Discover the quirky & unusual attractions around SEQ
Every region of the world has its little secrets and quirks and South East Queensland is no different. Here are 22 things that people who visit the region don't know about, but are worth seeking out. Some may not even be known about by locals.
With its beautiful long beaches, lush subtropical rainforests that have survived since the days of the dinosaurs, friendly locals, islands, and other, well, let's say it, typical attractions, South East Queensland already has a lot of great things to see. But, if you love to find something unusual or quirky that others don't know about, then this is the list for you.
Tree of Lost Soles
Dear editor, I didn't spell "sole" incorrect, so please don't correct my spelling. You see this tree on the Sunshine Coast is not home to souls but the soles of shoes, specifically the great Aussie thong. Walk along the paths around Sylvan Beach and you will come across this quirky oddity. Locals keep adding more thongs to the tree and sometimes the local council have removed them, but they are quickly returned.
During World War 2, Brisbane became the base of operations for the Pacific theatre of war, with large numbers of US servicemen were stationed in the city. Traces of this are found everywhere, including up on Mt Coot-tha. The JC Slaughter Falls picnic area was cleared and a road built for a US Army Camp. There is not much left of that camp, except the remains of an ammo dump, a concrete platform that was a mess hall (now a picnic area) and the bush chapel. Actually, the original bush chapel is gone, but it was reconstructed in the 1970s. It gets little or no use for its function as a chapel and most people just walk past the signpost for the path to it, so heading up there to relax usually means you can find a quiet spot that no one else will bother to come and see.
The Bush Chapel in Mt Coot-tha is a reconstruction of the original WW2 bush chapel built by US servicemen
In a quiet side street in Albion behind Brisbane's oldest pub is a little Chinese Buddhist Temple, officially known as the Holy Triad Temple, but also known as Joss House. This Cantonese style temple was built in 1885 back when this area was where Chinese people had market gardens. The roof was imported from China, as is a lovely bit of Brisbane history that is often overlooked.
The Holy Trinity Temple, also known as Joss House, was built in 1885
In Moreton Bay, the various Aboriginal tribes who lived on the coast had an easy way to catch fish. They would go to an area of rock that juts out into the water. They would sing a special song, then take a stick and bang into a specially carved out hole in a particular pattern. The dolphins would hear the sound and drive the fish into shore where the summoners would grab the fish with nets, and share some of them with the dolphins. Unfortunately, some of the tribes, such as the Gabi Gabi on the Sunshine Coast, no long know the pattern of taps to summon the dolphins, but the story has it that a Quandamooka elder living on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) still knows the lore, and if he sings the song and taps the stick in their dolphin summoning hole, the dolphins still come.
One of several dolphin summoning holes around Moreton Bay
Moreton Bay has a lot of islands, one popular local island is King Island, which you can walk to at low tide every day as a sand bar connecting the island to the mainland at Wellington Point is exposed. My advice is to get there early as the tide is just going out, so you can beat others walking over to the island.
Walking on the exposed sandbar to King Island off Wellington Point
Out in the bush or rainforest, or on an island, you can find little bits of history just lying there in nature. Some, like those in Mt Coot-tha, are cared for and there are signposts, while others are just left abandoned. There are 3 plane wrecks that I know about, including the famous Stinson plane wreck in Lamington National Park, the Lincoln bomber crash site at My Superbus, and the much easier to reach Piper Comanche wreck in Mt Glorious. Other bits of history can be seen in walks such as The Heritage Trail at Spicers Gap and The Winder Track in Goomburra.
The remains of a plane crash in Mt Glorious near Brisbane is a bit of secret history you can hike to
I love a bit of hidden history and the Spring Hill Reservoir is one such place. You can walk past it Wickham Park and not realise that it is there beneath your feet. But underneath the park is the old city reservoir, though now its brick arches are dry. You can visit it on open days as well as when they hold plays or concerts there.
You can even see a play or concert in the reservoir
In the rather boring suburb of Chermside Hills is a collection of 3 bush reserves that are collectively known as the Chermisde Hills Reserves. Between 2 of them, Raven Street Reserve and Milne Hill Reserve is the busy Hamilton Road. Of course, there are many animals living in the reserves, including wallabies and possums. How are they going to go between the 2 reserves as they have yet to learn how to operate the buttons at the pedestrian crossing? The answer is a green bridge. You can walk across it as well, and the first time you see it, you might be forgiven for thinking it is an abandoned bridge. But no, the grass is there to encourage animals to cross, as are the ropes on poles to help possums make their way across without touching the ground.
Walk across a bridge designed for animals to cross a busy road in Chermside Hills
On the side, a not often driven road in the Lockyer Valley is a rock overhang. You will spot it easily, as there is a little wooden platform built here so people can walk up to it. Carved into the stone of the overhang are symbols are have been dated back to 4000 years. These carvings correspond to those used for Aboriginal coming of age practices and it is believed that this site would have been used for this purpose. I shouldn't tell you exactly where Challawong Rock is as the local government wants to put in place better protection for the site before making it more public, but it is more or less an open secret.
Challawong Rock features 4000 year old Aboriginal carvings
There are lots of little multicultural hubs in Brisbane. Sunnybank is famous for Chinese food, Elizabeth Street in the city is Korean street, but one area often ignored is Brisbane's own African Village, Moorooka. Here you will find lots of East Africa restaurants, cafes and stores. Enjoy great meals designed to be shared, as well great coffee (Ethiopians discovered coffee, so of course coffee is one of their highlights), though I prefer some Eritrean tea.
Maybe from nine to five, you will have to spend your time at work. Perhaps your job is very boring, maybe you are an office clerk. But what can help you pass the time away is knowing you will be back at Echo Beach some day. But Martha and the Muffins were wrong about their famous beach. Echo Beach is not far away in time, but at Burleigh Heads. It is a bit of a secret though as you need to walk through the national park, take the stairs at the creek end, and walk down to the little Echo Beach on Tallebudgera Creek.
There are lots of markets in South East Queensland. Woodridge stands out for its huge emphasis on locally grown produce, with most market stall selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Better yet, it also features a separate section of street food stalls. While they have food from around the world, the focus is on Asian food, creating an experience as close to a genuine South East Asian street food market as you would find outside of Asia. Go and get enough cheap fruit and vegetables for the week, then stop in for breakfast, brunch or an early lunch at the street food market.
The Woodridge Sunday Markets is the closest thing to Asian street food you will find in Brisbane, with plenty of other world street food as well
Anyone I have met who has come to South East Queensland from abroad loves the water dragons. These large lizards are not afraid of people, nor are they aggressive towards them. You will find them in South Bank and Roma Street Gardens in Brisbane, at the Beach on the Gold Coast as well as around lots of waterways. Locals just shrug at these reptiles and barely think about them. So they don't really feature in any marketing or promotional materials. Yet they are a wonderful feature of life in the region.
A water dragon enjoying the view on the Gold Coast
Well off the main trails is a little cafe in the upper Lockyer Valley that has been built like a barn. This is a great place to enjoy tea served in battered tin kettles and drunk from metal cups, along with good old fashioned country scones. But the quirky doesn't stop there, you have to go and visit Scotty in his garage. On the outside, it looks like an old fashioned service station, inside it is a collection of beautifully restored old cars. But there is more, at the back of the museum is an old fashioned 50s diner, often booked for parties.
Worth getting off the highway and the main roads to visit Scotty and look at what is in his garage
South D'aguilar National Park Forest & Fire Trails
The South D'Aguilar National Park is not a secret, but many of the trails are. In fact, I have looked at Google Maps, QTopo and National Parks maps, only to see different trails marked on each. Then ended up walking on paths not marked on any of them. There is a lot to explore here, including hikes to Mermaid Mountain or the Piper Comanche plane crash site in Mt Glorious. There are also lots of campsites, 3 lakes and more.
Enjoying the view from the view of the secret lookout on Mermaid Mountain
There are lots of beaches on the Sunshine Coast, but one that is not often visited in Alexandria Bay in the Noosa Heads National Park. You need to hike a little way in to get to it from either the north or the south, though the hike is pleasant enough especially along the coastal track in the north. What makes it a secret, and don't tell anyone I told you this okay, but it is an unofficial nude beach. Official nude beaches are not a thing in Queensland, but locals have often found quiet places to go clothing optional, and Alexandria Bay is one of those.
Image of Alexandria Bay courtesy of Christoph Rupprecht @ Flickr
The South East Queensland area is dominated by large and often internationally famous zoos that get most of the tourists. Australia Zoo is the most well known, but with mostly international animals, is best for locals. Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the best zoos for native animals in the country. Brisbane's Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is a popular attraction.
Getting up close and personal with a koala at Daisy Hill's little zoo
But there are a lot of local little zoos. Some of note include Walkabout Creek Discover Centre, with a small zoo with Platypuses, numbats and friendly kangaroos. The Daisy Hill Koala Centre is not only free, but a great way to see Koalas both in the centre, and with a bit of luck in the wild in the bushland reserve there. Maleny's Bird World is one of the best aviaries in the region, and also on the Sunshine Coast, the Bribie Island Buttery House is worth visiting. The Ipswich Nature Centre has both native and farm animals. On the Gold Coast, also consider visiting David Fleay Wildlife Park.
Local Botanic Gardens
Scattered around South East Queensland are a number of great botanic gardens. Yes, the big ones in Brisbane are great, but it is well worth also going to visit the little ones, often built by local volunteers, which are much more quirky and original. Three that stand out are Mt Tamborine's Botanic Gardens in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Maleny Botanic Gardens & Bird World in the Sunshine Coast's hinterland, and the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens.
I love savoury crepes, and The Pancake Manor, located in an old church in Brisbane City serves great savoury crepes along with the usual assortment of sweet pancakes. What makes this restaurant stand out is that it is in an old church, so when friends visit me in Brisbane and we meet up in the city, this is the one place I take them because it is so quirky. The restaurant has really run with the theme too, with stalls built like church pews and a medieval knight standing guard at the entrance. Even better, it remains open 24 hours, just in case you are hungry at 3 am.
I wasn't going to include this on the list, but then I realised if I didn't put it down, the first comment I get will be "What about the Big Pineapple, isn't that quirky enough for you?" While attractions like this are not my thing, for families, it is well worth noting that there is a big pineapple in Nambour, celebrating the many delicious pineapples grown on the Sunshine Coast. Don't forget to pick up some freshly grown pineapples when you are in the region.
Photo of the Big Pineapply courtesy of Alpha @ Flickr
You are walking along the paths and through the parks of the Gold Coast, and you cross the bridge to Macintosh Island, and what do you see there? Is that a peacock or two wandering around the island? Peacocks are one of several birds that live on the island park, though the peacocks are the most famous and so locals often refer to it as Peacock Park.
A peacock living on Macintosh Island on the Gold Coast
In Conondale National Park, there is an unusual and unexpected site at the end of a short trail through the rainforest. Standing in a little clearing is an artwork constructed of carefully fitting stones. On the top is a strangler fig that is not really growing at all, as it was a silly idea to plant something that gets its nutrition from other plants on top of a pile of stones. Even so, it is refreshing to see art in the middle of a rainforest.
They had to helicopter in the stones for this art work in the middle of a rainforest