Review: Brisbane river cruise to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is a true-blue Aussie experience
Climb aboard Brisbane's MV Mirimar for a quintessentially Australian day out. This cruise up the mighty Brisbane River from the city to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary has been a cherished activity for locals and visitors alike for several decades.
I close my eyes and tilt my face up to the sun as John Williamson’s Cootamundra Wattle plays in the background.
It mixes with the gentle rhythmic lapping of the Brisbane River against the hull of our cruise boat — the Mirimar II. We’re about to depart on the famous Brisbane river cruise to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary with Mirimar Cruises and I just know it’s going to be a great day.
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As the crow flies, Lone Pine — which is home to around 130 koalas — is located just 15 kilometres from the CBD. The drive takes about 20 minutes. By boat it’s a slower trip, but a much more relaxed option, and this return cruise is extremely popular with visitors to the Queensland capital. It includes entry to Lone Pine and three hours of free time to explore.
The breeze whips up as we move away from the pontoon at inner-city South Bank and pass under a series of bridges, including the William Jolly, Merivale and Go Between. Each has its own unique story and significance, as the informative on-board commentary reveals.
We pass a beautiful colonial-era residence with an intriguing past. Nestled between the river and the Wesley Hospital, Moorlands was built by the widow of Patrick Mayne — a butcher and popular public figure who supposedly confessed to a murder on his deathbed!
Our narrator also references the iconic Regatta Hotel, where Merle Thornton (the mother of actress Sigrid Thornton) chained herself to the public bar in 1965 — insisting she be served a drink and thus kicking off the women’s liberation movement in Brisbane.
Passing the Indooroopilly Island Conservation Park — home to one of the largest flying fox colonies in Australia — we soon reach the more affluent suburbs of Brisbane. Huge mansions with long jetties line the riverfront. It’s difficult to believe that many were inundated by water in the devastating flood of 2011.
Further along the river, we pass under the Walter Taylor Bridge. This unique structure was built complete with accommodation in the abutments for the toll keeper. The builder — Walter Taylor himself — took out a mining license when he discovered gold-bearing quartz on the bridge’s construction site. He had no interest in the gold, mind you. The licence ensured that no one else could meddle with his bridge and mine the site. Today the heritage-listed bridge could literally be sitting on a gold mine!
Pulling up alongside the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary landing, I’m struck by the sense of ‘Australianness’ about this experience. As I climb the steps and enter the sanctuary, I finally figure it out. It’s the scent of the eucalyptus trees drifting on the breeze. Not your typical zoo, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is one of the few places in Australia where it’s legal to hold a koala — and with all those hungry animals on site, a lot of eucalyptus trees are needed!
After patting a few kangaroos and an extremely docile emu, and visiting the wombats, cassowaries and wallabies, we head over to the koala enclosure to watch a keeper presentation. We also catch the fascinating Free Flight Raptor Show. We see an eagle, barking owls and some falcons, and on the command of their trainer, some of the birds fly directly over our heads. I’m quietly thankful there are no swooping magpies involved!
It’s time for lunch and we decide to eat at the Sleepy Koala Café. I find myself sharing our table with a very friendly bush turkey. Once he departs, we tuck into our sandwiches, only to discover that there are other diners nearby. The dining area is encircled by indoor eucalyptus trees — occupied by more koalas!
All too soon it’s time to re-board the Mirimar II for the return trip into town. There are bar facilities on board, offering Australian beers, wines and soft drinks for purchase. As we approach the city, we’re joined by a flotilla of sail boats and canoes. It’s a relaxed and colourful end to what has certainly been a great day.
Marianne Diaz is a research scientist by day and a freelance travel writer by night! She has travelled to Sri Lanka to explore her children’s part-heritage, and enjoyed research trips to Japan, and Bloomington, Chicago and Boston in the USA. Marianne’s main travel goal is to get to the Italian Aeolian Islands to check out the other half of her children’s background. She also loves exploring history-laden Australian country towns.