This entry was written in Brisbane, en-route to the Applied Evolution Summit. My train north, The Spirit of the Outback, was stranded in the outback, due to flooding. Fortunately, since I needed to catch the boat to Heron Island tomorrow morning, Rail Australia added a special high-speed train -- made me feel like Professor Moriarty!. Meanwhile, I had most of the day free in beautiful Brisbane. So here are some travel tips for anyone thinking about visiting the area.
1) For free WiFi, try the State Library (above right). They leave it on even when the library itself is closed, and there's a nice interior courtyard out of the sun and rain -- we've had a good mix of both this week -- with stone benches full of students and visitors using their laptops to access email, etc. The library is near the up-stream end of South Bank park, just across the river from the central business district (CBD). The park itself is wonderful, with several museums, a swimming area near but not in the river, ice cream (we liked New Zealand Natural) and more substantial food, lots of places to sit and relax.
2) Brisbane is very pedestrian-friendly. South Bank park is connected to the CBD by two pedestrian and bike bridges (both with sheltered places to sit, one with drinking-water fountains), plus one shared with cars. We paid $23 each for 1-week transit passes which are valid on ferrys across the river, City Cats boats up and down the river, buses (including the one we took to the great botanic garden, planetarium, and look-out on Mt. Coot-tha), and even on the section of the airport train between South Bank and the Roma Street station where I'll catch my train tonight. The Roma Street Parkland, right by the station, is great, too. Lots of interesting plants (bottle-trees, Banksia), birds (including Australian wood ducks and very colorful and talkative lorikeets), and iguana-like water dragons.
3) Consider staying on Kangaroo Point. In addition to buses and ferrys to the CBD, there were steps down to the river a few blocks from the Paramount Motel, where we stayed (more like a short-term apartment rental, with full kitchen) and then a nice walk to South Bank Air Train station and other South Bank attractions. There was a well-stocked 24-hour store nearby and a full grocery store within about 1 km.
4) Take a trip with Bushwacker Ecotours. Our trip to Springbrook National Park was great. Our guide, Megan, was very knowledgeable and entertaining. She spotted the trap-door spiders and glow-worms in earth banks along the trail, told us how male bush turkeys (which we saw) make compost piles to keep their eggs warm, pointed out tree-scars made by sugar gliders, etc. A high point for me was seeing Casuarina, a nitrogen-fixing tree that looks like a conifer, is more closely related to beeches than to the nitrogen-fixing legumes I study and hosts different nitrogen-fixing symbionts in its root nodules, and has separate male and female plants. For those less-interested in natural history (not readers of this blog, surely, but perhaps your partner?) the walks have lots of beautiful waterfalls and a chance to hand-feed wild (well, unconfined) parrots. Be advised that the climb up out of the valley is equivalent to climbing several flights of stairs with a bit of walking between flights.
I should probably mention that restaurant meals here cost 1.5-2x what they would in the US. But the botanic gardens and parks are all free, so it hasn't been too expensive, apart from airfare.
I'll write something about the Applied Evolution Summit soon.