Brisbane is lucky to have two botanic gardens, a restful green sanctuary right by the CBD and a very different botanical extravaganza at the foot of Mt Coot-tha in Toowong, west of the city. The latter has become part of our introduction to Brisbane for visitors who've first been to look out over the city and the Scenic Rim* from the top of Mt Coot-tha.
It's very easy to lose yourself wandering through Mt Coot-tha's much larger botanic gardens, with their themed areas and specialist houses, and there's plenty of native wildlife to captivate a new explorer. These gardens were opened in 1976, following Brisbane City Council's search for a site that wouldn't be flood-prone: the City gardens had been inundated many times.
One of the specialist areas that you come across very soon after entering by the restaurant is devoted to cacti, which I never realised I like so much.
Not far from there is a lagoon and bamboo grove. The water and surrounds are teeming with all manner of wildlife, from tadpoles, eels and turtles, to Dusky Moorhens, Pacific Black Ducks, Australasian Grebes and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Eastern Water Dragons and dragonflies. And the waterlily overlay is spectacular.
And just in case you're wondering if that's a ceramic turtle, which I was convinced it was for several minutes, here is one in a different pose on the same rock on another visit.
Right at the other end of the gardens – you can drive through Bunya forest and subtropical rainforest if you don't fancy walking any more – is another lake. This is completely covered by duckweed so it resembles a green carpet rather than a sheet of water.
Ducks love duckweed, a native aquatic weed. They eat it and it's so thick it keeps the water cooler and prevents algal bloom, which would give them botulism and harm other aquatic life. Duckweed helps 'clean' the lake of organic and inorganic waste, and in the clear water beneath the green live Australian native turtles and the Queensland lungfish, a protected, endangered, ancient species. Only native fish and waterfowl are allowed in the botanic garden pools.
The totems date from Expo 88**, for which they were carved with a chainsaw purely for decoration. They were rescued from being thrown away afterwards and brought to the botanic gardens to begin a new life.
There are many other features of these gardens: a hot and humid tropical dome full of plants such as epiphytes and climbers from the wet tropics; a fragrant plant and herb garden; a Japanese garden; a fern house; and exotic rainforest. I haven't seen them all yet but I fully intend to take our next visitors on one of the self-guided trail walks.
Lots more things caught my eye: here are just a few of them.
* a group of mountain ranges – part of Australia's Great Dividing Range in southeast Queensland – forming a semicircle of peaks that include many national parks and tourist drives
** a world's fair held in Brisbane as part of the bicentennial celebrations of European settlement in Australia