Since Sarah was on conference at OZCHI in Brisbane Australia. We thought it would be a good idea to extend her stay one week and for me to join her in sunny Queensland, Australia. Or, more accurately, the very very sunny Gold Coast. Sarah’s conference ran from Sat 23rd November to Sat 30th November and I joined her from Sat 30th November to Sat 6th December for one week in paradise (surfer’s paradise to be precise).
I woke up on Saturday morning at around 4am. I hadn’t slept much that night what with all the packing and excitement. Andrew kindly gave me a lift to the Airport. Checking into my Qantas flight was a breeze. They allowed me to carry both my bag of clothes and my laptop as carry-on luggage. This was going to be great. I paid my departure tax and got some Australian cash from the bank. Half way to McDonalds and my long-awaited breakfast, I stuck my hand in my pocket and realised with a start that I still had my keys on me.
Now for any normal person this would not pose too much of a problem. However if, like me, you have watched far too much MacGyver in your day you would have a rather conspicuous pocket knife attached to you keys. Because bread knives and safety pins are deadly weapons on an international air flight I couldn’t take the knife along with me and I couldn’t put it in my carry-on bags. In a rare stroke of genius I ended up posting the weapon of moderate destruction to myself in the mail and then set about getting something to eat.
The flight took three hours and since there is a three hour time zone difference between Brisbane and New Zealand I arrived pretty much as soon as I departed. By then I already had a taste of what lay in store for me. The flight had given me a bit of a headache and the sun glared mercilessly off the arid Australian countryside. If New Zealand is clean and green then Australia is hot and yellow. The plants all have a slightly jaundiced look about them brought on by the merciless sun. I vowed to get a hat, some sunglasses and chewable disprin. The hat and sunglasses are in evidence in the photo on the right. Sarah is the one on the left, I am the one in the hat.
Our first task was to check into our lovely lodgings – Aruba Sands, shown on the left. There are actually four “Aruba’s” in Surfer’s Paradise (Aruba Sands, Aruba Surf, Aruba Sun etc) it’s a good thing the shuttle bus driver knew where he was going.
It turns out that we managed to time our holiday exactly in the middle of a phenomenon known as “Schoolie’s week” (which, in classic Australian misnomer actually runs for three weeks). During Schoolie’s week, all the high school kids who have finished school (and some who wish they had) get their parents to send them to places like Surfer’s Paradise for a holiday. Needless to say, this caused traffic jams and long queues. Luckily for us, our taste in accommodation was a bit too boring for your average schoolie and so we didn’t have to put up with any disturbance. The fact that the local police station was next door may have helped too.
Our first move as tourists was to gain the high ground and survey the area. The most convenient way to do this was to catch the double-decker red bus and take the half hour tour of Surfers. The person we bought the ticket from gave us a little map with the bus stops marked on it.
Unfortunately, Australians have a rather relaxed approach to bus signs and so we guessed it would be good enough to wait at the second rubbish bin after the pedestrian crossing. The bus driver was quite a character. He invited us aboard and we chose to sit on the roof. Sitting up there in the summer sun I was thankful for the hat and the 500ml 30+SPF sunscreen. He took us in a slow circuit of the city as a recorded voice pointed out all the pertinent sites. We passed large interesting buildings, birds nests and the occasional floating house of ill repute.
One thing that sticks out in Surfer’s paradise is that there are a lot of tall buildings. Apparently, most of them are residential apartments (ie. not rented out to holiday makers). Just think of the view that most of these buildings command.
The tallest of all these buildings is the Grand Mariner (the purple building in the image on the right). It was apparently painted to look like a winter sunset. Hence the brilliant pinks and purples. Incidentally, the pole in the center of the picture is a birds nest. In the distance you can see the buildings under construction. There was a lot of construction going on at the time, including the tallest residential building in the southern hemisphere.
By this time we were starting to feel the humid heat that the Gold Coast is famous for. We were not surprised when the driver told us that water restrictions were in effect. When we finished our tour and after getting some light refreshment, we decided to try an entirely alternative form of transportation. The aqua duck is a talking amphibious vehicle that does a similar tour to the bus, except it can take a tour of the water and the many channels. Apparently, there are more channels in the Gold Coast than Venice.
The first thing you notice when on the water is that this is not just surfer’s paradise, it is sailor’s paradise as well. The protected bays and miles of canals make the Gold Coast a perfect place for a marina or private mooring. There is even a floating church which can be hired out for weddings and will perform the ceremony while out in the water.
Every private house adjacent to the canal looked like it must have a multi-million dollar price tag and it is said that many of them are home to international celebrities (both the famous and the infamous). Apparently, one of these houses is a holiday home for a rather rich man. That in itself is not remarkable. What is remarkable is that his actual home is 300 metres down the road! As you can see in this picture, water sports are very popular on the gold coast and in good weather there are all manner of vehicles in the water. The strangest of all, being the Aqua Duck of course.
This house sticks out because of the helicopter of course. When the current owner bought it, he realised that he had a helipad but no helicopter. So he bought a helicopter to put on it. Apparently one home owner has two sections: one with his house on it and one just a vacant lot on the canal. He has had many offers for that land. It is prime real estate. He has resisted them all. The reason? Well, his dog likes to run around in the yard.
We soon realised that the largest shopping center closest to us was the Oasis and we would spend many a late night wining and dining in and around that shopping center. Surprisingly, meals were rather well priced. This is probably due to the intense competition. You couldn’t throw a stick without hitting a classy Mediterranean restaurant. Needless to say, we ate very well.
On our first night though, we decided to go somewhere unique for dinner. With what amounts to its own moat around it, Jupiter’s casino is certainly a place to be. We took the mono rail (which quite literally runs through the Oasis shopping center) across the water to the casino. Now the mono rail only has one destination so it is purely for effect but I reckon it was well worth the $2 price tag.
Jupiter’s casino itself was very nice. Somewhere in the process of losing $5, I managed to win $1 so I reckon that will be enough gambling until next year. Dinner was great but the bingo cards at the table gave everything a very unusual ambiance.
On the night of the first day, we arranged to go to Movie World the following morning. We arranged to be picked up from our “resort” at 9:15am and then again from Movie World at 4:30pm to return, so we would have a good day of it.
Movie World is based on Warner Brothers’ movies and cartoon characters. They boast rides such as “Lethal Weapon”, “Scooby Doo”, “Batman”, “Wild Wild West” and they put on shows such as the parade, a view of a movie sound stage and the very impressive “Police Academy Stunt Show”. We started the day by following a mass of Asian tourists to the “Movie Magic” demonstration where a number of volunteers embarrassed themselves by performing bits of movie magic such as blue screen (flying like superman) and the sound stage.
Of all the shows we went to that day, the police academy stunt show was the most spectacular. True to police academy form the entire show was an elaborate comedy routine punctuated by well orchestrated and awe inspiring stunts. To start with, as everyone was filtering into the open-air auditorium, there was someone I can only describe as a clown embarrassing people to keep us occupied. He was dressed as a policeman, but a clown is a clown, with or without the big nose and floppy shoes. In the picture you can see that the story line behind the police academy show was pretty much that the robbers had stolen some money and the coppers were supposed to apprehend them. As you can see from the exaggerated dynamite in the baddie’s hand it wasn’t a simple problem.
In order to apprehend the criminal, they recruited a number of volunteers from the audience. The idea was that the volunteers would act as lookouts. However, one of the volunteers fell off a building, was run over by a car and shot out of a cannon. Obviously, that volunteer was a plant but it was expertly done. He actually did fly out of the cannon and landed out of our line of vision behind the police station. Apart from the acrobatics, what really impressed me were the explosions. These explosions were real flame, we could feel the heat from where we sat, at least 100 metres away.
After the show we decided to start queueing for the rides. Lethal weapon is a ride that many people have spoken about so we decided to do that first. After walking through a building and junk yard done up to look like the set of a Lethal Weapon movie we eventually came to the queue for this ride. About fourteen people get securely strapped into a harness. The harness dangles from a sturdy mechanism that is attached to one of the most twisted roller coaster track you have even seen. The coaster does loops, twists and at any given point you feel like you may be summarily decapitated or dismembered (or both). If you look closely at this picture, you will see that these people are actually upside down. Amazingly, the only thing that hurts are your ears since your head rocks side to side so violently with the g-forces.
My favourite ride, however was the Scooby Doo spooky coaster. I don’t have any pictures of it because it’s all in darkness (it’s supposed to be spooky after all). The most fun part is where you careen through a convoluted track inside a large dark warehouse with green laser light and the Scooby Doo sound track playing loudly.
On the left you can see the Wild Wild West ride. It’s essentially like a log ride but we enjoyed it thoroughly. What you can see in the picture is the end of the ride where you slide down the waterfall with an enormous splash. On the day we left the Gold Coast we were told it was damaged by fire. Good thing we got a go on it first.
Our third day saw us at Sea World. Not to be confused with “Water World” which has water slides and swimming pools. This world is home to many sea creatures: seals, dolphins and polar bears to name a few. This was perhaps the most relaxed of the parks we went to, probably because your average teenager is more interested in rides like the tower of terror than watching the dolphin show.
Sea world is not just a pretty face. They have a helicopter and animal rescue equipment. They assist the coast guard to rescue sea animals in distress. The polar bear on the left looked rather clumsy on land but as soon as he entered the water he was surprisingly graceful. The polar bears were playing with a yellow buoy. Just like a child, they were trying to keep the buoy under water. They succeeded too, by wedging it under a rocky ledge.
Sea world is famous for two things: their renowned ski show (which we took in over a cup of coffee) and their dolphin show. The last show we went to was the dolphin show. The trainers were at pains to ensure us that the behaviours are all entirely natural behaviours for the dolphins and they do enjoy doing it. They certainly did seem to enjoy it, as did the crowd.
If you look carefully, you can see that the dolphins have propelled their trainer up into the air. At the end of the show, one of the children from the audience was given the chance to feed the dolphin and I was reminded of the time I fed a dolphin myself for my birthday.
In this picture you can see a complete replica of the Endeavour. The water you can see is also infested by a number of dolphins. In fact, later on in the day, some very lucky people were given a chance to swim with the dolphins.
In case you’re wondering what happened to Days 4 and 6, we just did mostly nothing on those days. Ok, not nothing. Sarah read a book and I watched TV. Lucky for me, the Aruba Sands has Sky TV. From day 4 onward it started to rain incessantly, as only a place with high humidity can. On day 5, however, we were determined to make the most of Dream World, yet another theme park. However, this theme park appears to have no particular theme. That didn’t deter us one bit though.
On the right, you can see what’s known as the “Tower of Terror”. The tower is 130 metres high. We waited 4 solid hours, about one of those hours in the rain to ride this one. The reason for the long wait, we discovered, is that schoolies week also includes young children on school trips. We had a number of boisterous and colourful children in school uniform waiting for the same ride.
The idea is, they winch you to the top and then wait a few minutes, enough time for the vertigo inclined to start going into psychosis and then they “drop” you. The word “drop” is insufficient to describe 8 seconds of freefall, suffice to say I screamed the whole way down (Sarah didn’t). If you look at the image on the left, you will see that there are two Tower of Terror drop thingies (one on each side) and a third ride. This third ride is accelerated towards the tower by powerful electromagnets. It’s the only ride I know where people scream at the very beginning of the ride (because of the incredible acceleration).
Apart from the rides, one of the attractions at Dreamworld is a place called Tiger Island. Tiger Island is not an actual island, it’s more of some land surrounded by a little moat. These beautiful Bengal tigers performed for us. Believe it or not, the cat on the right is not standing on his hind legs for a leg of lamb or even to nibble on his handler’s fingers. No, he is drinking from a carton of ordinary, every pasteurised milk.
They then tried out getting the tigers to climb the tree. The big cats didn’t seem too keen on it but they managed to convince them in the end.
We also went to places I don’t have pictures for. The Ripley’s Believe it or not museum and Infinity are also notable attractions at the Gold Coast.
Finally, on Saturday 6th December, we made our way back to the airport. It seemed as though the weather suited our mood. Our holiday at the Gold Coast had been magical. We will have to make sure we return.