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Sun 17 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Laid-back living

Despite its skyscrapers and bustling streets, Brisbane is refreshingly humble and a haven of calm.

Despite the skyscrapers, bustling streets and its status as Australia's third largest city, Lisa Hodge headed down under to find Brisbane to be refreshingly humble and a haven of calm.

Australians are renowned for their spirited and relaxed approach to life, and nowhere reflects that ethos more than Brisbane.

As Australia's third-largest city and the capital of Queensland this bustling metropolis has much to boast about, yet it remains casually unaffected by its status.

Brisbane city centre exudes all the energy and enthusiasm you would find from any major city in the world but is encompassed by an idyllic lush landscape and the Brisbane River which flows through the city before meeting Moreton Bay on Australia's east coast.

The contrast between the city's dynamic urban centre and its picturesque rural outskirts attracts thousands of tourists to Brisbane every year.

Brisbane weather is almost always hot. In the summer expect stiflingly hot humid days but in the winter, which is peak tourist season, the weather is much more pleasant and attracts thousands of tourists, particularly people from Sydney and Melbourne who head north to escape the cold.

But the weather is not the only thing that makes Brisbane a magnet for tourists. The city is packed full of attractions to suit every type of visitor.

Escape to Brisbane's Bayside and experience the region on two legs, two wheels or on water. Enjoy alfresco dining overlooking the bay, hand feed wild dolphins on Moreton Island or cycle along the foreshore.

Moreton Bay is just 20 to 30 minutes east from downtown Brisbane. For Wynnum, Manly or Moreton Island, head east from the city along Wynnum Road.

Or head north from the city for Sandgate. Whichever bayside destination you choose, all are served well by public transport.

The City Botanic Gardens are a must for any tourist wanting to get a taste of rural Brisbane.

The gardens offer a pleasant respite from the busy city and are frequented by the city's office workers during the working week when they retreat to the grassy banks for lunch.

The gardens are dominated by mass open greenery and walking areas and are popular with strollers, joggers, picnickers, cyclists and skaters.

At night the park is illuminated by subtle lighting and if you're lucky enough you might even catch a glimpse of a tame possum.

If the sight of a possum isn't enough and you want to see more Australian wildlife the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is an essential for your itinerary.

Officially the largest koala sanctuary in the world, the sanctuary is set in attractive parklands beside the Brisbane River and is home to more than 130 of the fuzzy marsupials as well as kangaroos, dingoes and wombats.

The koalas are undeniably cute and for a fee visitors can cuddle one and capture it on film or hand feed the tame kangaroos.

The Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is located in the grounds of the City Botanic Gardens and is a fascinating tourist attraction.

The planetarium was opened in 1978 and named after avid astronomer and one-time governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane.

It features the 12.5-metre Cosmic Skydome (a hemispherical planetarium theatre) with a Zeiss star projector and a digital dome projection system; an observatory containing a permanently-mounted Zeiss 15cm refractor and other instruments; and extensive photographic and model displays in its Foyer and Gallery.

The planetarium runs regular shows in the Cosmic Skydome for visitors and has regular guest narrators for the shows, including Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford and Ewan McGregor.

Further up the Brisbane River, visitors will find Newstead House, the city's best-known heritage site. Set in stunning forested grounds, the historic homestead dates back from 1846 and is attractively fitted out with authentic Victorian furnishings and antiques, clothing and period displays.

The word ‘newstead' is a Scottish term meaning ‘a new place or building'. There are a number of newsteads around Australia that bear testament to the Scottish immigrants who brought with them their thrift and their capacity for hard work.

Newstead House is acknowledged as Brisbane's oldest surviving residence and dates back to 1846 when it was first constructed for Scottish immigrant Patrick Leslie who first settled on the Darling Downs in 1840.

Over the years, Newstead has evolved from a cottage reflective of the Colonial Georgian style of architecture into a classic homestead. What is now Newstead Park was part of a parcel of land purchased by Leslie in 1845.
Throughout its history, Newstead House has been home to a series of judges, politicians, merchant ship owners, and in more recent years, the superintendent of council parks.

Over the years, the house has evolved in many ways and many of the families that have been there have made extensions to the property. The house steeped in Brisbane's history and is highly regarded within the city.

It is thought, in many ways to be reflective of the social development and evolution of Brisbane as a city and a community.

So much so, that in 1939 the Queensland Parliament created the Newstead House Trust - the first piece of legislation in Queensland that seek to preserve a historic structure.

Conservation is a continuing process and there is a constant need for maintenance and repairs which are overseen by the Board of Trustees and the Friends of Newstead.

Perched on a rise above lush Newstead Park, on the river at Newstead, the house is now an image of elegance, with perfectly manicured gardens, a wide wraparound veranda and a paved driveway.

Still authentically furnished in the style of the Victorian period, Brisbane's best-loved historic site, Newstead House provides a wonderful experience for people wanting a slice of Brisbane history.

For a taste of the local art scene in its freshest form, try Queensland University of Technology's Art Museum (QUT).

This challenging museum features contemporary art from around the world, but focuses mainly on home-grown works, including pieces by QUT students. It specialises in thought-provoking paintings, prints and ceramics.

The museum is located in the heart of Brisbane's business district, just a 10-minute walk from the city centre and has developed a brilliant reputation for showcasing the best and most provocative QUT art works.

The exhibits change constantly and guided tours are available, but must be booked in advance.

Brisbane has played host to several major international sporting events in its recent history.

In 1982 it held the Commonwealth Games and in 2001 hosted the Goodwill Games. The city also hosted events during the 1987 Rugby World Cup, 1992 Cricket World Cup, 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 2003 Rugby World Cup and this year will host the grand final of the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.

With the closure of the Milton Tennis grounds in 1994, Brisbane lacks a major tennis facility. The city is currently in the process of building a US$65m new tennis stadium, to be located in the suburb of Tennyson.

The project is due for completion in December this year and will establish Brisbane as a major player in international sporting events.

Eating out is never a problem in Brisbane. The city centre offers a plethora of gastronomical treats to tantalise the taste buds. Everything from five-star dining to cafes, bistros and takeaways.

The Breakfast Creek Hotel is arguably the most famous watering hole in Queensland and rates itself as being one of the top two or three in the country.

But whatever its official standing, it's definitely more than just a venue - it's a major destination in Brisbane and one of the best-loved attractions in the city.

The hotel is drenched in more than a decade-worth of history after first being built in 1889.

Today, the hotel is owned and operated by the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which in 2003 invested US$4.5m in returning the Breakfast Creek Hotel to her former glory, with a modern twist - a redevelopment project which has won acclaim the world over for its marriage of the old and the new.

The Breakfast Creek Hotel sits on the bend of the Brisbane River, just north east of Fortitude Valley and is famed for its unrivalled reputation for its steaks.

The steaks were first introduced to the Breakfast Creek menu way back in 1969 and since then have grown in popularity to become the tourist attraction that they are today.

Part of the ‘Brekky Creek experience' is to line up and select your own superbly tender, aged fillet from the chilled cabinet and have it chargrilled in an open kitchen in front of you.

The steaks are cooked to perfection, and served with an Idaho potato, bacon sauce, coleslaw, slices of tomato and a bread roll.

There are a range of other selections for the non-meat eater, including barramundi, chargrilled chicken and the pub's ‘quiet achiever', its fantastic oysters, but despite this vast array of choice, it is still the steaks that have given the Brekky Creek its legendary status.

They're a favourite with patrons and critics alike, and have earned the hotel awards from American Express, Diners Club, Miettas of Melbourne and various newspapers.
For the ultimate in fine dining a visit to E'cco is a must. Whether you're a gastronomical novice or a culinary aficionado this restaurant, owned by Australian chef extraordinaire Phil Johnson, is simply a delight.

Located on the fringe of Brisbane's central business district, the sassy bistro has breathed new life into what was once an unfashionable district.

Since Johnson's takeover the ground floor has been completely refurbished into a sleek and stylish base to showcase his distinctive cooking style.

During a visit expect masterpieces such as Atlantic salmon, fennel and herb risotto, shaved zucchini, parsley and parmesan; 150-day grain-fed ‘grainge' eye fillet, hasselback potatoes, gorgonzola, silverbeet and candied walnuts and grimaud duck breast, brussel sprouts, baby onions, bacon lardons and sauce diable.

For the eco-friendly diner, a visit to Mondo is definitely on the menu. Every dish served at this refreshing and elegant restaurant is organic.

The restaurant prides itself on sourcing the highest quality produce available and staff are dedicated to educating people about the benefits of eating organic produce and promoting awareness of healthy alternative food choices.

A favourite pastime of all Australians is a night at the movies and nowhere does it better than Brisbane with a vast array of outdoor cinemas to choose from.

Visitors can sit under the stars and soak up Brisbane's balmy nights in front of the big screen which rises against the backdrop of the night sky allowing you to enjoy a totally unique experience.

Brisbane: where to stayConrad Treasury Hotel

Brisbane's classiest hotel is in the beautifully preserved former Land Administration Building. Bedrooms and public spaces are all awash with polished wood, English country house-style furnishings and acres of marble.

The bedrooms here are decked out in rich, opulent fabrics in shades of cream and dark blue, with high ceilings, polished wooden bedheads, marble bathrooms and thick, plush carpets.

The overall effect is palatial in the extreme, and the many staff go out of their way to fulfil their guests' every whim. However, don't expect cutting edge facilities - rooms have TV, but no CD or DVD players as emphasis is very much more on atmosphere.

Likewise, the building's heritage status means that not all rooms have balconies, so ask when booking if you require one.

Brisbane Marriott Hotel

Winner of the 2001 Brisbane Tourism Five-Star Accommodation Award, the Brisbane Marriott Hotel has established a reputation as Brisbane's premier five-star hotel.

Its combination of excellent city location; luxurious; contemporary design; executive floors for business and leisure guests; Brisbane's only hotel day spa retreat; and warm, hospitable service has proven a winning combination.

The 28-level hotel is located on the corner of Queen and Adelaide Streets, a short riverside walk to the city's retail precinct and award-winning al fresco dining, and is within a short river ferry commute to Southbank Parklands, Cultural centre, State Theatre and Museum.

The hotel's 267 elegant guest rooms offer either a king-sized bed or two double beds, and all rooms have stunning city and river views with in-room amenities such as separate shower and bath, international direct dial telephones, in-room pay movies, climate control, high speed internet access and 24-hour room service.

Carlton Crest Hotel Brisbane

Recognised as the only five-star property in Brisbane offering two styles of accommodation in two towers, the Carlton Crest Hotel has the largest number of accommodation rooms and range of conference and banqueting space.

Located right in the heart of the city, opposite City Hall, the hotel has easy access to the Queen Street Mall, cinemas, casino, Performing Arts Complex, South Bank and Roma Street Parklands.

All rooms include modern facilities such as Sony Playstations, movies on demand, internet and E-mail access, guest messaging and account review.

Undercover car parking is available to all hotel guests (charge applies).

The Carlton Brasserie features buffet-style breakfast, and the award winning Picasso's Restaurant offers lunch and dinner menus capturing all the flavours of the Mediterranean.

For relaxation there is the Carlton Lounge or Picasso's Bar. Guests can also enjoy the benefits of our heated rooftop swimming pool, gym and sauna.

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