location Gold Coast
The Gold Coast in January is hot, hot, hot and I'm not talking about its entertainment value. As soon as we arrive for our 10 day vacation, I realise how lucky I am to have booked an apartment on the esplanade. We throw open all the windows so that the constant sea breeze can blow right through.
The Gold Coast is an adrenaline-junkies heaven! It's super-charged with action-packed things to do. Holiday-makers can literally go from one attraction to the next for the duration of their stay.
So if you love this sort of thing and you're not shy of spending cash, then this may be the destination for you.
But it is precisely this pre-occupation with entertainment which has me pondering long and hard about the Gold Coast. My morning runs along Surfer's Paradise beaches are in stark contrast to the theme parks, escape rooms, shopping centres and attractions galore.
I wonder what the surfers standing atop the sand dunes keenly watching the waves really think of this place, crowded with high-rises and tourists.
With just a handful of days to pack in the family attractions before child number one disappears to play in the Australian Junior Chess Championships, we prioritise the options.
After 300ml of rain, unsurprisingly parts of the coast are flooded, including some of the theme parks. So we jump on the light rail instead and head to Pacific Fair Shopping Centre.
I'm not a big shopper, but it's fair to say that I'm gob smacked! Until this moment I didn't consider a shopping centre a destination. We are here to see a movie, but navigating our way to the cinema, such is its sheer size, proves challenging. The eateries, day beds and gardens mean that you could be here all day.
The children's number one on the wish list is of course theme parks. Two of our tickets allow us to visit Movie World, Sea World and Wet 'n' Wild over three consecutive days and the other two can be used over a seven day period. This seems like a good idea at the time.
We arrive at Warner Bros Movie World expecting a similar set-up to Universal Studios in LA, where rides are immersive experiences based on actual movies. It doesn't take long to realise that Movie World isn't like that. It's simply a theme park.
Drew and I are disappointed but the kids seem to like it and gradually try more thrill seeking rides. But they'll have to come back without us if they want to go on those huge roller coasters - no way we are going near them - we'll be vomiting for days!
The line-ups are long and hot. Unfortunately we miss the parade as we are waiting in a line at the time. We see one mediocre show and don't bother with another.
Our favourite ride is the Wild West Falls Adventure and we love the wonderful soaking we get as the carriage plunges down into the rapids.
Tip #1: The price of food at the theme parks is expensive. If you have a family, save yourself a fortune and take your own.
Tip #2: People start leaving the park around 4pm. Queues thin out considerably, so if you only have a couple of hours spare, then the end of the day is the best time to visit.
The next day we head to Wet 'n' Wild.
Drew and I tentatively join the kids on several of the slides and some of them are actually fun. The Tornado has me scared stiff during the long wait, but I can't stop laughing as we hoon our way down.
After only a few hours, dark clouds roll in, complete with thunderstorms. For safety's sake, all the rides are shut down. We wait around for a while but soon the staff start leaving and it's pretty obvious that the slides won't be open again today.
Understandably the boys are disappointed. I notice the rider on the tickets stating that money won't be refunded in the event of inclement weather.
The visit to Sea World is definitely the highlight of the three parks for us. We catch as many shows as we can. Even the ones aimed at a younger audience are still fabulous.
The seal show is one of our favourites and the dolphins are breathtaking.
A wander through the jellyfish exhibit leaves us all amazed. There is so much to learn and the displays are captivating.
The massive aquariums allow us to view the a huge number of fish from both above and below the water line. Watching these graceful animals cruise their tanks makes me feel incredibly sad that so many of them are fished from the sea.
A visit to a marine facility wouldn't be complete without penguins and we see plenty of them, including some nesting males.
We talk to some of the keepers about the polar bears on exhibit. They are very knowledgeable and able to answer all of our questions about the bears' histories.
Tip #3: Don't be seduced by the apparent value of the multi-day passes unless you really love theme parks - three days in a row is a lot of action!
Looking for a change of pace, Chase and I jump on the bus and head to Robina Town Centre to visit the ArtVo trick art gallery.
It's incredible! We wander around the six themed rooms, taking photos of one another inside each of the scenes. The friendly staff are on hand with advice about how to take the best shots and there is information on the floor showing where to stand and the best angle for the lens.
We could spend hours here, but it's getting late so we finish up and head down to the impressive food court for ice cream. I relax my one scoop rule and treat us to two scoops. Queensland does ice cream so well!
We haven't hired a car this trip and this has limited our activities to those accessible by the excellent Gold Coast public transport system.
A Sea World cruise along the Gold Coast waterways is fun. It gives us a close-up look at the homes of the rich and famous. The captain points out Jackie Chan's holiday home on Macintosh Island. It's a little bit speccy!
Tallebudgera Creek provides us the opportunity for a swim. We join many other families and groups of people enjoying their Australia Day festivities. The tide is very strong, so the kids go upstream a little and then swim across to a sandbar in the middle of the creek.
Sitting on Echo Beach, we watch the lifeguards rescue a young swimmer who discovers his swimming skills aren't quite up to the task of swimming all the way across the quick running creek.
I wish we had more time to wander the paths in the Burleigh Head National Park. They are shaded and cool.
During the trip we visit Main Beach parkrun. The free timed 5km course travels along the foreshore and is a nice mix of bitumen, sand and trail. Around 380 runners and walkers are at the start line. Despite the 7am start, it's stinking hot and the ice block they hand us at the end of the run is pure heaven.
Of course a visit to parkrun isn't complete without breakfast, so we drop in to Main Beach surf lifesaving club. The ice coffee and the pancakes are delicious and great value too. We are surprised by the consistently good quality food and coffee in the Gold Coast.
The family concensus is that the Gold Coast is a solid seven out of ten. We haven't even scratched the surface of things to do here but I'm certain that if we came back and focussed on the less entertainment-centric activities and get away from the crowds, then it would rate even higher.