We arrived here in November 2011, to live and work and go to school. This is what we know.
Mooring / Marinas / Docks / Anchoring
The city of Brisbane is about 12 nautical miles upstream from the mouth of the Brisbane River. The channel is well marked and easy to enter at night if you have to. The current is quite significant, running about 3 knots either direction at times. So go with the tidal flow. The current seems to lag slack tide by about 1 hour. (Notes to which bank of the river something is located on will always assume you are facing upstream)
As you head upstream you will pass the container terminal and coal docks. We’ve anchored at the side of the channel just upstream of the coal docks (across from the tugboat docks) when the current is not right to get upstream. It’s a bit noisy from the coal loading operation but better than fighting a current. It has also been a useful staging area to stop when heading out during shorter winter days when the tide hasn’t been right for an early departure
www.rivergate.com.au Rivergate Marina is just downstream of the Gateway Bridge. It has a customs dock if you are arriving directly from overseas. Not well serviced by any public transit. It’s a long way from the city proper but could be useful if you’re storing your boat and going for a visit overseas or inland.
http://www.docksidemarina.com.au Dockside Marina is located on Kangaroo Point, left side of the river just before the Story Bridge. It has space for transients but limits liveaboards. Friends paid ~$1000/month for a 47’ mono with liveaboard fees in 2012.
Manly: A ~1 hr. train ride away from Brisbane is the big marina in Manly. Popular with folks passing through or looking to sell their boats. There is also a small marina in Redcliff, about a ¾ hr drive from Brisbane to the North.
Just upstream of the Gateway Bridge is an anchorage on the right hand side of the river. Usually 4 – 6 boats there. There is a nearby Citycat terminal adjacent to Northshore Riverside Park with a beach but as it is the last terminal in the system it does not get as regular service to the city. Good option if you don’t want to be in the heart of the city. There is Colmslie Recreation Reserve park on the left bank with a dinghy dock.
People do seem to anchor in many places, outside of the main channel as you head further upstream, but you’re sort of in the suburbs and there is less point to doing so.
The CBD (Central Business District): You can anchor upstream or downstream of the pile moorings on the right hand side of the river. You can also anchor on the left hand side of the river opposite the CBD. Some rental moorings are located there but we don’t know who owns them. Most seem to be occupied with long term boats. Don’t anchor in the channel as you will get told to move by the Police or ferries will come quite close to “encourage” you move closer to shore. There is a large shoal upstream of the pile moorings, close to the Captain Cook Bridge. Holding is ‘adequate’ because the bottom is soupy mud. I would not say it’s great and would definitely try to be on the boat if strong summer thunderstorms are forecast. I would not plan to leave the boat for an extended trip away from Brisbane anchored here
Garden Point Pile Moorings: these are operated by Brisbane City Council. 4 parallel rows of about 60 moorings are available for short or long term stay. Minimum stay is 1 week. A mooring is free if no boat is between the piles. A rope tied between 2 adjacent piles indicates that spot is taken; just the boat occupying it is away for awhile. People do leave the moorings for short sailing cruises and then return. Dinghy dock, showers, and coin laundry ashore. You’ll need a $20 key fob purchased from a city employee mid – day Wednesdays to get access to shower and laundry. Otherwise just get other residents to let you in until you get a key fob. $70/week; $280/month. These are popular and tend to fill up as transient cruisers start arriving in October; though spaces do open up mid summer as people come and go. Lots of permanent residents. Right in the CBD so a great location! Ferry wakes used to be worse but now the City Cats reduce speed to 12 knots as they pass. And they stop running just after midnight.
Important: pick a time of slack water to enter the moorings and secure yourself. High slack is easier than low slack because the mooring rings will be more easily reached. Have a dinghy handy to help act as a tugboat if there is any wind.
Slack tide current in the CBD is usually about ½ hr – 1 hr after “Brisbane Port Office” high tide (well except if there is an active flood of course)
The winding bends of the river can make it slightly confusing to know which way you’re going until you’ve explored the city a bit. The CBD is on a narrow triangular peninsula that is only about 6 blocks wide at some spots. The Botanic Garden forms the S end of the Peninsula. Numerous bridges link the city to the surrounding suburbs on the south side of the river.
One bridge (the Go Between) is a toll bridge and the others are all free. There a few toll tunnels around and under the city but you don’t save much time using them except at the busiest rush hour times – so most people avoid them.
The Story Bridge is the old steel truss bridge you will pass under as you enter the CBD. The Captain Cook Bridge is next, linking the Botanic gardens with the Gabba – and it’s too low for most sailboat masts. The pedestrian bridge immediately upstream is even lower at 11.4m.
Suburbs – are small, confusingly named and numerous. There are something like 190 mini suburbs that make up greater Brisbane, all managed by the Brisbane Council. So someone may say they’re from Yeronga but not know where Hemmant is, about 10 km away.
Fuel / Propane / Kerosene:
Rivergate Marina has the only fuel dock on the river (reasonable petrol / gasoline, but expensive diesel when compared to land based petrol stations). There are 2 petrol stations in Fortitude Valley (Shell/Matilda) that are about a 10 minute bus/bike ride from the CBD or 20 minute walk.
There is also a petrol station on the right hand side of the river near the West End Market (see Food) You tie your dinghy up to the abandoned restaurant dock, walk under the underpass or over the busy 6 lane road and get fuel from the station there. All petrol stations seem to sell diesel.
Fuel Discounts: Grocery stores offer discount fuel savings on your receipt with your purchases ($0.04/litre for $30 purchase up to sometimes $0.30/litre for $200 purchases). But only at selected Shell/Coles or Caltex/Safeway Woolworth branded petrol stations. Useful if you’re buying lots of fuel i.e. a car rental. Not all Shell or Caltex stations honour supermarket coupons and this will be marked on the pumps.
Propane can be obtained at Bunnings (see Hardware) but only on a bottle exchange basis. OK if you use steel cylinders, not so useful if you use aluminium or composite. About $20 for a 20 lb / 9 kg exchange.
Bottles can be filled at Barbeques Galore in the Woolangaba (“the Gabba”) neighbourhood. Australia uses North American connectors however they use the bleed screw on the side of the bottle to slowly fill a tank from a larger tank without actively pumping it into a cylinder. So it will take longer than you expect. They have a frequent filler card – after 5 fills you get 1 free. However price for a 20 lb bottle fill is about $30 – so it made more sense for us to get 1 cheap steel cylinder and keep exchanging it while we are here.
Kerosene can be purchased from Bunnings for those still in the dark ages of marine cooking and lighting.
Translink is the Brisbane area integrated bus/train/ferry system. It extends out quite far – easily 1+ hour train journey north / south. Get a $10 (refundable) plastic “GoCard” from 7-11 stores. Get a “concession” card if you’re a kid or “senior” card if you’re old. Kids under 5 are free. Top up the card with cash at 7-11’s, main train stations, or online with a credit card automatically. Using cash on buses is about 30% more expensive so it makes sense to get a card. If you register your card, you can transfer the balance to a new card should you lose your old card. So register your card online.
Fares are based on time of day and distance travelled. Unfortunately Brisbane has the distinction of having one of the most expensive transit systems anywhere. A single zone (basically within the CBD and nearby outskirts) peak hour fare is $3.28 / off peak $2.63.
Transfers are automatic with your GoCard. Just remember to swipe on and OFF each bus or train or ferry. If you forget to swipe off the system will charge you a much larger amount. You can call them and plead your case if your card is registered. They seem pretty good about refunds if you spot an error.
If you do a round trip within a 1 hour limit you will only be charged one fare.
Other fare rules:
- You can transfer up to 3 times across all zones.
- You have 6 hours to complete your journey.
- The final trip of the journey must start within 3.5 hours of when you started the first trip.
- There is a 1 hour time limit between transfers.
- Make 9 trips in a 1 week period (M-Sun) and further trips are free. Useful for commuters. Dept of Unintended Consequences: Smart commuters that have long distance expensive fares to get into the city will hop a cheap fare city bus for 1 stop on M/T/W lunch break and so have free rides on Th/F J
Ferries are all part of the system. The smaller slower monohull ferries operate close to the CBD and a few cross river routes. Some of these monohulls are painted red and are known as CityHoppers – and they are free! Useful for crossing the river from the CBD to Kangaroo Point or getting to various parks. They run every ½ hour. The Citycats are much faster and go further up and down the river. A nice river tour for yourself or visitors is to take a Citycat downstream and return to the same CBD dock – you only are charged for a 1 zone fare. There are sometimes pamphlets on the ferries which give a history of Brisbane’s river sights.
Can be useful to get further away – Manly, Redcliffe, the Brisbane Entertainment Center
Rental cars are found in the CBD, Airport and Fortitude Valley. Fortitude Valley have a few ‘no name’ outfits that are cheaper than the big Avis/Thrifty/Europcar. We’ve found the best deals with either http://www.eastcoastcarrentals.com.au/ East Coast Car Rentals or www.alphacarhire.com.au Alpha. Book online in advance for better rates. Book well in advance if you are planning to rent a 7 passenger mini van around school holidays. They sell out as we found when we wanted to share a van with cruising friends
Parking is very expensive in the CBD except after 10pm evenings when it’s free or weekend rates in the parking garages. Smart and thrifty cruisers park in Kangaroo Point where it is free after 5 pm and on weekends and take their dinghy or free ferry to the Thorton St ferry dock to get the rental car.
Recently we rented a 4 pax camper van to explore the outback. It was not new and the engine was tired but for $63/day it was a good deal. Burned about 11 L/100 km of fuel. www.awesomecampers.com.
Are expensive if you’re used to 3rd world taxis! A CBD – Airport fare is around $45. It costs more to go from Airport – to CBD because drivers add their $3 airport toll to your fare. Before 7 am and after 7 pm taxi fares increase further. If you phone for a cab there is yet another extra charge. There are many taxi stands around the CBD, probably because the fares are high enough to justify taxi drivers spending a lot of time waiting around for fares!
UPDATE: We found out that a taxi from nearby Fortitude Valley with 2 adults and 2 kids was cheaper than bus fare. About $7-8.
UPDATE: We found out that a taxi from nearby Fortitude Valley with 2 adults and 2 kids was cheaper than bus fare. About $7-8.
The Airtrain runs from the CBD and other stations to the airport and takes 20-25 minutes. Relatively convenient but it doesn’t run after 10 pm. It’s also more expensive than the regular train, about $16 each way but drops you right to the terminals (International and Domestic – they are different stops)
Brisbane airport only has 1 runway so it’s common to have delays in mid-late afternoon flights when it gets busy.
Flights to Sydney are often around $100 one way if booked well enough in advance. About 1-1/2 hours.
Long Distance Trains
If you have a large family it may be cheaper to take a train to Sydney than fly because sometimes children are just $1 each. Adults are ~$90. Duration is about 14 hours however.
Food & Drink
Supermarkets: Right in the CBD are the 2 giants of Ozzie groceries - Woolworths (Edward and Queen Street) “Woolies” and Coles (Queen Street Pedestrian Mall). This particular Woolies is a bit bigger but they are fierce competitors. If you’re going to stay in Australia awhile check out their rewards program to get airline miles. Food is expensive in Australia – especially things that North Americans would expect to be cheap. Blame it on the high cost of farm labour as almost all produce is grown in the country.
Aldi is a cut price grocery store chain with limited selections and off brand canned/dry goods. Not found in the CBD but you’ll save a bunch of money if you’re provisioning to head offshore again. One is found in the nearby suburb of Newstead on Anne St.
Costco is supposed to be building near Brisbane sometime in 2014.
Farmers Markets: Wed in the Square beside the Library (George and Queen St) there is a farmers market. Produce is cheaper than the grocery stores ESPECIALLY if you show up around 5 pm when the market is shutting down and they want to sell it rather than pack it up. Suddenly everything is $2/kg or $2/bunch...
The other big market that is relatively easy to get to is the bigger West End Market. Food, clothing, crafts, food, music and alternative lifestyle people and stuff. It’s more funky and more fun. Further upstream from the CBD (about 10-15 minutes by planing dinghy) or a 10 minute bike/bus ride away. Held in Davies Park every Saturday. Closes down starting around 1:00 pm. We park our dinghy at the left bank rowing club docks and nobody seems to mind; get there early and you won’t have to climb around the locked gates to get to the dock. Across from these docks is the abandoned restaurant where you are near a petrol station (see Fuel)
Specialty food stores – Fortitude Valley has Indian/Mexican/mini Chinatown, the CBD has some Chinese/Korean stores, etc. You’ll have to explore!
BWS (Beer Wine Spirits) is one of the bigger chains with several outlets in the CBD including one beside right beside Woolies. Better deals can be found slightly further away at Dan Murphy’s. The closest one is in Woolangaba (the Gabba) over the Captain Cook Bridge.
Cheapest are all the streetside sushi places where you can get 2 big sushi rolls about $4-4.50. Scattered through the CBD
Next cheapest are fast food joints like MacDonalds (“Maccas”) and Hungry Jacks aka Burger King but an Aussie company had already trademarked the name here so they had to change the name. Maccas on Albert St and Hungry Jack on Queen St. Mall.
Pizzas – Eagle Boys in Fortitude Valley will deliver for about an $8 fee. Cheap Tuesdays are the day to save money on your pizza cravings. Gluten free crusts available.
Regular restaurants – sigh. We don’t frequent these too often because they are so pricey, and frankly Australia service is somewhere between indifferent and incompetent. We sometimes get a Groupon coupon to save some money. Fortitude Valley has more interesting ethnic food choices, but the CBD does have some cheaper Asian restaurants and a surprising number of Korean BBQ joints.
Mitre 10 Hardware – 165 Elizabeth Street in the CBD. Small but packed. Expensive but convenient if you run out of something and don’t fancy a visit to Bunnings
Big W – department store like Kmart, upstairs in Macarthur Center at Edward and Queen St.
Meyer Center – big shopping mall in Queen St. pedestrian mall. Lots of stores including a big fabric store and the odd Japanese store where everything is $2.80 (like a US dollar store but of course with slightly inflated prices because it’s Australia)
Bunnings – Hudson St in Albion. Pretty close to Albion train station and a few bus lines. Bunnings are similar to Home Depot or other large US hardware stores.
Electronics – JB HiFi, Dick Smith, and Harvey Norman all compete. Officeworks also sometimes has better deals than these guys too.
Amazon – if you need a 120V power tool, it’s often fast and cheap to order from Amazon. Most of their affiliates won’t ship to Australia but Amazon themselves will for many goods.
Online shopping – due to the high cost of Australian goods (software, cameras, shoes, books, marine hardware) it is often cheaper to buy mail order from the US or Hong Kong. If you keep the value of the order < $1000 Aus, you won’t be charged any GST. We were not charged any duties / brokerage fee from Amazon purchases and shipping was cheap. If the online company does not have a direct path to Australia shipping will be costly
Op Shops – Salvos or Vinnies (we would call them the Salvation Army or St Vincent de Paul) thrift stores in Fortitude Valley have good selections of used clothing.
IKEA – our favourite Swedish retailer of meatballs and housewares is found in Logan, a good ½ hour or so to the south by car, but reachable by train and 1 km walk.
Whitworths – is the biggest fish in a small pond of online and retail store marine chandleries in Australia. They’re the closest to Brisbane CBD on Sandgate Road near the Bunnings store. Bus is easiest but you can take your fast dinghy down the river and up Breakfast Creek and tie on the right bank at higher tides. It’s about a ½ hr ride away.
Bias Boating – another online and retail chain we’ve used. None of these chandlers dominate the market or have as big a selection as West or Defender. Marine gear in Australia is often 2x the price of North American goods with the exception of some safety equipment like EPIRBs and inflatable lifejackets which can be good deals
Bitter experience lesson: If you buy a replacement Australian EPIRB make sure it can be coded to your country.
Sailmakers / Riggers – are mostly found some ways from town. Haven’t had need to use them so no further comment.
If you have an unlocked GSM phone just buy a SIM card from the many providers. Cheap unlocked phones at lots of electronic stores.
Telstra truly does have the best national network and they know it so their rates are considerably higher. If you’re sticking to the settled parts of the country you can think about skipping them and choose somebody else.
We use Amaysim for pay as you go ($0.15 min / talk $0.12 / text) phone service. Optus, Virgin, and Vodafone are the other big 3 – all have stores in the Queen St. Mall. Some have free calling to 1 or more other phones so this might be useful if you mostly call another family member. Get recharge vouchers at 7-11 or Woolies or phone stores.
Free Wifi– available in Brisbane State Library (a 20 min walk from CBD), in a hot spot in the Botanic Gardens, at a few Maccas, and the CBD Public Library (but you’ll need a library card – see below). Also Judith Wright arts center in Fortitude Valley.
3G data – all the phone companies sell 3G dongles with pay as you go plans. We are heavy internet users (Diane is often on the computer many hours a day working
on Facebook) and up until
recently we on a $79 Telstra “casual plan” with 12 GB of data / month. This is a lot of data IF you are not
streaming movies, doing big downloads etc.
We recently switched to a different system – it uses “WiMax” technology. Its coverage supposedly includes the river beside the CBD but it varies a lot between spots in the moorings. The high river bank might block some of the signal. We get great speed and a boat 2 spaces away gets good but not great speed. The advantage is that is much cheaper - $79 for UNLIMITED data each month (we have watched a lot of videos and haven’t hit any caps yet). $39 / 10 GB for those not so greedy as us.
The other drawback is that is only available in some portions of major cities – so if you’re travelling around a lot it won’t work; you might think of going with a pay as you go with one of the other 3G phone companies.
Brisbane State Library is a reference library not a borrowing library so not much fun for borrowing books but a nice place to get internet or spend a rainy afternoon.
Brisbane City Library (on George St) is pretty easy going about giving out library cards – if you have an address. They accepted a marina receipt from Dockside Marina as proof of residence.
Australians have government Medicare and also usually have 3rd party health insurance to help cover more than the basics. We are required to have medical insurance for our 457 working visa but we pay up front and get reimbursed. Our family rate is about $260/month. So was our friends on Totem with 3 kids but they paid more for a higher coverage type of plan. Ours covers hospital visits, Drs visits, but no prescriptions unless associated with hospital stays. This is typical of what we have been paying for some basic services:
Dr. Visit - $65-70 for short consultation (15 mins). Insurance remimburses us $36
Dermatologist very thorough skin cancer check - $135
Dermatologist very thorough skin cancer check - $135
Blood tests - $100 - $140. Insurance came up with $120 reimbursement
Chest X ray - $70. Insurance reimbursement was $65 or so.
It’s super easy and fast to get appointments as well. Doctors are pretty good about keeping some space in their schedules for same day urgent appointments we have found. We go to Tenerife Family Doctors (#60 City Glider bus route, 76 Skyring Terrace in Gasworks complex)
Dentists – are expensive. The only cheap option we have found is the Queensland School of Dentistry near the CBD. For uncomplicated cleaning and exams these are much cheaper than the full doctors – and they are supervised pretty carefully. We’d recommend them after several visits.
Attractions / Things to Do
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – well worth the 45 minute bus ride and the admission fee. Plan to spend a ½ day or so there. See lots of Australian fauna. Watch Tazzie Devils eat dead baby chicks if you’re luck. Hand feed kangaroos and cuddle koalas. Lots of fun.
GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) – Southbank, free
Brisbane City Museum – small but free
Brisbane City Hall – take the manual elevator tour to the clock tower high above Brisbane
Southbank – free sand bottom pool, cheap movies nearby. 5 minute planning dinghy ride to the dinghy dock there (3 hr limit).
Fortitude Valley swimming pool – $5 but heated in winter
Theme parks near Gold Coast: Dreamworld, Movieworld, Seaworld, Monkeyworld (ok I made up that last one)– if you’ve been to Disneyland these might seem overpriced and underwhelming, but if you go mid week when it’s not school holidays they won’t be busy. Check for deals and coupons
Security – bikes and dinghies go missing from the dinghy dock area with depressing regularity. If you get a bike, use a decent U lock. My beater bike disappeared with a cheap cable lock. Just about anything lockable seems to deter dinghy thieves.