Queensland's Gold Coast is a popular holiday choice for New Zealand families - only a few hours from home and reasonably affordable, with plenty of activities to occupy the whole family. Emma Fahy shares the highlights of her week-long family escape.
Ah, the family holiday! there's something invigorating about them, despite inevitably coming home more tired than you were when you left. My grandparents spend every winter on the Gold Coast, so each year we head over and visit them for a week. This year my sister, Claire, tagged along as well - she's an early childhood teacher so the perfect companion for a family holiday. I always look forward to it; even more so this year as we missed out last year as I was busy having a baby. The girls were hyped up for days before we left, and even one-year-old Chiara seemed to sense the building excitement in the air.
We picked up the keys to our rental car at the airport, and as we hit the highway headed up towards Palm Beach with the windows down, the stereo blasting, and the sun shining, I really started to relax.
We checked into our apartment at Princess Palm on the Beach and I was immediately taken by the stunning views. The warm weather helped to set the scene - in fact, the average temperature while we were there was 22° (and they call this winter!) and we didn't see a single drop of rain.
One of the first things we always do when we arrive is venture down to the beach to dip our toes in the water. It wasn't far to wander - we stepped out of the basement of the apartment complex and straight into the sand. The kids always enjoy building sandcastles, and this year six-year-old Maya practiced writing everyone's names in the sand with a stick. The rest of the day was spent finding our bearings, catching up with the great grandparents and stocking our holiday apartment with groceries. Then it was time for the real fun to begin!
Of all the theme parks we visited, the twins were most looking forward to Dreamworld (www.dreamworld.com.au) - the lure of The Wiggles Big Red Car had them chattering non-stop all the way there. Dreamworld is huge, so we planned our day the night before to make sure that we didn't miss out on anything.
Dreamworld has two areas dedicated to family fun and adventure: Wiggles World for the youngest kiddies and Nickelodeon Central for slightly older kiddies. Although most rides in these two areas are suitable for children over one year of age, children under four do need to be accompanied by an adult, so be prepared to join in the fun!
We started our day at Wiggles World with the Big Red Car ride and Dorothy's Rosy Tea Cup ride before three-year-old twins Sienna and Mercedes completely exploded with excitement, and then headed to Nickelodeon Central, where Maya had her eye on the Runaway Reptar Rollercoaster - a rollercoaster that's tame enough for kids, but wild enough for a bit of a thrill. Even Chiara got in on the action with a ride on the Backyardigans Mighty-Go-Round.
After lunch, we headed for Tiger Island to watch the amazing tiger show., and then followed the path down to Koala Country, which was the part of the day I was most looking forward to. Where else in the world can you get so close to kangaroos that you can feed them by hand, and see the baby joeys in their mothers' pouches? Mercedes and Sienna were initially a little unsure, but seeing Maya patting the kangaroos was enough to spur their confidence, and we got some gorgeous video of them venturing closer and closer.
Sea World (www.seaworld.com.au) has long been my favourite of the Gold Coast theme parks, and it didn't disappoint. We began with a ride around the park on the Monorail - seeing all the attractions and marine life from the sky definitely boosted our excitement about the day ahead!
Our next stop was Sesame Street Beach, which is a new attraction since we were last there. We arrived just in time for the Sesame Street stage show, then took the girls on some of the toddler-friendly rides. Most of these rides have no age restriction, but children under 105cm in height need to be accompanied by an adult, so again, be prepared for a hands-on day.
The afternoon was spent exploring the park's marine life - the impressive Shark encounter, the interactive dolphin show at Dolphin Cove and finally, Maya's favourite, the polar bears. She could have stayed for hours; she has been besotted with the polar bears since her very first trip to Sea World when she was just two years old. We were even able to go on a one-hour Polar Bear encounter, one of many animal encounters on offer.
Warner Bros. Movie World
Movie World (www.movieworld.com.au) is a new experience for me. On our recent trips we hadn't had time to check it out, so I was looking forward to our day out. We arrived bright and early, grabbed a map, and headed up Main Street, where the first thing Claire spotted was Rick's Café Americain from her favourite movie, Casablanca. We booked in for a buffet lunch there, then headed down the street to the Kids' WB! Fun Zone.
We ended up spending most of the day here (breaking for a yummy lunch at Rick's, of course), as this is where the fun is at for young kids. Most of the rides are designed for under 5's, some require an accompanying adult, but others allow them go solo - Mercedes thought she was the queen of the road driving one of Taz's Hollywood Cars all by herself.
Later in the afternoon, we watched the Main Street Parade, took in the Shrek 4D show and then Maya and Claire went on a couple of the "big kid" rides while the younger children and I ate ice cream. On the way home, Maya told me Movie World was her favourite of the three parks we visited - no comment from the twins, who were both fast asleep in the backseat!
Other things to do
As a popular tourist destination, the Gold Coast has something for everyone, so if the thought of back-to-back theme parks doesn't do it for you, try:
* A wildlife experience - Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (www.currumbin-sanctuary.org.au) is famous for its birdlife.
* Go shopping! I love Trade Secret (www.tradesecret.com.au) for designer bargains, while Pacifc Fair (www.pacifcfair.com.au) is the ultimate mall experience.
* Dinner with a difference - Dracula's Cabaret restaurant (www.draculas.com.au) is a great night out, or try an Outback Spectacular (www.outbackspectacular.myfun.com.au) dinner and show.
* Head out on the water - take a pleasure cruise, or try a spot of whale or dolphin watching (www.whalesinparadise.com.au).
When I was planning our trip, my editor told me to be sure to include some me-time amidst the theme park chaos. I'm not really one for massages and facials, but I did spend some time pampering myself with some gorgeous organic skincare and hair products that I normally wouldn't have time for. Not only did it mean that I came home with a real holiday glow, I was able to bring the products home too so I can have a little bit of the tropics in my shower every morning. I also took advantage of the balmy evenings to sit on the balcony of our apartment, overlooking the sea and the sunset with a book or three. Bliss!
All good things must come to an end
Why is it that holiday time always seems to pass twice as quickly as work time? Our holiday came to an end before we even had a chance to catch our breath. I'd love to say I spent the time on the flight home reflecting on the fun we had, but I'd be lying - fying solo with four children doesn't offer much free time for reflection! That said, full credit to the team at Pacifc Blue who went above and beyond to ensure we had a stress-free flight.
Touching down safely at home is always a good feeling: the girls were pleased to see their Dad after a week away and we have plenty of brilliant photos of our adventure to show him. Maybe next year, we'll even be able to convince him to come along!
Emma Fahy is the former editor of the OHbaby! website, and Mum to four girls: Maya Grace (6), Sienna and Mercedes (3), and Chiara (1). She has nostalgic memories of being able to sleep in on vacation, but says holidaying with her children is almost as much fun.