Riding a ferry, preferably at the bow under a clear sky, day or night, is one of the most enjoyable and cheapest ways to see Brisbane. (Note: gliding under the Story Bridge at dusk as its orange outline illuminates, looking towards shining city skyscrapers, is a little magical).
There are two types of ferries: CityCats and CityFerries. CityCats are modern catamarans with the longest routes up/downstream, taking a little more than 1 hour from one end of the ‘line’ to the other. Ride a CityFerry and you‘re getting a slice of history—these are significantly smaller vessels and have been plying some cross-river routes, e.g. at Kangaroo Point and Bulimba, for more than 100 years. CityFerries also take shorter routes within the city reaches of the river.
Drifting leisurely on a characterful wooden paddle-wheeler is also an option—the Kookaburra River Queens offer sightseeing, lunch and dinner cruises. Their dock and ticketing office is at Eagle Street Pier. If you’re intrigued to hear more of the history and contemporary curiosities of Brisbane and the river, River City Cruises’ MV Neptune departs twice daily from South Bank, giving guests on the morning tour a hop on/hop off option at Brisbane’s oldest surviving residence, Newstead House.
But if you want to get active and as close to the river as you can without swimming in it, head to Riverlife Adventure Centre. Waterfront at the base of Kangaroo Point Cliffs in the heritage-listed Naval Stores, Riverlife isn’t directly accessible by car, you need to park and walk about 300 metres, or walk a similar distance from Thornton Street ferry stop, but it’s a good warm up for kayaking.
My very fair skin meant I was hesitant about spending 1.5 hours on the river—then I met my highly amiable ex-Mancunian instructor, Stuart, who was a red head. Any argument I had was dead in the water before I got on it. “You’ll have such a good time once you’re out there, you won’t want to come back in!” he chirped. I slathered myself in sunscreen, and do you know what? He was right.
In addition to instructor-lead kayaking (day and night), Riverlife hire kayaks too. Stand up paddleboarding is also in the watersports repertoire and if you want to enjoy the river from the bank a notch above walking pace, scooters, bikes and rollerblades are available for rent.