Brisvegas

Living in Perth means that you usually don’t get to see a whole lot of the rest of Australia.  Why?  Well, it’s expensive to travel in Australia, it takes time to get everywhere and it’s expensive when you get there.  Why would you spend $1,000 on airfares and accommodation to get to the Eastern States for the weekend, when you could go somewhere in Asia for the same amount but probably stay for a week?

So while I was living in Melbourne, I decided that I would check out the other cities of Australia because it’s so much cheaper to do so from Melbourne than Perth.

I decided to do a quick weekend trip to Brisbane, Queensland, in the north of Australia.  I didn’t make any plans of what to do, other than to make a hotel reservation in Fortitude Valley.

Jumping off my Virgin flight with only my carry on luggage, I headed for the Airtrain.  This is a quick rail service that can take you from the airport to Fortitude Valley in around 16 minutes (or to the CBD in around 23 minutes).  These trains run every 15 minutes – an awesome service!  Perth needs something like this!

From the train station, I made my way through the streets to my hotel.  I stayed at Limes Hotel and arrived to find really friendly staff and this cool, funky little room.

Now to explore!

Fortitude Valley is next door to Chinatown, so I stopped for a quick stroll.  There were some half-hearted markets on, but nothing special to check out.

So I decided to jump on a tourist bus to get the lay of the land and check stuff out.  Driving through the CBD, the place seemed deserted!  I thought I was back in Perth for a moment!  The high buildings blocked out the light and it was so cold and empty feeling – there didn’t seem much point in getting off the bus to explore because it looked like everything was closed and there was hardly a soul around.  The buildings were gorgeous though.

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The bus kept going.

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Would you believe the reason for this great big canopy below this office building?  It’s because due to a design fault, the windows regularly pop out of their frames and smash onto the street below.  This canopy is the stop gap measure for those windows landing on someone’s head!

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Continuing on we pass by some traditional Queensland styled homes.  These are called – are you ready? – Queenslanders.  The style is characterised by the home being perched off the ground on stilts and with wide verandahs encircling the home.  The term was coined in the 1840’s and the construction is due to the fact that Queensland suffers from tropical heat with bouts of excessive rain and flooding.  Placing the home on stilts means ventilation in the heat and protection from the flooding during cyclone season!

I hopped off the bus at Southbank (not the one in Melbourne, the two cities are not that close!) and stopped for some lunch and a glass of wine.  I sat at a restaurant with a view of the ferris wheel right outside and did a spot of people watching.  It was a lovely day and the sky was blue as anything.

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From here I decided to wander around the Southbank area.  There’s a walkway all the way round and families were out in force enjoying the day.  There’s even a little man-made beach section for paddling.

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Surely, it can’t be that far to walk back to the hotel, I thought to myself.  So I kept following the path back around.  I was wrong, but I was enjoying the view and the walk, so I kept going.

I was at least an hour away from my small room in Fortitude Valley.  The afternoon was closing up shop and the sun was starting to set on the horizon by the time I finally stopped walking.

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The next morning, I took a wander down to the shopping precinct for a wander.  I did a quick browse of the shops but didn’t find anything of particular interest.

If I had more time and had hired a car to get out of the city, I might have enjoyed Brisbane a bit more, but I only had a day and a half.  I probably didn’t give Brisbane much of a chance, but nothing seemed to entice me and I was bored.

I couldn’t wait to get back on the plane to Melbourne.

Silly in Surfers

We are playing tourist today – hard core tourist.  We’ve got the tacky t-shirts, sunnies and hats and we are ready to hit up a whole bunch of attractions that we normally probably wouldn’t go near (without a disguise anyway).

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But we have to return the hire car first, so after doing that we hop aboard the G:, Surfer’s latest way to get around.  The newly installed G: is a tram that runs to 16 stations around the Gold Coast, taking in Southport, Surfer’s Paradise and Broadbeach, and it makes it easy for locals and tourists to get around.  It runs between 5am to midnight on weekdays and 24 hours on the weekends and trams arrive every few minutes.  For our short ride it wasn’t cheap ($5.20 from near Q1 down to Cavill Avenue where the main mall is), but it was nice and clean and we just wanted to give it a go anyway.

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First stop on the road to tacky holiday fun is at Surfer’s Paradise Hair Wraps.  We were originally thinking we would grab a couple of hair wraps, but when we saw a photo of a client with corn rows, we just had to have them.  It takes surprisingly little time, the ladies at the booth inside Paradise Centre having years and years of experience at this and before very long at all, we had amazing hair.  You can add beads, feathers, get detachable wraps, braided extensions and even face painting.  Everything to make you stand out in the crowd.

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For her last couple of trips to the Gold Coast, Leigh had been wanting to try the Aquaduck.  I myself had been a little curious in the past, having seen them peruse the streets of Singapore over the years.  The Aquaduck is an amphibious vehicle.  These vehicles were created during war time as a result of the desire to expand the off-road capabilities of land vehicles for all terrain use.   They are now finding second life as tour vehicles in several countries.

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There are several imitation companies in the Gold Coast, but we went with the original – Aquaduck.  Millions of dollars were spent converting the Aquaduck from its previous use for use in tourism and you can tell the difference…

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Meet Superstuck, oops I mean Superduck!
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House that Jackie Chan rented whilst filming in the Gold Coast.

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Quacktastic!
Quacktastic!

I’m not a fan of 3D movies.  I don’t see the point (apart from the one I saw a the Uprising Museum in Warsaw which was actually a`really good concept unfortunately let down by crappy 3D glasses).  So when we saw 7D Movie Theatres, I thought, what the heck.  OK let’s do it.  We walk into a small room set up with a simulator and six chairs, all set up for our visual and sensory experience.  Our movie is Wall of China, the top selling movie.  We jump on board our rickshaw, driver pedalling away, until he lights rockets on the side of the bike, and off we go on our crazy ride along the wall.  It was actually brilliant, and we spent the whole eight minutes screaming and laughing and whooping.  What a blast!

There are ten movies to choose from, horrors, rollercoasters and world travels.  So give it a go!

Time for liquid courage before our next activity, we head inside the Beergarden on Cavill Avenue where to the amusement of the bartender, we order ourselves some XXXX.  Pronounced ‘Fourex’, it was created by the Fitzgerald brothers, who’s combined goal in life was to create the finest ales known to man.  They must have done something right because according to Fourex’s website – it’s Australia’s number one beer.  We think it tastes ok too.

So what do the X’s in XXXX mean?  Well, in the old days, beer quality was measured in Xs.  The brewery’s first brew produced was XXX Sparkling Ale, which was awarded three Xs.  Not satisfied with that, the Fitzgerald’s refined the recipe further and in 1924, gained their fourth X!

Fourex was even distributed across the world to troops in both WWI and WWII, which they nicknamed ‘Barbed Wire’.

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step back in time?  Be  gangster?  A Victorian?  A Flapper?  Well you can, for just a moment, by visiting Old Time Photos.  Step inside and let them dress you and pose you for a series of photos, which you can then purchase.  Of course the sales staff will try to talk you into buying more photos than you want, but that’s their job I guess.  Our photographer was a little grumpy which was a shame because it took some of the fun out of it, but it was a great laugh to do something totally different.  Here’s one of the ‘too many’ shots we purchased.

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Wow what a day!  We certainly fit in a lot of things.  Things that we never would have contemplated, but it was certainly a lot of fun.  Just goes to show, sometimes the things you go out of your way to avoid, can end up being the best experiences.  Everyone should have a tacky day out!

I Hear Tamborines!

Yay!  Road trip day today.  My sister and I have hired a car for the day and decided to take a drive out to Tamborine Mountain, about 30-45 very windy, hilly minutes away from Surfers Paradise.

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As we head into the outskirts of Tamborine, we spy a sign for a mushroom farm. We love mushrooms, so we pull off the road in search of fungi.  Not far off the road is Hinterland Fresh Mushrooms and they sell a variety of mushrooms for your cooking pleasure.  We buy two bags of mushrooms – probably way too many for what we need, but we were intoxicated by their quality and the thought of all sorts of mushroom recipes swirling around in our heads.  $12 later and we were back on the road.

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First stop upon arrival in Tamborine Mountain is the Witches Chase Cheese Factory, which shares its premises with the Fortitude Brewing Company and the Cheese Bistro.  Alongside the actual factory, is the shop where you can buy (and taste) a fantastic range of cheeses, including my favourite – Tamembert, a mushroomy infused camembert cheese.  There’s a really nice cow’s feta, along with flavoured feta’s, yoghurt and ice cream.  We find ourselves buying quite a few items and a couple of their little chiller boxes for our dairy wares – and mushrooms.  Stepping outside is the brewery where we ordered a fabulous mushroom pizza – mushrooms, feta, thyme and truffle oil.  OMG, lovely.  And even better washed down with one of their summer light beers.  But only one – cause we gotta get back on the road of course.

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Next up it’s time to take in some nature with a small walk down to Curtis Falls.  It’s a short walk – about 1.5km (although there is a sightly longer detour available) down to the falls – and a fair few steps.  There are a lot of birds in the area, including lyre birds and colourful parrots.  The falls run all year around, but obviously are more bountiful after rain.

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Just around the corner (and around a few bends, over some hills, round some more bends, all very slow) is the Skywalk where you can explore the Queensland rainforest from high above the canopy.  It’s actually set in 30 acres of privately owned rainforest, turned into an eco-adventure by a couple who arrived in Queensland after living in my home-town of Perth for 17 years.

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It’s probably not for the faint-hearted especially if you aren’t a fan of heights, because the walkway sways quite heavily at some points, but it is a lovely way to see the rainforest.  And, if you’re lucky you’ll get to see some wildlife, like the little wallaby that I photographed below hiding in the bushes, and a huge, massive salamander, which I ran away from shrieking.

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Have you ever heard of thundereggs?  Well, we hadn’t either, so we decided to find out.  Turns out they are a geological phenomenon, the formation of which is also a mystery, but likely to be caused during volcanic upheavals.  And Thunderbird Park hosts the worlds largest and most impressive collection of thundereggs.  After a brief introduction and a safety talk, because the park is on a mining lease, we head off with our tin buckets and picks.  ‘Be back by 4pm!’ says the rock shop owner.  I look at my phone and the time reads just after 2.30.  ‘How long does this take?’ I ask.  ‘Oh, about two or three hours’.  Wait, what?  Oh crap, don’t think we’ll be finding much then!

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We set off up a gravelly and steep hill getting a good workout for the third time today.  And arrive at this…

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So, how exactly do I tell what a thunderegg is?

How the heck can you work out what is a thunderegg and what is a plain old rock.  I’m assuming they are deep under the ground if it takes two to three hours to find one so I’m not holding out much hope.

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My meagre hole after 45 minutes of hard effort.

After 45 minutes we decide we need to get back on the road, so we take our buckets full of rocks back to the shop expecting our haul to be nothing but a bunch of crappy normal rocks.  My haul surprisingly though yielded two thundereggs which were cut-able and the shop owner was quite impressed.  No laughing then!  But we did end up with some little blisters for our effort.

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Our final stop for the day was a restaurant/gallery called The Polish Place.  We were hoping for pierogi, but seeing as we’d missed the main meal we could only try some cake, which was very lovely.  And the birds thought so too because they were surrounding us – on the table, on the chairs, at our feet – and once we had finished, even on our plates!  I felt like I was on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds at one point!

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We had a thoroughly enjoyable, if tiring and a little dusty, day out on the mountain.  And of course I always think it is wonderful to get out of the city to see some nature and a different side of things.  It cost us less than $100 for our hire car (including $12 to fill the tank back up afterwards, talk about economical).  We spent all day there pretty much and still didn’t get to see everything we had on our list.  Definitely recommend this as a side trip from Surfer’s Paradise.

Stalking the Streets of Surfers

The day has dawned beautifully, full of sun and light.  So we step out onto the streets to start exploring.  Meandering through the streets, the first thing we come across is a statue.  It’s of an incredibly small looking man, ironically named Bruce Small.  Born in New South Wales, he was responsible for making Malvern Star bicycles into a household name in Australia.  He bought a share in the business at the age of 24 and along with his brothers, built cycles at a rate of five per week.  WWII affected the supply of parts for the bicycles, so they started manufacturing many of their own parts.  After the war, the bikes became popular among die-hard cyclists and at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Ian Browne and Tony Marchant won the gold medal in the Tandem on one.

Later on, Bruce became somewhat of a property developer after he bought 40 hectares of flood-prone mangrove land on the Nerang River on the Gold Coast.  From 1958 to the mid 1960’s, he pioneered canal developments which were based on the methods used on those is Florida in the United States.

He was elected the Mayor of Gold Coast in 1967 with the motto “Think Big, Vote Small” and remained in office until 1973.  He was then re-elected from 1976 to 1978.  After a series of storms which battered the Gold Cast in 1967, he was instrumental in promoting the GC as a family holiday destination through promotion of the Surfers Paradise Meter Maids, which were established in 1965 to attract tourists back to the area.  You can see these meter maids a mile away with their glittery barely there costumes.

High-five Smallsey!

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We make it down to the beach with its holiday masses spread along the sand and bundled in the waves.  It’s blowing a bit of a cool breeze so you won’t catch me in there for dear life, but it certainly hasn’t stopped others.  There’s a massive surf life saving presence here, flagged areas clearly defined and guards on the look out at all times, but amazingly it still doesn’t seem to deter some people from swimming in the wrong areas (outside the boundaries of the flagged areas).  Just so you know, the red and yellow flags mark the safest area to swim and is the area patrolled by the lifeguards and lifesavers – so if they can’t see you, they can’t save you if you get into trouble.

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Naughty tourists!

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After a few bevvies at the surf lifesaving club across the road (you gotta support them right!), we head of again and this time end up at Helm situated on a canal waterfront.  The surf life saving club is here too and straight onto us as we walk in the door offering us wads of raffle tickets all for a good cause.  A good amount of the prizes is given out when I decide to channel my positive energies into winning.  C’mon, you can do this.  Unfortunately I must have picked up some of my sister’s vibes because I do win a prize, but it’s the chocolate bag!  Oh no!!!!!  I was kind of hoping for the meat tray or the vegie tray, but hey, you can’t knock back a winner!  And I’m sure I’ll be popular later back at the apartment!  Haha.

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Bulging bag of chocolate in hand, it’s back out on the streets, but it’s not long before we spy our next activity – glow bowling!

Let's go bowling!
Let’s go bowling!

For $3 we get a pair of funky little socks.

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And they have amazing little milk crates filled with four bottles of Midori mix for $25.  They go down a treat and take me back to the old days when this was the drink of choice on a night out.

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Oh no!  A casualty of the frivolity!
Oh no! A casualty of the frivolity!

It must be said that I am hopeless at bowling.  I just can’t get it together.  But I really enjoyed this session, even if I did suffer a minor casualty.

So how do you top glow bowling?  Well, with a bit of a bet on the pokies and a game of Keno over at Vegas.  I’m not really into gambling, but we got three drinks (two beers and a wine) for $14!  What a bargain.  You can also grab a cheap meal here for about $10.

I’m no stranger to the pokie machines, but I’ve never played Keno before.  You fill out a little sheet with how many numbers you would like to bet with, the actual numbers, how many games you want to play and how much you want to bet on each game, then the numbers come up on the screen just as if you were watching lotto at home and bingo (or should that be keno?), you either are or aren’t a winner.  I’ve clearly had my winning streak for the day cause there’s no money here for me at Vegas.

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We head home for pizza and even more Midori, but the poor offerings on tv, soon see us head back outdoors to the Beachfront Markets.  The markets open from 5pm to 10pm, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and hosts a number of stalls selling all sorts of things from jewellery, clothes, metal sculpture, food and the amazing wax hands.

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First you dip your arm into a bucket of cold water for 20 seconds, then your arm is submerged in wax quickly before being plunged into water and back and forth about three times until the layers are built up into a solid form.  The wax is then pulled off your relaxed hand, the base smoothed out and attached to a platform (if you wish) and then dipped in a coloured wax (also if you wish).  I wasn’t quite sure how the wax was going to come off my hand, but it slipped off effortlessly.

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I now have some very cool rock hands for my new rockin apartment!

Coasts of Gold

My tenancy agreement for the two bedroom stunner is all signed and accepted, water, gas and electricity applications lodged.  All that has to happen is that I sign the lease and pick up the keys.  I reckon there’s time for one last trip before I make the move to Melbourne and it just so happens that my sister and brother-in-law are heading to the Gold Coast for a week.  So I’m tagging along.  I haven’t been to the Gold Coast before, so why not?

I have no idea what to expect of the GC really.  I mean, obviously its about the beaches first up, and it’s home to Warrick Capper, but what’s out and about there?  What’s the vibe and what else is there to do apart from swimming?  I guess I’ll find out.

In an extra twist, I’m not even doing one single iota of research on the GC before I get there.  Impressed?  I am, but someone is going to have to restrain me when I get to the hotel brochure rack cause I guarantee it’ll be in for a ravaging by the time I arrive.  I wonder what’s in store?  Lots of warm weather at the very least hopefully!  What’s the slogan they used to advertise Queensland with?  “Queensland – beautiful one day, perfect the next!”

Unfortunately it doesn’t all start perfectly, Virgin Airlines cancelling our flight for Friday due to staff unavailability (!), and rebooking us on another flight in the morning which doesn’t see us arrive into the GC until 4.30pm – a whole day lost, which is unfortunate for my brother-in-law as he has to work on this holiday, so he’s lost a day of his break.  Guess it can’t be helped, but very frustrating!

Nevertheless, we do finally arrive, after a very, very long day, which included a three hour (useless) stopover in Sydney.  Arriving into GC is a little like arriving into Penang or Grand Cayman – a small airport surrounded by mountainside, where you disembark onto the tarmac.  Our taxi takes us along the Gold Coast Highway past numerous resorts and apartments – a surprising number of which are called “Somethingorother Palms’.  We arrive in Surfer’s Paradise and check into the amazing Q1 Apartments, which will be our home for the week and we have an amazing view of the ocean – a perk of being in the tallest building in town.  It was actually the tallest residential apartment building in the world at one point with 78 floors, but it lost the title to Dubai’s Marina Torch in 2011.

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We quickly unpack, but which time the sun has disappeared and been quickly replaced by nightfall.  We head out onto the neon lit streets in search of dinner and end up at the Hard Rock Café.  The streets outside are busy, but it’s extra crazy in here.  It’s a long weekend and the end of the school holidays and there are just people everywhere.  But we finally get a table and are soon chowing down on burgers and fries with a few drinks to top it off, and finish the evening with a wander around the streets before tiredness overcomes us and its time to hit the sack before we start exploring tomorrow.