Post 15 of a series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.
Australia’s Gold Coast is known for its theme parks, so being the big kids that we are we couldn’t leave without visiting one! With a second night booked in the same Surfer’s Paradise campsite, we had a whole day to dedicate to fun and thrills. We chose Warner Bros. Movie World because it seemed to have the biggest rides.
We got to Movie World so early that the gates were still shut, meaning we had to wait a considerable time for them to open, along with the other early birds. The queues to buy tickets moved slowly and we regretted not buying our tickets in advance. Such a slow start at one of the UK theme parks we know well, such as Alton Towers or Thorpe Park, might have guaranteed us places at the back of every queue and insufficient time to go on all the rides – but not here. Past the gates we found the entrance plaza eerily quiet and almost empty of people. The rides were only just starting up and the queues almost non-existent! With no strategy necessary we made a beeline for the first ride we saw: Superman Escape.
At the ride’s entrance we were surprised to be told to put our bags in lockers, because there is nowhere else to put them while on the ride. The lockers had to be rented at a small cost and we ended up leaving our stuff in them most of the day. The queue for the ride was very short and in a room cleverly made to look like a subway station, with televisions showing a news programme. As we boarded the ride, the ‘news’ began reporting a crisis and we were told that Superman was going to rescue us – by flying us from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in two seconds! I braced myself – and off we shot!
The sudden rush of speed was an incredible thrill, like nothing I’ve felt before. After that initial burst the ride was a typical white-knuckle coaster and a bit much for me. Steve loved it though, even going so far as to call it the best rollercoaster he’d ever been on! Next we went on Batman-themed ride Arkham Asylum, which was more scary but less exciting. It jolted us about a great deal and, staggering off with a sore head afterwards, I decided that was enough scary rides for now.
Next we proceeded down Main Street: a colourful boulevard of themed gift shops and a cinema. This was showing ‘Rio 4D’ and a screening was just beginning, so we thought we’d try it out to give our sore heads a rest. We followed the crowd of families and tiny children into the cinema and strapped ourselves into seats at the front, expecting to be there for just a few minutes. However, after five minutes of watching a bird fly about as our chairs shook about meekly, we realised they were showing the ENTIRE FILM and we left as discreetly as we could!
Next Steve went on the Batwing Spaceshot – one of those rides that lift you up very high and then plummet you to the ground. I decided to sit it out and admire the Batmobile from Batman Forever instead.
Next we took a spin on the Scooby Doo Spooky Coaster: a ghost train ride that turned out to be far more shocking and fun than we expected. I won’t ruin the surprise but it was so good we went on it twice! After that we walked into a very cool area styled to look like an old ‘Wild West’ town – full of prop barrels, horse troughs and mock-saloon fronts. We found plenty of fun photo opportunities here, including a photo booth that created a WANTED poster with your faces! Needless to say we couldn’t resist taking full advantage…
The star attraction of the area was the Wild West Falls, a log flume set within an impressive landscape. This was more thrilling than other log flumes I’ve been on and a lot of fun!
By now our bellies were growling and our skin melting – the sunlight and indeed the air itself was getting hotter and hotter – so we found an air-conditioned all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant that provided relief on both these fronts. And what did we find inside? Snow. A thick dusting of powerdery snow on everything. And by everything, I mean baubles, tinsel, holly, candles, reindeers and just about every other Christmas decoration you could possibly imagine. Santa Claus was chortling away on televisions around the room. As someone for whom Christmas is inextricably linked with winter, sitting among this explosion of festivity as we dripped with sweat from the sweltering heat outside seemed plain absurd. We loaded up on salad, pasta, intriguingly topped pizzas and bottomless soft drinks, and then on a frankly grotesque mixture of ice creams, dessert sauces and sweets. As a disclaimer, the abomination below was Steve’s, not mine…
Unable to eat anymore, we decided it wouldn’t be sensible to take our swollen bellies on a white-knuckle ride and went to watch a show instead: Hollywood Stunt Driver 2. The show was great – lots of fast cars spinning and motorbikes flying – but it was difficult by this point to think about anything but the heat. We were one part of a large audience, sat on sticky plastic chairs and collectively melting. It was so hot that I almost gave in and bought one of the expensive water-squirting fans being touted.
Show over, we took a second spin on the Spooky Coaster and Wild West Falls, before wandering into the kiddy area and going on the Road Runner Rollercoaster (which was a lot of fun!) We also went on the Justice League 3D ride, which involved shooting targets with laser guns. We spent some time ducking into air-conditioned shops, purely to cool down and hide from the sun, before stopping to catch the Warner Bros. parade down Main Street: a musical procession of themed floats carrying a mixture of superheroes, villains and classic cartoon characters.
We couldn’t believe it – with rides such as the Green Lantern Coaster closed for maintenance, we’d ran out of rides to go on! We were going to go on Superman Escape again but found it temporarily closed, so Steve went on Arkham Asylum again and I plucked up the courage to give Batwing a try. Then the heat really became too much. I’d begun to feel lightheaded and nauseous, and couldn’t bear to leave the shade. Thankfully, I managed to convince Steve to drive us home – and the relief to get back in the air-conditioned campervan was intense!
By the time we got back to the campsite, the sun was beginning to set and the air had cooled to a bearable temperature. We walked to the beach nearby and paused briefly to enjoy the tranquility brought on by the approaching dusk.
From the beach we walked into the centre of Surfer’s Paradise, passing a gaudy instrument of torture with the delightful name of ‘The Vomatron’ on the way. The gaudiness continued into the buzzing town centre, which was a frenzy of bright lights, taxis, gift shops, takeaways and nightclubs. The streets were filled with young people starting their nights out, interspersed with street performers and sellers of tat. It was pretty much just what we were expecting!
The long market running along the seafront, however, contained a lot of things we weren’t expecting. Quite horrible things in fact, such as parts of dead animals or items covered in their skin, as well as a stall offering photos with live exotic birds that were voicing their displeasure in a loud cacophony. We quickly made our exit and went in search of food.
We had almost resigned ourselves to eating in one of the brash touristy restaurants, when we came across a bar that looked distinctly different to the rest. Elston drew us in with its intriguing black facade and inside was all polished stone and copper pipes, dimly lit with filament light bulbs. We felt like we’d been transported to a hipster hangout in Shoreditch, London! Which, after half a month in Australia’s tourist hotspots, felt like a welcome return to the familiar.
The menu of cocktails and trendy ‘small dishes’ was a little more expensive than the other places around, but a whole lot more enticing. I excitedly plumped for a Bellini followed by something called a Poprocktini (apple vodka, watermelon & peach schnapps, apple juice, passionfruit, lime, poprock rim). I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – Australians make excellent cocktails.
Steve had two local craft beers called ‘My Wife’s Bitter’ and ‘Hef’. But the highlight was the food. We shared three plates between us: soft-shell crab with kimchi, green apple, coriander and lime; bolognese and pea arancini balls served with chive, garlic and mayo aioli; and chicken skewers with peanuts, peanut snow, chilli, lime, tamarind and ginger. The soft-shell crab dish was one of the best things I’d ever eaten, the arancini balls were sumptuous and the chicken skewers were tasty enough, but couldn’t compete with the other two dishes.
Feeling tipsy and thoroughly indulged after our meal, we found a taxi to take us home. Our driver asked where we were from and when Steve said Scotland, he began chatting about a previous Scottish customer who’d been outraged to be presumed Irish. He also told us that this had been the hottest day in Surfer’s Paradise since he moved here seven years ago, reaching 45 degrees celsius at is peak. I felt that this justified my behaviour earlier – and hoped that there weren’t still higher temperatures to come!