Tales from a vibrant city riverbank

Photo of Jenni Storey

Queensland’s capital is accessible along its namesake river.

The $4.80 fare on the Brisbane CityCat is surely the best value ticket in town. Others may argue the free CityHopper “lite” ferry service is even cannier than the Cat when it comes to navigating this river-centric city.

But CityCat tickets are valid for two hours and give you the freedom to cruise the brown snakelike Brisbane River from Hamilton to St Lucia and all points in between on the 14km, 80-minute stretch.

It’s an overcast, muggy afternoon as the Spirit of Brisbane pulls away from South Bank terminal and heads east. The powerful catamaran, with a capacity of more than 140 passengers, is one of a fleet of 21 CityCats servicing the Queensland capital. Some are named after major sporting events and local rugby league teams but this one is decorated in artwork and imagery celebrating the “mud army” that united to clean up after the 2011 floods.

Along the banks, tall cocos palms frame whiter-than-white three-storey Queenslanders with ornate boathouses, often interspersed with and sometimes overtaken by space-age glass-fronted apartments. The Cat leaves rowing crews planing its wake as it approaches the now-vibrant New Farm Powerhouse — one of many riverside industrial spaces re-purposed for arts and entertainment. From here it’s just another three stops on to the vibrant cafe and bar scene inside the remodelled Teneriffe Woolstores.

Jump off at Brisbane’s oldest surviving home (1846), Newstead House. Join a tour or take a five-minute walk to one of Queensland’s most famous watering holes — the 1889-built Breakfast Creek Hotel. A Darling Downs char-grilled Wagyu rump will set you back $40 and it’s still served with the traditional bacon-topped Idaho potato that first graced the menu in the late 1960s.

Outside the Brekky Creek pub there’s (possibly) a Lime scooter with your name on it so don a helmet, scan the electric rental with your pre-paid app and zip quickly back to the river for the next ferry. They buzz around at 27kmh so be gentle with the throttle.

There are also 150 CityCycle stations available across the CBD. You’ll need to register but they’re cheap (first 30 minutes of every trip is free and it’s just $2 for up to an hour’s ride) and conveniently located from Newstead to West End and Toowong.

And if you’re mixing up your transport options, the rickshaw-style pedicabs are a lot of fun. Hail a Green Cab — they’ll seat two adults comfortably — and speed along the riverside walkway to the sounds of the city and the driver’s booming playlist.

World Expo 88 at the now bustling South Bank broke Brisbane free of its “big country town” status, but more recent riverside developments have pushed the Queensland capital into a whole new league.

Jump off the Cat at Riverside terminal for a short walk to the city’s newest dining and entertainment precinct. 

The revitalised Howard Smith Wharves sit under the Story Bridge on the northern side of the river. Felons Brewing Company is hip and heaving and the very chic, octagonal overwater bar, Mr Percival’s, does a roaring trade in fruity cocktails. 

But it’s the Mediterranean hospitality at the popular Greca that’s most staggering. With 170 seats over split levels and around a central bar and open kitchen, this Greek taverna is jumping and the crowd buoyant. 

Spanakopita with wild weed and cheese pie, a kritharaki pasta topped with braised oxtail, whole sardines topped with eschalots and chives and a marinated eggplant salad with yoghurt and farro are all designed to share. But it’s the sizzling oregano and honey-doused saganaki cheese, served in a small cast-iron skillet, that will leave your saliva glands working overtime and drivelling for just another tiny (or not) morsel.

A chocolate metaxa pudding arrives loaded with cream and hazelnuts and just the right amount of smooth muscat Greek spirit. And the lemon meringue pie, with its perfectly toasted peaks, is too symmetrically perfect to eat.

Greca is the first Brisbane venture of celebrated restaurateur Jonathan Barthelmess and it follows the same mantra as his Sydney and Tokyo dining experiences: “Uncomplicated food, great wine and generosity in abundance”.

Diners leave euphoric and the waiting queue lining the jetty filters slowly inside.

The popularity of Howard Smith Wharves’ eateries means other riverside developments are forging ahead.

Over the next decade there’s $26.5 billion worth of riverside infrastructure, entertainment and lifestyle projects planned, including the $3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf development set to open in 2022. 

This riverbank energy is nowhere more obvious from atop the 80m-tall steel towers of the Story Bridge.

There’s 1088 steps to the summit and spectacular views from Moreton Bay to the Glasshouse Mountains. And of course the busy river below.

If you’re on a twilight climb you might spy a group of kayakers far below setting off from Kangaroo Point on a  three-hour Paddle & Prawns tour.  A crisp glass of pinot gris and a bucket of king prawns under the stunning volcanic Kangaroo Point cliffs.

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