On a trip to see the Sevens, Denise Montgomery finds seven other highlights on the Gold Coast
At 8am, mid-October, as I was lying on a Gold Coast beach, my sister texted from Auckland to say she was too cold to think. Meanwhile my son was at cricket, but the pitch was under water.
We all know the weather's better on the GC. What you might not know is how spring sun lifts your mood. Queensland has stuck by its "no daylight saving" rule, so it's light - and bright - at 5.30am. By 7am only the sloths aren't pounding the Esplanade or riding a bike along it. That's how I came to be reading on the sand at 8am, having done my exercise for the day including a quick dip (brisk but bearable). I'd passed hundreds of people walking and cycling at 6.30am - it helps that they have such an accessible waterfront.
Here for the Gold Coast Sevens, I'd decided to find seven other fun things to do during my four-day stay. (Stay longer and add in the Gold Coast 600 V8s, October 25-27. See surfersparadise.v8supercars.com.au).
The Gold Coast Sevens was added to the IRB's Sevens World Series in 2011, and is the venue for the first round of the nine-country road show. Head over from Friday morning to Monday evening for the Sevens, and here's seven fun things to do that aren't funparks.
1. Fly in early to Coollangatta on Friday. Hire a car and go to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. So much has changed there in recent years, and your entry fee goes towards running the sanctuary, its wildlife hospital, and the koala conservation project. It's not for profit so it's a feel-good entry fee. Cuddle a koala, feed a kangaroo, hold an eagle or try the Green Challenge adventure course (high ropes in the bush). You can also watch through the glass windows of the hospital as vets operate on animals. New Zealand is the number one market for Currumbin but the Christchurch earthquake made a dent in Kiwi visitor numbers. Ideally spend a day there, but several hours gives you a feel for the place. Typical pricing: Single adults A$49 ($59). Two adults, two kids is A$131.
2. Stop for late lunch at Oskars on Burleigh on your way into Surfers. Spectacular sea views, and a great fishy menu. After Currumbin, the Little Creatures Ale is the perfect choice of local beer, although there's an award-winning wine list too. Upmarket Oskars has been around for more than 30 years and is popular with locals as well as tourists. Perfection.
3. Go to the new Soul Precinct off the Surfers seafront, wander through the shops then make a beeline for Black Coffee Lyrics, a cafe best-known to locals. It's tucked away upstairs in the Centre Arcade, 3131 Surfers Paradise Boulevard. Decor includes old stripped-down doors as tables, crazily angled bookshelves and grunge-inspired artworks. Great coffee, great food and good breakfasts too. A hidden gem. Where you stay in Surfers depends on your budget and whether you have children with you - hotels with kids' clubs are eternally popular. But for singles or couples, the quirky QT Resort in Staghorn Ave is fantastic, five-star and reasonably priced. It's a themed hotel where "nostalgic surfer chic meets Miami catwalk cool" and the result is bright and breezy and as uplifting as that 5.30am wake-up call from the sun.
Even if you are staying elsewhere, visit QT for the evening buffet at its Bazaar restaurant. They brought in the food stylists for this and it shows - it's like a fabulous European marketplace and foodies' paradise. All you can eat for A$59 - and you will not be disappointed. In the evening, the hotel's Stingray Bar is a place to be - the waitresses in tight red short dresses certainly help.
4. Saturday morning. Former Kiwi Gordon Kerr (Takapuna-born and raised) runs Duffy Down Under with his American-born wife, Nitsa. They have four electric boats (popular with the locals because they are so quiet) running from Mariner's Cove Marina. Go for one or two hours (up to 10 in a boat); you can be driven or drive yourself. No one's ever had an accident self-driving, and that includes me. Take your own drinks onboard and hook up your iPod for music. Travelling at 4 knots you can ogle at the home of the person with water cannons to drive away birds messing up his private jetty, or the poor sod with the heli-pad, or the couple who built their children a playground on million-dollar vacant land next to their house.
Price: One hour A$165 (up to 10 people, so as little as A$16.50 each). Two hours A$209. Gordon says he gives discounts to Kiwis.
5. Thrillseekers should try the SkyPoint Climb (A$69). SkyPoint in on top of the 230m Q1 Resort Hotel. The building's spire takes it to 332.5m, a bit more than the SkyTower. The climb starts on the 77th storey and is Australia's highest exterior climb at 270m. The fearful can sit inside on the observation deck, have a bite to eat and watch the brave climb above them. It's A$21 (adults) for just the deck, but worth it for the spectacular 360-degree views. Even if, like me, you're scared of heights, you can walk around the whole deck inside and feel quite comfortable. Sunset climbs are popular.
6. About a minute's walk from Skypoint is Q1 Spa. Like it on Facebook, book online and you get 10 per cent off, which is good because it's not cheap but it is special (and there are couples packages too). I chose the Kodo body massage which began with the burning of traditional Aboriginal herbs. Bliss. Then crank yourself up for the Sevens in the evening.
7. Sunday morning. Chances are you won't have met anyone who does tai chi on a stand up paddleboard (a SUP). Brad Holmes does. Chances are you also won't have met anyone quite like Brad. He teaches SUP, Tai Chi and surfing and we met him opposite Bumbles cafe (great food) on Budds Beach where we learned the fundamentals of paddle boarding in a flatwater inlet. The aim, once you've had some practice, is to SUP in the sea, and if you can master it on Brad's boards, you can ace it on the highly specced ones. While you're with Brad, leave your pride behind for Tai Chi on the sand - easy when you know no one. It's an experience that will contrast with your Sunday afternoon at the Sevens.
Monday: Recover. If you're there in the afternoon and your wallet isn't empty, experience a high tea at the Palazzo Versace - worth it to check out the beautiful people. Snoop Dogg stayed in a $4000 suite here and apparently nicked a cushion. Cheapskate!