Known for its beaches, theme parks and seafood, Australia’s second largest state Queensland remains a popular tourist destination all year-round. It’s a big place with an abundance of things to do and places to see. And at the moment its Southern most city is home to the 2018 Commonweath Games.
However, if you don’t want to waste your time waiting in long lines at theme parks or battling crowds at the local beaches, preferring to pack as much in to your day in the shortest amount of time possible, then a day trip to Surfers Paradise is an absolute must! Of course this is to be enjoyed once the Commonwealth Games are over…
3am. Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you can manage to drag your butt out of bed, start the day with a Hot Air Balloon Ride. Although company price, duration and extras vary, we opted for one that provided transfers, photography and a champagne buffet breakfast. Despite the early rise, it was a great way to see spectacular views of the Gold Coast from a unique perspective. It was also quite fascinating to see how the balloon is inflated and deflated.
It’s recommended you book early, but we were lucky enough to nab one of the last remaining spots (with bonus upgrade) on the day before departure. If you’re short on time it doesn’t hurt to ask if they will drop you off at your next destination instead of at your hotel, as many companies are happy to do this.
10am. Jet Boat Ride
Next, to wake you up I highly recommend a Jet Boat Ride for thrill-seekers. You may be tempted to go with a faster, closed-roof option, but trust me; an open roof is more enjoyable and you’ll feel like you’re going faster than 80kph. Sure you’ll get wet, but that’s all part of the fun! (Most supply spray jackets if you prefer to stay dry).
Combining adrenaline, spins, slides, power, excitement and views, you’ll spend approximately 55 minutes out on the water. It’s not really a sensation you can so much put into words, but it is well worth doing! I was slightly nervous beforehand, but I had an absolute ball!
11.30am. Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
We then spent half a day at the heritage-listed, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Open from 8am to 5pm (excluding Christmas and Anzac Day), the Sanctuary is home to the world’s biggest collection of Australian native animals (including over 50 koalas) and features the largest walk-through aviary in the Southern Hemisphere.
Opened in 1947 (as the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary) by beekeeper and flower grower Alex Griffiths to stop local lorikeets damaging his flowers, the Sanctuary has since become one of Queensland top-rated and most visited attractions.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is also passionate about Conservation and preserving wildlife for future generations to enjoy. Visitors can look into the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, included in their ticket price too.
As a lover of animals, I honestly could have spent the whole day here; you get a lot of bang for what is an expensive buck. If you have the time, the website has a great guide on how to pack everything in in a single day. With exhilarating shows, interactive feeds, behind-the-scenes tours, fun activities, affordable photo opportunities, and up-close and personal encounters on throughout the day – there’s just so much to see and do! An Echidna Encounter is an absolute must for anyone like me, who considers the spiny anteater their favourite Australian animal.
Their newest attraction is the Lost Valley enclosure (open 10am-3pm). Featuring five acres of the world’s most distinct flora and wildlife, you can see exotic species of Red Pandas, Cotton-top Tamarins, Ring-Tailed Lemurs and free-flying Birds. Keep your eyes peeled too, as you may just spot a dinosaur or two hidden amongst the trees.
I’ve been to many zoos and wildlife parks in my life and I’ve never seen (nor heard of) a Capybara before, so that was a new experience for me. The South American-native mammal is the largest living rodent in the world.
If you’re feeling tired or in need of rest, you can take the free miniature rail system around the park at scheduled times. Suitable for all ages, the ride will delight both the young and old and give you an off-the-beaten-track look into the Sanctuary. While we were waiting for the train to depart, we even caught a glimpse of an elusive Tasmanian Devil.
As well as viewing the many native and exotic animals: including cassowaries, dingoes, emus, saltwater crocodiles, quokkas, kangaroos and wallabies, reptiles and fish, gliders and nocturnal animals; kids will be entertained at Blinky Bill’s Home Tree and Slide, and the Wild Island Adventure Playground.
The Sanctuary also has an abundance of food options and gift shops. My favourites were the sweet treats at Aussie Scoop Ice Cream Parlour.
Optional extras include a guided segway tour and professional photography (including getting close with a koala). As well as the TreeTop Challenge, (featuring 80 challenges, including 11 ziplines), that takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete three levels – ranging from beginner to advanced. Don’t forget to bring closed-in shoes!
5pm. SkyPoint Observation Deck
I’m rarely without my camera in hand, so for me Observation Decks are always an absolute must! I like to go before the sun sets and stay until dark, as it allows me to photograph the city in different lights. Offering unsurpassed 360 degree sunset views of the Gold Coast beaches to the hinterland and beyond, it’s easy to enjoy over a drink at the licensed SkyPoint Bistro + Bar.
Located on Level 77 of the iconic Q1 Building, the SkyPoint Observation Deck proves unparalleled views 230m (750 ft) above sea level. For those looking to go 40 metres higher, SkyPoint Climb is Australia’s highest external building climb. Lasting 90 minutes from the beginning to the end, it’s not nearly as scary or challenging as it looks or sounds. I’m very unfit and I managed. You get a free hat to keep, and there’s an opportunity to buy souvenir photos afterwards as well.
If you don’t want feel like waiting around, wander the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets. Open every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 4-9pm and in operation since April 1995; the Beachfront Markets feature a variety of premium and unique products: including fashion, jewellery, accessories, artworks, photographs, beauty products, homewares and services at over 100 market stalls.
NightQuarter is a night market on every Friday and Saturday until 10pm. A $3 entry fee (kids 12 and under are free) gets you in to experience over 120 specialty food purveyors, designers, musicians and craftspeople and experience the local communities love for food, music and culture.
It can get quite crowded (especially if there’s a big act performing in the unique live music space called The Paddock), so except entry queues, food wait times and extra time to look around during busy periods. My friends and I split up, each choosing a dish from different food vendors, before coming together to share in an array of delicious savoury and sweet treats.
We asked our uber driver on the way there what he recommend we try. Having been there numerous times, he suggested the Calamari and Pork Belly; he insisted he’d never had a bad meal, having tried almost everything. Both dishes turned out to be the very definition of yum!
It’s difficult not to over eat because everything looks so damn incredible! The unicorn ice cream cookie was especially Instagram-worthy. I have a big sweet tooth and could have easily eaten my weight in dessert and then some, if I hadn’t have of stopped myself!
We then headed to Infinity. Open until 10pm daily, it’s a walk-through, maze experience like no other.
The website describes it as: a unique and mind-blowing journey into spectacular, futuristic maze-like worlds of wonder – an extraordinary series of 20 multi-sensual environments filled with unique special effects, emotive atmospheric sound fields, sensuous aromas, ultra-groovy music and amazing spectacular illusions that appear to go all the way to infinity!
Personal cameras aren’t allowed (white gloves are worn on your hands and feet, and bags are left at entry), but there’s a photo opportunity at the very end of the around 30 minute journey. We weren’t ready for it, and it was more-or-less over before we realised what had happened – not surprisingly our photo was horrible (although randomly candid and hilarious too), so we declined paying extra for a copy.
Apart from room in complete darkness though, which I hastily walked through, it was something fun, trippy and unique.
10pm. House of Brews
There are plenty of drinking spots on-and-around Cavill Avenue in the heart of Surfers Paradise. Open daily until 1am, we chose House of Brews – the drinking and dining establishment by the enigmatic brothers Sacha, Damien and Ben Kanaghines.
Featuring the only rooftop cocktail bar in Surfers Paradise, it’s the perfect place to try something truly one-of-a-kind on your holiday. Voted Best Cocktail on the Gold Coast in 2016, I chose the ‘Purple Haze’. Poured at the table from out of a large bong, the cocktail is a delicious blend of Ink Gin, St Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Cloudy Apple, Grape Juice, Lime Juice, Orgeat Syrup (Almond) and Rhubarb Bitters.
We also chose the ‘Shoey’. This Kracken Spiced Rum, Falernum, Apple, Lime, Pineapple and Passionfruit mixture was finished with a Brookvale Union Ginger beer bottle poured upside-down into the bubbling boot-shaped glass. Book nerds may want to try the Harry Potter-inspired cocktail, aptly named ‘Platform 9 and 3/4′, which closely resembles an alcoholic butterbeer, of sorts.
They have 32 craft beers on tap (available in sizes mug 370ml, stein 1l or tower 2.5l, or get six 90ml varieties on a Tasting Paddle), and plenty of wine, spirit and non-alcoholic options to choose from.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat, their extensive menu features barbequed meats, burgers, sandwiches, parmys, ribs, mains and fries, or salads and entrees for those seeking a lighter option. A gluten-free menu is also available. For those wanting something sweet, try The Cotton Candy Tower on the dessert menu – the 2ft high fairy floss martini tower is something you’ll want to see before leaving!
1am. The Star Gold Coast Casino
The Star Gold Coast Casino on Broadbeach Island is generally open 24 hours, 7 days a week and is the perfect place for those wanting to continue their night out further.
Alternatively, if your heart is set on visiting one of Queensland iconic theme parks, I’d recommend Dreamworld: Gold Coast’s BIGGEST theme park as it has both the rides and attractions. Whitewater World is next door, so you have the best of both worlds – a theme park and water park – and can transition between the two throughout the day if you want. It’s then only a short walk to The Australian Outback Spectacular. Featuring a 1.5 show with animals and music, as well as a three-course meal, drinks and a souvenir hat included in the price; make sure you book early as the show regularly sells out far in advance! We were able to get last minute tickets on a Tuesday night.
The author visited Queensland and its attractions at her own expense, except for Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, with tickets provided by M10 Collective.