the Solstice. Fortunately, there is a natural vertical shaft in the roof of the cave and the rays of the overhead Sun pour through with brilliant effect into the darkened cavern.”

The caves are also home to thousands of little insectivorous bats. Though their presence is seasonal, those visitors fortunate to be at the caverns at the right time are rewarded at sunset when the bats leave to feed for the night.

Capricorn Caves are located 23km north of Rockhampton off the Bruce Highway and are open every day of the year except Christmas Day.

For more information:
Capricorn Caves
Tel +61 7 4934 2883

Crocodile Encounters

For a close encounter with another of the the region’s natural inhabitants, but with a bigger appetite than the Augusteyns’s bats, head for the Capricorn Coast and John and Lillian Levers’ Koorana Crocodile Farm.

John has more than 25 years experience dealing with crocodiles both in Australia and New Guinea and opened Queensland’s first commercial crocodile farm on the island in Coorooman Creek in 1981.

In his daily guided tour of the farm, John stresses that the common perception of crocodiles as nasty big animals with the sole purpose in life to rip your legs off is far from the truth.

“In reality, they are highly-sensitive, caring animals to each other. In fact, that’s what makes them dangerous to humans. The vast majority of attacks that occur in Australia are not hunger attacks but territorial attacks where the male is caring for the female and the female is caring for her young,” John Lever explained.

Mr Lever said that research had shown that attacks had occurred between November and March which coincided with the breeding season. “We have to try and understand the behaviour of crocodiles because there are so many falsehoods around. Every pub in Australia has a resident crocodile expert sitting around the bar.”

Some common crocodile myths:

If you are being chased by a crocodile, run in a zigzag fashion. Because of its huge tail, a crocodile cannot change direction quickly without losing speed.

“That’s a load of nonsense,” says John. “Crocodiles have been clocked at 42.5km so you just take big steps!”
Crocodiles love eating rotten meat.

“That’s not true either,” says John. “Crocodiles prefer their meat fresh. Crocodile Dundee said in one of his movies, and he was wrong, that when a crocodile grabs hold of you, he stuffs you under a log and saves you for another day.”
Koorana Crocodile Farm was the first private enterprise crocodile farm to be established in Queensland and was originally stocked with rogue crocodiles caught by John at the request of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Some of the more interesting and dangerous of the 2,000 reptiles at the farm are housed in a separate enclosure with their own pond.

The farm was also the first to serve crocodile meat, so a visit to Koorana is not complete without trying one of Lillian Lever’s crocodile pies.

The park is open everyday of the year except Christmas day, 10am-3pm.

For more information:
John & Lillian Lever
Koorana Crocodile Farm
Tel +61 7 4934 4749

Diverse Attractions

While the range of attractions in the Capricorn Region in Queensland is so diverse, some visitors simply head for the big integrated resorts like Rydges Capricorn Resort or Great Keppel Island, unpack and spend all their time enjoying the myriad of activities available on the one property.

At Rydges Capricorn Resort, these include two 18 hole golf courses, horse riding and landsailing on the 20km ocean beach. While on Great Keppel Island, the relaxed lifestyle of island living ensures a pampered carefree holiday.

The region also boasts the Dreamtime Aboriginal Cultural Centre, the historic mining town of Mt Morgan and the opportunity to fossick for gemstones at the aptly named centres of Sapphire and Rubyvale.

For a few days of a real country experience, visit some of the vast cattle properties that are now welcoming guests. Such cattle station experiences include Namoi Hills, Cooper Downs, Henderson park, Myella and Kroombit Tops.

Brisbane – Viva Bris Vegas

Brisbane – Viva Bris Vegas
By Jane Hodges

Brisbane, or Bris Vegas as the locals affectionately call it, is a vibrant place blessed with good weather, friendly people and an optimism bigger cities often manage to quash. Here’s the ultimate guide to Brisbane’s gay and lesbian scene.

Since the early 90’s Brisbane’s scene has flourished with a variety of lesbian and gay (and L & G friendly) clubs, cafes, and bars. Like any city, ‘where the girls and boys are’, may not jump out at you as soon as you hit town, but scratch the surface and you’ll find places to go and people to meet.

A copy of local street press Queensland Pride or Q News will set you in the right direction, but there’s nothing like advice from a local. So here’s a few hints on where it’s at.

Where to Play
Generally West End, Woolloongabba, Spring Hill, Fortitude Valley and New Farm are Brisbane’s most popular gay and lesbian haunts.

The best place to start is by pulling up a stool at the bar of West End’s ultra chic Lychee Lounge, the cities newest bar and café run by Jacqueline Bega and Jessica Firouz-Abadi. Chill out with a long, cool lychee cocktail, a plate of tapas and live music or dj grooves on Friday and Saturday nights. At midnight the Lychee turns into a pumpkin so head to Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley.
Women only venues are The Birdcage upstairs at Options every Friday night, and Grrrl Bar Sunday nights at the Departure Lounge upstairs at the Wickham Hotel.

Spring Hill’s mixed venues are Options which has a café, bar and mixed club downstairs, the stylish Alliance Hotel bar, or the Sportsman Hotel for drag shows and serious pool comps. In the Valley check out the Wickham Hotel and The Cockatoo Club, upstairs at The Beat, where you’ll find wall to wall lipsticks, gay boys and groovy types.

Gay and lesbian friendly venues include the Empire Hotel with indie club Super Deluxe upstairs; and Ric’s Bar in Brunswick Street Mall – a layed back live music / dj venue. There are pool tables downstairs and dance floor upstairs at the Pandanus Lounge.
Held at various locations at irregular intervals is Abigails – a moveable feast of cabaret , comedy and djs spinning everything from 70’s oddball to dance. It attracts an alternative crowd of groovy straights, drag queens, and cool queer boys and girls.

An alternative café /live music warehouse style venue is The Zoo in the Valley. It draws a layed back gay, lesbian and straight crowd and offers free pool on week nights.

Where to Eat:

You will eat well in the Vegas. There is much choice and it’s of a high standard. Restaurants and cafes are plentiful around Boundary Street and Hargrave Road at West End, and Brunswick Street running from the Valley to New Farm. Here’s just a few suggestions.

Getting over the night before is best done with a strong long black at Espressohead in Boundary Street – also run by dynamic duo Jacqueline and Jessica. It’s a hang-out for girls like us and undoubtedly the best service and coffee in town. They also do mean fresh juices, an all day breakfast menu and a lunch range including filled panini, pastas and salads and a great vegetarian selection.
Side by side in West End are bohemian style cafes, The Jazzy Cat and the Three Monkeys – both offering great atmosphere, coffee, cakes and light meals. Across the street it’s hard to get a table at West End’s newest hip café The Gun Shop.
Recommended for casual dining are the New Farm Deli, Gerties (especially for people watching) and Moray Café corner moray St & Merthyr Rd New Farm. In the Valley Mall try Fat Boys for great value alfresco breakfast and The Cosmopolitan for its coffee and pizzas. For speedy, fresh sushi head to the Sushi Train in Brunswick Street. The Grape is an award winning up-market wine bar and restaurant on Merthyr Road. A must is the 1998 Gourmet Traveller restaurant of the year, Ecco Bistro in Boundary Street the City, and also worth a nosh is Arc in Brunswick Street set up by a former Ecco chef.

Where to Shop:
Interesting shopping is to be had in the Valley – Brunswick Street and Ann Street. Check out Honor Lulu, Ultra Suite, Blonde Venus, Tarmac 1 and Tred for clothes and Trash Video for cult movies. Don’t go past Absolutely Fabulous for retro furnishings and collectables.

The Saturday Brunswick Mall Markets are the cities best- no raffia hats here just a mix of colourful people (many with hang overs!) lounging around the cafes, listening to live music and milling around stalls of original ceramics, lead lighting, second hand books, clothes and bric-a-brac. You can have your tarot read or give in to massage aficionados.

In the City wander down Elizabeth Street to check out The Piercing Shop, Indigo Cactus original jewellery and Skinny’s Music and for hip threads try Chi Chi Deluxe and Oxygen.
For literature and novelties you wouldn’t want your mother to see wander around The Den in Fortitude Valley.

In West End check out Avid Reader and Bent Books in Boundary Street and down the road in Gladstone Road, Highgate Hill is the camp row of The Women’s Bookshop, Dorothy’s Place, Blue Tongue Kiss Café and Chop Haircutters.

Where to Stay
While Brisbane has no exclusively lesbian accommodation, the Allender Apartments in central New Farm are gay and lesbian friendly. Air conditioned units with full kitchen facilities, close to venues and the city are priced from $60 per double. 3 Moreton Street New Farm. ph (07) 3358 5832

Central Brunswick Apartment Hotel in the Valley offers gay and lesbian friendly accommodation in self contained, air conditioned apartments from $95 a double. The hotel has a gym, spa and sauna and easy access to restaurants, venues and the Brunswick St Mall. 455 Brunswick Street ph (07) 3852 1411

Thornbury House at Spring Hill is a stylish, well appointed gay & lesbian friendly bed and breakfast in a beautifully restored Queenslander colonial house. It’s close to venues and a minute’s walk from the city heart. Singles are $55 and doubles $90 including continental breakfast. 1 Thornbury Street Spring Hill ph (07) 3832 5985

Helpful contacts:

Brisbane Pride Festival – highlights Pride Rally, March and Fair Day June 22, 2002 Musgrave Park www.pridebrisbane.org.au – full events program online mid-April for June Festival hotline 0418 152 801

Lesbian Line – counselling and information, 7 -10pm nightly (07) 3891 7388 or freecall 1800 249 377

Gay & Lesbian Welfare Association – web http//glwa@queer.org.au

Gay & Lesbian Health Service 38 Gladstone Rd Highgate Hill (07) 3844 9599

Qld Aids Council – ph 32 Peel Street South Bris (07) 3844 1990

Queensland Pride Newspaper – monthly. Ph 07 3392 2922 Email:
qldpride@ribbon.net.au

Brother Sister Newspaper – fortnightly 210 Constance St Fortitude Valley (07) 3852 2155.

Dykewise – magazine on local events / issues. Ph 0413 071 648

Radio 4zzz 102.2FM – Dykes on Mikes – every Wednesday 7-9pm

Team Brisbane – organise and promote lesbian & gay sporting events in Brisbane ph Heather (07) 3207 1746

Rainbow Bootscooters – social bootscooting every Sunday 6-8.30pm East Brisbane Bowls club ph 07 3357 3205

The Rainbow Centre
, upstairs at 719a Stanley Street Woolloongabba – home of Queensland Pride (the state’s first gay & lesbian paper ) and a community centre offering a library of information on the state’s gay and lesbian friendly tourism operators, a pool table, coffee and tea facilities and a drop in centre a couple of days a week.

Clubs & Bars
The Lychee Lounge, open 7 days 10.30am – midnight. Shop 2 , 94 Boundary St West End. Email: lychee@zip.com.au ph (07) 3846 0544
The Birdcage women only Friday nights upstairs at Options, 18 Little Edward St, Spring Hill ph (07) 3831 4214

Xena’s -Broadway Hotel 93 Logan Rd Woolloongabba
Alliance Hotel, 300 Boundary St Spring Hill – ph (07) 3832 7355
Sportsman Hotel 130 Leichhardt St, Spring Hill ph (07) 3831 2892
The Cockatoo Club – upstairs at The Beat, 667 Ann St Fortitude Valley ph (07) 3852 2661
Wickham Hotel 308 Wickham St ph (07) 3852 1301
The Empire Hotel Cnr Brunswick & Ann Sts Fortitude Valley
Ric’s Bar Brunswick Street Mall, Fortitude Valley ph (07) 3854 1772
The Zoo, Ann St Fortitude Valley (07) 3854 1381
Getting There

Ex Sydney / Melbourne

By Air
The best deals are generally available on a 21 day advance purchase fare (Melbourne to Brisbane & , Sydney – Brisbane) To book contact the Queensland Travel Centre on ph 13 88 33.

By Rail / Bus
A daily Melbourne to Brisbane service takes 26 hours by train and bus .
A daily direct train service from Sydney to Brisbane takes 14 hours . Advance purchase discounts available – contact Queensland Rail ph 132 332

By Bus
Greyhound buses operate two direct 15 hour services daily from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Greyhound operates five standard services from Sydney to Brisbane daily taking 15-16 hours and a 12-hour express Sydney to Brisbane service.
Contact: Greyhound ph 13 20 30

 

The Wild Side of Brisbanes Bay

The wild side of Brisbane’s bay
By Shaun O’Dowd

The first thing that strikes you when hand-feeding a wild dolphin is the size of its teeth.

Long, large rows of them swivel towards your hand as you hold your little bait-fish under the water. My companion was unsettled. Standing in knee-deep water, she was sufficiently alarmed to fumble with her fish and drop it.

The dolphin carer standing with us gave her another fish and encouraged her to put her hand below water. My companion mustered her courage and did so. The dolphin swam gently forward and took the fish with the utmost care.

“It was as though she knew you were uncomfortable,” the dolphin carer said as we returned to the beach.

The dolphin we met was known as Shadow and was a member of a bottlenose dolphin pod that inhabits Brisbanes Moreton Bay. Shadow plays “aunt” to the younger dolphins that swim into the beach for nightly feeding at Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort on Moreton Island.

I’d also given a fish to Shadow and, even though I wasn’t allowed to touch her, I leaned right down and looked at her face. She stared back placidly and emitted contented buzzes and squeaks.

These animals are technically wild and Tangalooma ensures the guests only feed them a small percentage of their daily diet each night.

From this pristine island, it was hard to believe the bustle of Australia’s third largest city lay just below the horizon. Tangalooma prides itself on eco-activities that involve everything from eco-walks to pelican feeding.

Whale Watching
Only two days before, we’d embarked on another eco-adventure on Moreton Bay – a day trip with Moreton Bay Whale Watching. Boarding the fast-cat “Eye Spy” at Redcliffe jetty, we zipped across the bay and around the northern point of Moreton Island.

Now numbering in their thousands, Humpback whales were hunted to the verge of extinction during their annual winter and spring breeding pilgrimage to Queensland until whaling was abolished in the 1960s.

The tell-tale spout from a whale’s blow-hole signalled the whales were not far and soon we approached a pod of three or four.

Nothing prepares you for how big they are. There’s a moment of uncertainty when you realise what damage they could do to even the largest yacht if they got aggressive.

But they’re incredibly placid. As we watched, one rolled on its side and lazily slapped its fin. Then, completely unexpectedly, a 10m whale breached right out of the water and slammed down on its side.

The water thundered and churned in response for nearly half a minute.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, a pod of dolphins raced up to the cat and leapt alongside as they gave chase.

The next day, we continued our Moreton Bay adventure with a day sail aboard the retired Sydney to Hobart race winner, Solo, from Manly Harbour.

The crew hoisted the spinnaker and turned off the engine. It’s a placid experience lounging on the deck, absorbing the peace with the slight wash of waves.

Later, trooping ashore at Moreton Island for a sand tobogganing stint, we were led up through some steep sand dunes and came across “the desert”, a stunning wilderness of snowy-white sand.

Moreton Island is asserting itself as the world’s third largest sand island behind the other Queensland islands of Fraser and North Stradbroke.

We’d brought wooden boards with us and after a brief instruction talk by our guide, we struggled up a gigantic white dune and one-by-one, we lay down on our boards and launched ourselves over the edge.

Sand tobogganing is wild. The speed builds up at an incredible pace and the wind rushes against your face. Unfortunately, I let the front edge of my board down and was catapulted forward, face planting into the sand.

But with so many good experiences behind me, I couldn’t stay annoyed for long.

Brisbane

Brisbane – Every day a Sunny Day
By Dominique White

An insider’s view of where best to go and what to do in this city of sunny days!

One of the beauties about visiting Brisbane is that you can pretty much treat every day in this sub-tropical city like a leisurely Sunday! And in this city, Sunday does not mean the shops are closed and the streets empty.

On the contrary. Brisbane, seven days a week is full of vitality, colour, and plenty of options. Whether visitors are into shopping, art, dining out, soaking up the sun or simply enjoying the beautiful Brisbane River, our city has much to offer.

If art is your thing, there are a few places to check out. First port of call could be the Queensland Art Gallery at South Bank. Aside from the excellent exhibitions, including the permanent collection, the price-tag is also attractive: Free, unless there is a specially curated showing. Afterwards, be tempted by the ever-changing displays at the Queensland Museum right next door.

Also free and worth the time is a walk through the 16ha South Bank Parklands – next door to the Gallery – where there are plenty of places to enjoy a refreshing drink or go for a dip at the man-made beach.

For a mega-dose of art and culture, head to Fortitude valley or New Farm where there is a plethora of art galleries.

The best way to enjoy the day is to buy an off-peak saver ticket (at a newsagency), and get on and off the bus at your leisure: enjoy refreshments at near-by coffee shops, have lunch at one of the many restaurants, or browse in boutiques and bookshops before returning to the arts trail.

If you want to see a different side of the city, taking a high-speed City Cat is an excellent option. The cats cruise 19km from St Lucia to Hamilton on the Brisbane River, and, for just a few dollars per person off-peak, you can ride with the wind in your hair for as long as you like.

To find out some other impressions of the city, head down Albert Street from the Queen Street Mall and spot 32 pavement plaques which mark the Literary Trail. Read quotes by top authors writing about Brisbane.

A majestic spot in the heart of town is the City Botanic Gardens at Riverside. This is a serene oasis of 20ha in size, where you can laze on the grassy lawns with a good book, feed the ducks, or watch the world go by. If you feel like a snack, enjoy a leisurely lunch in the licensed cafe housed in the historic kiosk. Afterwards, if you have energy to burn, grab some rollerblades or hire a bike and get some exercise in the fresh air.

Brisbane is a green city by name and nature – almost 25 per cent of its area is bushland. In all, the city has 9,500ha of bush and 1,500 parks and public gardens – making Brisbane an easy city to find a shady place to sit and watch the world go by.

Something that costs little and yet entertains for hours, is a visit to the markets, and Brisbane is undoubtedly market-mad. On Friday nights, all day Saturday and Sunday, the South Bank Parklands Craft Markets in Stanley Street Plaza are certainly worth a browse. All goods are hand-made in Australia and you can usually browse to the sounds of nearby entertainment from the regular South Bank attractions.

On Saturdays and Sundays from 8am – 4pm the Brunswick Street Mall Markets are open. These markets feature more off-beat displays and are good if you are looking for a bargain in old records, revamped clothes and general trinkets.

Sunday is the day that the city comes alive, with the colourful, popular Riverside Markets – their craft, clothing, art and giftware terraced along the Brisbane River around the Riverside Centre and up to the Eagle Street Pier.

For a serious shop, you can’t go by the Queen Street Mall with its 500 specialty stores. Myer alone has 200 shops and the biggest inner-city retail complex in Australia. Or, for something quirky or arty, try chic boutiques in Milton and Paddington or hunt for that fashion item in factory outlets in Stones Corner at East Brisbane.

After art, shopping, gardens and markets, you’ll need something to revive you. Here, Brisbane has come of age with a modern metro cuisine.

Clusters of cafes have emerged in the city and surrounds, and among the most famous is Park Road, Milton, where people head for the miniature Eiffel Tower landmark and enjoy their coffee while being ‘seen’.

A trademark of Brisbane is al fresco dining all year round. Even in cooler months, residents and visitors enjoy meals in fresh air and cafe style. Cosmopolitan and multi-cultural communities have led the creation of an individual new style of dining.

Places to try include Asian and European restaurants at West End, cafes and delis at New Farm, all styles at Racecourse Road at Hamilton and around Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley, bars and grills in Caxton Street, Petrie Terrace, and restaurants created in quaint Queenslanders in Toowong, Indooroopilly, Red Hill and Paddington.

After dark, there is always plenty of entertainment in Brisbane, and a seemingly endless choice of things to do. Aside from the 24-hour Casino, there are night-clubs, pubs and wine bars to socialise in and meet some friendly Brisbane locals!

Ask around for the places to go – an intimate sidewalk jazz bar, a blues club in a restored church – just follow the sound of music and people enjoying the balmy evenings.

For staged performances, the Performing Arts Complex hosts theatre, opera and musical productions. The Suncorp Theatre in the city is home to the Queensland Ballet and regularly hosts the Queensland Theatre Company. Also, the La Boite Theatre offers some local performance highlights. Or, the old-style Tivoli Theatre in Bowen Hills is a majestic venue.

Brisbane city is not only a great destination in its own right: It is an ideal stepping-off point for a range of day tours – into the surrounding hinterland of South East Queensland Country or the vibrant coastal regions of Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. Just ask a local to suggest where to begin.