Golden high

The Gold Coast is as en­tic­ing as its name. A short hol­i­day in this vi­brant coastal city will leave you han­ker­ing for more.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By C.B. OH star2­travel@thes­

I BAULKED at the thought of jump­ing out of a plane at 12,000ft (3,600m). Sky­div­ing is not on my bucket list; be­sides, I have a fear of heights. But there it was on the travel itin­er­ary – sky­div­ing. There was a hint of ad­ven­ture which I could not re­sist, and I jumped at the chance.

It was the tail end of au­tumn when we flew into Gold Coast, a coastal city on the south­east­ern shores of Queens­land, Aus­tralia. This was a four-day me­dia trip to show­case Gold Coast’s myr­iad at­trac­tions, be­yond its leg­endary Surfers Par­adise and theme parks.

We were a lit­tle too early to catch the whale-watch­ing sea­son which usu­ally picks up in June as an es­ti­mated 20,000 hump­back whales make their an­nual 5,000km mi­gra­tion from Antarc­tica into the warmer wa­ters off north Queens­land. Gold Coast’s 57km stretch of coast­line would then be abuzz with sight­ings of hump­back whales jump­ing high out of the wa­ter, cre­at­ing a splash that only a 40-tonne an­i­mal could pro­duce. Though we missed the ac­ro­batic dis­plays of these play­ful mam­mals, noth­ing could stop us from hav­ing a whale of a time.

Jump and climb

The high point of the trip was the sky­div­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It is al­ways a tan­dem jump for first-timers, so I was se­curely har­nessed to the front of my in­struc­tor, Ken. Any mis­giv­ings about safety that I had were quickly dis­pelled by the sheer pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the team at Gold Coast Sky­dive, a fam­ily-owned busi­ness which prides it­self on its safety record.

Even pro­fes­sion­als took noth­ing for granted, and it was re­as­sur­ing to see the in­struc­tors do­ing a quick check of each other’s back­pack be­fore they ac­com­pa­nied the five of us on board the plane.

As we took off from Gold Coast In­ter­na­tional Air­port, I took in the breath­tak­ing scenery be­low. Twenty min­utes later, all I could see was a sea of clouds. At the drop point at 3,600m, the door opened and one by one, we made a leap of faith, with our in­struc­tors close be­hind us.

The 30-sec­ond free fall as I hur­tled down at 200km/h was an outof-this-world ex­pe­ri­ence. Some­thing I am likely to re­mem­ber for life. Once my in­struc­tor de­ployed the para­chute, we de­cel­er­ated to 30km/h.

Gold Coast stretched out be­low us in all its glory – carved up by 400km of me­an­der­ing canals and wa­ter­ways, dot­ted with lakes, fringed by green hills in the hin­ter­land, and the deep blue Pa­cific Ocean in the east.

With a lit­tle tug on the right steer­ing tog­gle (han­dle), the para­chute veered right. Pull down on the left, and the para­chute swirled left. Pull both tog­gles to­gether and the para­chute slowed its rate of de­scent. It was like dis­cov­er­ing a play­ground up in the air. Play­time was all of four to five min­utes be­fore we glided to a gen­tle land­ing on the pow­dery white sands of Kirra beach.

The dive left me high for weeks; it was un­doubt­edly one of the best things I ever did.

The SkyPoint Climb is an­other must-do Gold Coast at­trac­tion. Touted as Aus­tralia’s high­est ex­ter­nal build­ing climb, it takes you to a plat­form 270m atop Queens­land’s iconic Q1 Re­sort build­ing.

Af­ter a safety briefing, we were kit­ted out in climb suits and full body har­ness. Then we squeezed into a high-speed el­e­va­tor that took us from ground to Level 77 in less than 43 sec­onds. From the

77th floor, we stepped out into the open air, and gin­gerly made our way up the 298 stairs. If you like the thrill of a 270m sheer ver­ti­cal drop, you could walk along the edge of the stairs.

There was a light driz­zle that morn­ing, and the rail­ings and steps were a lit­tle wet. Har­nessed to a pur­pose-built safety rail sys­tem and fit­ted with a static fall ar­rest line, I felt pretty safe.

Once we reached the view­ing plat­form, we were re­warded with stun­ning 360° views of the Gold Coast. White sandy beaches stretched up and down the coast, as far as the eye could see. Our climb leader en­thu­si­as­ti­cally pointed out the city’s his­tor­i­cal, ge­o­graph­i­cal and cul­tural land­marks.

The SkyPoint Climb and sky­div­ing ex­pe­ri­ence turned out to be the an­ti­dote to my fear of heights.

Per­haps the big­gest adrenalin rush for me was the ride on the Buz­z­Saw roller­coaster in Dreamworld, the big­gest theme park in Aus­tralia. Dreamworld was one of our first stops in Gold Coast, and the ex­cite­ment built up from there.

The ride on the Buz­z­Saw took thrills to a new height. Within sec­onds, we were cat­a­pulted 15 storeys into the air be­fore the car­riage flipped up­side-down and shot through a 360° heart roll, then plum­meted down a ver­ti­cal drop at 105km/h. I can still feel my heart rac­ing each time I re­count the ride.

Dreamworld is chock-full of at­trac­tions. We did a walk­through of the Cor­ro­boree, an indige­nous theme park which cel­e­brates abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture, and stopped to cud­dle a koala and pose for snaps, be­fore pass­ing through Tiger Is­land. That was the clos­est I ever got to watch­ing ma­jes­tic white Ben­gal and Su­ma­tran tigers prowl­ing around.

NightQuar­ter is an­other cre­ative play­ground. This vi­brant week­end night mar­ket, lo­cated in the sub­urb of He­lensvale, fea­tures rows of up­cy­cled ship­ping con­tain­ers with more than 120 stalls of­fer­ing an eclec­tic mix of live en­ter­tain­ment, food, fash­ion, and art and craft. It is one big car­ni­val and hugely pop­u­lar, judg­ing from the throngs of peo­ple on that Satur­day night when we vis­ited.

While driv­ing around Gold Coast, it is hard to miss the sprawl­ing Pa­cific Fair Shop­ping Cen­tre, the pre­mier shop­ping des­ti­na­tion in Queens­land. This is a shop­per’s won­der­land with an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of lead­ing in­ter­na­tional and Aus­tralian brands, and am­ple op­tions to suit all bud­gets and tastes. In be­tween shop­ping, we took a break at Cowch Dessert and Cock­tail Bar. The ice creams and desserts at Cowch were not only a vis­ual treat, they tasted so good that we sim­ply had to re­turn for an­other round of sun­daes and baked chur­ros be­fore we left the Gold Coast.

Gold Coast is truly a foodie’s par­adise. The cui­sine is as di­verse as the city’s count­less at­trac­tions. We en­joyed Asian street food at Hide­away Kitchen and Bar, one of the city’s new culi­nary sen­sa­tions; tucked into scrump­tious fresh seafood at the award-win­ning Coolan­gatta Surf Club; rel­ished a unique Ja­panese din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at Etsu Iza­kaya; and in­dulged in slow roasted melt-in­y­our-mouth lamb and chicken at So­cial Eat­ing House and Bar, an­other win­ner. And who can for­get the sig­na­ture but­tery, flaky crois­sants and other ir­re­sistible ar­ti­san pas­tries at Bam Bam Bake­house, a cafe and bak­ery.

Gold Coast is one of the top va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tions in Aus­tralia. I can see why, af­ter just a few days in this vi­brant city.

The writer’s trip was hosted by AirAsia X and Tourism and Events Queens­land. AirAsia X flies from Kuala Lumpur to Gold Coast 11 times weekly. Visit www.airasia. com for de­tails.

— REMCO JANSEN/Tourism and Events Queens­land

SkyPoint Climb of­fers un­par­al­leled 360° views of the Gold Coast and be­yond.

— Tourism and Events Queens­land

Surfers Par­adise, the pulse of night life in Gold Coast.

— Gold Coast Sky­dive

Soak in the breath­tak­ing scenery be­low as you float down to Kirra beach.

— Tourism and Events Queens­land

The iconic Q1 Re­sort build­ing, Queens­land’s most recog­nis­able land­mark.

— Gold Coast Sky­dive

The thrill of sky­div­ing de­fies de­scrip­tion.

En­joy fresh seafood at the award-win­ning Coolan­gatta Surf Club. — Pho­tos: C.B. OH/The Star

Mouth-wa­ter­ing Twix Eclairs from Bam Bam Bake­house.

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