It is three in the morning. Some may call it an ungodly hour, while for others, it’s when the night ends. But for the media team from Malaysia and Indonesia, 3am was when the day begins at Gold Coast in Australia, arguably one of the most famous coastal cities in the world.
The early morning sky was dark and the world outside was still fast asleep. If you’re planning to catch the sunrise (5am during summer) on a hot air balloon, this was the price to pay.
The day before, our itinerary – prepared by trip organisers Tourism & Events Queensland and Malaysia Airlines – was pretty relaxed.
We took a walk along Broadbeach and had coffee at a local joint called The Elk, visited the high-end shopping centre Pacific Fair and had a thrilling time at the Warner Bros Movie World theme park. We retired for the night at The Ruby Collection, a luxury apartment suite.
Then at 3am, we got a wake-up call from the organisers.
We went on an hour-long drive through through windy roads expansive fields and sloping hills. Pro tip: If you suffer from motion sickness, remember to bring along some pills to counter that.
After what seemed like a mild roller coaster ride, we arrived at an open field somewhere in Jimboomba, a town in Logan City, Queensland. What greeted us was a sight out of an old world movie.
Three large orange-and-yellow-striped hot air balloons were being fired up by their respective captains from Hot Air Balloon Gold Coast.
Our captain, Ben, briefed us on safety procedures and showed us how to climb into the basket. Once everyone was ready, Ben made all the final checks and let loose the rope that held the hot air balloon to the ground.
Slowly, we rose to the sky, the heat from the fire keeping us warm in the cool morning breeze. People, cars and the surrounding houses started to look like miniature toys as our balloon flew higher.
Sprawling hinterland forests, spectacular lakes and an occasional kangaroo or two made the half-hour journey more worthwhile; waking up at an ungodly hour was soon forgotten.
A single hot air balloon ride costs AUD$250 (RM740) but if you pay a bit more you could complete the amazing experience with a relaxing champagne breakfast at the O’Reilly’s Grand Homestead and Vineyard, which is just a 40-minute drive from the Gold Coast.
This picturesque homestead is surrounded by rolling hills, with a stream running nearby. It’s an amazing spot to just relax, breathe in some fresh air and be one with nature.
Climb every ... building?
If sailing across the sky is not enough for you, fret not. The Gold Coast has other means of satisfying your adventurous spirit. Try the SkyPoint Climb, the highest external building climb in Australia.
Adrenaline kicked in when our friendly instructor Kayla talked us through the safety measures, assuring us that it would be a terrific experience (despite the wind!) and soon, she and her assistant helped us put on our climbing gear and harness.
We took the lift all the way to the 77th floor where the SkyPoint Observation Deck is. The view was stunning! You could see the entire stretch of the Gold Coast – coastline to coastline – and the beautiful sea.
Locals and tourists alike scuttled about from window to window to soak in the spectacular view.
All eyes fell on us, though, an odd-looking bunch who sort of looked like characters from Ghostbusters, slowly and hesitantly making our way to the glass door that led to the outside of the building.
We made one final safety check before we started our climb up the steep steps, with the wind beating on us. Thankfully, the steps are designed in such a way that even when you look down, you won’t feel like you’re going to fall off. Those who are afraid of heights could probably still do this activity.
As we kept climbing, the air seemed a little different and then suddenly, the whole Gold Coast was beneath us. Surfers taking on the waves, children running around the beach and people just going about their day were all unaware that they were being observed from up above.
Starting from AUD$75 (RM220), this activity will not disappoint thrill-seeking travellers. If the climb alone is not enough excitement for you, then perhaps getting a 360° view of the Gold Coast would entice you to try this experience.
The Gold Coast is not just about stunning beaches and extreme adventures.
If you prefer to spend your holidays in a calm and relaxing setting, then check out the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
It is the perfect place for a family outing and respite from the Queensland sun. The sanctuary is a heritage-listed zoological garden set across 27 ha of natural bushland and rainforest.
Housing hundreds of native mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians, this wildlife sanctuary was started by Dr Alex Griffiths in 1947 to stop lorikeets from destroying his plants and his bees. Griffiths first established it as a lorikeet feeding centre which eventually became the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary.
Then, as more animals were brought in, it was renamed the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in 1995. In fact, visitors can still participate in the lorikeet feeding at appointed hours throughout the day.
This place is a must-stop for nature enthusiasts. From the very moment you step into the sanctuary, you will be greeted with lush greenery and the sounds of animals. You would think that you’d have stepped into an actual forest!
Some of the activities you can do there include cuddling with koalas and feeding kangaroos. The sanctuary’s newest attraction, the Lost Valley, houses rare and non- native animals like the capybara, red panda and cotton-top tamarins.
Food and wine
About an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast – or an hour’s drive from Brisbane – lies Sirromet Winery, a great spot for visitors to indulge in fine wine and delectable food.
The winery has a space called Sanctuary that houses 18 glamping tents. It is peaceful there; you can almost hear a pin drop as you stroll about the Sanctuary, with trees lining the pathway and a gentle stream just a stone’s throw away.
While we were given a short tour of Sanctuary, we couldn’t wait to just kick off our shoes and sit on the patio to relax, unwind and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere.
Complete your experience with the ultimate gastronomical adventure as the three restaurants there – the Cellar Door, Tuscan Terrace and Restaurant Lurleen’s – offer an out-of-this-world fine dining experience.
You can also opt to do a wine tour, which would actually be a nice end to your holiday.
All in all, the Gold Coast, while home to stunning beaches, spectacular coastlines and practically a surfer’s paradise, has more to offer than your run-off-the-mill beach life.
If you’re an adventurer, then Gold Coast might just be the place for you.