There is a lot to see & do in South East Queensland
There is a lot to do and as already listed in another article, lots of places to visit in South East Queensland, Whether you are a local or a visitor, here is a list of 40 great and popular activities in the area. Some are unique to South East Queensland, and others are simply made more enjoyable because of the location.
Everything east of Toowoomba is South East Queensland in this map courtesy of Wikimedia
Below are a combination of free and paid activities. There is a lot to do for free here but don't be afraid to splash out to pay for some great experiences as well.
One of the most popular activities in South East Queensland is to go for a walk, and it is not surprising as there are so many great places to walk in the area. In the heart of Brisbane, you walk along the river all the way from Newstead up to near the University of Queensland. Meanwhile, if you want to walk by the beach, you can walk from Shorncliffe to Redcliffe and beyond, or Wynnum to Manly in the south. There are also plenty of walks on the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. The more interesting one on the Gold Coast is Federation Walk from Main Beach to the Spit or the Burleigh Heads National Park. On the Sunshine Coast, you have Golden Beach, as well as the Cliffs, Walk in Caloundra.
South East Queensland is a great hiking destination, with lots of little hikes in local bushland areas through to multiday hikes on the Great Walks. I am not going to try and list all the hikes, but the best hiking destinations include Binna Burra and O'Reilly's in the Lamington National Park, Springbrook National Park, Cunningham's Gap and South D'Aguilar National Park. All of these destinations include short strolls in nature to longer all-day hikes. If you want to hike for several days, the two most popular hikes are Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk and Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk.
Kayaking is a fun activity that anyone with a basic level of fitness can do. Even if you don't own your own kayak, there are plenty of great places to kayak in South East Queensland where you can also easily hire a kayak. These include kayaking Brisbane River from Riverlife at Kangaroo Point, Currumbin Creek and Tallebudgera Creek on the Gold Coast, and on the Sunshine Coast, you can kayak Pumicestone Passage either from Bongaree on Bribie Island or Golden Beach in Caloundra, as well as at places on Maroochy River or Mooloolah River. Noosa gets a special mention because not only can you kayak around Noosaville but you can hire kayaks and go for multiday trips up to the Noosa Everglades. Of course, you can also kayak in various lakes, with Walk About Creek Discovery Centre hiring out kayaks at Enoggera Reservoir.
Stand up paddleboarding is pretty trendy at the moment. Obviously, it is more difficult for beginners than kayaking but you get to look down into the water and is a great way to observe ocean life as you paddle. See the kayak section, as nearly all the places listed for kayak hire also hire out stand up paddleboards.
Standup paddle boarding is popular at the beach, in rivers and lakes across South East Queensland
As a wine-growing region, South East Queensland is slowly gaining the respect of the rest of the nation. But you don't have to believe me, you can try for yourself. You don't even have to get out into the countryside to find wines, with Sirromet Wines in Mt Cotton in Redlands being the most convenient. Further afield, the rocky dry terrain of Stanthorpe is producing some of the best wines in the region. Of course, there are other wine-growing districts to visit as well, such as Mt Tamborine in the Gold Coast Hinterland and Montville in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, though many of the wineries in those areas actually just buy their grapes from Stanthorpe. These are great places to join a tour to visit or stay overnight and sample the wines.
Wine tasting with a view at Flame Hill Winery in Montville
I don't eat steak often but I do love the perfect steak cooked beautifully. There are plenty of restaurants where you can get a nice steak and I will only mention the Breakfast Creek Hotel as it is also a historic location with great classic pub streaks. But you really want to get out to the countryside and seek out award-winning butchers. The two best regions to get steak are Killarney with its rich black volcanic soil, and across the border in Tenterfield, with its mild climate.
You can't go past the steaks at the Breakfast Creek Hotel
The region has a wide range of beaches stretching from Noosa in the north down to Tweed Heads in the south. So of course, a dip in the ocean is a great idea. The Gold Coast's beaches are famous, though the best-known ones are not necessarily the best. Certainly, with little kids or people who are less comfortable swimming, there are several beaches worth checking out. On the Sunshine Coast, you actually have more smaller beaches right in the heart of the main tourist areas. Some favourites include Moffat Beach, Tea Tree Bay and Mooloolaba Spit Beach. Brisbane area also has a few beaches, with Redcliffe having the best beaches in the greater Brisbane area but still well behind the beaches outside the area.
There are many swimming holes dotted around the countryside in South East Queensland. Some of the most popular include, Kondalilla Falls, Gardner Falls and Artists Cascades in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Cedar Creek Falls in Mt Tamborine, Cronan Creek Falls and Lower Portals at Mt Barney, Gwongoorool Pool at Binna Burra and the cascades in the Box Forest Circuit at O'Reilly's. Closer to Brisbane is Cedar Creek Swimming Holes in the Samford Valley.
Gardner Falls is a popular swimming hole on the Sunshine Coast
There is a lot of great food in South East Queensland. Of course, you can just have a nice meal in many great restaurants in the region but you can also go one step beyond and seek out options where you can sample a lot of different food. You can find a number of food walking tours in Brisbane, with two popular ones being South Bank's dessert tour and Sunnybanks Asian food tours. Then you can jump on a bus and go further afield with various country food tastings as well, such as Local Taste Discovery Tours.
There are many tastes to try in South East Queensland
There are a wide variety of cruises on rivers and the ocean in South East Queensland. In Brisbane, the focus is on the river. You can take a free Red Ferry just to get a quick river tour, or even pay for the regular CityCat ferry, or music and good food, there is a Kookaburra Queen River Cruise which is popular with both locals and tourists. Whale watching is worth doing as well, with many half-day cruises leaving from the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast, and a few in the Brisbane area as well. If you are looking for something different, try a Noosa Everglades cruise or for something touristy, there is also a day trip out to Moreton Island or a historic tour of St Helena Island.
There are cruises all along the coast in South East Queensland
So I already mentioned whale watching cruises. The most convenient ones leave from the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast, but there are some from Brisbane as well. They use spotters to find the whales so that they can get in close (but not too close unless the whales choose to come in closer). But you can also spot whales from the coast. A couple of good spots to see whales is from Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island or Burleigh Heads National Park. Others have been lucky and met whales while on a ferry to North Stradbroke or kayaking in Moreton Bay.
Markets in South East Queensland pop up in many different places, with various styles and offerings. There are several coastal markets that combine well with a trip to the beach. I like those at Manly where they host a farmer's market Saturdays and a creative market on Sundays. The Gold Coast also have a regular market at Surfers Paradise and there are markets in Redcliffe, Maroochydore Markets and Mooloolaba. Speaking of farmers markets, Woodridge lines up many stalls all selling cheap fruit and vegetables, and I usually manage to get great deals on exotic fruits at the Davies Park Market in West End. In the countryside, nothing beats the Eumundi Markets. Of course, every Wednesday there is also a market in the city centre.
There are a wide variety of city, beach and country markets all across Southern Queensland
South East Queensland has some of the best zoos in Australia, including ones focused on native animals. So skip Australia zoo if you just want to see Australian animals and head to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary instead, as it is better for native specifies. In Brisbane, the Lone Pine Koala Koala Sanctuary is a good option as well. There are plenty of other little zoos around. I like Walkabout Creek at Lake Enoggera but there are plenty of others to check out as well. If you want to see animals in their natural habitat, most larger bushland reserves, like Daisy Hill Conservation Reserve Park have plenty of wallabies and some even have kangaroos. If you are lucky, you might see a few koalas in the trees at Daisy Hill, the Koala Bushlands or Noosa National Park.
With mild weather most of the year (except the occasional thunderstorm), there are outdoor performances all year round, and most of them are free. Often the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast do this better than Brisbane, with one example being the Blues on Broadbeach festival which has multiple outdoor free stages as well as paid performances. But check out websites like WeekendNotes to see what free events are coming up next in your area.
Brisbane is actually a pretty good place to see theatre and other performances. In fact, many international productions come to Brisbane first. Tickets for shows at QPAC usually start at $80, but can be much more, while there are other good theatres as well for professional productions, including the Bille Brown Theatre in South Brisbane and La Boite Theatre in Kelvin Grove. But of course, there are plenty of other theatre spaces, including Metro Arts in West End that brings a lot of the more innovative works from Australian playwrights to Brisbane. On the Gold Coast, the recently built Home of the Arts (HOTA) is where you will find good theatre, while the Star Casino has a great theatre with a focus on more commercial and touristy productions.
I quite like a country town, and there are a few worth the trip to see, and more worth stopping in when you are in the area. Maleny and Montville in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland are typical examples of gentrified country towns. They cater well to visitors while maintaining much of their country charm. In the Lockyer Valley, there are little village areas like Forest Hill, worth popping into on the way to other attractions. Aratula on the way to the Scenic Rim is a great place for a stop and for a bit of antiquing as well. Across the mountains, Warwick and Stanthorpe are popular destinations and of course, don't forget to also go to Killarney.
Warwick is one of many great country towns in the South East Queensland Region
Australia, if you haven't noticed, is a multicultural society. Brisbane and South East Queensland reflect this too, though it is not as multicultural as Sydney or Melbourne there are still plenty of other cultures to immerse yourself in. The obvious one is Sunnybank, which is dominated by Chinese businesses but also has plenty of other Asian shops and restaurants as well. Elizabeth Street in Brisbane City is known as Korean Street, because it is full of Korean restaurants and shops, even extending to the side streets around the corner. For those looking to experience a bit of east Africa, then Moorooka is the place to go. Other very cultural suburbs from back in the day, such as New Farm and West End, have lost their Italian and Greek roots, but you can still easily experience the culture during the many festivals such for various cultural groups, including the popular Greek, Italian and French festivals, Oktoberfest for German culture (or mostly German beer) and so on. Then there are cultural festivals where you can enjoy multiple cultures at once.
African food and culture is just one multicultural experience you can have in South East Queensland
There are lots of ways to get up into the treetops. O'Reilly's Treetop Walk in Lamington National park is free (please make a gold coin donation though to help support its maintenance), while Mt Tamborine's Skywalk is about $10 for kids and $20 for adults. There is also the TreeTop Challenge, where you get to swing, zip, walk, jump and so on in the treetops while cabled up with ropes for safety. Locations include Mt Tamborine, Currumbin and at the Big Pineapple on the Sunshine Coast.
There are several ways to get into the tree tops in South East Queensland, including the Mt Tamborine Skywalk
There is always something on in South East Queensland every week. Weekend Notes is of course your friend to find out about some of the best events coming up. With so much on, I am not sure where to start. Certainly, the Brisbane Festival is the premium event on in the area, though the main event is the Riverfire Fireworks. This is followed by the Woodford Folk Festival where many people head off to bring in the new year in style. But there are much much more on, including Ipswich's Country Music Festival, the Ekka Agricultural Show and even island festivals, such as the Island Vibe Music & Arts Festival on Minjerribah also known as North Stradbroke Island.
There are so many wonderful parks in South East Queensland. Some are worth spending much of the day in. In Brisbane, the best park by far is the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, where you can walk through imported and native sections of the park, learn about astronomy at the observatory, go to the library, or see art in one of the galleries. In Ipswich, Robelle Domain has become the place to play in summer, especially as next door is the Orion Lagoon water park. On the Gold Coast, I have a soft spot for the Broadwater Parklands, as you are by the water and it is part of a longer trail along that waterfront. On the Sunshine Coast, I recommend heading to the nearby hinterlands and enjoying one of two places in Maleny, either the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve which contains old-growth rainforest or the Maleny Botanic Gardens.
If you go to the park today, you will be in for a big surprise, for today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic
There are numerous botanic gardens around South East Queensland. Each has its own charm. The City Botanic Gardens is a nice area, if not a bit old fashioned, by the Brisbane River, and a great way to escape the city streets. Up on the sides of Mt Coot-tha is the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, which is a subtropical paradise, featuring winding paths, lagoons, ponds, Japanese Gardens and an Australian plants section at the back. For regional Botanic Gardens, Mt Tamborine has wonderful gardens thanks to the work of many volunteers. Regional cities also have Botanic Gardens, with nice ones on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Ipswich and Toowoomba. Of the remaining regional botanic gardens, Maleny's stands out for its accompanying view of the Glass House Mountains and adjoining bird world.
Mt Tamborine's Botanic Gardens is one of many around South East Queensland
More and more people are getting into planting native Australian plants in their gardens. While others want to know what they can eat or use in the bush. Along with indigenous tours with a focus on bush tucker talked about in the section below, often the main way to learn more about native plants is through a botanical garden. Brisbane Botanical Gardens offers native plant tours and the Brisbane City Council often gives away native plants at events such as the Green Heart Fair events. Similar events, including the sale of native plants, occur at botanic gardens across the region.
Learning about native plants on the Sunshine Coast
When you live on the east coast, viewing the sunrise is often a matter of just going to the beach in the morning. I highly recommend this, along with a swim and a picnic breakfast. But you can also view the sunrise from a number of different locations. In Brisbane, Mt Coot-tha's Summit provides great sunrise views over the city. For the adventurous, a night hike up a mountain to view the sunrise is an option. This includes Mt Coolum on the Sunshine Coast, Mt Cordeaux at Cunningham's Gap and Mt Warning across the border in northern NSW.
Living on the east coast makes it easy to enjoy a great sunrise
Even being on the East Coast, there are still many places to see a good sunset. At the beach, Rainbow Bay on the Gold Coast gets sunsets over the bay as the sun sets in the west, and of course, you can view the sunset from many different islands in Moreton Bay. Mountain tops make good places to view the sunset as well. I am thinking Mt Tamborine has a couple of west-facing lookouts and Mt Ngungun on the Sunshine coast is good for its westerly views.
Moreton Bay contains 360 islands, and with that many to choose from, anyone who likes islands will find one that they love. The one that isn't in Moreton Bay that South East Queensland likes to claim as their own is Fraser Island, one of the must-see destinations in the region. Some other island highlights include driving over the bridge to Bribie Island, walking along the exposed sandbar at low tide to King Island, taking a ferry to North Stradbroke Island or Coochiemudlo island, or taking a cruise to the historic Peel Island, or escaping for a day trip or weekend away of feeding dolphins and sand tobogganing on Moreton Island.
Island life on Moreton Bay in South East Queensland
Okay, so you are in town and you want to party. But where is the party at? In Brisbane, Fortitude Valley has the trendiest bars and clubs and West End and South Brisbane is probably better to find a place with live music. Many people skip Brisbane and head to the Gold Coast where Surfers Paradise is party central, and of course, in summer, the beach provides a nice comfortable place to sleep if you don't make it through to sunrise. But if you are not in these party places, you can still find the party happening nearly anywhere in South East Queensland. Country pubs often have music and entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, and it is like everyone from around the area turns up to party. The Sunshine Coast is also well known for its live music venues.
Camping options in South East Queensland vary a lot, and you can camp in caravan parks with all the facilities through to rough campsites you need to hike to. The National Parks in South East Queensland have some amazing campsites, including Charlie Moreland and Booloumba Creek on the Sunshine Coast with wide-open grassy areas and fire rings. There are also great commercial campsites, like Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park in Killarney, which has a huge open area for camping. Let's not forget caravan parks worth camping in, such as those on the Sunshine Coast, the sites reserved for camping right next to the beach. Other highlights include beach camping on Islands, which usually requires a four-wheel drive, but North Stradbroke has some spots accessible by car. Then Bribie Island has spots you need a boat to get to. You don't have to go far, with some nice campsites near Brisbane.
Girraween National Park is one of many camping destinations in South East Queensland
Australians often forget how good we have it. We can go to many parks or other places and just get a free table, shelter and barbecue, and start cooking. In fact, whenever friends come to visit me from abroad, I take them for a barbecue in the park or beach. Some of the best barbecue spots in Brisbane include South Bank (though it can be a little crowded), Roma Street Parklands, because it is my favourite park, Mt Coot-Tha's Simpson Falls Picnic Area as it has good access to walks. On the Gold Coast, check out the little Rainbow Bay, Paradise Point, Burleigh Beach and Evandale Park next to the Home Of The Arts. On the Sunshine Coast, consider Noosa Botanic Gardens, Glass House Mountains Lookout and Golden Beach.
Not everything you do has to be about yourself. You can also contribute to the community through volunteering, and have a great time for yourself while you are at it. Often the best way to get into volunteering is to get involved in various events so you might just be committing yourself for one day or a weekend. One of the hottest volunteering opportunities is the annual Woodford Folk Festival, but there are plenty of other events where volunteering gets you a free ticket. But you can also volunteer at Christmas time or for fundraisers. Then there are plenty of other types of volunteering as well. I know a few people who volunteer at local zoos or with the RSPCA.
Volunteers, young and older, at a Christmas charity event
Most visitors from abroad really want to experience a little bit of indigenous culture, and most Australians as well want to learn more in this area too. In Brisbane, your main option is to go to either the Queensland Art Gallery or Gallery of Modern Art. They both have permanent collections of indigenous art, including many contemporary works. On the Gold Coast, go to the Home Of The Arts (HOTA). The Gold Coast also has the Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre, something which Brisbane lacks. There are a number of local galleries focused on traditional owners, including Salt Water Murris Quandamooka Aboriginal Art Gallery on North Stradbroke Island (known as Minjerribah in the local language). Keep an eye out for talks, events, tours and performances. For food and contemporary Aboriginal art, try the Birrunga Gallery which is more a cafe with indigenous-flavoured food.
A great road trip should include the opportunity to visit several great locations in a single journey. South East Queensland has a couple worth doing. One of the most popular is the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, which incorporates the Glass House Mountains, the various attractions at Maleny and Montville, Mapleton Falls and if you have time, some shopping for local fruit and vegetables. Another great road trip is the Scenic Rim, heading up through Aratula where you can stop for a bit of antiquing, do a quick walk at Cunningham's Gap, drive down to Warwick and then back via Killarney and The Head Road. How many spots you stop and visit will depend on how early you leave. Another often neglected road trip are the back roads to Toowoomba. Starting at Ipswich, you take the side roads through Rosewood, Laidley, and other Lockyer Valley highlights, making your way up to Toowoomba via Flagstone Creek Road.
Get on the road to some great South East Queensland day trip destinations
What South East Queensland lacks in natural lakes, there are actually still lots of human constructed lakes for fun and adventure. In Brisbane itself there is Enoggera Reservoir where you can swim, kayak, stand up paddleboard, hike and mountain bike. Around South East Queensland, other lakes that are popular for adventures include Lake Moogerah, which attracts water skiers, and Ewen Maddock Dam for swimming and kayaking. There are plenty of more dams for fishing and nearly every lake has opportunities for hiking. If you are looking for natural lakes, then Brown and Blue Lakes on North Stradbroke Island are worth checking out for a swim.
Lake Moogerah is popular for waterskiing, fishing, kayaking and swimming
In many cultures, a temple is a haven of serenity in a busy and chaotic world. The largest Buddhist Temple in Queensland is the Fo Guan Shan Chung Tian Temple in Priestdale. This temple complex includes multiple halls, a pagoda, sculptor gardens and lotus pond. Even better, they have a great little vegetarian cafe on the grounds. Another Buddhist Temple of note is the Holy Triad Temple, also known as Joss House, in Albion, which was built in 1885 behind where the Chinese markets used to be located. On the Sunshine Coast, the Chenrezig Institute features Tibetan style temples and welcomes visitors every day. They have a small cafe called the Big Love Cafe.
South East Queensland has a lot of great places for cycling. Even if you don't have your own bicycle, there are often lots of places to rent them for a cycling adventure. Some of the most notable cycle paths include the Kedron Brook Cycleway which runs all the way from Mitchelton to Nundah, with a popular diversion through the Boondall Wetlands. Beyond that, you can cycle from Shorncliffe to Redcliffe, mostly along cycle paths by the seashore. On the southside, you can cycle from Wynnum to Manly. The Gold Coast's 55 kms of beaches can also be mostly cycled, including sandy paths all the way up to The Spit. There are also plenty of cycle paths on the Sunshine Coast shoreline and along the Noosa River. Last, but not least, are the cycle paths running along the Brisbane River in the heart of the city.
Cycling along the beach front in South East Queensland
Science has found that if you eat seafood where you can smell the sea, the seafood tastes better. So if you are close enough to the sea to smell it, you should also be eating seafood. So forget overpriced options in Brisbane's city centre like Jellyfish and Gambaro, even though they are very good, and head to a place near the ocean for some local seafood. While not a complete list, some standout options, include the Margate Beach House for Seafood Platters, Peter's Seafood Market for great fish and chips on the Gold Coast, or the Noosa Boathouse for some upmarket dining in a floating restaurant on the Noosa River.
There are many places to enjoy fantastic seafood in South East Queensland
Many people will have a coast or mountain day to escape the city, Of course, driving for up to 2 hours there and at the same time back is pretty tiring. So many people choose to escape for a weekend or a long weekend away. Some of the classic weekends away include to the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast, where you can enjoy a day of sun and surf, an evening of good food and drink, and a night of partying. While some partygoers, especially on the Gold Coast, choose to just sleep it off on the beach, it is much more comfortable in a bed. Many people choose the mountains for romantic getaways, including staying in a cabin surrounded by rainforest in places like Mt Tamborine, or with a view at O'Reilly's. For groups, heading to places where you can rent larger places to cook and eat together, think of spots like the Lockyer Valley. Then for lovers of wine, you can enjoy a range of great wines in Stanthorpe without having a designated driver.
Does a a private cabin surrounded by rainforest on a mountain sound good to you?
When the heat and humidity of South East Queensland's long hot summers get to you, one option is to escape to the cooler rainforest-covered mountains, which is a tradition that dates back to various indigenous societies in the region who would spend the winters by the coast and the summers in the mountains. For Brisbane people, it isn't even necessary to leave Brisbane, as Mt Nebo is part of the Brisbane City Council Area, while Mt Glorious is part of the greater Brisbane Area, both are great for hikes and cafes. For Gold Coast residents, there are many choices, including Mt Tamborine, for its lovely short rainforest walks. Of course, there is also Binna Burra and O'Reilly's in Lamington National Park, and Springbrook, among others.
A waterfall in a mountain rainforest makes a great escape from South East Queensland's summer time heat
For visitors to the region as well as families with kids, a great way to learn a little about the local wildlife and nature is to head to a bushland centre. These range from very basic information boards to large air-conditioned information centres. There are a lot of these around, so I am not going to list them all, but some standout ones include Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre, which has a nice inside information centre with a nice bush themed playground nearby. The Koala Bushlands in Burbank is not as richly featured but has an information board that lets you hear the sounds of various local animals by pressing a button. In Chermside West, the Downfall Creek Bushland Centre features an informative bushland walk. But one place stands out beyond all the others, and it is the Rainforest Discovery Centre in the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve in Maleny. Walk among the last remaining old-growth rainforest in the area and learn more in the centre.
Mary Cairncross Information Centre is one of many bushland discovery centres around the region
You don't have to go outside to have adventures in South East Queensland. For example, there are iFly indoor skydiving centres in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. A lot of people are getting into indoor rock climbing at the moment, which is good for people suitably fit. Then there is indoor paintball and gel blaster arenas. You can even go indoor go-karting. So no matter the weather, you can get active.
Indoor sky diving is just one adventure you can have without having to go outdoors
There are a lot of opportunities for fun and games in Brisbane for all ages. There is laser tag and bowling at Kingpin Bowling or Strike Bowling Centres, which often include computer arcade games. In fact for adults, you can head to B. Lucky & Sons to play computer games in a bar setting. For darts, try Oche in Fortitude Valley. A great activity for various ages are escape rooms. Fox in a Box caters for all ages while Quest Rooms aims for older players.