Brisbane, Bundaberg & Noosa

We were going to do some long overdue travel in 2020 until COVID-19. Unfortunately, we only got through an abridged version of our first trip before our government ordered everyone home. Our second week in Australia was spent in Brisbane, Bundaberg and Noosa.

Flying from Sydney to Brisbane was a nice short 90 minute zip up the coast from New South Wales to Queensland. Brisbane also has really nice, fast rail service from the airport to the CBD.

We only stayed in Brisbane for three nights; two after we arrived and then one after a four day self-drive road trip to Bundaberg and Noosa, before flying to Canberra. We stayed in Brisbane’s CBD at another YHA hostel on Roma Street. This one would have been alright if our room on the lower level of the building had any natural light or airflow. Sadly, it felt a little like a prison cell with four walls, dank lighting and a semi-functioning air conditioner which intermittently cut out and really only pumped cool-ish air when it did work. The hostel had nice common spaces and a rooftop pool with cheap beer sales, so that helped. The views were pretty nice too.

The hostel was located on a city block with a bunch of other backpacker joints and it wasn’t in particularly good proximity to a lot of walkable food. We discovered the real food strip on the south bank (across the river) about a ten minute bus ride from us after I ran past it on the second afternoon. We walked a lot anyway.

Should I return to Brisbane, I’d definitely stay on the south bank and not right downtown. There’s a lovely little network of bridges (for people only and cars) joining it and the CBD, so you can easily get back and forth and avoid most traffic. In fact my one run there was a criss-cross of all four in close proximity to us. Brisbane was also improving cycling and pedestrian infrastructure on the riverfront, with some nice bike and pedestrian only paths.

I say ‘most traffic’ because it’s very hard to get between areas where we were without crossing one of the many major roads that bring a ton of traffic right through the core. It’s quite lovely in many ways, but how traffic runs by and over the bridges isn’t one of them. It’s much smaller than Sydney, but the traffic often feels worse when walking around, because you cannot avoid it.

Over our two full days in the city, we walked more than in Sydney and spent very little time on transit.

In no particular priority, we:

Saw a lot of the river

Visited cultural institutions

Hung out at botanic gardens (like every Aussie city)

Walked up to, and stayed in, Spring Hill

Rode a ferris wheel

After our YHA gulag stay, we decided our night in Brisbane after the road trip would be spent in a motel, so we cancelled the additional night at YHA and booked The Metropolitan Spring Hill. It was very modest and the room wasn’t awful. Since we spent roughly the same money as the YHA private room would have been, this was an improvement. However, in the hallways paint was peeling everywhere and common spaces were in some disrepair, so it was a marginal upgrade over the hostel at best. Really, though, first world problems and we could sleep. Spring Hill has a little better food and drink proximity too.

Bundaberg

Our car rental road trip was entirely based on googling Brisbane activities and then checking out reviews of options. Mon Repos turtles and the southern reef kept appearing as serious considerations (and I really wanted a bit of reef experience). Bundaberg was the gateway to both, so we booked an Airbnb, a Lady Musgrave boat day trip and a Mon Repos turtle encounter.

Everything from the accommodations to the activities absolutely rocked and I’d say this leg was easily the highlight of our first two weeks in Australia. Our Bundaberg Airbnb was a full, very comfortable bungalow on the main property of the host and she was really lovely. We had a great chat our first afternoon prior to our turtle encounter, with several activity suggestions, had we been there longer.

Mon Repos

Mon Repos Conservation Park is a turtle research centre. They breed, release and study turtles in an attempt to improve populations. As hatchling migration can be very unpredictable, you go to the facility around 6:30pm and wait and, if lucky, get taken down to the beach in the pitch dark and witness baby turtles heading to the ocean. We didn’t get to see that, but we were able to visit with the scientist who began the whole project years ago, ask questions and actually touch some hatchlings. It was very special.

Lady Musgrave Island

Lady Musgrave Island is a small, nationally-protected island (part of Capricornia Cays National Park) at the south end of the Great Barrier Reef. Other than briefly landing on it for a day trip or booking it for low impact camping, people are not allowed on it. We mostly sailed from/to and snorkeled on our day trip, but during our brief walk on the island, we got dumped on mightily.

Noosa

Noosa is basically beach bum meets Rodeo Drive, with tons of eating establishments, backpacker joints and high-end retailers. It’s a lovely spot with massive beaches and surf and we had beautiful 30 degree weather to just hang out, stroll on the sand and get some sun. We purposely kept our activity level low after nearly two weeks of constant movement and activities.

We finally had a private hostel room that was really good. Noosa Flashpackers put all YHA rooms we stayed in to shame. We found some good vegan Mexican and a really good vegan pizza, and probably the highlight of the Noosa stay was a hike through Noosa National Park.

Sunshine Coast

Driving back from Noosa to Brisbane via the Sunshine Coast had us hit yet more beaches and rural Australian roads that seemingly go everywhere and anywhere. We hit places such as Mooloolaba and Caloundra before going inland to take a peek at the beautiful Glass House Mountains.

The thing that really struck me after Sydney and Brisbane was just how different each city and its environs were. Our next stop in Canberra would lend further evidence to this observation.