Swimming with sharks, surfboarding and rainforest walking in ‘the Ibiza of Australia
Surfers Paradise is a shiny town dedicated to the pursuit of partying. But there’s more to the Gold Coast than just getting wasted. There’s sharks to swim with, surfboards to fall off, and whips to hit your nuts with…And if that’s not enough the place is growing and evolving constantly and ready to draw you in.
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 Oxford Street during Mardis Gras, and not in the changing rooms at Sea World on the Gold Coast. 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. 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 around from looking at some teeny, 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.
Probably the coolest thing about the snorkel swim is the pool next door, which houses massive tiger, dusky whaler and bull whaler sharks. These sea thugs 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.
One word of warning though. When you’re swimming, be aware – sound travels 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 on the Gold Coast, probably the most party-friendly town in the whole of Australia.
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.
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 JT 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.
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.
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.
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 jetski out for a spin or kayak around South Straddie, a sand island with a chilled-out campsite that’s a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Surfers.
Sometimes as a traveller, you do something that is so much fun, you don’t want to tell anyone else about it. Well, my “precious” is Lamington National Park… (Do’h, 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. As well as spotting pademelons (a mini kangaroo) hopping through the bush and taking in all the flora and fauna of the area, we were shown the house of the very 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.
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 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. 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 on the Gold Coast more than anywhere else in Australia”.
Just make sure you bring your own vaseline.
words by: Paul Hansford