Australia's Gold Coast, a popular tourist playground stretching about 45 miles from Labrador and Southport south to Coolangatta in the southeastern corner of Queensland, has been a mecca for visitors from all corners of the world for many years.
A long expanse of beaches, the promise of sunny days (nearly 300 per year) and a variety of theme parks and other attractions, combined with ease of access and an excellent choice of hotels and resorts, makes the Gold Coast a perfect place to relax and forget about the cares of the world.
The theme parks on the Gold Coast offer thrill rides, outback experiences, a chance to mingle with exotic animals and a variety of shows both on land and on the water. Most of the theme parks are in Oxenford or Coomera along the main M1 Pacific Motorway highway running south from Brisbane to the Gold Coast.
Among the options at Oxenford are the Australian Outback Spectacular; Dreamworld, featuring Bengal tigers and the Tower of Terror; White Water World; Warner Bros. Movie World (the Police Academy stunt show is great fun); and Wet'n'Wild Water World.
The Australian Outback Spectacular recaptures some of the glitz of the opening ceremony at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, with stunt riders and outback-style events in an evening show. Guests tuck into a three-course Aussie barbecue (drinks are included), and everyone leaves with an R.M. Williams stockman's hat.
Sea World at Southport is Australia's largest marine park, where visitors can swim with dolphins as well as watch whales, sea lions and water skiing performances. As of September, the long-running "Waterski WipeOut" makes way for "Pirates Unleashed," a live-action adventure featuring acrobatics, comedy and water displays.
For fauna, visitors can head to David Fleay Wildlife Park at Burleigh Heads or the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Currumbin.
Gold Coast beaches are beautiful, with excellent surf that can be wild at times. Swimmers should be aware that the currents and riptides along the coast can be treacherous.
Apart from water activities, the most popular sporting challenge centers on the numerous golf courses in the region. There are more than 40 championship and resort courses; groomed greens and outstanding layouts usually surrounded by natural wildlife, flora and fauna.
Well-known courses include Royal Pines, Hope Island, Palm Meadows, Lakelands and the Palms Sanctuary Cove.
Balloon Hot Air Gold Coast provides a new perspective on the Gold Coast skyline, Mount Tamborine and Lamington National Park, when travelers board a hot-air balloon and float gently over the Scenic Rim.
In the last 15 years or so, the area has seen the development of a number of excellent resorts, including the Hyatt Regency Sanctuary Cove; the Couran Cove Resort, on South Stradbroke Island off the Gold Coast; the Royal Pines Resort; the Marriott Surfers Paradise Resort and Spa; the Sheraton Mirage Resort and Spa; the Hotel Conrad and Jupiters Casino; and the Palazzo Versace.
Hospitality giant the Mantra Group has a number of properties offering great value. Options include Mantra Sun City, Surfers Paradise; Mantra Wings, Surfers Paradise; Mantra Legends Hotel, Surfers Paradise; and Crown Towers, Surfers Paradise.
A terrific midrange place is Vibe Hotel Gold Coast, with chic, contemporary rooms and suites.
There is a vast choice of smaller hotels and apartments -- the latter are becoming increasingly popular, especially for long stays -- but even with the wealth of accommodations, the Gold Coast gets heavily booked at key tourist times.
Gold Coast cuisine
The hotels and resorts have excellent restaurants, but there are plenty of popular dining choices all along the Gold Coast, such as Cafe Romas at Southport Marina, Mango's on the Nerang River near Surfers Paradise and Omeros Bros. Seafood Restaurant at Surfers Paradise. Andiamo's at Conrad Jupiters is also very popular.
The center of activity in the Surfers Paradise suburb is Cavill Avenue, with a vast array of cafes and restaurants. Also, the nightlife of the coast is centered in the same area.
Surfers Paradise is about to get a lot more sophisticated with the introduction of a new waterfront restaurant, Marina Village. Patrons can chill out to modern jazz while enjoying a quiet drink on a terrace overlooking the Nerang River or tucking into a meal.
The 2008 Gold Coast Restaurant of the Year, Charters Towers at Conrad Jupiters, has launched a new Dusk Dinner Menu, representing exceptional value for a premium a la carte experience.
Shoppers are well catered to on the Gold Coast, with a number of large plazas and malls.
Pacific Fair at Broadbeach is Queensland's largest mall, with more than 250 shops, landscaped grounds, movie theaters, a children's park and a "village green."
Marina Mirage Gold Coast near Palazzo Versace at Main Beach is possibly the Gold Coast's trendiest and most upmarket shopping complex, with lots of designer boutiques.
The Oasis Shopping Centre at Broadbeach is another good choice. On Wednesday and Friday nights, the beachfront promenade at Surfers Paradise hosts the Beachfront Markets, great for those last-minute souvenirs and local arts and crafts.
What's on on the coast
Whale-watching on the Gold Coast provides a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with the largest living mammals on Earth. Running from June through November, the Gold Coast whale-watching season is Australia's longest.
The season marks the migration of Humpback whales from Antarctica to warmer breeding waters at Hervey Bay before the mammals return with their newborns, covering a distance of 5,000 miles during their amazing journey.
Other popular events include the Coolangatta Gold Ironman endurance event in October, the street racing of the Nitro SuperGP in October, the Magic Millions Horseracing Carnival in early January and the Australian Ladies Masters Golf in February.
For more information, visit www.tq.com.au.