Waterways for cycling – a Brisbane treat to add to Auckland’s shopping basket

Like many Kiwi families, we’ve had one of our kids lured by the flash salaries and job opportunities of Australia. We’re lucky our son is on the east coast, so I’m in Brisbane for a family catch-up. Soaking up the warm winter temperatures (28 degrees on Saturday), the stimulation of a bigger city, and city-spying from the seat of a CityCycle.

Brisbane city cycle heritage 1

The Brisbane metropolitan area has 2.5m residents, compared with Auckland’s 1.4m. The look and feel of the central city gives the impression of a more compact core, with large-scale apartment development, and impressive sandstone heritage public buildings.

Brisbane has a more comprehensive cycling network than Auckland, with 1100 kilometres of bikeways and shared pathways compared with our 270km. The outstanding facilities are along the river, which allow for all-day cycling, often elevated above the river on ‘cycling waterways’ that connect Brisbane’s visitor attractions, river bridges and ferry terminals.

brisbane riverside path mike

CityCycles are a notable feature of Brisbane’s city streets – a public bike hire system similar to other international cities, using comfortable step-through bikes. The bikes have only 3 gears and solid docking gear, so they’re heavy and slow. Helmets are supposed to be used, but I noticed many helmets have disappeared from the bikes since my last visit 6 months ago.

The bikes are ideal for visitors using the flat routes along the river, tripping between shared roads with  central city shops and the arts and culture precinct on the South Bank. (They weren’t so good on other central city roads, however, as Brisbane relies on one-way streets which have some short hills and few cycle paths.)

Bike docking stations are sprinkled every 300-500m around the city, so they’re easy to find.

brisbane George St city bikes

Yesterday we grabbed bikes from the docking station outside our central city apartment front door, and rode up the busy riverside cycleway to St Lucia. I lost count of the number of bridges we passed en route, including the spectacular Kurilpa walking and cycling bridge. (No toll, so it looks like Brisbane values connectivity for everyone.)

Brisbane Yurilpa Bridge deck view

It struck me how democratic bridges are – they open up vistas of cities for everyone who passes over them. This reflection made me feel better about devoting a week for Cycle Action to the SkyPath resource consent hearing (2-8 June). Given how Brisbane celebrates and makes a wonderful natural asset of its brown muddy river – you have to wonder why we’ve been so reluctant to improve access to and showcase our panoramic sparkling blue harbour. Brisbane Yurilpa bridge vista

The riverside path was packed with families and other punters taking in the vistas and exercise, stopping at coffee carts, and drinking in the murals along the way.

Brisbane family riverside 2

We stopped at the superbly laid out University of Queensland and docked our bikes to wait for the City Cat ferry at Guyatt Park. It was great to use the chance to chat to locals also waiting for the ferry – I love the way cycling and public transport give you the chance to learn from the locals.

The City Cat took us past the city to Teneriffe, to grab another CityCycle from one of the 2 bike docks by the terminal, and headed up-stream on the riverside path to the Italian Festival in New Farm Park, meeting streams of people cycling, walking and skateboarding. I was charmed and intrigued by the artwork and intrigued by the info panels along the route.

Brisbane -cuddling sheep

I’ve noticed that Australian cities use public plaques to make their history more accessible than we do. I find this really enriches city explorations for visitors, and wish we had more. It took me only a few minutes to learn about the massive brick woolstore buildings which lined the river and are now upmarket apartments – and that the river front had also housed Australia’s submarine fleets from WW1 until the end of the Cold War.

brisbane woolstores

The Italian Festival at New Farm Park had us feasting on delicious food and music, so it was inevitable more exercise would be in order. It was super easy to grab another City Cycle, but the best was yet to come – a cruise along the stunning New Farm Riverwalk into the city.

Brisbane New Farm river cyclewayImagine this – a 6m wide, 870m walking and cycling path, with seating and viewing areas, built out over the river. It was opened last year, replacing a more basic structure that was built in 2003 and washed away in a major river flood in 2011.

Here’s an animation of the new design, and a fast-forward film of it being built. What a feat of engineering – and what a gift to the city, from the city!


It’s irresistible cycling day or night, giving entrancing views of the city that will stay with us until we return. No wonder more than 3,000 people walk, cycle and skate it every day.

Brisbane city lights and Story bridge

The lesson for me from Brisbane is that Auckland needs to be more ambitious in making our harbour more accessible to more people. I look forward to the time when we have a city-bike bikeshare programme, but in my opinion it’s not a priority until we have more connected safe cycleways in places where visitors want to ride.

We all love the Westhaven Promenade, but history will have people boggling that the city has resisted SkyPath for so long, and that we’ve been so slow to connect and extend our harbourside paths in all directions. I’m seeing ‘Waterways’ to add to our growing network of ‘Greenways’. We know this is a winner with the public every time they’re consulted about public spending.

Let’s move fast to follow Brisbane’s example of investing in waterfront cycleways and walkways up and down our gorgeous harbour in all directions. They will be loved by visitors and residents, and raise our profile as an accessible city with internationally outstanding natural assets.


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