Iris’s Whirlwind Tour (Welcome To The Gold Coast)

So my friend Iris decided it was time to take a vacation and it just so happened she knew someone (me) living in Australia, so she decided to fly out and see how things were down-under. I’ve been holding off doing some exploring because I knew I had friends visiting while I was over here and it’s a lot more fun sharing experiences.

For sanity’s sake, I am chopping this up into four separate posts:

  1. Welcome To The Gold Coast
  2. Climbing Sydney
  3. Swimming Through The Forest
  4. Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

Warning, these are long posts, but I have included photos 🙂 click the “Read the rest of this entry” to venture forth…

Welcome to the Gold Coast

In my best “Kiefer Sutherland” voice: “The following takes place between the hours of 12:30pm May 23rd and 11:59pm May 29th”

First Two Days:


We had a pretty quiet start, I picked up Iris from Brisbane International, took her around the area, did some shopping, got her settled in to our apartment (and onto the internet), and cooked up some Thai green curry for dinner. The next morning we headed out to the ocean and played around in the waves for awhile. We then headed home, had leftovers, and started planning the rest of the vacation. She was still getting used to the sleep schedule and crashed hard around 4pm’ish, I got some more groceries, cooked an Indonesian Coconut Beef Stew for dinner, woke her up and talked about some more things to do during her stay over dinner.

Day Three:


Unfortunately I first had to take our car into the shop to make sure it was doing ok (there was something wrong with the transmission). So we killed some time in the area, visiting a bead store, taking photographs of the local area, talking with the locals about one of the rivers passing us. After returning, we found out that the car needed some major work and was not expected to survive our planned trip into the (hilly) wine country.

So we headed back home, but stopped off at a mall to get some lunch and ended up getting plane tickets to Sydney. Since travel agents were abundant, we wanted to wait until we were in Sydney before deciding where to go next. (we found that the costs for flying to Uluru were to high so we decided on dropping that leg and focused on Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef) We also stopped off at a book store to grab a Lonely Planet book on Australia (give ideas while in Sydney). While shopping, we met Alison (Ali) who turned out to be a teacher at Kristen’s university that just moved back from Canada. She invited us and Kristen to drop by anytime for coffee.

That night, we wandered around Surfers Paradise, grabbed some gelato, walked down to the beach, checked out the surf and then ended up on one of those horse carriages that circled the main strip. It was pretty fun, but you could tell winter was on its way as the night air started to have a bite to it.

Day Four:


Well since the car wasn’t in any shape for our galavanting around for the next few days, we decided to rent a car until we flew out to Sydney (in 4 days). I called around and found a good price on a rental, and bussed out to get it while Iris stuck around at home working on her laptop (updating her photos and blog). We ended up with this cheeky blue Kia (which, actually, was a really nice car). I picked up Iris and we were off to the Wine and Food trail.

It was a beautiful drive through rolling hinterlands, we stopped at a few lookouts to take pictures of the valleys and tree covered hills. We also stopped at the Nut Shack where were got some snack and a coffee (which we enjoyed on their patio that had a view of the Gold Coast off in the distance). After we headed out again, we realized that the snack had actually kicked off our stomachs and we were pretty hungry, so the search for lunch had commenced. We didn’t have to wait long, as we rounded a corner, a Lebanese restaurant caught both of our eyes.

Karnak” has a wonderful outdoor setting with tables, hammocks, swing chairs, pillows, etc (of which Iris and I took full advantage of). We sat under a canopy of trees (with rays of sunlight streaming through) and ordered the meza platter for two. They brought out this gorgeous plate with dips, deep fried falafels, pickled vegetables, and both stuffed cabbage & grape leaves. We both fell in love with the “Egyptian Feta” dip, but pretty much devoured the entire plate. Keeping us company was a local black labrador who was quite content to sit our feet and allow us to scratch and pet him. Iris loved the place so much that she wanted to come back here for her last night in Australia.

From there we wandered around to the local shops on the “Gallery Walk” and found “Fudge Heaven” with “Adults only Fresh Fudge” (it meant fudge with liquor added, like Baileys, rum, etc). I made it out of there with only “Black Coffee” and “Dark Chocolate” fudge (sometimes, I just want the basics 🙂 ), Iris picked a varied mix (I don’t remember any names, but they were pink, green, white, etc). I have to say that the flavors lived up to the name of the shop.

As the sun moved across the sky, we hopped back into our car and were off to our next stop, unfortunately we ended up going in circles a few times trying to find the main road (I think we passed Karnak 3 times that day). We finally found our way again, and it was beautiful and relaxing enough to not truly notice being lost. We found our way to the “Tamborine Mountain Distillery” but they had just closed their doors so we headed next door to the “Witches Chase Cheese Company“.

Oh what tasty cheeses they had, I tasted as much as I could and ended up taking home the “Jalapeno Cream Cheese” and the “Triple Cream Cheese”. Iris also grabbed the “Jalapeno Cream Cheese”, “Black Max Cheddar” and “Red Devil Cream Cheese”. We didn’t get a chance to taste their onsite gourmet ice cream, but I vowed to eventually return.

As evening was fast approaching we drove out to our final stop, the “Mount Nathan Winery“. I had visited this place before with Kristen, but it is well worth the return. They specialize in honey and sweet wines, and a few cream liquors like butterscotch, honey-cream, honey-chocolate-cream, etc. I love both their ports and one wine of their white wines, “Autumn”, which is a perfect sweet white with a nutty aftertaste. We sat around and chatted with the owner of the winery for about an hour (we were the only ones there as the day closed off).

Eventually we left toward home where we ended the night sitting outside on the porch eating kebabs.

Day Five:


This was an early morning, dressed and out the door by 6:50am because we had both signed up for a (SCUBA) shore dive at “The Spit”, which is a local inlet of water to a bay near our apartment. We originally had contacted the “Gold Coast Diver Center” to schedule refresher courses, but after talking with the dive master, she invited us to join the shore dive which was cheaper and fit into our schedule. She said she would watch us and if she thought we needed to refresh our skills we could continue to sign up for the refresher dive afterwards. We met everyone, filled out our forms, got our tanks, weights, and wet suits, and all drove out to the dive site. We were paired with a frequent local diver who discussed the route we were to take. Everything went smoothly, the visibility wasn’t the best, but wasn’t to bad either. We saw a number of fish, practiced our skills, Iris had a few buoyancy problems (kept floating up), and had to get out earlier than I because her tank had less oxygen when we started. On my way up I made the mistake of shallow breathing and ended up with a headache, but overall everything went well. We dropped back by the dive shop, helped clean the rented equipment, got our logs signed, got some advise on diving the Barrier Reef and then headed home to shower.

After cleaning up, we were off on a nice hour drive to Brisbane (which is the 3rd biggest city in Australia). I had to stop off at a store to pickup some replacement Teva sandals (mine were starting to die after 7 years, which is pretty good if you ask me). Iris decided to pick up some walking sandals while we were there. Then we were off in search of lunch, which wasn’t too hard to find because we were right next to their Chinatown. We shopped around, Iris grabbed some presents for her friends and family and we settled down at this one restaurant in the center square. Iris tried the local beer, and we both ordered spicy dishes but ended up trading because we liked each others better. After watching the sun slowly set, we wandered back down to the car, stopping by a fountain with goldfish, taking pictures, and then accidentally polluting it (Iris’s camera dropped and the battery door flew open, flinging a battery into the pond. Don’t worry though, we discovered that the fountain is being removed in a month anyway). Back at the car, we drove around for a bit, stopped to take pictures of this beautiful old church during twilight and finally decided it was time to call it a day and head home.

Day Six:


This was a fun day, we got up, had breakfast, played on the internet (addicted much?), and then headed out to go Zorbing. For those that don’t know, basically you crawl into this gigantic inflated ball, strap yourself in, and then they push you down a hill (it’s great fun 🙂 ). When we got to the Zorb Center we noticed it shared a parking lot with a Go-Karting place, since Iris had never been, we decided to visit that after our Zorb Runs.

Zorbing was a blast, we both opted for two runs each, a dry run and a wet run. The “dry run” is where you are strapped into the Zorb ball and then rolled down the hill. The “wet run” is where they put you into the ball and throw in a bucket of water, you can try to stay standing up (if you do, you get a second ride for free) or you can fall down and let the ball roll round you as you float in the water down the hill. I really enjoyed both rides, I think Iris liked the wet ride more. We decided to revisit before Iris left (if time permitted). Before we left, the owner suggested we try the “Infinity Walk” in Surfers Paradise. It’s a fun optical illusion maze to make your way through.

After we dried off, we walked next door to “Le Mans Kart Racing“. Both of us signed up for 2x 5 laps, first in the “Super Karts” and then the second set in the “Mean Machines”. 10 laps doesn’t sound like much, but the track is pretty big. They give you two pieces of advice “Never use the breaks on the track” and “Keep the accelerator floored the entire time” (except for when you have completed a full circuit and are setting up to start your next lap). Boy does that make it a wild experience. You feel like you are going to spin out or flip, but they assure us that no one has ever flipped a kart yet. The best track time for the “Mean Machines” was 49.37 seconds, my best time was 50.30 seconds. Iris was hooked and it only solidified our intent to revisit before she left.

On the way home we noticed some really dark clouds making their way across the sky, which was surprising considering the bright warm blue sky we had been experiencing up to that point. Our timing was perfect, because by the time we got home the rain had started (and here in Queensland, it goes from light sprinkle to torrential downpour in seconds). Iris loves the rain, so we decided to have dinner out on the covered patio at my apartment. We reheated the chinese food from Brisbane, cooked up some fresh rice, opened a bottle of the Autumn wine from Mt Nathan Winery and enjoyed a beautiful storm (with thunder and lighting).

Later on, Kristen and her family arrived home from their one week trip up north to the Great Barrier Reef. I noticed that Sally (Kristen’s mom) was not with them and when I asked, I found that she had a heart attack while snorkeling on the island they were staying at. She was in the hospital up north and was going to be flown to Brisbane within a few days. Luckily she was stable, but there was not much that could be done until she was in better equipped facilities.

Iris and I decided to give them some space to unwind so we headed out to Surfers. After wandering around, we saw the “Infinity Walk” that was mentioned earlier and decided to try it out. It was a fun experience, they have a series of rooms with mirrors, lasers, fog machines, speakers and such to create a number of optical illusion rooms, some of them were really well done, and I can see how the advice “Have a few drinks before heading in” can really make it fun for a group of friends.

Day Seven:


This was our day to head north to the Australia Zoo, which happens to be the home of Steve Irwin “The Crocodile Hunter”. We got there pretty early (10am) because Kristen had mentioned a special show that started at 11am in the “Crocoseum”. It turned out to be four shows in one. We were seated in time for the first show where we were introduced to a few of the local snakes and given a history and biology lesson.

After the snakes were cleared out, they brought out two large tigers. These were beautiful animals, as one trainer talked about the tigers, two other trainers were playing with them using giant sticks with stuffed animals on the end (the same way we would play with a house cat using a string or fuzzy ball on the end of a stick). Then they got the tigers to climb oversized scratching posts (about 15-20 feet high) where they popped balloons that were spread out on them (showing that these large animals have no problems climbing and navigating in trees). They finished up by having the tigers drink milk from bottles while reared up on their hind legs. After the tigers left, the staff started to dismantle the extended height of the center stage fences.

We were startled by a number of bird that started buzzing the audience. There were multiple trainers spread throughout the stands getting all the birds to fly “INCHES” above peoples heads. Again we learned about the native species and their interactions with people. Birds of prey, scavengers, birds of paradise, swimming birds, etc. Then after about 20 minutes, the trainers started taking them in and prepping for the final section of the show.

That’s when they brought out the crocodiles, we learned how territorial they were, how they can keep 95% of their body submerged while hunting (only exposing their eyes and nose), how fast they were on land, and how they can launch their body out of the water to catch prey. Simply magnificent creatures.

After watching all those animals being fed, we decided it was time to grab some lunch for ourselves. We headed over to the food court and ordered one of their “everything” burgers (now this was a burger! Take the regular fixings, then add spiced meat patties, strips of rasher bacon, fried egg, slices of beet root, then topped it all with bbq sauce) Wow, our stomachs barely survived.

Fighting off food coma, we decided to wander around. Iris signed up for some Koala photos, and we both signed up for a Wombat encounter. We had to kill time before the Koala photos started so Iris did some shopping, then we walked by the kids petting zoo, visited some nearby exhibits, and found our way back to the photo area. Iris got her Koala hugs with photos and afterwards we got an escort to the Wombat pen (because the scheduled group had left early without us).

In the wombat pen, we (4 of us) were given direct access to the wombats, we could touch, pet, scratch, etc any of the female wombats being fed (just don’t put your fingers near their mouths, they tend to nip at them). The trainers were letting us pet the females because the males were very territorial and would not take kindly to us in their pen. After about 20 minutes the trainers noticed the male wombat making his way over to us and they ushered us out.

After that we were free to wander the park, we passed by the “Birds of Prey”, the “Rainforest Aviary”, walked into the open pen of the red kangaroos (Iris had to chase around a few before she found one that would let her pet him), passed into the koala pens (got to pet them in the trees), then wandered around “The Wetlands” (where Iris fell in love with the beauty and serenity of the area, she envied the Irwin’s access to wander the park after hours with all the animals as a way to unwind).

As the sun set, we make our way back to our car. Wishing we had more time, we bid farewell to all the animals and drove home.

We grabbed some pizza for dinner because we had much to do that night. We had to be pack light (but we were visiting both winter and summer climates) and be ready for a 7am flight to Sydney the next morning.

…to be continued in “Climbing Sydney

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