'Gold'en fun

'Gold'en fun

'Gold'en fun
As the plane descended at the airport after a seven-hour journey, one could see the waves rushing to the coastline. At a distance were the islands of green cover, inviting people, like emeralds. Gold Coast, the coastal town in Australia’s Queensland — the Sunshine State — was waiting for us. We, a group of 12 with varied interests who met for the first time on the trip, courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland and Tigerair-Scoot, landed here on a sunny but breezy June morning. A new city, a new experience was waiting: beaches, rainforests, kangaroos, surfing, jet boating, hot air ballooning, zip riding — many things many of us had not done before. We were adding ourselves to a growing number of Indian tourists who were visiting Gold Coast to explore its adventure avenues during their leisure or business trips, as Ryna Sequeria of Tourism and Events Queensland would tell me later.

Gold Coast, a coastal city of just over six lakh people that is an hour’s drive from Brisbane, has now grown into the sixth largest city in Australia. The region started growing exponentially after the establishment of the first Surfers Paradise Hotel in the 1920s. The 1980s saw the city prospering as a tourist destination. With its sunny subtropical climate, Gold Coast now boasts of surfing beaches, high-rises, theme parks and rainforest hinterland. This city, which attracts around one crore tourists every year, will host the Commonwealth Games next year.

The city has grown but the roads are not crowded. So we could rush to the resort from the airport. We were running short of time for our cruise, where we had also planned our lunch. We rushed into our first Gold Coast experience — a two-hour exploration of the city’s waterways, basking in the sun, relishing fresh trawler prawns, among other delicacies, and some beer. The two hours passed like a flash, high-rises dominated the skyline; there were luxury villas — yes, we saw the one owned by Jackie Chan — yachts, and we also witnessed the dismantling of a Hollywood film-set on the shores!

We were back on land and then walked through the Surfers Paradise where a fire engine, a real one, was waiting for us! “Jump in,” its driver Richie Cunningham said; he also owns the Fire4Hire firm that runs such trips for tourists. In minutes, we were in fire-fighting gears and heard the sirens. As we moved, he played a Punjabi hit, saying Indians love it. More and more Indians are loving adventure, said Cunningham. He drove us into an open place near the seaside to teach us a trick or two in fire fighting. All turned fire fighters and then came many photo clicks. Some were soaked in the water while others ran to save themselves from getting wet. The sun was down but the day was not over. At the Sea World Resort, chefs had readied Indian dishes for dinner.

The morning after the arrival started with dolphins at the Sea World theme park. What one saw only on televisions were in front of us. The cameras and selfie sticks were out after the dolphins mesmerised us with their manoeuvres. Then came the display of an array of exotic fish. Polar bears, which usually live within the Arctic Circle, were here. Two of them, in an atmosphere recreated for them, were grappling with frozen meat. There were penguins too. While some of us grabbed burgers, others went for a 10-minute chopper ride over Gold Coast.

We hadn’t seen kangaroos yet and now had an opportunity as we were out for jet boating. And yes, we saw some kangaroos as our boat driver did some stunts, including 360-degree spins. We rode through the Marine Park and the Sovereign Islands. If the jet boating left us wondering about nature’s mysteries, we now had to encounter a virtual world. We walked into Infinity (in Surfers Paradise) and leapt into what the experience brief explained as ‘some 20 multi-sensual environments filled with unique special effects, atmospheric sound fields, ultra-groovy music and illusions that appeared to go all the way to infinity’.

We jumped into bizarre and intriguing depths and came out with a new experience, in line with what Marcel Proust (French author) once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

From the heights
Those who missed the chopper ride and the panoramic view of the coast had another opportunity to experience it — from far higher than from a helicopter. We climbed the SkyPoint, the tallest building in the city, and stood 270 metres above sea level before having breakfast at a restaurant on the 77th floor, from where surfers looked like ants. We saw Brisbane and New South Wales at a distance.

If the beaches were holding us tight, the skies and the countrysides called us, too. An easy way was hot air ballooning. Early morning, the winds took us to uncharted territories. We witnessed the sun rising, an experience many of us miss. After a wine-filled breakfast at a vineyard, we drove to Mount Tamborine. There were those who dreaded heights, but after a bit of convincing, all were ready, this time for zip riding. The initial scary screams gave way to excitement. Then we took a round of Mount Tamborine. We also stopped at Masala Shanti, an Indian restaurant run by a Malayali-Australian couple. As we devoured dosas and mutton biryani, Shiju Paul and his wife Alexandra, a half-Gujarati, told us the story of the restaurant. After a bit of boomerang throwing, we realised we’re getting late for last-minute shopping and a late-night dinner at Dracula’s where netherworld characters serve food. The time was up and we had to pack our bags to get back home.
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