A column dedicated to helping regular business travellers get the most out of their trips around Australia.
I’ve heard spluttered disbelief elsewhere – particularly in Perth and Sydney – but it’s true: Brisbane is Australia’s fastest-growing capital. Business travel to this easily navigated metropolis is surging; its’ annual growth, currently at four per cent, outperforms the national average and is envied by rival cities.
Population has ballooned to 1.7 million, with another million elsewhere in Southeast Queensland and newcomers arriving daily. Rural land between Brisbane and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts is steadily becoming residential and commercial. Major corporations anchoring an Australian presence in Brisbane include Boeing, IBM and Sun Microsystems. Computer and other hi-tech industries add clout alongside burgeoning tourism, agribusiness and mining – and boost the need for business visits. A low cost base and proximity to Asian markets are among advantages cited by officials wooing investment. The place, quite frankly, is jumping.
Travel the 13km from Brisbane Airport to the city for $11 in 22 minutes flat aboard Airtrain ( 3216 3308, www.airtrain.com.au), or by cab (about $30 to the major hotels). Airtrain is clean, efficient and can be slightly quicker – however, door-to-door cabs are convenient and usually I’ve leapt into a cab before remembering the Airtrain option.
The City Loop is a free bus circling the CBD, with stops that include Central Station, Queen Street Mall, City Botanic Gardens, Riverside Centre (Eagle Street Pier), Queensland University of Technology and King George Square. Taxis (13 10 08) are comparable to those in other Australian cities, but be aware that they cost slightly more after 7pm.
Every major city has its fair share of Hilton, Sofitel and Marriott hotels (which range in price from around $150 to high-$200s per night) and of course the ubiquitous Medinas for those that prefer apartment-style lodgings. But there are other options of considerable interest and value. When in Brisbane privately, I’ve headed for Wickham Terrace where the Astor Metropole has spacious three-star rooms with balconies in its historic wing for $89, with a three-minute parkland walk to downtown. On the other end of the scale there’s the extraordinary MacArthur Chambers ($240), the WWII HQ of Douglas MacArthur, which now also houses a permanent museum to the legendary US general.
A 74-year-old art deco office building – with expanses of marble and timber, a grand off-the-lobby staircase and splendid rooftop garden – has been stylishly transformed into the city-centre Rothbury On Ann, with rooms from $125. Central Brunswick is a gem with rooms from $120; a small piazza outside its lobby is lined by a multi-ethnic mix of thriving restaurants and bar/cafes. This strip’s mood is lively but safe (even though it’s located only a couple of blocks from boisterous Fortitude Valley), making it a popular choice for solo women travellers.
Astor Metropole  3144 4000, www.astorhotel.com.au
MacArthur Chambers  3221 9229, www.macarthurchambers.com.au
Rothbury On Ann  3239 8888, www.rothburyhotel.com
Central Brunswick  3852 1411, www.centralbrunswickhotel.com.au
The most popular precinct for entertaining clients is restaurant-studded Eagle Street Pier. Overlooking Brisbane River, it’s a short walk from downtown offices. The four best options: Cha Cha Char has generous spacing suited to confidential shoptalk (book a window table), and chef Frank Correnti’s modern-Australian cuisine showcases local beef and seafood; Pier Nine calls itself “Australia’s most awarded fish-and-chip shop” but is actually an upscale seafood grill popular for corporate powwows; Il Centro has indoor and alfresco seating for stylishly presented Italian fare; try Michael’s for French-accented mod-Oz, where dishes featuring Moreton Bay bugs and Queensland beef fillets are justly renowned.
Casual pub fare with associates? Five minutes from downtown, Kangaroo Point’s famed Story Bridge Hotel serves casual counter meals and also houses Deery’s, which focuses on seafood and beef in laidback, minimalist surrounds.
Cha Cha Char  3211 9944, www.chachachar.com.au
Pier Nine  3226 2100, www.piernine.com.au
Il Centro  3211 6090, www.il-centro.com.au
Michael’s  3832 5522, www.michaelsrestaurant.com.au
Story Bridge Hotel & Deery’s  3391 2266, www.storybridgehotel.com.au YOU
Brisbane’s newest high-profile diversion is climbing the landmark Story Bridge, a 150-minute soft adventure costing from $100 (depending on when you climb). Or cross the river (walk or ferry) to South Bank, where 30 restaurants ensure daytime and evening bustle. Streets Beach, manmade with palm-dotted white sand and patrolled by lifesavers, draws crowds to South Bank because in these warm environs it’s a beach right in the city (remember, Brisbane is 33km upstream from Moreton Bay). Another pleasant strolling zone is inner-suburban New Farm – with alfresco coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques – reached by ferry, taxi or on foot from downtown through neighbouring Fortitude Valley (always termed “The Valley”).
To expend more energy, contact Riverlife Adventure Centre for fitness workouts, river kayaking, cycling, rock-climbing and abseiling. Independent joggers and power-walkers commonly use Brisbane River banks or paths in the riverfront City Botanic Gardens, which are worth exploring just for the bamboo grove with its 23 species.
Story Bridge  3369 7044 www.sbac.net.au
Riverlife Adventure Centre  3891 5766, www.riverlife.com.au
Brisbane has abundant good restaurants, alternatives to hotel outlets. For music, I inevitably go to The Valley, where the Press Club – which isn’t a press club, nor even a club – beckons with its comfy sofas and superlative drinks menu enhancing a grownup environment for live lounge sounds, experimental soft rock or jazz. This neighbourhood teems with eateries, pubs and nightspots. Eagle Street Pier is also particularly lively at night. Jazz fans won’t regret visiting one of my long-time favourites: Brisbane Jazz Club. Occupying a ramshackle clubhouse on prime property at the Brisbane River’s edge, its bar serves light meals. Phone first; it’s often open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Conrad Treasury, in sandstone buildings formerly used as government offices, is a five-star hotel and casino complex featuring bars (including music venues), restaurants and customary table-and-machine gambling choices. It’s smaller and less gaudy than its Gold Coast sibling. While some recommend it as a safe nocturnal environment for solo women travellers, not everyone will relish the casino ambience. The restaurant strips at South Bank or just off Brunswick Street outside the lobby of the Central Brunswick Hotel may be more appealing – and restaurants will readily summon a cab.
Culturally diverse productions grace the Queensland Performing Arts Centre with varied fare encompassing opera, ballet, orchestral performances and big stage shows. More cutting-edge material is staged at Brisbane Powerhouse in the innards of a former power station.
Press Club  3852 4000
Brisbane Jazz Club  3391 2006, www.brisbanejazzclub.com.au
Conrad Treasury  3306 8888, www.conrad.com.au
Queensland Performing Arts Centre  3840 7444, www.qpac.com.au
Brisbane Powerhouse  3358 8600, www.brisbanepowerhouse.org
1. Female travellers may feel uneasy in The Valley, which can become rowdy late in the evening when drunken louts spill from pubs.
2. Since regular cabs are fine, it’s worth remembering that Brisbane’s cleaner, more comfortable Silver Service Taxis (13 31 00) cabs incur a hefty $11 surcharge. But, if you’re flush and you enjoy plush – by all means go the extra mile.
3. If you’re spending most of your time in one place, upgrades to Executive or Club levels (the names differ from hotel to hotel) make sense. For an extra $40 to $70 you can get a better room and club lounge perks: breakfast, tea, coffee, cocktail-hour drinks and canapés (which some guests substitute for an evening meal), internet access and terminals at no additional charge – and a place to meet business contacts that will most likely impress.