Gold Coast

Quick bit of housekeeping – if you would like to hire a wheelchair for a week, Walk on Wheels in Tweed Heads, and they will deliver free within a 15km radius). The cost is $40 per week for a manual collapsible and $100 a week for an electric wheelchair or scooter.  Phone 61 7 5536 8841 or email tweedheads@walkonwheels.com.au.

And did you know that there is an Australian Disabled Surfers Association? http://surfershelpingsurfers.com/index.html

Right. Now let’s head to the beach!

The Gold Coast is an hour by car or coach south of Brisbane and the flight from Sydney to Coolangatta Airport takes around an hour. If you base yourself in one spot on the Coast, it can still be rewarding to hire a car for a day and explore the rest of the 70km of seashore and attractions. It will take under an hour in driving time from north to south, but it can be a day full of surprises and pleasure.

The Gold Coast is Australia’s premier international and domestic destination … It has gorgeous, golden beaches, pristine rainforests, theme parks, a vibrant nightlife and exotic cuisine … It has all the ingredients for a feast of fun for solo travellers, couples and families alike … Why, then, did it take me so long to like the place?

Here’s the conundrum: I’ve been to the Gold Coast lots of dozen times, and every time I’ve had a terrific time. Admittedly, some of those visits were for business or conferences, and when conferences include theme parks, fine restaurants and time for surfing and golf, business can be pretty much pleasure. The other visits were for family holidays, and with good resorts, great beaches, four fantastic fun parks and kids who have those three things on their ‘wish list’ – well, we had a ball.

After some thought, I’ve decided that my ambivalence for the Gold Coast came from a long held misconception, which was reinforced by first impressions and word of mouth. Most people who have been there will tell you that it’s ugly, that it’s like Miami or Waikiki, that the high-rise and bustle spoils the natural beauty – and all that is true. They often neglect to tell you that they, too, had a terrific time, and there is still much natural beauty. Besides, to be the country’s top holiday destination, it must be doing something right!

There are 35 patrolled, safe, year-round swimming beaches on the Gold Coast, all enjoying a daily average of eight hours of sunshine, 300 days a year. There are also 446km of canals and tidal rivers – nine times longer than the canals of Venice and a darn sight cleaner.

Here’s a thumbnail guide to some of the Gold Coast’s best beaches:

Surfers Paradise is ideal for families with a delightful swimming beach. The free beach volleyball is fun and cafés are handy. The huge Paradise Centre on Cavill Avenue has games and rides. Every Friday night there are craft markets along the front esplanade. Surfer’s would arguably be the most popular and therefore ‘busiest’ beach, but it had to get its same from somewhere!

Broadbeach has a wide pedestrian shopping area just off the beach with children’s play equipment and fairground rides. Broadbeach is home to Kurrawa Surf Life Saving Club, host of the annual Australian Surf Life Saving Championships in March. There is also a vibrant café precinct.

Just south of the headland at Burleigh Heads is Echo Beach, a great place for a picnic, or head north to the sheltered beach and barbecue area, where you can have lunch under the Norfolk pines. Walking paths guide you around to the headland and most are easy to manage even with small children.

Kirra Beach is the Coast’s most famous surfing beach and has challenging waves for the experienced surfer, as well as smaller waves closer to shore for beginners. Coolangatta (pictured) has some of the Coast’s prettiest beaches. Greenmount Beach has gentle surf where small children can play safely. Coolangatta’s bistros and cafés are nearby. Every second Sunday, market stalls are set up along the beachfront. Tallebudgera, just north of Palm Beach, has a choice of beaches. Visit the beach on the ocean side to catch a wave, or head around to the still water on the estuary of Tallebudgera Creek.

Two ferry services operate to South Stradbroke Island and a 20-minute ferry trip will take you to some of the Gold Coast’s most beautiful and unpopulated beaches. The island has several resorts offering facilities for day-trippers, including water sports and guided environmental tours. South Stradbroke has rainforest and banksia areas, and is home to thousands of wallabies and 120 species of birds. Water taxis are also available to take you to the island and leave from Mariner’s Cove next to Marina Mirage.

The Theme Parks on the Gold Coast are simply fabulous and unavoidable if you have children.

Following is a thumbnail guide to Dreamworld (photo), Seaworld, Warner Bros Movie World and Wet ‘n’ Wild Water World – Theme me up, Scotty!

Movieworld, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Movie World work in tandem and they have a three park pass that works out good value.

Yes, when it comes to theme parks, the Griswalds would be green with envy! Apologies if you haven’t seen the National Lampoon movie, but there are four major ‘Wallyworlds’ on the Gold Coast, five if you include ‘Schoolie’s Week’.

‘Schoolie’s Week’ is actually a couple of weeks at the end of November when tens of thousands of school leavers flock to the Coast for healthy dollops of unsupervised excess, in moderation of course. It’s a good time to avoid Surfers Paradise unless you’re in that demographic. On the whole, considering, it is well controlled and mostly fun. Of course, television cameras are also there, eagerly awaiting the inevitable brawl, drunken disorderly behaviour, an overdose or wanton examples of teenage flirting. Some parents must be so proud to see the product of 12 years’ education when little John or Jenny is on their TV screen, comatose on a beach or being bundled into a police car – the joys of parenthood.  My darling daughter had her Schoolies there at the end of 2013… no damage done and the most fun she had ever packed into a week!

With any of the real theme parks, allow a full day. And, at the end of the day, I’m sure you will look back and see value for money.

Warner Bros. Movie World has thrill rides like Arkham Asylum, Superman, Batwing, Scooby-Doo, Wild West Falls and Green Lantern (photo), the Police Academy Stunt Show and the Looney Tunes Village for toddlers. It is a very slick operation – everything goes like clockwork, sometimes almost a bit too ‘clinical’ but I am a cynic! Mind you, I have seen the Police Academy stunt show a few times and have never been bored – that’s something that needs absolute precision!

There is disabled parking and a wheelchair hire service at both Movie World and Sea World. Many rides and attractions are accessibly by wheelchair. Hire is free but they require a $20 refundable deposit. Card-carrying carers are admitted free.

The award-winning marine park, Sea World is famous for its dolphins and sea lions. There’s also plenty of action with the daredevil stunts of the international ski team or a trip into the mysterious world of the Bermuda Triangle – a great adventure ride. There are amusement park rides and quality, well-priced accommodation on site.

Wet’n’Wild Water World is always adding new slides and thrills. Drop through the fibre-optic lighting effects in Terror Canyon or take a bobsled ride along the wide sweeping bends of River Rapids. The water park also features ‘Dive-In’ movies during peak seasons. My son’s school takes senior physics students there for an excursion – it’s a fun day out but apparently there’s clever physics in designing something to propel someone that past with water down a slide without killing them.

Wet ‘n’ Wild Water World offers disabled parking and a limited number of wheelchairs. Some rides and pools have disabled access with assistance.

Dreamworld‘s attractions include wild (and curiously mild) Tiger Island where magnificent and rare tigers interact with a team of dedicated handlers. There’s also a Riverboat Cruise, Gold Rush Country, koala and kangaroo sanctuary, water slides and rides like Wipeout, Thunderbolt and the Tower of Terror: the world’s tallest and fastest thrill ride with speeds of up to 160km per hour. And, for the ultimate thrill, hop onto the Giant Drop of 38 storeys.

Dreamworld provides special rates and facilities for people with permanent disabilities. Disabled parking and a wheel chair hire service are available at Dreamworld. Many rides and attractions are also accessible by wheelchair. A special rate is also offered to those caring for disabled guests.

At Cable Ski World you can try go-carting, cable skiing and slingshot bungee. As well, there is cool action at Frozen World, the ‘space capsule’ experience of Bungee Rocket, the free-fall swing of Flycoaster, illusions at Scene to Believe and, believe it or not, there’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.

THE HINTERLAND

Follow the roads inland from the Gold Coast’s beaches to what’s known locally as ‘the Green behind the Gold’: tropical rainforests, mountain villages and other hidden treasures. The hinterland is less than an hour from the coast. Much of the area is national park and there are numerous walking tracks for all levels of fitness.

Just a tip on walking through rainforests. Sometimes there may be leeches, which are harmless but annoying.

One of my vivid Mt Tamborine memories is of a blood-curdling scream from my good wife, Annie, at seeing a little, black, wriggly thing dangling off her ankle. Leeches can be amazingly fast when they see a passing meal. Annie’s yell sent scrub turkeys scattering for miles. They are pretty harmless and doctors used to use them but I guess they are just blood-sucking parasites. And so are the leeches.  If you want to avoid leeches you can wear long trousers as you can tuck them into your socks.  If you want to avoid doctors, perhaps an apple a day?

Tamborine Mountain is a plateau with plenty of cosy teahouses and worthwhile art galleries. Tamborine even has its own award-winning winery. Coincidentally, when compiling this section, I came across a Mount Tamborine Semillon in a bottle shop. It was an excellent wine, both for taste and value. The small print on its elegant label amused me. This cheeky little wine was described as: ‘soft grassy … herbaceous … with a hint of lemon and subtle honey essences … a lively blend … lifted by a golden honey elixir and slightly crisp acidity … a wonderful fresh style with good length’. Why do people write such dribble? The last sentence could have been describing a fast bowler in cricket. What’s wrong with ‘a fruity, dry wine that goes well with seafood’?

Stroll down Gallery Walk, the main road through Eagle Heights for art and craft galleries, antique shops and eating spots. The western side of Tamborine Mountain has great views of the Great Dividing Range or Scenic Rim (the world’s largest volcanic caldera).

You can totally immerse yourself in a rainforest by staying in a guesthouse at O’Reilly’s Plateau, part of the World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse features morning bird walks where native birds feed from your hand, and educational activities for kids.

There is also a treetop boardwalk, which is free for day-trippers.

Also in Lamington National Park, Binna Burra is a great place to explore, with easy-to-follow paths for inexperienced bushwalkers. Stay at Binna Burra Mountain Lodge and take part in a variety of organised activities.

There are ‘Binna Burra’ and ‘O’Reilly’s’ people. Most of their guests are return visitors and they are very loyal. To go to the ‘opposition’ would no doubt be as rewarding, but it would be like cheating on your partner and, there’s something secure in the knowledge that you will be just as satisfied as the last visit.

The Gold Coast’s southern areas also feature beautiful hinterland attractions like the Currumbin Rock Pools – a great spot for families along Currumbin Creek. Nearby Mt Cougal National Park is small and a good spot for families in summer with cascades that make perfect rock slides. The Currumbin Bird Sanctuary is popular with people wanting to cover themselves in parrots.

ENTERTAINMENT

After a day sun, surf or parrot-covering, there’s a huge choice of nightlife, from comedy to cabaret, fine dining to disco to dance extravaganzas.

For gamblers Conrad Jupiters is a one-stop entertainment complex. Jupiters Casino has more than 1100 gaming machines and 90 table games. There are live stage shows in the Las Vegas-style showroom, Fortunes Nightclub and half a dozen restaurants.

I’m not a big gambler, but I don’t mind the occasional game of blackjack. I remember one occasion when I was organising part of the entertainment for an award night at Jupiters. On the way to my room, around 1:00am, after the show and a flutter, I bumped into one of the singers who enjoyed a drink and a bet on roulette. He was at an ATM, one eye closed, clumsily withdrawing a couple of hundred dollars (not for the first time that night). They say a fool and his money are soon parted but, with a drunk fool, time can really fly. The next morning, when I arrived for breakfast, there he was, bleary-eyed, unshaven and grinning. Against the odds, he’d won close to three thousand dollars. There are exceptions to rules.

My only tip for blackjack is to try and choose a table that has an experienced player in the last position. A good player here will study the cards as they go to the other players and then play against the dealer. A novice here may draw a card on 16 and take the ten that would have busted the dealer.

There is live entertainment every night at Twin Town Services Club, Tweed Heads. There are restaurants, hi-tech poker machines and a free bus service. The entertainment is of a high standard, but sometimes a bit on the past the ‘Best Before’ date – while Suzie Quatro still smells like a new car, the leather has a few cracks but I guess the Pointer Sisters can still point and the Temptations still tempt.

There is free, nightly, live entertainment at Southport RSL, the most modern and glitzy club in Australia. Standards are comparable at Surfers Paradise RSL and both offer inexpensive food and drinks at club prices. If you like roasts, many RSL clubs excel, offering well-cooked, tender meat with crisp potatoes and other baked vegetables. I’m yet to find one, however, that serves carrots that aren’t soft.

For those who can remember spinning that fantastic black plastic with the hey-diddle-diddle, hole in the middle you can still dig the sound that was around when you were closer to the ground at…um… sorry… for non-baby boomer readers, that sentence referred to vinyl records, which were like very large CDs, but made of… oh, never mind. Suffice to say, you can trace the music from the 1950s to the 1990s at nightclubs and discos. There are also comedy clubs and theatre restaurants and, for a more refined evening, head for the Gold Coast Arts Centre on the banks of the Nerang River for classical music, theatre and ballet.

Restaurant guides and other local publications are a good source of information if you are looking for places to eat on the Coast. You can pick these up from your accommodation place or local information centres, or simply ask the locals where they like to eat. Here’s an overview to dining in some of the areas:

From Main Beach, head for Tedder Avenue for a vibrant dining area with a cosmopolitan feel. Surfers Paradise has long been popular for families, with many cafés and eateries offering well-priced meals. Casual dining in the Broadbeach Mall reflects the area’s relaxed atmosphere. In Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta there’s a range restaurants and cafés, open all day for a relaxed beachside breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Marina Mirage at Southport has a mixture of restaurants offering everything from elegant dining to affordable family meals, all with views of the marina. Sanctuary Cove is a waterfront marine village, 20 minutes north of Surfers Paradise at Hope Island, with more than 80 specialty stores, restaurants, cafés and even its own brewery. Many of the Surf Life Saving Clubs serve affordable meals in their clubhouses. Join the locals for a casual bistro-style meal on the verandah for some of the best views on the Coast.

When it comes to markets, the Gold Coast has a varied selection to choose from including the biggest (and perhaps the best) in the country, Carrara Markets. Crafts, food, leather goods, novelties, books, rides – you name it, it’s there.

The Village Square Art and Craft Market at Hope Island is a retail arts and craft village with free craft demonstrations.

Sport on the Gold Coast is huge. The Australian IndyCar Race in October and the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships are only two of the annual highlights.

International golf tournaments are an almost weekly occurrence at numerous world-standard courses, many of them incorporated into five-star resorts. With 40 courses of varying challenges, some call it the ‘Golf Coast’.

The Gold Coast also has the Titans in the NRL (rugby league) and the Suns in the AFL (Aussie Rules).

ACCOMMODATION

The Gold Coast has so much accommodation on offer it’s daunting – lots of high rise, lots of pools, lots of competition (so the prices can sometimes be good). A downside with some places here, they have a minimum stay, which doesn’t help the person passing through.

Nara Seaworld is a good choice for families wanting to have a theme park on the door and the room price includes entry to Seaworld so can be excellent value.

For those who like a flutter there’s Conrad Jupiters Casino and for golfers, Royal Pines won’t disappoint. There’s an array of self-contained apartments and many have disabled facilities.

One of the newest and hippest accommodation options is QT Hotel at Surfers Paradise – very trendy, casual and different with an emphasis on service and chic style. Has a terrific Teppanyaki restaurant (photo).

QT (as well as Rydges and Art Series Hotels) offer Priority Guest Rewards membership. It is totally free and one of the best loyalty rewards cards we have found – you get 10% off accommodation at more than 40 hotels around Australia and New Zealand plus 20% off food and beverages (that’s where the real value is). Cane & Able is happy to arrange this for you.

There is one room at QT Gold Coast with wheelchair access and bathroom for guests with a physical disability on the third floor. The room is 3 square metres and has a Queen bed. All public areas are wheelchair accessible.

In the hinterland, I can’t go past O’Reilly’s Guesthouse (well, no-one can go past O’Reilly’s because it’s at the end of the road, but…). It’s not particularly cheap, but it is a wonderful place to relax and experience nature and wildlife. It has been owned and run by the O’Reillys for generations and they make you feel like one of the family, too.

I took the family to O’Reilly’s for Christmas one year, simply because we were ‘on the road’.  We had Carols by Candlelight, a visit from Santa and a superb Christmas lunch. On Christmas morning the young kids, being young kids, were up with the sun and birdsong. By 6:00am the floor was strewn with Christmas paper, Lego, Barbie and other assorted goodies – but no children. I took a cup of tea to the balcony and there they were, below on the lawn, feeding Crimson Parrots. The birds on their hands and shoulders were far more exciting than new toys. For the three days we were there they didn’t miss TV or Playstation; they discovered bushwalking, birds, animals, other kids in the Scrub Club and more about themselves.