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Gold Coast: Beyond The Theme Parks

Beyond the noise of the Gold Coast’s big theme parks, there are even more adventure and adrenaline-fuelled activities for kids, getting wet, getting up high or getting into the wild. On a recent family holiday, we managed a week on the Goldie without passing through turnstiles once, and I’m not sure the kids even noticed, they were so preoccupied with enjoying themselves elsewhere. No queues, no slushies and no wild rides, but plenty of laughing, fun and messing about in water.

The Gold Coast is calling you. Picture: Getty Images

1. Surfing And SUP-ing

It’s called Surfers Paradise after all, so the first thing we decide to do during our stay is learn how to surf. Surfing school Go Ride A Wave has been teaching people since 1987.

Thousands are taught to surf by the school every year in several locations on the Gold Coast, and now also Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. There are no chances taken with our safety, with a few practice runs and a serious briefing on surf safety before we get in the water. The instructors are all trained lifeguards, so you know you’re in safe hands if you get into trouble.

A surf school gets ready to hit the waves at Surfers Paradise. Picture: Getty Images

The boards are big, lightweight and very stable, so each of us is able to stand up and ride a wave at least once, the long and steady waves giving us plenty of time to jump up on our feet. Feeling fairly confident, we decide to try our hand at larger boards and a bit more standing up.

Stand-up paddleboarding is the fastest-growing sport in the world and it is becoming very popular in Australia. Currumbin Lagoon, on the lower reaches of the Gold Coast, is a great place to learn the basics, and it’s also where you’ll find paddleboard company JM SUP.

Owner Justin Mitchell has competed at world-championship level and, in fact, all the instructors working at JM SUP are actively training and competing in stand-up paddleboarding events around the world. You can simply hire a board and go for it, or opt for a lesson to learn a few of the trickier manoeuvres, and trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

2. To The Tree Tops

After messing about in water, it’s time to head for the hills to find a few vertigo-inducing adrenaline injections. We stop first at nearby Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, home to myriad Australian animals, and a reasonably difficult high-ropes course.

The TreeTop Challenge has 80 challenges, involving rope ladders, nets and 11 zip-lines, including one that takes you flying over the crocodile enclosure. The course has the added attraction of giving you a bird’s-eye view of the animals below. If you look closely you’ll spy a few Tasmanian devils and white dingoes.

Take a tree-top challenge.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary covers 27 hectares of coastal rainforest, worth exploring at ground level as well, either by foot, or by Segway on a guided tour with your own personal wildlife officer.

About an hour’s drive north-west of Currumbin, in the Gold Coast hinterland, there are even more adventure-based activities for kids that don’t involve queues and hydraulics. Thunderbird Park is home to one of Australia’s largest high-ropes courses.

It is built and managed by the same family company that manages the tree-tops course at Currumbin. There are more than 100 challenges, including 11 huge zip-lines ranging in length from 20 metres to 125 metres, suspension bridges, a Tarzan swing, barrels to crawl through and nets to climb, over a course that ranges in height from two metres to 20 metres.

It gets progressively harder (and higher) as you make your way from the green course, through the red and black courses. My fear of heights kicks in on the red course and I wave a white flag as the fearless kids fist-pump the air and move on to black.

3. Skirmish And Trail Rides

Adjacent to the challenge at Thunderbird Park, we enter a live-action version of Call of Duty as we don camouflage gear, choose from a vast arsenal of rather realistic-looking weaponry and ready ourselves for a game or two of laser skirmish. The play area is laid out like a movie set, so it’s just like being inside a video game, and using an invisible (and harmless) infrared beam, we form teams with mission objectives and start shooting each other in the lush rainforest. It’s hectic and the kids are far better at stealth than their grown-up opponents, but then, they’ve probably had more practice (online).

Climb into the saddle in the hinterland.

Up the road, we slow the pace down a bit with Tamborine Mountain Trail Rides, along winding trails through cool, green rainforest next to a rushing creek, each on a horse that’s perfectly matched to our size and experience (I get a Clydesdale). The horses vary in size, breed and type, but they all have a sweet temperament and they’re in great condition.

There is a half-hour trail ride, which is suitable for beginners. More experienced riders, like our lot, who would rather be cantering than plodding, can venture further on a one-hour or 90-minute trail ride.

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4. Getting High

SkyPoint Observation Deck is on the 77th and 78th floors of Q1 Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Australia. The 360-degree view from the observation deck is arguably the best on the Gold Coast.

It’s good enough for me but the kids have decided the view is better outside. SkyPoint Climb takes you to the summit, about 30 metres above the 77th floor, for spectacular (and windy) views.

The dizzying heights of the Gold Coast from the Q1 Tower.

The climb is not for the faint-hearted – while you are securely fastened to a balustrade of the staircase on your left, there’s no handrail on your right, just sky. (Kids must be 12 years old to climb, and accompanied by an adult.)

Any higher than this, you need to be flying. There is a range of scenic heli-tours available on the Goldie – and they’re surprisingly affordable. Heli‑tours are also available at the Sheraton Mirage Heliport.

5. Where To Stay

The Gold Coast has endless apartments to choose from, which is great if you want a self-catered (in other words, cheaper) holiday, but if you prefer to stay in a resort, there are plenty of those, too.

Paradise Resort Gold Coast has a wide range of accommodation styles, from powered campsites to cabins and three-bedroom poolside villas. For the kids, there are playgrounds, giant jumping pillows, a large lagoon pool and a new water park.

Enjoy a dolphin experience with Sea World Resort. Picture: Getty Images

Sea World Resort has very spacious rooms, and ground-floor rooms provide easy access to the pool and waterpark, with adjoining rooms for the kids. Guests have unlimited access to Sea World during their stay – and exclusive early-access privileges to activities such as an early-morning family dolphin experience.

For something even more upmarket, Peppers Broadbeach has a range of rooms with a view, from one-bedroom suites to three-bedroom Skyhomes. Kids are provided with iPads for the duration of the stay, with lots of apps installed, including Bound Round, a video travel guide for kids, which they can use to explore the Gold Coast. Board games, DVDs, video games, surfboards and boogie boards are available for hire at reception.

6. Where To Eat

BMD Northcliffe Surf Club has a fully licensed family-friendly restaurant. It serves good-quality pub-style food, including burgers, steak and pizza, and has a play area equipped with computers and board games to keep the kids entertained while you dine.

The Hard Rock Cafe is a firm favourite with kids, the atmosphere is always lively, the staff friendly, and the menu has plenty of family favourites. It’s always great fun on birthdays, too, with sparklers on hand as staff lead the entire restaurant in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

The Australian Outback Spectacular is a cabaret with a difference. Guests are served a three-course meal that usually includes steak and pavlova, while watching impressive horseback-riding stunts. The storyline changes each year and it’s one my kids never get tired of watching.

Five free things to do with kids on the Goldie

  • Visit Broadwater Parklands, which has a giant playground, jumping pillow, public pool and safe swimming beach for littlies.

Visit Broadwater Parklands with the littlies.

  • Have a barbecue at one of the many beachside or lagoon-side parks. Currumbin Lagoon and Budds Beach are great locations for kids.
  • Go for a bike ride along one of the beachside trails that stretch from the Spit in the north to Coolangatta in the south.
  • Visit the Gold Coast Botanical Gardens, smell the roses, and let the kids go mad in the sensory garden.
  • Cool down under the waterfalls and check out the glow-worm caves at Springbrook National Park.