Spin city

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 December, 2008, 12:00am

If you venture off the cycle trail towards the Breakfast Creek pub be 'super-careful', a helpful passer-by says. 'You might never want to leave.'

Pub and cafe stops are just a couple of the hazards a cyclist faces in new, trendy Brisbane. To call Queensland's state capital hip, cultured and cutting-edge might sound odd to those who knew the city in its darker days but that is what it has become. The Brisbane of old was a steamy, seedy river port and despite its balmy climate, outdoor dining, walking and cycling were virtually unknown.

But now, all this has changed.

Confident and sophisticated with streetscapes of palm trees and canvas sails, and enough outdoor life and street cafes to keep its privileged citizens constantly diverted, the Australian city has at last found its own pedal-power identity.

The Goodwill Bridge is a much-used pedestrian and cyclist bridge built across the Brisbane River. And new underground bus lanes make traversing the city a breeze - and the roads safer for two-wheeled travel.

The city's river ferry terminals all feature special bike racks and are connected to cycle paths, and the Brisbane City Council has committed to spending more than A$100 million (HK$530 million) on cycleway upgrades.

Opened in June, the King George Square Cycle Centre encourages commuters to cycle to work by providing secure bike parking, lockers, showers and a laundry service - exactly what is needed after a sweaty ride through peak-hour traffic.

Throughout Brisbane's central business district, there are bike parking racks and cycle lanes, complete with their own traffic lights where they intersect major roads.

Cyclists can also enjoy 400km of off-road cycle pathways.

Some of the best of these follow the course of the Brisbane River, which winds its way around the city centre. At the end of the ride, it's easy to get back to the city on board one of the fast, inexpensive CityCat ferries, on which bikes can be taken, free of charge.

It's a diverse, easy and relaxing 20km ride along the northern bank of the Brisbane River to one of the city's hottest new recreation spots: the redeveloped overseas shipping terminal, Portside.

From the Botanical Gardens in the city centre, the path passes Eagle Street Pier, one of the best places in Brisbane to relax in a riverside bar or cafe, before traversing the cliffs of Petrie Bight.

To the local Aborigines, these cliffs are sacred and are said to be the place where the Rainbow Serpent, the protector of the land and its people, entered the river.

The adjacent Howard Smith Wharves are set for extensive redevelopment, with boutique shops, cafes, a pub and a yacht marina on the drawing board.

Nearby, a pair of defused bombs by the riverside is a memorial to the the second world war.

From here, I follow the track onto the New Farm Riverwalk, an innovative walking and cycle path suspended 100 metres out from the riverbank on an elevated pontoon platform.

I stop for lunch at Merthyr Bowls Club, the perfect spot for a pint and food served under trees. The club is the home of the 'barefoot bowls' trend which has taken Australia by storm in recent years.

In some bowls clubs, the traditional spotless whites that bowls players once wore have been replaced with board shorts, casual shirts and bare feet in the hopes of attracting a younger crowd. Judging by the number of players in their 20s and 30s on the lawns, it is likely this centuries-old sport will be popular for many years to come.

The Brisbane Powerhouse offers an eclectic range of live evening performances, as well as great river views and plenty of space to stretch out on the grass for an impromptu catnap. If it's food you're after, try Watt Modern Dining.

When you're ready to head back to the city but you don't feel like cycling there, jump on one of the ultra-smooth ferries sailing across the river.

Other great Brisbane cycling destinations include the stretch of riverfront land west of Southbank Parklands, which is home to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the State Art Gallery. In 2007, three major new cultural attractions opened their doors: the Gallery of Modern Art; the new State Library; and the Museum of Brisbane.

Then there's a 23km ride past the cafe and boutique strip Park Road, out of the city to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

The cycle paths still need a lot of work, and bikes are unlikely to replace cars in the city for a while, but with 30 per cent of Brisbane adults already owning and using bicycles, and the numbers growing quickly, pedal power is going to be a major form of recreation and mode of transport.

And the Breakfast Creek pub? It's more of an institution than a simple watering hole - but for the cyclist with just a few hours to spare, its attractions could prove disastrous.

Getting there: Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) flies between Hong Kong and Brisbane


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