The Gold Coast is as enticing as its name. A short holiday in this vibrant coastal city will leave you hankering for more.
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.
SkyPoint Climb offers unparalleled 360° views of the Gold Coast and beyond.
Surfers Paradise, the pulse of night life in Gold Coast.
Soak in the breathtaking scenery below as you float down to Kirra beach.
The iconic Q1 Resort building, Queensland’s most recognisable landmark.
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.