Our trip to the Gold Coast

Trip Start Oct 13, 2007
Trip End ??? ??, 2009

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hi Everyone--

I thought I'd share our pics from our vacation last week to the Gold Coast.  This is a long entry, so if you have time.....

First a little geography lesson, and forgive me if you know this stuff.  I didn't, so I'm going to assume that some of you would be interested.  We live in New South Wales, one of the 6 states in Australia.  The Gold Coast is located in the state just to the north, Queensland.  Now, just so you can get perspective on the size of this place....Australia is not much smaller than the U.S., so only having 6 states....well, they're biggies.  The Great Barrier Reef is also in Queensland, but further north, and that will be a trip that will require a plane ride.  We stayed primarily in Coolangatta, which is just over the NSW border--about 10 hours from where we live.  It's about 2 hours south of Brisbane.  All of this is on the east coast of Australia.  The Gold Coast is a popular family destination for vacations, because it is the Disney World of Australia--lots of theme parks, but we were determined not to make that the entire focus.  Anway, that concludes the geography lesson.

Lunch in Port Macquarie
We started off last Saturday and made our way to Port Macquarie, which is about 4 hours away.  There we had Kebabs, followed by Cold Rock (aka Cold Stone Creamery), and a walk along the harbour.  We grabbed some info from the visitors center because our last day of the trip would be back here.  But then we were off on the road again.

The Drive
A little about the drive up....it was quite interesting in terms of the terrain.  It was really a mixed bag.  Everything from flat farm lands with cows and sheeps, to beautiful green rolling hills with mountains in the distance.  The hills looked like how I would imagine Ireland would look.  Jim said it reminded him of Missouri, with the obvious exception of the unusual trees.  We finally saw kangaroos in the wild!!!!!  It took only 6 months, but there they were.  I have a picture of them in a field, but there were also heaps of them on a golf range nearby.  We were amazed at how big some of them were.  It was very cool.  By the end of the trip, we had seen them from time to time, but it still was fun to look for them and we learned that dusk is really the best time, and in open fields.  We seemed to pass an inordinate number of cows on the farms too, and some sheep.  We were amazed at the height of the trucks on the road.  I swear they were double in height of our trucks in the states.  There were hardly any overpasses, but when we did come across one, it was about double the height as well--good thing for the truckers, eh?  We passed little towns with tin roofs (rusted!).  Although the kids were content to watch movies most of the way, Jim and I found it entertaining to just gaze out the window at such a different and changing world.  This made Jim very nervous when I was driving.

Coffs Harbour
Coffs Harbour is about 6 hours up the coast, and we spent 2 nights there.  Coffs is the banana capital of Australia.  So we passed plenty of banana plantations along the way.  Lots of sugar cane fields as well.  Our hotel was just a short walk from the beach, so we spent the first morning walking along the beach where Sam gathered about 5 pounds of rocks which he had to carry in his shirt (and unfortunately, all of these came home with us).  We spent some time at the harbour and hiked up to Mutton Bird Island where there were great views of the surf crashing onto the rocks.  No mutton birds...not the season apparently. 

The highlight of Coffs was our surfrafting trip.  Our guide met us at 8:00 am and took us to a nearby beach, where he equipped us with life vests and helmets, and then spent about 30 minutes giving us instruction and safety tips.  Then we piled in a raft, similar to a white water raft, and paddled out into the surf.  Let me just say, that we had no idea how strenuous this activity would be.  Once we battled the incoming surf, our guide would turn the boat around and we'd wait nervously for his command "forward paddle, forward paddle" which we were supposed to do vigorously and in unison.  Keep in mind, we have a 9 and 11-year old in the boat paddling too.  Well, all the work was worth it when we'd finally catch a wave and ride it in.  Of course it wasn't that simple, because the waves aren't very forgiving, and they are quite a bit bigger than our little boat.  So, we'd have to listen and quickly respond to commands to lean left or right or back, or we'd risk capsizing or, worse--nosediving.  Needless to say, we did both, and after the nosedive, that turned out to be our last ride by choice.  Max and I hung together and rode into the shore (getting pummeled unmercilously by huge waves), while Jim and the guide tried to retrieve the paddles.  The boat, by this time was making it's way to shore on it's own, where Sam and some woman pulled it on the beach.  (Sam had quit earlier due to the cold).  Anyway, despite that little adventure, it was a blast.

On to Coolangatta
Another few hours and we were in Coolangatta where we spent 4 nights.  Our hotel was just across the street from the beach, and the sand was amazing.  So incredibly white and fine, but packed down some, so it would kind of squeek when you walked in the dry sand.  And the beach would seem to go on forever, so we spent many mornings walking along the beach watching incredible surfing.  People also come to the Gold Coast to surf, and you can tell from the size of the waves and the skill level of some of these people.  And we were amazed at how close they would surf to these enormous rocks!  Unfortunately, the surf and rocks have claimed many lives and along this walkway by the beach, there were plaques in memory of so many young surfers who didn't make it.  Pretty sad.

4-Wheel Drive Tour
A highlight of the trip here was a 4-wheel drive tour we took into the Tambourine Mountains, about 30 minutes away.  There, we learned how to throw a boomerang (well, our guide taught us how...I'm not sure we learned).  We also learned how to crack a whip.  Not surprisingly, I was a natural at this.  We had "smoko" which is the same as afternoon tea or taking a smoke break.  We were served scones, which are these enormous biscuits, with rhubarb jam and fresh cream.  To die for!  Max and I had a wine tasting--he smelled, I tasted.  We did some off roading, which we know that Jim's sister and brother in law will be proud of.  Our guide took us through a rain forrest and pointed out all kinds of interesting things--strangling fig trees, funnel web holes, termite destruction, trap door spider.  He was intersting, funny and very patient with the endless questions from the kids.  A highlight for me was seeing a koala mama with her baby in the wild.  Let me just say that it is quite rare to see Koalas in the wild, so I feel really privileged that he was able to find one for us. 

We did one theme park--Wet N Wild World.  Unfortunately, this was the coolest and rainiest day of the trip, so it was not terribly enjoyable for me and Sam.  But Max had a great time and Sam conquered a couple of his fears by going on some pretty big rides (me too). 

Dolphins & Lorikeets

On one of our walks along the beach, we were fortunate enough to see some dolphins playing in the surf, and you'll see a pretty cool pic of one of them.  We ended up seeing more in Port Macquarie on our last day.  I'm not sure if I've posted a picture of a lorikeet before, but they are these beautiful colorful little birds that look like parakeets and we see them around our house sometimes.  I mention it here, because it was amazing the numbers of them up in Coolangatta.  They are quite talkative in the morning and evening, and we were walking home from dinner one night and the sound was just deafening.  We looked at the trees, and you'd see all this color amongst the green. 

Dorrigo & Port Macquarie
On our way back down the coast, I insisted that we make a side trip to the World Heritage Listed Dorrigo Rainforest.  Now, I wasn't sure what the World Heritage list was, but it sounded like something we should really do (and besides, my travel book said it was a must-see).  Max had had about enough walking and rainforests, so he wasn't thrilled, but it was still fun.  It was rainy....naturally, but the unique thing about this park is the skywalk.  You take a short walk along a wood platform and you're over the rainforest canopy, so you can get a birds eye view of a rainforest.  The walking trails were very nice and we did a short one and saw a number of wild turkeys.  On our way out of the park, we stopped at a spot to get some pics of a nice waterfall. 

Then we were on to our final night back in Port Macquarie.  The next day was rainy and cool, so we walked around the town shops, ate some lunch and then headed out for "Ton of Fun" a little park where the kids were able to do go karts and quad rides (probably their favorite part of the trip if you ask them ;). 

I can't sign off without saying something about the food.  Well, we ate more portions of potato wedges (they serve them with sour cream and sweet chili sauce) than I can count.  We also had a "fine dining" experience at one of the hotels, which Max summed up as "high quality" (he had the nachos).  We ate more servings of Cold Rock Ice Cream than anyone should have in a week.  But a definite highlight was the Mexican--yes, I said Mexican--restaurant.  As some of you know, that's the one thing that is sorely lacking in Australia.  Now we know that we just need to go about 10 hours away and we'll be able to get our fix.  Horrible margueritas, but the food was great, and the prices were actually reasonable!  And of course we had a few fast food stops in there as well.  I'm officially on a diet.

All in all, a great vacation with many memories.  I hope you like the pictures!

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