I’ve found myself in some pretty weird situations in my time travelling Australia. But standing in a full-length rubber suit, asking a grown man whether he has any vaseline must rank as the most warped in a long time.
I suppose it could’ve been worse – I could’ve been off my head in the middle of Sydney’s Oxford Street during Mardis Gras while asking the same question, and not in the changing rooms at Sea World on the Gold Coast. Thank heaven for small mercies, eh?
For the record: a) the vaseline was to stop water getting in my diving mask; b) no, he didn’t have any; c) he did have a big snorkel, though.
I was fully gimped-up in rubber so I could go swimming with some creatures of the deep in Sea World’s coolest attraction, Shark Bay. In case the name didn’t give it away, Shark Bay is where you can snorkel in the same body of water as some pretty scary sharks. As well as white and black tip reef, shovel-nose and leopard sharks, you share the water with a variety of sting rays, groper and dory, all going about their business oblivious to the pack of tourists pointing and taking pictures of them.
It’s a pretty surreal feeling swimming around in a pool with sharks. It’s almost like watching TV – an experience you can’t really bring yourself to believe is happening. My moment of clarity came when I turned round from looking at some tiny, coloured fish to see a massive, metre-and-a-half ray swim right over the top of me. I felt like someone let me loose on the set of Finding Nemo.
A BIG OL’ BASTARD
Probably the coolest thing about the snorkel swim is the pool next door, which houses massive tiger, dusky whaler and bull whaler sharks. These critters are too dangerous to swim with – something about razor sharp teeth and snorkellers looking like shark food – but you can view them through the perspex dividing the two lagoons. It’s pretty disconcerting snorkelling along and coming face-to-face with a giant shark – and trusting that 10cm of perspex is enough to keep them out.
One word of warning though. When you’re swimming along, looking wide-eyed at all the marine life, be aware your words of disbelief can travel through snorkels pretty well. Either that, or the parents of the kid who was watching me taught him the phrase, “Shit, look at the size of that bastard, mum.”
Shark Bay is just one of the attractions in Sea World, which is just one of the theme parks in the Gold Coast, probably the most party-friendly town in the whole of Australia.
Only about an hour north of the New South Wales border, the main city of Surfers Paradise has a reputation for being the Ibiza of Australia, a distinction helped along by the abundance of bright, neon-clad buildings which assault the senses upon your arrival.
There’s no getting away from it – this is the place people come to party. In fact, you don’t even have to find the party here – the party finds you. Join up on a club crawl around the city and you’re guaranteed to visit the top venues in town with a host of hotties and cuties in tow.
Now, being far too old for those sort of shenanigans myself, I decided to play the wallflower and listen out for the best chat-up line. After a couple of hours of straining my ears over 50 Cent and Kanye tracks, I had my winner: “My girlfriend’s just gone home – fancy a turn in the corner?”I hasten to add this was said to my female friend, and not me. Shame really – he was pretty cute.
BETTER THAN SEX… KINDA!
But there’s much more to the Gold Coast than just getting lashed and copping off with anything with a (faint) pulse. This vibrant town is full of all-Aussie activities to get the blood pumping.
A trip to a place named “Surfers” wouldn’t really be complete without trying out a bit of wave riding, would it? And who better to teach a surf-muppet than former world champion Cheyne Horan? Not that it mattered – I was still pants at it.
After a few stretches, it was off into the crashing waves of Main Beach to learn the ropes. And I would’ve been better trying to balance on a piece of rope, to be honest, considering anytime I got near catching a wave, I’d fall off into the white water and swallow some more of the ocean.
But not since my first sexual encounter has being so bad at something been so enjoyable. Despite not knowing what I was doing, the exhilaration of getting up and saying, “I’m riding, baby!” was enough. The same goes for surfing too…
With Surfers being built around a maze of canals and waterways, there’s tons of other water-based activities to try.
You can take a sleek jet ski out for a spin – bet you’ve never had something that powerful between your legs before – or kayak around South Straddie, a sand island with a chilled-out campsite thatÕs a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Surfers.
DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
Sometimes as a traveller, you do something that is so much fun, you don’t want to tell anyone else about it. It’s your little secret; an experience you can take back home that not many other people have done. Well, my “precious” is Lamington National Park… doh, that’s blown it.
Just over an hour into the hills west of Surfers, Lamington is the largest sub-tropical rainforest in the world and is a wonderland of bushwalking. We made our camp at the wonderful Binna Burra site and then headed off onto the Tullawallal Circuit for an interpretive walk with our guide, Chris.
Trying hard to shrug off his bitterness at having his car stolen twice in two weeks, Chris proceeded to open up all the secrets of the rainforest we were tramping through. As well as spotting pademelons (mini kangaroos) hopping through the bush and taking in all the flora and fauna of the area, we were shown the house of the extremely poisonous trapdoor spider – a tiny flap in the side of the path which we all took turns to open up.
With loads of different species of trees to choose from (including the extremely rare 4,000 year-old Antarctic beech) I managed to find a favourite: the python tree, which uses camouflage to hide itself. Think about it… a tree that disguises itself as a tree so it can’t be seen. Genius.
After a restful night’s sleep in our cabin, and waking up to some gorgeous views of the hinterland, I headed off to make a fool of myself once again.
WHIP IT GOOD
It was time to work on my bush skills at the Quamby Base Camp, in the beautiful Canungra Valley. After some great home-cooked tucker – thanks Carol! – it was time for some whip-cracking. Owner Don showed us how it was done first, and because you needed a strong wrist, I thought I had a chance. After a few goes, I was just like Indiana Jones – that’s if Indiana Jones’s whip made no noise and continually hit him in the nuts.
Okay, on to boomerang throwing – it couldn’t get any worse, eh? Again, Don showed us how to do it and told us how all his visiting backpackers would get the hang of it pretty quickly.
I stepped up, took a deep breath and let rip. The boomerang took flight and flew straight over Don’s fence and into thick grass on the other side of the road. Even Don’s dog, Nipper, let out a howl of pain at how bad I was.
Leaving the rest of the trip to the experts, Don took us out in his 4WD Oka through some great off-roading tracks, bouncing along through the hinterland, looking out for koalas along the way. The area used to be extensively logged – with the red cedar wood being exported to make chairs for the Houses of Parliament – but now it’s beautiful timberland as far as the eye can see.
With the bush experience over too quickly, it was back to the madness of Surfers again. And I’ll leave you with a pearl of wisdom from my mate, Richie, who told me this interesting fact over a couple of coldies: “If you don’t remember anything else about your trip, remember this: statistically, you’ll get laid in the Gold Coast more than anywhere else in Australia.”
Just make sure you bring your own vaseline.
The experience: Sea World on the Gold Coast, Ph: (07) 5588 2205; Learn to Surf, Freephone: 1800 227 873/0403 080 484; Surfers Paradise Club Crawl, Freephone: 1800 359 830; Bushwacker Ecotours, Ph: (07) 5520 7238; Binna Burra Mountain Lodge, Ph: (07) 5533 3622; Southern Cross 4WD, Freephone: 1800 067 367. The weekend of October 19-22 sees the Lexmark Indy 300 Car series descend on Surfers Paradise; check out www.indy.com.au.
The accommodation: The British Arms International Backpackers, Ph: (07) 5571 1776; Sleeping Inn Surfers, Freephone: 1800 817 832.