Archive | Australia RSS feed for this section
06. Apr, 2013

Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays – Tropical Paradise

Sail on the warm winds through 74 islands in the very heart of the Great Barrier Reef.  Drop anchor and discover white secluded beaches.  And, of course, dive the heart of the enormous Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsunday Islands are the essential experience for anyone who is fascinated by coral reefs and all seekers of paradise.

Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays

Whitehaven Beach

Airlie Beach is often the starting point for Whitsundays holiday makers with its bustling village atmosphere, teaming with divers and tourists from around the world. There are marine biologists, novice Japanese students, partying European backpackers, North American honeymooners, Aussie families, Kiwi sailors and more. It pumps with enthusiasm as people take to the reef by day and party the night away.

There is a large range of accommodation from stylish resort hotels on the water to serviced apartments on the hillside, from boutique bed and breakfast to backpacker hostel, camping sites and caravan parks. The town achieves a gentle balance between luxury and adventure that gives is kind of a loveable laconic feel.

If you aren’t sure what part of the reef or island to head to first, there’s plenty of advice being swapped on the beach and in cafes.  Travel agents and tour guides offer option to Jet Ski or kayak through the tropical islands.  Or for a bird’s eye hire a seaplane, helicopter or a sky dive.

If you or one of your loved ones aren’t crazy about using your sea legs or don’t fancy getting wet to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef, underwater viewing chambers, glass bottom boats and coral semi-submersibles offer an alternative.

Sailing and Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Set sail in the warm waters powered by the gentle breeze of the Coral Sea.  As the mainland fades behind you, the grandeur of the sea looms and soon engulfs you. Take a deep sea breath and enjoy the freedom of being master of the sea.

Most of the Whitsunday Islands are uninhabited and it’s easy to find an unspoilt white beach to pull into.

It’s time to take the plunge. The Great Barrier Reef is home to tens of thousands of species of brilliantly coloured fish and coral reef species. There is an infinite variety of inconceivably beautiful colours that can only be seen in this alternative underwater world.

There are 1,400 coral reef fish species and 630 species of star fish to mesmerise you. There are also 14 species of sea snakes.

Marine Turtle

Marine Turtle

Watch out for one of the seven species of marine turtles with their gawky determined as they paddle the tide. Then there are the 133 eerie shark species looming about (harmlessly). The graceful rays seem to gently flap, float and hover like spaceships.  Thousands of exotic creatures go about their daily lives among the reef before your very eyes.

Back on the boat keep your eyes peeled for some of the 30 species of whales and dolphins that are known to frolic and entertain tourists.

Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island also offer a base for fishing charters to the waters of the outer Great Barrier Reef.  Keen fisherman can chase tuna, mackerel and coral trout. But most sailfish and all the legendary black marlin will have to be tagged and released. The Great Barrier Reef is a giant protected marine park, after all.

Sleeping on the Whitsunday Islands

For families and romantics, sleeping on the islands is a great all-inclusive choice while exploring the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday region. Most of the island resorts are fringed by coral reefs at their doorstep and all have the translucent sands and lapping lagoons just waiting to be lazed in.  Just eight islands offer accommodation but they do it with style and precision.  There are eco-style, family friendly, activity based (golfing, fishing), food and wine focused or pure luxury.

The Last Dot in the Sand

You might be wondering what can surpass what you’ve already seen and experienced on the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef. The answer- Whitehaven Beach.

Whitehaven Beach is widely considered be one of the most beautiful on the planet- if not the most beautiful. It stretches for seven stunning kilometres of perfection. The sand is almost 100% silica which gives it the lucid white that looks completely surreal against the blue sea. Stepping ashore and sinking into the powder-fine sand, you’ve reached paradise. Search over.

28. Mar, 2013

Cairns – A haven for peace and tranquility

Balmy…the moment you step off of the plane in Cairns and smell the moist sweet tropical breeze you know you’re in North Queensland.

Sure,you can take a boat trip and scuba dive in the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, but there are more than enough things in to see and do.

In, Around & Above Cairns

Cairns’ famous Esplanade Lagoon, which overlooks the Barrier Reef, is a place where you’ll hear every accent in the United Nations and tempt your taste buds with all types of food.  It’s packed with market stalls, cafes and bars. If you look beyond the modern facades, you’ll also get a sense of the old stone colonial architecture and a reminder that not that many years ago Cairns was an outpost only for the hardcore diver and even earlier – a Japanese pearl diving town.

South-West of Cairns, on the Tully River, there are rapids for rafting all year.North-West of Cairns’ must-see sights is Kuranda Village which sits on top of a mountain.  You can get there by train passing some picturesque sugar cane farms. The train stops at Barron Gorge for the not-so-feint-hearted to view the 250 metre high Barron Falls.

There’s also fishing in the rivers and all the usual helicopter rides, bungee jumps and balloon rides that can help you get a great panoramic view from above the unique lines of geography (the reef, the beaches and the rainforest).

Cairn’s beaches

Cairn’s beach

Palm Cove Beach

A great place to stay when your first arrive is Holloways Beach with all the tropical clichés of coconut trees overhanging golden sands. Hidden in the jungle (yes you are still in Cairns) are Balinese style resorts, as well as family run B&Bs.

There are cafés and restaurants with some offering dining right next to the ocean’s edge.  Because it’s on the East Coast of Australia, you’ll catch the golden sunrise rather than the sunset.  The reflections on the calm Coral Sea are a spectacular site at night.

Trinity Beach is just a little further north.  Buildings here are low-rise and the emerald palm trees line the often empty but stunning beach. Clifton Beach, further north, offers more of the same again.

Palm Cove beach is a tranquil spot for dip. All the beaches here have nets to keep away those dreaded stingrays between November and May. The coast is bursting with wildlife including all kinds of rays and jellyfish, friendly and unfriendly (but most not deadly) and is part of the uniqueness as you are reminded that the sea, beach and jungle is their territory and we are just privileged guests.

The Daintree Forest

The world’s oldest rainforest is just a whisper away.  Some call the Daintree Forest“the oxygen factory”.  The variety of colours of the millions of plants, many dating back to the dawn of time, and of the mosaic of insects, marsupials and reptiles that have to be seen to be believed.

Spot a shy tree kangaroo that lives high in the canopy or the green tree frog. The bats and sugar gliders are also pretty spacey, and of course there are some creepy crocodiles peeking their beady black eyes up at you from the water (and probably licking their lips underneath the water).

Daintree Forest Green Tree Frog

Daintree Forest Green Tree Frog

If you really want to get into the Daintree Forest it’s recommended you hire an indigenous tour operator who can really explain the qualities of the place and put it into its ancient perspective. There are also some magnificent luxury eco resorts to stay in.

Winding Down (or Up)

At this point you’re about half way to Port Douglas and nearing the legendary Ellis beach (which is a half hour north of Cairns).  Ellis Beach was and for some is still the ultimate beach.  It’s a vast expanse of pristine sand as far as the eye can see, lined with miles of dotted coconut trees. This world heritage listed beach is surrounded by national park and most of the accommodation is about keeping that feeling of nature and space.

You might just pause a while here – as it may seem that time has totally stood still- and yet you’ve already done and seen so much. Then it may occur to you that with all this interacting with nature and breathing in the tranquillity you haven’t even headed out to the reef yet!

 

28. May, 2012

The Gold Coast: A mecca for adrenalin rush & super-heroes

Australia’s Gold Coast boasts an endless playground for families and has become a mecca for theme-park addicts.  If you’re looking to brave some of the world’s tallest & fastest rides, interact with nature’s finest animals or simply looking for some aquatic adventure, you won’t be disappointed.

Australia’s theme park capital boasts the Southern Hemisphere’s largest and most varied selection of theme parks. Stroll with a Bengal Tiger, defy laws of gravity or swim with dolphins. The Gold Coast’s array of choices for fun and adventure are endless and promises to leave you with long memories and even bigger smiles.  Here’s my overview of what’s on offer.

Dreamworld

Wipeout

Hold onto your breakfast as you tackle the “Big 7”. You’ll need nerves of steel and conquer your fear to tackle Australia’s tallest and fastest thrill rides. To earn your rite of passage, you’ll scream louder than you have ever done before and need the courage of an astronaut on a mission to the moon. You’ll defy gravity as you dangle upside down, be propelled faster than a bullet and plunge from the sky at breakneck speeds.

If white knuckle rides are not your “cup of tea”, stroll through the new DreamWorks Experience for as many themed rides, live stage shows and attractions as your excited little ones can bear. Meet Shrek, Princess Fiona & Puss in Boots in Shrek’s Faire Faire Away. Join in the fun as King Julien rules over his kingdom in Madagascar Madness or catch the legendary Po in Po’s Garden.

Animal lovers can watch a Bengal Tiger scale 6 metre high trees or catapult 3 metres in the air as they demonstrate their remarkable agility. With 2 daily presentations at Tiger Island you’ll be able to observe the tigers up close as they swim, play and wrestle with their handlers.

Location: 17 kms north of Surfers Paradise; admission: Adults – AUD 79.99 Children – AUD 49.99
Website: www.dreamworld.com.au

Sea World

Imagine - Sea World

Discover an aquatic world of fun and frolics at Sea World. Dare to swim with sharks in Shark Bay in the world’s largest man-made lagoon system for sharks. Grab a photo with sea-lions Buddy & Clawde, the mischievous stars in “Fish Detectives”. Witness  the dolphins’ grace and agility as they playfully interact with the audience or get up close with the world’s largest land meat-eaters in Polar Bear Shores. There’s also Penguin Encounter, Ray Reef and much more to ensure that you have an action packed day observing our friends from the ocean!

Location: 2.8kms north of Surfers Paradise; admission: Adults – AUD 79.99 Children – AUD 49.99
Website: www.seaworld.myfun.com.au

White Water World

Super Tubes Hydro Coaster - photo courtesy of Whitewater World

Pack your Speedos, “Boardies” or “swimmers” and get ready for a day of “flesh meets fibreglass” at White Water World.  Join the long line of teenage lemmings as the trap door on White Water World’s latest ride, “The Wedgie”, opens and sends bodies plummeting 5 storeys vertically.

Hope for a little “Irish luck” as your 4 leaf clover tube propels you into a super-sized funnel in “The Green Room” or get caught up in the tentacles of the world’s only eight lane Octopus Racer. The Blue Ringed Octopus (or more affectionately known as BRO to the locals) will transform you and your and friends into frenzied competitors as you race to glory. If you’re scared of the dark save your best high pitched shrieks for The Little Rippers. Close your eyes and feel the force of a water propelled corkscrew ride before plunging into the awaiting pool.

White Water World also caters for the less adventurous and budding water stunt artists. Wiggle Bay provides a safe & wet haven for young protégés to let off steam on the water cannons and mini water-slides as they splash and play under the watchful eyes of lifeguards.

Location: 17 kms north of Surfers Paradise; admission: Adults – AUD 49.99 Children – AUD 29.99
Website: www.whitewaterworld.com.au

Warner Bros Movie World

Meet your favourite super-heroes and film stars in a world of fun and fantasy. Strap yourself in and hang on to your hats as Warner Bros. Movie World challenges the faintest of hearts. Combat your darkest fears and brace yourself for a stomach churning ride as you encounter The Joker on Arkham Asylum. Experience the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest drop on The Green Lantern or accelerate to 100 kilometres per hour in less than 2 seconds on Superman Escape.

Superman Escape

Mingle with Bugs Bunnyand other Loony Tunes characters as you wander through Movie World’s Kids’ WB Fun Zone. Jump aboard a Tijuana Taxi, hop aboard Yosemite Sam or ride on Australia’s only family roller-coaster. Don’t miss the smell of burned rubber or sound of screeching brakes in Hollywood Stunt Drive as you join the set of alive Hollywood movie production. Feel the danger and sense of adventure as you take a 4D Journey to The Centre of the Earth.

Location: 13kms north of Surfers Paradise; admission: Adults – AUD 79.99 Children – AUD 49.99
Website:www.movieworld.myfun.com.au

Wet n Wild

Begin your adventure on a rubber tube on a slow flowing river as you lazily circumnavigate your way round the park’s sub-tropical gardens. Kick off your shoes on Calypso Beach before racing over to Aqua Loop to experience an exhilarating vertical descent into transparent looping slides.

Tackle the Rocky Mountains as you slide down The River Rapids or experience a wipe-out on Surfrider or if you need a bigger adrenalin rush plunge 11 metres at 50 kilometres per hour on the Kamikaze. Blast 40 metres into The Tornado as you wrestle in the eye of a storm or challenge the 200 metres of twist and turns on the Mach 5 sidewinders.

Buccaneer Bay - photo courtesy of Wet n Wild

Little pirates can hoist their sails in Buccaneer Bay. Based on a pirate theme, children enter their own aquatic world of imagination and excitement. Parents beware – stay alert for the giant bucket which frequently spills its load onto the scores of mischievous and giggling children beneath it.

Location: 13 kms north of Surfers Paradise; admission: Adults – AUD 59.99 Children – AUD 34.99
Website: www.wetnwild.myfun.com.au

 

It’s easy to see why the Gold Coast is a popular choice for families and thrill-seekers. It dares you to have fun. It invites you to interact with its wildlife and it encourages you to confront your fears. Discover its charm for yourself.

21. Apr, 2012

All’s fair in love and war on King Tutt’s Putt Putt mini-golf courses

“Mine’s the orange one” Cerys demands with a mischievous cheeky smile.“I’ll have the lilac one” adds Cerys’ friend Laura. The remaining choice hangs in the balance and my wife Karen saves me some embarrassment as she grabs the “hot-pink” ball and leaves me with the more masculine mustard yellow one.
King Tutt’s Putt Putt is in bustling Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast and offers the perfect respite from a day at the beach or a heart-pumping afternoon on roller-coasters.  54 holes of mini-golf may not scream “classy” to most people.  But my competition has been issuing me ultimatums all day. We take our mini-golf seriously in our family!

Laura assures us that she hasn’t played mini-golf for ages.  I feel confident. I kn0w Karen is only playing to keep the peace, so that leaves my arch-rival Cerys, who shares the same competitive gene as me. “Keep your head straight and your knees slightly bent” I whisper to myself–certain that I’ll have a head start on my teenage daughter.

Laura’s “alleged” first game in ages, sees her overcoming King Tutankhamen’s curse as she sinks a short putt for a par on the 1st hole. “This’ll be more difficult than I thought” I mumble to myself.

Over the next 12 holes Cerys and Laura both sink hole-in-ones. I suddenly recall Aesop’s hare and the tortoise fable. “Stay patient” I motivate myself. It works.  We enter the Egyptian course’s “glow-in-the dark” tombs.

Perhaps it’s the dark spaces and King Tutankhamen’s loyal cobra that causes my adversaries to drop shots. It might be my playful coughing and spluttering just as they stoop to take their shots. I’m not ashamed – I’ve a game to win!

King Tutt’s Putt Putt has 2 indoor courses and 1 outside challenge.  I retain some pride on their 18 holes Egyptian course with a 5 over par 41. Now it’s time to challenge the world of dinosaurs and exploration in Jurassic park.

Almost immediately I have to start thinking hard about shot selection. “Play through or around the piping” and “should I bank left or right” I mutter, as well as wondering how I’d avoid T-Rex’s imposing stare.  But no-one listens.  My competition is not giving up any secrets and they want revenge.

For the next 18 holes we trade holes-in-one and some idle chit-chat about the life-like models and statues under the watchful gaze of prehistoric dinosaurs. I’m sure there is a little cheating going on. The mandatory one-club head relief from an obstacle becomes three on several occasions and I’m sure that scores are being “adjusted”.  But no-one says a word.  We aren’t playing normal golf rules – we are on holiday.  Or so I thought.

Cerys demands a recount. Karen insists that her adding up is as good as any A grade year 13 student and insists that her decision is final. My hole-in-one on the 17th ensured that I pulled a stroke back and tie with Cerys on 42 – 6 over par.

This is not the Australian Open. There will be no play-off, sponsor cheques to collect, nor lines of autograph hunters awaiting me – only shouts of “can we go home now please?” I accept that 36 holes are enough for one night and settle for a customary “19thhole” refreshment.

There’s plenty of parking at King Tutt’s Putt Putt, the courses are well designed and will suit all ages, and the 54 holes won’t leave a big hole in your pocket. I know I’ll never be good enough to join Tiger Woods on the professional circuit but I’ll continue to indulge in a little more family rivalry.  And I’ll keep a close eye on my daughter’s ball tampering!

17. Apr, 2012

Thrills, spills and a bad hair day with Paradise Jet Boating

I’m just a few minutes into 25 kilometres of heart pumping adventure and I think I know how James Bond must have felt careering down the Thames in The World Is Not Enough.  But I am not in London.  I am in Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast.

“Welcome to Paradise Jet Boating” Lisa greets us as we prepare for 55 minutes of adrenalin pumped exhilaration.  “Grab a waterproof jacket if you’d like one” she later adds.  I decline – a decision I’d later regret!

Under an autumnal blue sky, we’re soon clambering aboard Paradise 1 like lambs to the slaughter and for the next hour we’ll be in the hands of Scott.

Forget queuing for 40 minutes at a theme park to get a 20 second adrenalin rush.  Paradise Jet Boating offers more spins, loops and turns than any roller-coaster ride.  Jet boating has really risen in the ranks of adventure activities since first being discovered in New Zealand many years ago.  If you want to play safe, take up knitting!

On the Gold Coast,there are 4 operators and we chose Paradise Jet Boating for their more extensive itinerary and numerous tourism nominations.

Powered by a massive 5.8 litres turbo engine, Scott heightens our anticipation as our 20 seat aluminium beast purrs at 6 kilometres per hour past the congested moored yachts and dinghies.  We soon accelerate and propel up the Broadwater, zigzagging past buoys, partially submerged tree trunks and in and out of wholemeal flour coloured sandbanks.  The azure water seems too shallow as we slam into white foaming wakes left by jet-skiers and vessels.  I imagine being on set of a Leonardo Di Caprio & Kate Winslett blockbuster and our hull being torn apart.  But these enormous beasts can turn on a sixpence in as little as 10 centimetres of water.

The fun really starts when the water is deep enough for Scott to lunge us into 360 degree spins. Huge waves of water rise like wild white stallions as they clamber to be the first to transform us from dry land-lubbers to soaked thrill-seekers. My cotton sweat shirt and board-shorts absorb the majority and I assume that my chivalry protects my fellow adventurers from the ignominy of also looking like drowned rats.

Scott was just playing with us.  More sharp turns, 360 degree spins and hair raising manoeuvres play havoc with those with finely coiffured holiday haircuts. Fortunately, I don’t need to worry in that department but sea-salt crusts on my lips from endless sea spray and does nothing to quell my hunger.  I imagine the taste of salt on some “fush and chips” from one of the excellent local chippies.  I have never understood why Aussies pronounce fish differently to the rest of us.  However, the quality of their fish and their warm hospitality can never be disputed.

“That one cost the owner $26 million, has a titanium roof that cost $1.2m, revolving master bedroom and has a basement garage for 15 cars” Scott declares as we glide past Sovereign Island’s exclusive plush waterfront mansions.

Hunter-gatherer fisherman wade knee deep as they wait patiently for their spoils on the banks of South Stradbrooke Island.  I can’t help wonder if they know that Scott has seen sharks on similar trips at least 3 times per week over the last month.  Small family boats are anchored and bob up and down like ducks in a tombola stall as their owners build sand castles or collect shells with their children and enjoy the good weather.

We make our way back to Paradise Jet Boating‘s HQ with the same G-force ferocity, bolting and swerving between water depth markers and mangroves, avoiding harm’s way at the very last moment.  It’s an adrenalin rush and is seriously liberating.

I’m a self-confessed pacifist when it comes to theme parks.  I prefer to be propelled forwards and horizontally, rather than being thrust 120 metres upwards like a NASA space pilot; or trying to keep my breakfast down on a gyrating roller-coaster – although Scott did his best to defy gravity at times.

A jet boat ride was pretty high on my wish-list on this trip to the Gold Coast.  I managed to keep my breakfast down, share a post-code with the rich and famous for a few seconds and survive a fully clothed shower – all for AUD 63.  Next time, I’ll be first in line for a water-proof jacket!

Getting there:  Paradise Jet Boating is situated at Mariners Cove Marina, 60 Sea World Drive, Main Beach, Gold Coast.  Jet Boat adventures run hourly from 09:00 to 17:00 every day.