Disclaimer: While all our previous posts have been backpacking on a strict budget, and the activities and places we go cater to that, at Surfers we were met by my Mum and Step-Dad, Ron. We were, to put it simply, absolutely spoilt for which we are very, very grateful and as a result were able to do things that as backpackers would not be accessible to us otherwise. Please don’t read this and think this is an accurate representation of a budget couple of week in Surfers, because that is definitely not the case!
I was absolutely buzzing when we arrived at Surfers Paradise, and not just because of the infamous beaches. These three months are the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my Mum (mummy’s girl, I know), and her and Ron, after much deliberation about where best to meet us, had decided on the Gold Coast. Surfers Paradise is a haven for beach-bums and hard-core partiers alike, but that’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to do for family groups as well.
We packed in as much as possible into the two weeks we had, so I will divert from my usual diary-style account in favour of running through the highlights (and a couple of lowlights) of what we got up to in Surfers. Because I’m jealous that Alex has been giving themes to his blogs, and also because I’m heading to the airport currently with plenty of time on my hands, I’ve decided to attribute a family member to whom each activity would be best suited. Enjoy!
Infinity dubs itself a ‘fantastic funhouse of the future’ and is, in a word, bizarre. Before you enter you have to put on white gloves and foot covers, then make your way through an array of increasingly mental rooms, including one where the sole purpose seems to be to hurl yoga balls at one another while being deafened by trippy drumNbass tracks. Your white covers glow in the dark, which is at times the only way to navigate yourself through areas such as the ‘Electron Maze’ or ‘Star Chamber’. For all my cynicism, we found ourselves in fits of laughter at the ridiculousness of it all, and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, even if I will be explaining my recurring dream of tumbling round a giant Kaleidoscope to therapists in years to come.
Best for: if you have any relatives from Nimbin this is probably right up their street.
Warner Bros. Movie World
Alex and I were really looking forward to the Warner Bros. Movie World, having both worked in theme parks previously (plus who doesn’t love a bit of Bugs?), however we came out of the Studio bitterly disappointed. 3 of the 5 coasters were down for the entire day, the staff were just out and out rude, shouting at other customers who didn’t understand why they would be shutting the restaurants two hours before the park closed, or pushing through queues so they could jump on a ride before heading home. Even the costumed actors were lacklustre with the kids, which is poor form when little Freddie reckons he’s meeting Superman and Superman blatantly couldn’t give a shit. My Mum and Ron actually left half way through the day, being a hot day with minimal shade in the park (especially with the restaurants shutting early!). For the amount of money it was an absolute joke, to the point where we actually made a complaint, and the response we got was to the effect of ‘what can we give you for free so you’ll shut up about this’. Poor form, WB.
Best for: getting your least favourite niece and nephew out of your hair for a few hours.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
One of the most special things about Australia is its weird and wonderful wildlife, and Currumbin is the place to see it. Carefully striking the balance between animal care and human entertainment, the Wildlife Sanctuary hosts wallabies and kangaroos in walk-in enclosures, and volunteers carefully monitor and advise to ensure the animals are being well looked after. For a small fee you can purchase feed, although on a hot day you’ll be hard-pressed to find a marsupial with the energy to eat it! If you have no luck with the Roos then you’re sure to with the Lorikeets. These guys are in abundance both on the streets of Surfers and in the park, and come late afternoon they arrive en masse for their nectar feed. Be warned: the Lorikeets will land on arms, shoulders and heads, and as one particularly unfortunate lady found out they aren’t too picky about where they, erm, make room for their dinner. Try to stay out of the splash zone if you can, but a close encounter with these charismatic little parrots isn’t to be missed.
The Sanctuary was our first sighting of a Koala, and the staff are excellent at enabling visitors to get up close and personal while still putting welfare first. Wombats, Tasmanian Devils and Cassowarys could also be seen across Currumbin, and at less than an hours drive away from Surfers it’s an absolute must for any animal lovers. Make sure you check out the Wildlife Hospital while you’re there too.
Best for: your favourite niece and nephew, once you’ve got rid of the other two!
Jupiters Casino is pretty much what you’d expect from a casino; all loud noises and flashing lights, and with no windows to alert unsuspecting punters that morning has come and they no longer have cash, a watch, or a plane ticket home. It tenuously straddles the fence between glitzy and trashy (more Reno than Vegas), and unabashedly throws every crap slot machine under the sun at you to try to prise away your hard-earned cash. It is what it is, and for those who are into the Casino scene will undoubtedly find everything they need here. Even miserly Melanie managed was lured into the possibility of winning a fortune and extending our travel plans indefinitely… if only for a moment.
Best for: your jammy brother who always seems to come away with more money than he took to a Casino (this means you, Ian).
My mum sent me the link to Draculas Cabaret, months before she came out, stating that she and Ron without a doubt wanted to see it. We thought she sent the wrong website! Nevertheless, against all odds the drag queen/80s/vampire theme actually worked and even super-sceptical Alex came away thoroughly entertained. The theatre was exceptionally well themed, with a ghost train, ‘skeletons’ entombed under the glass floor and various memorabilia from 80s bands across the walls (additionally, if you use the female bathroom by the bar when you come in, wash your hands in the sink furthest away from the door…).
The food was delicious and the cocktails, while pricey, were in great keeping with the camp, spooky ambience; served in test tubes with dry ice or even blood bags! Even the waiters and team scanning tickets got into character, and the performers were very talented and had the audience captivated through dance routines, comedy sketches and a unique take on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody! We luckily found discounted tickets on Bookme, but even at full price this is one is well worth a visit.
Best for: having a couple of drinks with your mum and a cheeky giggle!
Young Alex has big dreams about being a sailor when he grows up, and after many not-so-subtle hints on his part, we caved and hired a boat for the day from Capri Boat Hire. Again, this was a great shout and made for a lovely, memorable day in the sun. We packed ourselves a lunch and a few bottles and Alex expertly manoeuvred us down the Nerang River, stopping for a drink along the way and unsuccessfully trying our hand at fishing at a couple of points (or in my case, successfully feeding prawns to fish).
It was a chill that perfectly contrasted with the bustle and liveliness of Surfers, and we all came back with daydreams of sailing off into the sunset in our brand new yachts.
Best for: your favourite family members only, wouldn’t want anyone to ROCK THE BOAT (I’ll get my coat).
Held every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday on the Esplanade, the Beachfront Market is cute and quaint, and is worth visiting to chat with a couple of locals plying their goods (actual Australians being in short supply in Surfers), even if there isn’t anything you actually need. There are unique and original hand-crafted trinkets and jewellery hidden among the kitschy kids toys and reptile and parrot encounters, and if nothing else it’s an excuse for a casual stroll down the Beachfront as the sun sets, as long as the rain holds off.
Best for: bringing your boyfriend… And his wallet, just in case.
Tamborine Mountain National Park
In the Gold Coast Hinterland, just an hours drive away from Surfers Paradise, Tamborine National Park is about as contrasting as its possible to get. Lush woodland and blissful quiet (apart from the odd chatty bird) wait to greet you, and we paid $19.50 to take the 1.5km Skywalk down to a serene waterfall.
Like with all things in nature, it’s beautiful until people get involved and the peace was broken by a couple of crowds of particularly noisy tourists, so I’d recommend going early to avoid this. If you don’t want to pay for the Skywalk there are free walking routes for the hardcore and the lazy, and while we admittedly didn’t see a huge amount of wildlife, in the middle of the dense forest you can trust that it’s there. Once you’re done check out the Gallery Walk for a delicious ice cream, and perhaps you’ll be joined as we were by a particularly confident Kookaburra!
Best for: your dad, who reckons he’s into hiking, but isn’t really up for a gradient!
At 230m high and based right in the middle of Surfers Paradise, SkyPoint at Q1 looms regally over its surroundings. Open for both members of the public and private events, it manages to cater to formal and casual occasions alike, with a clean, basic interior which allows the view to do all the talking. While perhaps it’s not the most awe-inspiring scenery shown from the 360° bar on floor 77, as you make your way round the interior wall tells the story of Surfers Paradise and how it came to be everything it is today. Even someone like me, who just came for the booze, will come away with a feeling of warmth and admiration for the success story of the town that built itself into infamy around a beach.
Best for: a family reunion; have a couple of drinks and enjoy the view, then head over to Cliffords across the road for some slap-up food.
Of Steve Irwin fame (“Crikey!”), Australia Zoo is as much an exhibition of the Irwin family escapades as it is a Zoo, and that is by no means a bad thing. With a gallery displaying young Robert Irwin’s impressive photography and the Crocodile Hunter Diaries playing on every screen in sight, the Zoo exudes a wholesome, family feel which is reflected in the passion of the staff. The zoo itself has beautiful, natural enclosures, flooded with conservation details and information on how best to protect native and exotic species alike. I always like to check out the animal shows. Watching various critters encouraged to exhibit natural behaviours (in a positive way) and being given enrichment and time out of enclosures is really healthy if done right, and Australia Zoo’s Wildlife Warriors show is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Parrots, Condors and of course Crocodiles are brought out in quick succession, rewarded for showing a natural behaviour or two, then removed before any pressure from the huge crowd can get to them.
The animals throughout seem in excellent health and the Zoo as a whole displays a genuine respect and love for animals, which a lot of other Zoos could take a few pointers from. Way up the Sunshine Coast and a good two hour drive from Surfers, it was absolutely worth it and if you can, make the time to check it out, however you have to.
Best for: from getting the little ones in touch with nature for the first time right through to your Golden oldies, there’s something to awe and inspire everyone at Australia Zoo.
Other honourable mentions include Ripleys Believe It Or Not and the naughtily delicious dessert bar Cowch. There are restaurants for every taste and budget, not to mention Surfers Paradise Backpackers Resort, which was a great little hostel with a lively bar and regular events. You may have noticed the complete omission of beach days during our stay; unfortunately the beaches were strewn with jellyfish, so we didn’t much fancy taking our chances and there was plenty of other activities to keep us busy anyway. While Surfers Paradise didn’t quite inspire me to take up residence and strut around in a gold bikini, it was a very enjoyable two weeks and a great backdrop for a reunion with my lovely family.