Postcards always show South Bank. The instinct to spruik that iconic parkland is understandable; once the site of World Expo 88, it’s where Brisbane first hinted it could become a world-class city. But South Bank’s busy appeal means it can only tell you so much about this town in 2020 and its CBD views across the river feel oddly incomplete.
Those in the know head instead to Kangaroo Point Cliffs, about a kilometre along the river. Once mined by convicts for building and road works, these vertiginous bluffs glow warm orange in the afternoon light, braced top and bottom by narrow tracts of parkland.
Wander along the clifftop, the expanse of the river stretched out below you. This is a place for community, where families share drinks around barbecues. At the northern end of River Terrace, personal training groups power through their workouts before descending a precarious cliff-side staircase. Follow them and you’ll discover one of the city’s prettiest riverside greenways.
This is a place for couples. They picnic on sunbaked rocky landings and hidden patches of lawn, looking across the river towards the city’s financial district. The modern face of Brisbane gazes back, glass skyscrapers cascading down to reflect a river populated by pleasure craft and high-speed ferries.
You could get adventurous and rock climb or kayak. But most just pack their picnic at dusk and keep strolling north, past the old heritage-listed naval stores and the apartments on MacDonald and Annie streets.
When you hear the gentle thrum of traffic, you’re almost there. Captain Burke Park occupies the tip of the Kangaroo Point peninsula, the Story Bridge’s enormous frame stretching overhead towards the buzzy new restaurants and bars of Howard Smith Wharves opposite.
The bright young things will party there late into the night, filled with much the same optimism that flowed into the city after Expo 88. Back then Brisbane was announcing its ambition. In 2020, this city has arrived.