Insider tips for Brisbane and Cairns, Australia?
March 2, 2019 9:22 PM   Subscribe

We're going to be in Brisbane and Cairns for a week each. Any insider tips? More details inside!

Assume I know all of the obvious stuff that is on the Tourism Australia/Tourism and Events Queensland websites for "top things to do." We'd love to know things like:
- great bars / local breweries
- good cheap eats (I am a vegetarian, so places with veggie options in particular)
- the best coffee (there's so much good coffee, but is there a place that is unmissable?)
- great places to get unusual tropical fruit
- shops that sell truly or relatively one-of-a-kind stuff (I bought clothes from Papershadow when I was last in Brisbane and I still get comments on them whenever I wear them; a friend here in Melbourne turned us on to Dejour Jeans here)
- My partner loves op shops, so any great op shops you know of
- great cinemas
- awesome beaches (to swim or just to photograph)
- anything else you think is truly unique and local!

And also, if you have an operator you know of who is GREAT for a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns or Port Douglas, please let us know. We love hearing those recommendations. We'd consider even doing an overnight at the right spot.
posted by rednikki to Travel & Transportation around Australia (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Okay! Brisbane local here:

So, for vegetarian food in a neat bar, try Netherworld in Fortitude Valley. It's a retro gaming bar where all the food is vegan (though you can add cheese and meat and whatnot - it's just the reverse of the usual bit where the vegans have to do the asking).

While you're in the Valley try Trash Monkey for interesting clothes.

Lastly the fruit and veg shop at the back of McQuirters is probably the best place I've been in the city proper for tropical fruit. It's not fancy but the range is pretty good.

West End is going to be best for interesting off the wall bars and eateries. I'm quite partial to the Burrow at the moment, but most places along the strip will do good food. There's a few places that do vegetarian food exclusively - Vegeme is apparently pretty good but I haven't been there myself.

As far as op shops go you really need to hie out to Annerley, where the Annerley Junction strip has like, five or six of the buggers more or less in a row. It's about a ten minute drive from the city centre, and maybe a 20 minute bus ride. Start near Waldheim Street and head outbound. Stones Corner is sort of just down and around from Annerley and also pretty good for opshops these days, with quite a few along the strip. Start on Old Cleveland Road across from the library and head into the corner proper. While you're there check out Moreish, very good food and lots of good vegetarian and vegan options. Shady Palms at the other end of the strip there is also pretty good for food though a bit pricey.
posted by Jilder at 10:37 PM on March 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My boyfriend and I went to Cairns last year and loved it!

My recommendations for food would be:
* The Lillipad Cafe (I had a tempeh burger)
* Lafew Tea House (Really good housemade kombucha on tap. From what I remember, food is a little pricey for the amount you get but was really delicious)
* Ganbaranba Noodle Collosseum
* Rusty's market for fresh fruit and some food/drink stalls.

Take the Skyrail up to Kuranda. We managed to see a Cassowary at one of the stops, as well as a small croc (probably a young freshwater) swimming in the river that you will go over in the cable car. Check out Falafellicious Cafe while in Kuranda.

If you like tropical fruit, consider doing a tour at a fruit farm. We went to the Fruit Forest Farm. They drive you around the farm, giving commentary on the farm and its history and about the fruits, and will give you fruit to try as you go. They start the tour with a fruit smoothie as well (we got soursop. It's one of my favourite fruits), and you can possibly buy some fruit directly from them.

To get out and see the reef, we took a ferry to Green Island for a day trip. It was a bit of a mixed bag - the island is tiny and I felt that the facilities are lacking for the number of people who go each day. The glass bottom boat ride was good, though, and we saw a turtle. We had a small swim at one of the beaches and the water was beautiful and clear. Small fish might come up and say hello.

Enjoy your trip
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:31 PM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Brisbane German Club was fantastic. You can pay admission without being a member. Incredible food, chill vibe.

These are both reccomendations for great restaurants in especially wonderful Beachy towns nearby since you’re in the zone,
the Roadhouse In Byron Bay
the Belle General in Ballina
posted by wowenthusiast at 9:24 PM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Speaking for Brisbane also ($= under $15 for a main, $$= above):

- good cheap eats (I am a vegetarian, so places with veggie options in particular)
Seconding Netherworld ($). The layout's a bit confusing- the outside room is the bar, if you want to get food keep heading in to the next room and you'll see the ordering counter for the food. Another joint in the Valley that's good is Tea master ($), which does veg* Chinese food (note: closed on Sundays). I Like ramen ($) for incredible veg* ramen (closed Mon & Tues I think). A cheap good place is Govinda's in the CBD ($12 buffet)- the food's really good (there's a branch in the Valley but the food's slightly different at every branch, some of them are kinda dodge. I've never been to the Valley one though. West End one seems to be about the same level). Apart from Netherworld, the others don't have omni options. Other options for if you're wandering around the CBD are bagel at Bagel Boys (omni, $), Vegeto (food court indian, at food court area of Queen's Plaza, All veg*, $), and a bunch of sushi places ($) around Queen Street Mall. There's a Pappa Rich ($) and a Grill'd ($) at the top of the Wintergarden.

Seconding West End as well- it's a cluster of vegan/hippie/street art/boho. Lovely part of the world. There's a vegan market held on the second and fourth Sunday of every month. Sol Cafe ($$) is a bit exxy and pretty busy, but has gorgeous food, lots of veg* options. Archive Beer Boutique (Omni food, veg* options) and Brisbane Brewing Co. for booze (mainly meat, some veg* options). Vegeme ($) is not bad in terms of bang for your buck but it's nothing fancy. Tasty though. Ecclectica Esoteric Books and Curiosities is an interesting place. Junky Comics has cool comics and local zines, but is currently moving so doesn't have a physical address. Depending on when you're going they might have a place by then. West End is also the home of second hand bookstores. I can't find a list but you'll see them as you walk around probably, if you go.

If you go to Annerley here are two other food joints to consider: Little Clive ($-$$)and Cafe O-Mai ($).

- My partner loves op shops, so any great op shops you know of
Apart from Annerley and West End, there's a concentration of them along Latrobe Terrace in Paddington . Veg* restaurants around there include Yavanna ($-$$), Kathmandu NEWA Chhe'n, Hai Hai ramen ($), Sassafras ($$), and King Tea ($$). Here's a brief list op-shop wise- for Paddo you want to take a bus from the city to Given Terrace, start at Ra Ra Superstar, and just keep following the road. The last op-shop you'll reach is the Paddington Antique Centre. There's about six or seven op-shops in that range, divided in the middle by restaurants, so you can do a few, eat when you walk past the restaurant, then keep walking on. Yesterday's is mostly second-hand, the wooden building with the orange sign, the Antique Centre, and the Vinnie's is a mix of second hand and vintage, and the rest is mostly vintage.

- awesome beaches (to swim or just to photograph)
I'd maybe save the beach stuff for Cairns. Most Brisbanites go either an hour north (Sunshine Coast) or south (Gold Coast) for the beach. Between the two the GC is definitely easier to access via public transport, and you can definitely do a day trip there (the sunny coast is quieter though, if you have a car). Surfers Paradise is quite touristy but the other beaches are a bit quieter. If you can swing it go down to Miami/Nobby's Beach- basically like West End but for a richer demographic, so you'll find no end of veg* options and beautiful beaches with chill vibes. Another option is to visit Kirra's beach (I'm pretty sure the reno's done but if not you can go north a bit to Southport), and have lunch at either Gemelli's (omni, veg options, $$) or Cardomom Pod ($)(really good food, chill, not exxy. All veg*. It's set up kind of confusingly but you go to the end- far right of the counter- and move left as you decide/are shuffled forward in line depending on how many people there are, look at the menu behind the counter on the wall, and pick from the stuff behind the counter glass. There's often no real line, just whoever's first or ready, so you kind of have to wing it)
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 9:35 PM on March 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Former Cairns resident here.

- get all your fruit at Rusty’s Market in the CBD. It’s only open Friday-Sunday. Eat all the mangoes. Cheap amazing fruit from Rusty’s is basically the only thing that makes me miss living in the tropics.

- you generally can’t swim at the beaches in Cairns because of crocs and jellyfish. They are beautiful though - if you’ll have a car, do the drive up to Port Douglas and stop at some of those beaches for photos. Really stunningly beautiful. But take note of the fact that there’s a good reason they’re empty of swimmers and don’t be tempted, especially at dawn or dusk. (My neighbor was involved in the search and rescue operation for a woman who was taken by a croc while wading knee-deep at one of the beaches north of Cairns one evening. It was not pretty.) If you want to swim, you can go to Ellis Beach where they have nets, or do what our family did and go swim at the Lagoon in the Cairns CBD.

- I prefer the reef boats to the island boats for snorkeling. There’s less dead coral away from the islands (though still a fair bit, devastatingly). I liked Sunlover Tours and took a few friends on snorkeling trips with them.

- The Kuranda Rail is fun if you like old school trains. You can do a package where you go up on the rail and down on the SkyRail, or vice versa. Kuranda is a nice way to spend a day.

- If you’re interested in Aboriginal culture and history, the Tjapukai cultural park is pretty neat - they have a lot of great demos and explanations, you can try your hand at throwing a boomerang and traditional spear, and they put on neat shows.

- favorite restaurants: Ochre if you’d like to try some nice food that uses a lot of native ingredients, Bay Leaf for Balinese food (similar to Thai in many ways, if you’re not familiar with it), Mondo’s for food with a view and comfy chairs on the grass.
posted by olinerd at 2:48 AM on March 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh - and I got my SCUBA certification with Deep Sea Diver’s Den. They have snorkel overnights along with the dive tours, and their boats are nice. (The food on mine was great too) Just in case you do want a longer Reef trip.
posted by olinerd at 2:53 AM on March 4, 2019

Best answer: A lot of tropical fruit is starting to head out of season at this point. Any standalone fruit and veg store will have what’s still in season (sweet-ass pineapples, whatever mangoes are still fruiting). The big markets include Rocklea Fresh Food markets, held on a Saturday and Sunday morning (more second-hand stuff than food vendors on Sun).

Best coffee? Pretty much you can walk into any cafe that’s not a chain (like Coffee Club, Gloria Jeans, Zaraffas) and score yourself a tops coffee. Some choice-r places to go for good coffee and good vibes include Lady Marmalade at Stones Corner (owned by the same people as Shady Palms, already mentioned above), Billy Kart (spots at both West End and Annerley; my heart belongs to the Annerley as it’s in an old corner store and my local), Pawpaw Cafe at Woollongabba. Paper Moon (on Annerley Road, likely to pass it on your way to Annerley op shopping) is vegan. Oh! Three Monkeys in West End is a bloody institution and has such a wonderful garden out back to relax in.

There’s some new-ish suburban microbreweries around. Brisbane Brewing Co is in the middle of the main thoroughfare through West End; Slipstream is in an industrial area in Yerongpilly 10 mins from the cbd. Ballistic Beer is the furtherest from the CBD, but my favorite for chilled family-ish vibes on a Friday night + bonus food trucks.

Something to try. Why not try having a round of barefoot bowls at a local lawn bowls club? It’s a perfect time of year in Brisbane to play it and not die in the sun, really cheap fun and you can often play while having a beer or two (at 1970s prices). Some suggestions would be the Booradabbin or New Farm bowls clubs - both relatively close to the city.

If you’re outdoorsy, there’s some easy walking trails up to the top of Mt Coot-tha, with a great summit view of the city as a reward. Easily accessible by public transport.

If you need a casual buddy in Brisbane, I may be able to help you out. I live a suburb away from Annerley. High school teacher with the corresponding work hours. Grew up in West End. Send memail if you need a coffee buddy!
posted by chronic sublime at 3:27 AM on March 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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