Thusday 29th December, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Click on the small pics above to view full sized photographs
Welcome to the fabulous Gold Coast!
Maria and I woke early at Cheers backpackers hostel. We had about an hour before Seaworld opened, so we drove down to the beachfront to gorge, I mean dine... at the breakfast buffet at Chateau Hotel. One of my old favourites, the Chateau's buffet is still -unbelievably- only $9.90 for all the sausages, bacon, eggs, potato gems *yum* toast, pancakes, savoury mince, fruit, cereal, coffee and juice you can possibly fit within the confines of your body.
After fuelling up on carbohydrates, we took a stroll along the Surfers Paradise beach. The area hadn't changed much since last time I was there; the monstrous development boom happened during the eighties and nineties. The most noticeable new addition to the skyline was the building above, snappily named Q1. Q1 is the world's tallest residential building, tipping just over 320 metres (close enough to a thousand feet) in height. Would you like to live that far above terra firma? Not me.
I took a quick dip in the ocean, but really just to cool off. It was only 9:00am, but the sun was already hot. We didn't have time to dilly dally. Out on the Southport Spit, just past Palazzo Versace where we sipped cocktails yesterday, there was a world of entertainment waiting for us. In fact, it was already open and we were missing out. "Seaworld, James. And don't spare the horses!"
Click on the small pics below to view full sized photographs from our day at SEAWORLD
Seaworld, it seemed, was on everybody's itinerary today. It's fair to say that the period between Christmas and New Year is the busiest time of year at the Gold Coast, so we shouldn't have been surprised to find fairly long queues at Seaworld. *Do you Americans know what a queue is yet?* By the time we made it inside and acquainted ourselves with the layout of the sprawling aquatic park, it was almost time for the dolphin show to start in Seaworld's Dolphin Cove. Staff were selling fan operated personal water spray bottles to relieve the inevitable heatstroke. The Dolphin Cove stadium was packed and it took some clever manouvering to find two seats in the shade.
To say that I underestimated how much I would enjoy the dolphin show would be a gross understatement. I remembered Seaworld's famous dolphin and sealion shows from my childhood, but as an adult, maybe the sight of dolphins prancing around might not be as exciting as I'd remembered. How wrong I was! The show started on a high note, with all six resident dolphins leaping out of the water to a phenomenal height. It took the crowd by surprise, and I was far too slow with my camera. By the time I took a shot, all that I captured was six small white splashes on the blue surface of the lagoon. The performance continued for almost half an hour, with the fascinating dolphins going through their repertoire of stunts; leaping and dancing, swimming backstroke and 'walking on water' standing erect on their strong tails. What really captured my imagination though, was when the trainers rode across the lagoon on the backs of dolphins. Wow, what a job!
Maria and I spent most of the dolphin show staring at each other in disbelief, as if to ask "Did I really see that?" Aside from the talented dolphins, Maria was impressed to find churros (a Spanish sweet of fried dough) for sale at Dolphin Cove. She loves to see the Spanish influence anywhere we go, from the Spanish jamoneria that we saw in St Petersburg to the Spanish Tapas Bar where we dined in Brisbane.
Besides the amazing animal shows and exhibits and the range of rides and rollercoasters, Seaworld also offers helicopter rides. Maria had never been on a helicopter, so she was keen to experience it. For $49, you could go for a quick hover above Seaworld, but I recommended that she go for the $89 ride, which takes you right down the length of Surfers Paradise past Q1 as far as Jupiters Casino, where we had been the previous night. By the smile on her face when she returned, the helicopter ride was money well spent.
I got my kicks from the rides and rollercoasters, all of which are included in the one entry price. Here you see me bravely tackling the Corkscrew, Seaworld's biggest rollercoaster... a giant triple looper. What you don't see are the wobbly kneed photos of me with tears streaming down my cheeks at the end of the ride. It wouldn't do my reputation any good to post those pics here. Of course, my courage was unparralelled in comparison with Maria, who was too chicken to even venture onto the log ride!
Shark Bay is one of Seaworld's newest attractions. From an underwater viewing area, you can watch as huge sharks, stingrays and schools of assorted fish swim past. "Why don't the sharks eat the fish?" I wondered. There's also another big aquarium housing a dugong, and an underwater viewing area ther as well.
Near the dugong aquarium, there is another large exhibit of fish and sea creatures. Dozens of viewing windows contain displays of every type of sea creature, from colourful tropical fish, to scary moray eels, to the lethal and appropriately named horrid stonefish, pictured below. The stonefish, which resembles a rough stone, sits on the ocean floor in shallow water and waits for unwary swimmers to stand on it. The sharp spines of its back are so tough that they can puncture the sole of a sandshoe. Once stung by a stonefish, the unfortunate human will experience pain usually reserved for medieval torture victims, but only for a short time before death will bring relief from all suffering. What the stonefish gains from all this, I'm yet to learn.
We missed the sealion show while Maria was galavanting all over the Gold Coast in a helicopter, but I wasn't about to let Maria miss the skiing show that Seaworld is world famous for. These skiiers are among the most talented in the world, and the ever changing show is in the form of a comedy, with villains and damsels in distress, which makes it doubly entertaining.
My two highlights for the day were the skiing show and the amazing polar bears. Seaworld has built a huge facility for their polar bears, with a number of cooling systems, and a range of settings and environments to satisfy the bears' curiosity. We were lucky enough to see two of the younger bears romping together in a shallow pool, but when we returned just before closing time, it was one of the older bears on exhibit, and after showing us how she eats a fish, she then showed us how she lies on a rock for half an hour. And then our day was over.
MARIA'S ADDENDUM... We had a fantastic day at Seaworld today. My highlight of the day was the ride on the helicopter. If I had to describe the difference between a helicopter and a plane it would be the taking off, which is much more sudden. It is amazing to see all the buildings, the canals, the boats, everything from a bird's point of view. I definitely loved it. I also had a very near look at the awful building that has been built recently in the Gold Coast. I cannot believe anyone would let builders spoilt such a beautiful place as Surfers Paradise, but I guess money rules the world, doesn't it? And still, the Australian coast is far better than the Spanish one. For those of you who have never been to Spain, I'm sad to inform you that the biggest hotel in Europe has recently been built in Benidorm, on the Spanish Costa de la Luz. I imagine the whole cost was a lovely place a few years back, but all you find these days is noisy people riding noisy cars and motorbikes, noisy bars and discos and not even one empty space on the beach to lay your towel without being surrounded by noisy kids and teenagers. Sad, isn't it? Though there are still a few unspoilt places in Spain that I won't reveal, just in case. :-)