Set your sights on the summer playground of Surfers Paradise, writes Mike Yardley.
When the travel bubble reinflates, there’s no denying the pent-up demand for Kiwi holidaymakers sizing up the greatest holiday playground in Oz, Surfers Paradise. It’s the Mary Poppins of travel destinations. Like a trusty neighbour, ready, willing and able to entertain and enlighten the kids, we’re so lucky to have the holiday mecca on our doorstep. I’ve been busy road-testing the thrills and spills, heights and sights, that combine to deliver a power-packed vacation experience, that is constantly raising the bar. Coming soon to Dreamworld is a reptilian rollercoaster experience with a top speed of 105km/h and a G-force of 3.8. You’ll hang on tight as Steel Taipan snakes around 1.2km of twists, turns and gut-lurching launches!
With multiple inversions and even a spinning gondola at the rear of the train, this experience will have enough venom to leave you reeling. It’s set to open later this year, ahead of the summer holidays. For 40 years, Dreamworld has been a tractor-beam for holidaying families. In addition to being a theme park, Dreamworld is also a wildlife conservation park, housing a wide range of animals including their famous Tiger Island. You’ll also have a chance to make movie memories with your favourite DreamWorks Heroes including Madagascar, Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, while children’s best-loved television shows come to life at The Wiggles World.
Movie World sets itself apart as one of the very few movie theme parks outside North America, blending an old Hollywood vibe with live character performances, interactive adventures and thrill rides galore. Top honours in the adrenalin stakes goes to the Batwing Spaceshot, which hurtled me 60 metres skyward at 100km an hour in just two seconds. 4.5 Gs of extreme power. How’s that for a holiday kick-starter! In fact, like a winning espresso, I went back for a double shot. My scariest frisson was experienced on the towering Green Lantern, which has the steepest inverted drop in the Southern Hemisphere. Your stomach won’t forget it. The Superman Escape coaster is an epic heart-pumper, dramatically designed with holes blasted out of the side of buildings, which your carriage hurtles through.
Then there’s the Scooby Doo Spooky Coaster, which starts off like a gentle ghost train, before transforming into a full-tilt, multi-sensory extravaganza complete with laser lighting and state of the art animatronics. Kids understandably love Movie World for its outstanding array of highly engaging costumed characters, spanning Bugs Bunny to Batman. Selfie heaven! Home to the tallest, longest and fastest HyperCoaster in the Southern Hemisphere, Movie World boasts a full day of adventure filled with all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, your favourite Looney Tunes Characters plus the Super Heroes and Super-Villains of the DC Universe. And the movie magic really hits top gear with the daily Star Parade down Main Street which is simply unmissable. I want a JL52 Batmobile!
Spend a day at Australia’s largest marine theme park, Sea World, to get up close and personal with its stirring abundance of furry and flippered and feathered residents, from dolphins and seals to polar bears and penguins. Join Sea World for an educational adventure in the amazing Affinity Dolphin Presentation or chill out in the shade while the kids cool down in Sea World’s newest splash pad attraction, The Reef at Castaway Bay. The New Atlantis precinct is a thrilling and immersive new multi-million-dollar precinct which will soon transform the park with the three world-class thrill rides. Jump onboard the Storm Coaster, a rollicking water flume roller coaster ride, that goes under water and features explosive special effects.
For a complete change in scenery, I boarded an Aquaduck safaris tour, Australia’s original amphibious tour, which has hosted over 2 million happy customers to date. They operate a variety of tours from their Cavill Ave base, but the latest offering is the 90 minute Secrets, Scandals and Sunsets Tour which brings to life the most unbelievable tales about the personalities who have laid their roots in Surfers Paradise, over the years. After taking in the sights by road, our ‘Duck’ splashed down into the Broadwater, as dolphins frolicked, for a cruise around the swanky waterways of Surfers Paradise.
It’s extraordinary just how many notorious rich-lister scoundrels built their trophy homes on the water’s edge, on man-made nooks like Chevron Island. Joyfully hosted by my illuminating guide Karen, complimentary bubbles and snacks were eagerly consumed. It was equally illuminating to watch the skyline gilded by the slumping sun, as twilight took hold. Undeniably great fun, taking a tour with Aquaduck will leave you with some deeper impressions of the Surfers Paradise story. www.aquaduck.com.au
Celebrity spotting on Tedder Avenue at Main Beach has been a perennial pastime, given so many glamourous restaurants grace this leafy sweep. Sassy socialites and salty surfies rub shoulders here in this strip of modern cafes, exclusive restaurants, bars and boutiques. My pick would be Birdcage Bistro & Bar. Another buzzing venue is Surfers Pavilion on Ferny Ave. Open just a few months, you’ll love its stylish, coastal-inspired interior, unobstructed waterway views, and a menu absolutely packed with tasty goodies. It’s the epitome of Gold Coast living. Head straight to the luxe oyster bar for a plate of freshly shucked oysters.
If casual grazing floats your boat, Miami Marketta is an unmissable experience. I felt like I had been transported to the back streets of Bangkok, Barcelona or Hanoi. This covered food market burst into life every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, with a host of top-notch street food stalls spanning the world. The sheer size of this market-style dining experience is astonishing, with seating for 1000 people undercover. Bursting with live entertainment, the four onsite bars serve boutique wine, locally brewed beer and specialty cocktails. Don’t miss the gorgeous gin bar. Miami Marketta first opened a decade ago and the Gold Coast’s street food market remains a tractor-beam for party-seeking taste buds. Do not miss.
Nearby, in Miami, be sure to drop by Grandad Jack’s, the Gold Coast’s first Craft Distillery. Evocatively clad in up-cycled materials, this old surfboard warehouse has been converted to expose a raw and rustic, one-of-a kind distillery. Open for three years, David and Luke Ridden are recreating age-old family recipes in memory of David’s Grandfather and Luke’s Great Grandfather, Granddad Jack, who was a barber-by-trade in Christchurch. Each of their award-winning spirits are handcrafted, made from locally or nationally sourced botanicals. They recently were crowned as the producers of the world’s best liqueur coffee. Production is on full show to visitors from their Tasting Room and distillery tours & tastings are available over the weekend. You can even make your own gin during their weekly distillery experience.
Each gin is available by the bottle or can be enjoyed in one of their exclusive tasting room cocktails. Their whiskey continues to age in the barrel room, although they have released limited batches of their Bourbon, Peated and Single Malt whiskey over the years. When inside, you can smell the aromas of the botanicals and the whiskey as it seeps through the American Oak barrels surrounding you.
For a heady dollop of culture, head to HOTA. Surrounded by parklands and a lake with the glinting tall towers of Surfers Paradise backdropping the scene, HOTA, Home of the Arts offers a diverse array of pursuits, from live performances, lake-side strolls and star-gazing, to cinema-watching, art and new-ideas. The crowning jewel is the new HOTA (Home of the Arts) Gallery, injecting the Gold Coast with some serious cultural cachet. After three years of construction, the doors to the largest Australian gallery outside a capital city opened in May, with a world-class programme of permanent, rotating and visiting exhibitions, installations and arts inspired experiences.
I loved exploring this new $60m facility, spanning six floors, brimming with works. With its unique design, the building is an artwork in itself, with the distinctive colouring of the facade reflecting the city’s subtropical environment. But while the exterior of the building is a traffic-stopper, it’s what’s going inside that has the Gold Coast all abuzz, with a feast of stimulating eye candy to immerse yourself in.
My beach base was in Burleigh Heads, or simply Burleigh to locals. Look at a map and it sits like a cool comma between Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta, a photogenic punctuation mark along the Gold Coast. The waters are generally less choppy than at Surfers Paradise, while the tourist tempo is less frenetic than the heart of the glitter-strip. I adored taking leisurely strolls in Burleigh Heads National Park which wraps around the headland, serving up delicious ocean views.
Absolute oceanfront dining exists here where you’ll swear the fish on your plate has jumped straight out of the sea, and there’s a funky café culture in these parts, too. My roost in Burleigh was the Boardwalk Resort, a luxurious high-rise oasis that celebrates the best in lifestyle and location. With the state of the art facilities and sleek, modern design, accommodations are super spacious, the ocean views are incredible, and Burleigh’s eclectic and laidback enticements are right on your doorstep. https://boardwalkresort.com.au/
From theme park thrills, golden beaches and the birthplace of bikinis to the ravishing world heritage-listed beauty of the hinterland and ancient rainforests, start planning a great getaway to the Gold Coast. From the glitter strip of Surfers Paradise to the mountain villages and forest trails of the Scenic Rim, the Gold Coast bursts with a world of possibilities. Make your first stop, the region’s official website. www.queensland.com
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