Koalas, kangaroos, boomerangs and didgeridoos — this is what you can expect to see on a visit to Brisbane, Australia.  Nature and animal lovers will be enchanted by what this part of Australia has to offer. If you don’t really consider yourself much of an animal lover, you will after this trip!  Best of all, when traveling from Okinawa you bypass the jetlag you would experience if you went down under from the States.

Brisbane is in Queensland, Australia, and is located near the Gold Coast.  It’s about 12 hours by car from Sydney and, while I had originally planned to visit Sydney, I am very glad we opted for a stay in Brisbane.  Hugging a koala was a childhood dream of mine and a big reason I wanted to visit Australia.  The handling of koalas by the general public is banned in New South Wales (Sydney) but is still legal in Queensland (Brisbane).

There is so much to see in Australia:  the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback. However, if Australian wildlife tops your list of things to see while down under then Brisbane is the ideal center point for your vacation.

Brisbane city
Brisbane has a lot to offer in the city: The Queen’s Street Mall (which has a Target…you heard me…a Target!), Southbank Parklands and Brisbane City Beach.  That’s right, they built a beach complete with white sand and life guards, right in the middle of the city! You’ve got to love those Aussies.

Brisbane is also in close proximity to the Crocodile Hunter’s Australia Zoo. Unlike any zoo to which I’ve ever been, the Australia Zoo offers a very interactive, up-close, hands-on experience.  Their belief is that if you can have an experience with an animal up close, you will be more active in aiding with the conservation of that animal and its habitat.  This includes giving elephants a bath, having birds zoom around your head in the stadium show and having free reign in the kangaroo enclosure.  The kangaroos were surprisingly docile and ate right from our hands!  A day at the Australia Zoo would not be complete without yelling “Crikey” with the crowd in the Crocoseum  in memory of Steve Irwin.  While I have always been his fan, I left with a renewed appreciation of his work to conserve Australia’s beautiful and unique wildlife.

Feeding kangaroo

While you can see, and even get your photo made with, a koala at the Australia Zoo, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, most well-known for its photo ops with koalas, is rated one of the top-ten zoos in the world.  It is the largest koala sanctuary in the world and has attracted many celebrities from Taylor Swift to the Pope. Located just outside Brisbane, it is a tranquil animal sanctuary easily reached by city bus or ferry. Like the Australia Zoo, Lone Pine also has a very large kangaroo enclosure and there is no fence between you and those magnificent marsupials.

There was a lot more we did on this trip: Visiting the O’Reiely’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park where our tour bus had to stop to let kangaroos hop across the road.  We, also, visited the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, the Newstead House and stumbled upon this aboriginal man playing a didgeridoo at the Queen’s Street Mall.  However, the highlight of the trip for my family was the hands-on interaction with Australia’s wildlife.

Holding a koala When?:  We went at Christmas which is a great time to go as it is in the middle of Australia’s summer. Australians barbeque and go to the beach for Christmas so it was a unique experience.  I can recommend the trendy Hotel Ibis Brisbane for its absolutely wonderful location within walking distance to all the main attractions in the city of Brisbane.

How?:  We booked the trip with ITT on Camp Foster.  They took care of everything including our visa to get into Australia.  We met at the bowling alley the day of our flight and a bus took us along with our travel coordinator, Chris, to the airport in Naha.  Chris got our entire group through all the airports, layovers and paperwork we needed to go through and he stayed with us the entire tour.  It was truly a relaxing experience having someone else take care of all the details.

How much?:  Since we booked through ITT, we paid one fee that covered airline tickets, hotel, daily breakfast, transportation, tours once in Australia and another hotel in an overnight stay on the way home in Taiwan. Prices can vary by the season and ITT offers trips to Australia more than once a year.  Your best bet is to contact them for a price.

How long?:  Our tour was 10 days.  It’s a long flight (about 8 hours) so a couple of days are spent on travel there and back.  For us, it was the perfect amount of time. ITT did a good job scheduling tours and free days in Australia so it was always enjoyable and relaxing.

Kid Friendly?:  We took our two children who are 9 and 12.  Most of the people on our tour were families with children, from teenagers to infants.   I highly recommend this tour for kids.  It was, in fact, the best family vacation we have ever taken.  After living four years in Europe my kids are use to our trips involving castles and cathedrals so for them to have the opportunity to get up close and play with Australia’s animals was awesome.  Our hotel was located in a kid-friendly area of Brisbane, as well, with lots of parks and playgrounds.


  1. Hi Nobelle and/or Fi,

    My husband and I are thinking about going to Sydney for Christmas & New Year’s. Of course I want to do some shopping, site seeing, and hopefully catch a show. Do you have any recommendations on where to stay, purchase plane tickets, where to shop, or anything I must see, do, or eat while I’m in Sydney? I also would like to visit Hillsong Church, the main campus…can’t figure out if it’s the one located in Hills or the City. And of course areas and hotels I should avoid! Any help would be great. I’m going to the library soon to see if they have the book you recommended. Thanks so much for your help. Feel free to email me at Thanks!

  2. Another Aussie here! I loved the read by Elizabeth and I totally agree with Nobelle, however, if your not into the hussel and bustle of an Australian city vacation, then Cairns is the place to go.
    Nestled between the relaxing beaches to the east and greenest of green mountains to the west, Cairns is known to be where the Rainforest meets the Reef, literally!

    Cairns lies on the coast of Far North Queensland (2hrs north of Brisbane by plane – Qantas Airlines, Jetstar Airways or Virgin Blue). With an array of things to do whether as a family or the single person, Cairns has a very chilled back and relaxed atmosphere.

    Things to do in Cairns:
    * relax all day on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
    * enjoy a rainforest cableway trip on the Kuranda Skyrail and return on the Kuranda Scenic Railway (departs from both Cairns and Kuranda).
    * take a 45min drive up the winding coast to Port Douglas, and while you’re there, visit the Port Douglas Markets.
    * sample fresh australian fruits, vegies, cheeses, wines, milk, chocolate, teas and coffees, all naturally grown on our very own Atherton Tablelands.
    * take a 1-day safari trip to Cape Tribulation. This beautiful place is famous for its fantastic scenery, gorges, lookouts, long beaches, wonderful tree ferns and forest-covered cape. You can see the Barrier Reef from Cape Tribulation — it is just a 45-minute trip by fast launch.
    * enjoy a dip in the Lagoon on the Esplanade, in the heart of the city.
    * get all your Australian souveniers at The Night Markets.
    * get upclose and personal with crocodiles, kangaroos, snakes, and birds of prey at Cairns tropical and night zoos. Note: Not as large as Australia Zoo, however similar.
    * shop around town or at the many larger malls, including Smithfield, Cairns Central and Stockland.
    * experience Aboriginal culture with a half day, full day (incl. learning how bush foods were used to create medicine and how to play a didgeridoo and throw a traditional boomerang and spear or the night tour options, incl. buffet dinner.
    * and taste the best of what Cairns has to offer with its assortment of worldwide restaurants, bars and clubs.

    Lets not forget those Adventure Seekers out there, try:
    * Bungy Jumping with AJ Hackett
    * White Water Rafting with Raging Thunder
    * Parasail, Jetski and Tube Riding with Paragliding Cairns
    * Horse Riding and ATVing with Blazing Saddles
    * Laser Tag with Laser Tag Cairns
    * Kite Surfing with Kite Surfing Cairns
    * Tandem Skydiving with Skydive Cairns
    * Cable Wakeboarding with Cable Ski Cairns

    To get to Cairns there are direct flights from Tokyo (Narita) and Kansai Intl Airport (Osaka) 4 days/wk flying Jetstar Airways/Qantas Airlines or Japan Airlines and also via Kansai and Guam 4 days/wk flying Continental Airlines.

  3. oh, I highly recommend these books for Americans planning a trip to Australia.
    The first is short, to the point and has great translations, cultural tips and advice. Its also hilarious. Amazon “Americans’ Survival Guide to Australia”

    If you want a longer thicker book about an Australian Experience try Bill Bryson’s book-an American guy who has lived in Australia. Amazon “In a Sunburned Country”

  4. As an Australian Citizen, I know that buying tours through ITT tours are quite expensive. I usually book my own and save hundreds and sometimes over $1000. A family with 2 kids can be easily around $5000. Even though that includes everything…not all of us have $5K just sitting around, nor do we want to run up credit cards for vacations.

    If you want to save some money I’d suggest booking the same hotels ITT uses, but search for better deals online, the tourist VISA can be bought and paid for online at
    Space A flights also run there from Luke Airforce base CA, once a week to Brisbane and Sydney.(Going off season in Winter try Snowy Mountains in NSW for a ski trip).
    China Air goes from Okinawa down to Taipei Taiwan and then to Gold Coast or Sydney-this means no trip North to Narita or Seoul to Connect.
    Often Recreational facilities will do family deals, or multiple attraction deals. Hotels can also offer discounted tickets, for staying with them.
    There is great public transport in Australia, safe clean and reliable. The train system in NSW (the most populous state) is Countrylink (for rural and regional areas and connections) and CityRail for Sydney and suburbs.
    Almost every town in Australia has a tourist visitor information center, with free brochures and tourist assistance. Many of them are able to book tours and tickets for you and offer local insight and discounts.
    Jetstar also does really cheap flights between Brisbane Sydney and Melbourne, their best deal is $39 one way.
    December/January is the hottest time of the year-try spring or late summer if you don’t handle dry Arizona style heat.
    Single Marines should look into staying at Backpacker lodges, they are basic, but priced as low as $10 a night and a fantastic way to meet locals and get the inside scoop on entertainment, places to go, things to do and what to avoid.
    Two great Australian Holidays are ANZAC DAY on 25th April and Australia Day 26th July. Picnic horse races are popular pass-times in spring with family oriented areas separate from gambling and drinking. Oh I could write an essay on beloved home land…

  5. Here is ITT’s website. You can click on “Off-island tours” to see info for tours currently going. If you scroll to the bottom you can click “Annual Off-Island Tours” and it will list tours that they have done in the past and will likely repeat.

  6. I have been wanting to visit Australia since we moved to Oki. After reading your post it makes me want to even more! I will be checking into tours later this year for sure. Thanks for the post and motivation for me to make it happen while we are here.