Travel

Get to This Cool Australian City Before Literally the Rest of the World

Everyone is about to come to Bris-Vegas.

Visit Brisbane
Visit Brisbane
Visit Brisbane

Aussies love to hate on Brisbane. They even gave it a nickname-Bris-Vegas-far more ironic than anything Alanis could come up with. For decades, the capital of Queensland was the antithesis of Las Vegas, at least in terms of things to do. It makes sense. The city got its start as a penal colony. But these days? Brisbane is like Brooklyn was in the early aughts. Australia’s Queen City, set to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2032 Olympics, is on the cusp of becoming cool. For travellers who pride themselves on being early adopters, now is the time to go.

Brisbane (pop. 2.6 million) was built along the banks of the Brisbane River on land inhabited by the Tuurbal and Yuggera clans. Located halfway between Australia’s Gold Coast and its Sunshine Coast, the city is just an hour’s drive from world class beaches where you may find yourself sharing a wave with a Hemsworth (or two). Of course, many would argue-and they’re right-that Brisbane is now a destination in itself.

For starters, Brisbane is home to GOMA, a modern art mecca boasting Australia’s largest collection of contemporary art. It’s also where you can cuddle your favourite misnomer-news flash: it’s not a bear; it’s a marsupial-at the world’s oldest, and largest koala sanctuary. Then there’s the underground (literally) opera house founded by a former miner who was blown away (not literally) by subterranean acoustics.

With a burgeoning restaurant scene and too many rooftop bars to count, Brisbane does not disappoint in the F&B department, either. Unless you go to Karen’s Diner. In that case, complaining is not only welcomed, it’s expected. If this city can make a room full of Karens fun, the sky’s the limit. Here are all the places in Brisbane to test that limit.

Brisbane Street Art
Brisbane Street Art
Brisbane Street Art

Immerse yourself in local arts and culture

To really get the lay of the land, do yourself a favour and book a BlackCard Cultural Tour. The company only hires Indigenous guides who can take you behind the scenes of Brisbane’s unique Indigenous art community. When it comes to murals, Brisbane is basically Australia’s answer to Wynwood. Every year, it hosts the country’s largest street art festival: 15 days of colourful graffiti crawls and 15 days-worth of guesses as to who will be crowned the next Banksy.

For concerts, comedy, cabaret, and more, follow the locals to Brisbane Powerhouse. In its past life, this massive industrial venue was a power station that supplied the city’s public transportation network with electricity. It also served as squatter central, and the Australian army used it for target practice (once the squatters were out, of course).

Dello Mano
Dello Mano
Dello Mano

Never skip a meal (or snack)

It almost seems sacrilegious to visit Brisbane without indulging in something sweet at Dello Mano. The brownies at this family-owned artisanal bakery are so good Ashton Kutcher reportedly had a batch of them flown to France for his birthday.

Of course, you can’t come to Oz without trying its signature proteins. Head to Birrunga Gallery & Dining-the only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant in Brisbane’s CBD-for bacon-wrapped ‘roo filet mignon, emu batcha burgers topped with housemade tomato bush sauce (don’t be basic and ask for ketchup), and the best beer-battered crocodile tail on both sides of the Nile.

Wooden Horse Restaurant & Bar
Wooden Horse Restaurant & Bar
Wooden Horse Restaurant & Bar

Meanwhile, over at Restaurant Dan Arnold, the chef’s choice menu features “experiences” in lieu of entrees. For example, if you order Experience #5, you might get a plate of fallow deer paired with a pile of beets and foie gras.

Plant-based or want to be? You can’t go wrong with the faux gras (a French pickle+truffle pate) and potato gnocchi at Wooden Horse Restaurant & Bar.

Next Episode Bar
Next Episode Bar
Next Episode Bar

Drink like you’re as thirsty as a D-lister

In Brisbane, where the craft beer scene rivals Denver’s, you don’t bar hop as much as you brewery hop. At Helios, a sustainable brewery founded by an environmental scientist, they harness the sun’s power to make Greta Thunberg-approved beer. At the award-winning Felons Brewing Co., everything on tap is tempting. Seriously, the best strategy is to just order a tasting paddle.

Courtesy of its subtropical climate, Brisbane’s rooftop bar season is a gloriously long one. Head to Ivy Blu (no relation to Beyonce) for prime people watching. For the best views of the bay, post up at The Terrace. And for sunsets set to music so chill it makes Marley seem like metal? Take the elevator all the way up to the Eagle’s Nest. If secret speakeasies are more your speed, imbibe at Mrs J. Rabbits where you enter through a wardrobe a’la Narnia and need a password to get in. Or try to sneak into Next Episode Bar. Don’t be fooled by the barbershop storefront; it’s a decoy. Here, you enter through a mirror.

Story Bridge Adventure Climb
Story Bridge Adventure Climb
Story Bridge Adventure Climb

See bucket list-worthy wildlife and heights

If you like animals more than people (who doesn’t at this point?) embrace your inner Steve Irwin just an hour north of Brisbane at the Australia Zoo. While other zoos shy away from animal encounters, this 700-acre wildlife park founded by the late Crocodile Hunter encourages visitors to get close up with everything from wombats to wallabies. The city is also just a 45-minute drive from world class whale watching. Every year, tens of thousands of humpbacks migrate through nearby Moreton Bay.

If you identify as an adrenaline junkie, sign whatever waiver you can get your hands on at Brisbane’s iconic Story Bridge. It’s the only bridge climb in the world that you can abseil down (legally). Or visit Brisbane’s popular outdoor rock climbing gym and bag a crag at Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park.

Hotel X Brisbane Fortitude Valley
Hotel X Brisbane Fortitude Valley
Hotel X Brisbane Fortitude Valley

Where to stay in Brisbane

If locals were to plan a staycation – and money was no object – they’d probably pick The Calile. It’s the city’s swankiest 5-star hotel. Or rather, it was. The highly-anticipated, ultra-luxe Hotel X just opened in the heart of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley in December. But it’s already been deemed to have the best rooftop pool in town.

If your budget is more two seasons than Four Seasons, check out The Limes Hotel or The Point. The vibe at these boutique properties, where rooms start around $120 per night, is a bit more casual as the crowd tends to skew younger. Wherever you crash while you’re in town, don’t worry too much about who you bring home with you. What happens in Bris-Vegas stays in Bris-Vegas.

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Katie Jackson is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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