DREAMSCAPES Fall/Winter 2017
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QUEENSLAND: FROM THE GREAT BARRIER REEF AND BEYOND
 
(2016 - Fall Issue)

Writer: KATHERINE BRODSKY



It may seem like a long journey. But what if I told you it only takes 14.5 hours to be transported into a parallel universe where winter is the most pleasant time of the year, passion fruit seems to be always in season, a flat white is the favoured pick-me-upper, and fascinating creatures that don’t exist in your world roam the Earth. 

I’m talking about Queensland, Australia, and curiosity about the destination must be sufficiently piqued given that Air Canada recently launched its non-stop Boeing 787 service from Vancouver to Brisbane. While the aircraft itself is, literally, taking aviation to new heights (making for a smoother ride), the set-up in Business and Premium Economy is what really shines, with private lie-down seats in Business and plenty of legroom in Premium. On such a long flight, it can be the difference between a tolerable-if-not-somewhat-pleasant experience and excruciating agony on par with the fiery pits of Mordor.

Arriving in Brisbane, there’s an air of casualness. The streets aren’t exactly empty, but they aren’t busy either. Even as we make our way alongside Brisbane’s Riverwalk, with stunning views of the river and Story Bridge, passing locals out on their daily jogs along the way, there’s a certain quietness to it all, an unassuming beauty resting on the verge of discovery. That quickly becomes an apparent thread throughout my journey across Queensland.

HANG OUT WITH LOCALS—OF THE ANIMAL VARIETY

Upon learning you’ve returned from Australia, the first thing anybody is bound to ask is: “Did you see any koalas and kangaroos?” That’s the perfect time to whip out your phone and show off. After all, you’ve travelled far enough to earn the right to brag, shame-free.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the world’s oldest and largest koala sanctuary, spanning 20 hectares in the Brisbane suburb of Fig Tree Pocket. There, not only can you see one of more than 130 koalas, you can even hug one. 

There are other animals, too. Most notably, kangaroos. Instead of being tucked away behind fences, you’ll find them sunbathing in an open field. And it must be said that hand-feeding them is most definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas is another destination for those wanting to get close to koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, emus, pelicans, and even crocodiles (but don’t get too close to the latter!). You can even have “Breakfast with the Birds” or “Picnic with the Parrots.” As one of the caretakers remarked: “In zoos you feel bad because the animals don’t get to leave, but here you feel a bit jealous because you don’t get to stay.” There are lush green landscapes, and the animals, save for the crocodiles, are free to roam. Something I discovered when a giant pelican flung itself toward me. But the relative freedom of this “habitat” didn’t stop several of its kangaroo residents from mischievously plotting an escape route whenever a possibility presented itself, one hop at a time.

EXPLORE THE QUEENSLAND LANDSCAPE

Queensland offers visitors a curious mix of urban and jungle-like environments, and many ways to experience them. Right along an area dubbed Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, the Burleigh Headland National Park is a great point from which to observe a diverse habitat, and watch the slew of surfers vying for just the right wave to ride along.

For a more thrilling view of Brisbane, there’s the Story Bridge Adventure Climb. There’s something powerful about standing 80 metres above sea level, the city of Brisbane unfolding beneath you, with its tall buildings, green hills and the river glistening, while traffic hums under your feet. And, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous (not to mention, brave), after your climb, you can abseil 30 metres down the anchor pier.

Much of Queensland is so modern and developed these days that it’s easy to forget how wild it must have once been and how much human effort it must have taken to tame it. A great refresher is a visit to the tropical Daintree Rainforest, north of Mossman and Cairns. The best way to see it is via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, spanning 7.5 kilometres. The Diamond View Gondolas have glass floors and the views aren’t merely breathtaking, they might have you rethinking your place in the vastness of nature.

THE NAUTICAL EXPERIENCE

To go to Australia and not take in the Great Barrier Reef is like going to an ice-cream parlour and ordering coffee. You can do it, but it’s just not right. It was a “bucket list” experience I didn’t even know I wanted, but will never forget.

Dip your face below the water (with your snorkelling gear on) and you’ll discover a brave new land below the surface, with a seemingly endless variety of inhabitants—including a friendly giant, a fish that had survived a shark attack and now greets visitors to the reef with its large eyes darting around curiously. 

Quicksilver’s Outer Reef Day Tour, though quite commercial, is efficiently run and offers activities like helmet diving (snorkelling is more fun and offers the same sights) and helicopter rides, which provide unforgettable (and unbeatable) views.

For a more relaxed experience, Sailaway Reef & Island Tours out of Port Douglas operates a sunset sail, on which you can unwind as the tranquil waves smoothly carry you onward while hues of pink, grey and burnt orange sweep down as the sun sets.

THE SEAFOOD: AN OVERLOOKED GEM

Queensland isn’t generally thought of as a foodie destination. Sure, no one boards a plane to Australia just for the food, but this is an area where it really shines, particularly when it comes to serving up a diverse range of seafood, with creativity and exotic ingredients you’ll unlikely encounter elsewhere (passion fruit and other tropical fruits are a common staple). This is not a salmon, tuna, halibut or bust kind of destination. You’ll find more on the menu. Much more. Like barramundi.

The Balfour Kitchen at the Spicers Balfour Hotel is consistent at delivering perfectly executed dishes with a creative flair. Whether it was a toasted muesli with poached pear, toasted coconut, raspberry compote and honey yoghurt for breakfast, a hot smoked barramundi entrée for lunch, or marmalade ice cream with bits of dried/candied orange, Dulce de Leche, and other surprising ingredients for dessert, they never faltered.

A short stroll away is a popular neighbourhood coffee joint, the Little Larder, where there’s a decidedly laid-back, friendly vibe and decent food. It is there that I make another life-changing discovery: the “dirty” chai, a concoction that contains chai, steamed milk and a shot or two of espresso. This is also the spot where I try Vegemite for the first time. And then never again!

When it comes to actually delectable culinary pursuits, Wild Canary is another must. Nestled inside a garden, the chef uses herbs grown in Southeast Queensland, largely locally sourced produce, and edible flowers to create imaginative dishes. Their Road Winter salad, which contains pumpkin, sweet potato, parsnip, heritage carrot, fennel, grilled halloumi, pumpkin hummus, seeds and balsamic reduction, is one of the finest dishes. Their pastry cabinet isn’t to be scoffed at either. Their take on a raw avocado key lime pie (with nuts in the crust) is a gift from the gods of culinary delights.

Other seafood restaurants worth noting include the Fish House in Burleigh Heads, a beachfront restaurant specializing in southern European dishes; Seascape Restaurant & Bar, which overlooks Surfers Paradise and has a certain fondness for pairing unusual ingredients for that extra flavour kick, as well as employing a passionate bartender; and the festive local favourite, Salsa Bar & Grill in Port Douglas, which is set in a blue and white space, with an easy-going nautical feel. “Chic” is one word that can be used to describe the Salt House Restaurant in Cairns. Views of the water and an unbelievable A$20 lunch special, which includes a glass of wine and delicious food all-around, make it a great stop.

Going beyond seafood and Australian staples is Tartufo Ristorante in Brisbane. As you can probably tell by the name, there are Neapolitan roots at play here and the Italian-Australian chef, Tony Percuoco, who spends his time between the kitchen and mingling with regulars, brings his big heart, passion for food and gregarious nature to the table. A red and black dining room echoing the glamour of old Hollywood was inspired by New York’s Balthazar, while the chef’s hometown of Naples informs the classic Italian cuisine.

WHERE TO STAY

Many hotels in Queensland offer a five-star luxurious experience at a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere, with a laid-back unpretentious feel that seems central to Australia’s hospitality industry.

Among my favourites, the Spicers Balfour Hotel has impeccable and friendly service, the softest most comfortable bed that will keep you from having to count sheep, a slightly removed feel, yet central location, and a terrific restaurant. There’s even a rooftop honour bar. A word of caution: Make sure to request a room farther away from the dining area, as many of the rooms awkwardly adjoin it.

For a more fun vibe, QT Gold Coast offers breathtaking oceanfront views, fun touches like DIY lemonade in-room and self-serve iced tea in the lobby. It’s also home to Bazaar, which serves an internationally inclined mosaic of scrumptious foods, and, incidentally, the most impressive breakfast spread of any hotel I’ve ever encountered.

The Emporium Hotel is probably one of the more trendy and sleek-looking hotels I’ve experienced in Queensland, with its red-and-silver colour scheme, bold fabrics, Bose sound systems, Molton Brown toiletries and an extensive pillow menu.

Travel Planner

For more information on tourism and events in Queensland, visit queensland.com. An electronic visitor visa can be obtained online for under A$20. As mentioned previously, Air Canada (aircanada.com) operates scheduled service from Canada while Qantas (qantas.com) offers exemplary service within Australia. Shoppers must check out James Street in Brisbane for unique creations by local artisans.

 
 
 
 
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