Sweat was beading up on my forehead, and we’d only just arrived. It was hot, yes, but I couldn’t blame the weather for this sudden overactive outburst of my glands. We were at the start of our theme park extravaganza weekend, kicking it off at Dreamworld, where they’ve got some of Australia’s scariest white-knuckle rides.

Stopping to study my park map, the sound of a fighter jet suddenly ripped through the air. I looked up, only to discover it wasn’t a jet at all, but a ride rocketing past at breakneck speed, shooting towards the top of a 39-storey tower. The screams of passengers followed in its wake. Sweet. I’d found my first ride of the day – the Tower of Terror.

The actual ride only lasted seven seconds, but it went out with a bang. Blasting us up a steep ramp at 160kph, the G-forces kicked into gear, forcing me heavily into my seat before I even knew what was going on. And yes, I was a screamer.

We were off to a good start, but there was still the Giant Drop to come. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s the tallest vertical freefall ride in the world, standing at 119m. A group of eight of us were harnessed into our seats as the platform moved to the top of the tower, leaving us to dangle our legs in mid-air. After keeping us hanging in suspense for many anxious minutes, the stage suddenly gave way without notice, sending us freefalling towards the ground at gut-wrenching speed.

If it’s stomach-twisting rides that get you grinning, then The Claw is a must. This ride offers the maximum rush, swinging at 64kph in spins above the ground. Don’t attempt this one on a hangover – we’re talking insane zero-gravity motions as you perch perilously close to the edge, feeling like you’ll go flying out of your seat. You’re twisting, you’re soaring, you’re being chucked around like a sock in a washing machine… it’s intense.

Don’t like high-speed rides? Yawn. Then stay in bed and write Granny a letter. For the rest of you, have a go on the Cyclone, Dreamworld’s gravity rollercoaster which reaches speeds of up to 85kph while zipping around a 360-degree loop and a scream-inducing sidewinder.

S’pose we should mention the other stuff too, right? Other than the rides, there’s plenty of other entertainment to fill your day, including Tiger Island, home to rare Bengal Tigers, and the Australian Wildlife Experience area, where you can get up close to Aussie critters.

If it’s a hot one – and there’s a pretty good chance it will be – you’ll also want to pop over to the log ride a couple of times throughout the day. It may not be scary, but the drop at the end will get you pleasantly drenched.   

Location: 20 minutes north of Surfers, off the Pacific Highway, at Coomera.

Info: www.dreamworld.com.au

Sea World
It was feeding time in the shark tank. The toothy assassins were gliding ominously around the acrylic diving cage in expectant laps, just waiting for blood to spill. Meanwhile, I gingerly stepped down the ladder, lowering myself into the water inside the see-through box which would separate me from the sharks. Only centimetres away, bull sharks, dusky whalers and tiger sharks circled around, blocking out the sunlight from above.

Some of them were easily 3m long, and even though I was swimming safely behind a bullet-proof cage, their beady eyes looked straight at me. They were within arm’s reach. And they were hungry.

This is Shark Bay, said to be the the largest man-made lagoon in the world, housing some of mankind’s most feared predators.

The sharks here at Sea World get fed three times each week, and for a few lucky tourists, you can be in the tank with them as the bait hits the water.

With my snorkel and mask, I watched the scene unfold as the diver next to me clamped a silver fish onto the end of a long broomstick. He opened up a sliding door in the side of the cage, poked out the stick, and dangled the fish in front of the sharks. Within seconds, one of the beasts snapped the meat up greedily, chomping it once and practically swallowing it whole.

This was probably – no, hopefully – the only opportunity I would ever have to swim so close to such dangerous creatures. At Sea World, there are a number of animal adventures you can take part in (all tame in comparison), like swimming with dolphins and playing with seals.

If you’d rather sit back and watch the show, the Dolphin Cove Show is tops. Check it out as Squeak and his co-stars leap up to 6m into the air. Another performance is the Quest for the Golden Seal – a 20-minute sea show with a fat seal doing all the obligatory ball tricks. The polar bears are also a huge attraction.

Although it’s the animals that are Sea World’s main attractions, they also have a few rides to get the blood pumping.

My personal fave was the Corkscrew Rollercoaster, with its high-speed loop-de-loops and great views over the park. Get there at 10am sharp and you won’t even need to queue.

Once the temperature heats up, you’ll be wanting to pay a visit to the Bermuda Triangle. It may have a slightly cheesy story behind it, but the final drop climaxes with a huge lashing of water, which is the ultimate cool-off on a hot day.

Location: Just north of Surfers on “The Spit” at Main Beach.
Info: www.seaworld.com.au

Wet ‘n’ Wild
Scorching day? Tick. Bored? Tick. Can’t be arsed with the beach? Tick, tick, tick.

Alrighty then, get your bag – you’ve scored. Picture a massive waterpark filled with waterslides of all speeds, plus a whirlpool, wave pool and plenty of deckside chairs for people-watching.

I climbed up to Terror Canyon II to start out the day. Don’t let the name freak you out – the slides aren’t very scary – but it’s still great fun to push off from the top and gather speed as you splash around the corners like a bar of soap in a wet tub.

Take a wander over to Aqua Racer for the racing tracks where you can challenge your mates to a race to the bottom. You’ll be given a yellow mat to slide down face-first, kinda like a new-age Slip ‘n’ Slide.

Twister is a freaky one which spins you down hump after hump of spiralling cocoons, or try the Speed Coaster with its “zero gravity” ramp. The Screamer is a sled ride that lives up to its name. Thanks to a steep pitch, you’ll be coasting down here at teeth-gritting speeds. Mammoth Falls has two good raft rides, one with a speedy 80m plunge over three humps; the other a 200m winding whitewater descent.

If that all sounds a bit exhausting, that’s because it is. On all the rides, you’ve got to leg it up to the top of the hill yourself.

After you’re all worn out, I’d recommend hiring a tube from the shop next to the wave pool and kicking back in the water. Head out to the deep end and you’ll be pleasantly far away from the squealing children, just soaking in the sunshine and feeling the rocking of the (fake) waves. This place is tops.

Location: 15 mins north of Surfer’s Paradise on the Pacific Highway 
(next to Movie World).
Info: www.wetnwild.com.au

Warner Bros, Movieworld
Hollywood! La, la, la, la, la, la, la… Hollywood! Er, hold on a minute… aren’t we in the Gold Coast? Well, for the best cinema action this side of the southern hemisphere, Movie World is a crackin’ day out. It’s crawling with movie stars – well, people dressed as Cat Woman and Austin Powers, anyway – and has got great rides and live shows.

Once again, get there right on 10am and you can hit all the best rides before the crowds turn up. I started out on the Scooby Doo Spooky Coaster, which has got a few “I’m-gonna-die” moments as you go screaming around hairpin turns in the dark in a rickety four-man car, 25 metres above ground. It feels like you might go flying straight off the tracks.

Next stop was Lethal Weapon, a white-knuckle rollercoaster with a piss-yourself scary reputation. The harness was pulled down securely, and our feet dangled loosely below (it’s one of those rides that you hang underneath the tracks, rather than above). The first drop was a heart-stopper, and then the train continued to pick up speed, knocking us through drops, dives, bends, rollovers, sidewinders, loops… I could see my feet against the sky, but had no idea of which way was up. The ride travels up to 80kph and rocks you around pretty roughly – definitely not for the weak.

Batman, the ride, was the only disappointment. After being chauffeured through the main corridor in Wayne Manor’s library, it was an anticlimax when we were pushed into one of those simulated flight boxes. I left feeling seasick and bored. Oh well – can’t love ‘em all.

Location: 15 minutes north of Surfers Paradise on the Pacific Highway.
Info: www.movieworld.com.au