Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Gold Coast: Diving right in

Nicholas Jones goes into a spin over an aerial view

Nicholas Jones gets an elevated view of the Gold Coast with Geoff Stillman, of Tiger Moth Joy Rides. Photo / Supplied
Nicholas Jones gets an elevated view of the Gold Coast with Geoff Stillman, of Tiger Moth Joy Rides. Photo / Supplied

After driving north away from the Gold Coast and into rural Pimpama, I'm not sure if I've got the right address. I come to a locked gate with only magpies for company.

But Geoff Stillman, my pilot and owner of Tiger Moth Joy Rides on the Gold Coast, soon rocks up to unlock the gate and lead us down a long gravel road, opening and closing more farm gates on the way, until the road opens out on to a lone airplane hangar, surrounded by bright green farmland. Inside are two vintage open cockpit RAAF Tiger Moth airplanes. These biplanes were built from 1931 to 1945 as military training planes; Geoff now uses them to take customers on scenic or aerobatic flights.

It's quite a ride. Geoff pushes one of the planes out on the grass runway outside. After a brief rundown on what to expect once we are up in the air, I hop in the front cockpit with my leather hat and goggles, and Geoff hand-cranks the propeller.

We slowly putt out to our starting position, surrounded by gumtrees. A lone cow looks up from eating to lazily consider us.

Takeoff comes as a surprise in how gentle it is, considering my only experience of flying has come with the million screams of commercial airlines.

I'm completely exposed to the elements in my open cockpit, with the warm air in my face and the blur of the propeller in front of my eyes. As we slowly make our way towards the high rises of the coastline, the plane rattles, but nerves quickly give way to astonishment at the view: to my right the Gold Coast hinterland stretches out; the waterways and untouched beaches of Broadwater below and left.

Geoff points out the McMansions of Sovereign Island, each with a pool and luxury yacht parked out the front.

After a few laps around the area, with high rises to one side and tiny specks of people on the beach below, Geoff radios through to say it's time and to "put your head back". It's sound advice as for the next 10 minutes I'm not sure which way is back, forward, up or down.

I find myself yelling out with happiness and a bit of fear each time our nose turns up to the sky and we roll over in a loop.

It's difficult to keep track of the moves, but the biggest thrill comes when Geoff idles the engine, which seems to me like it has completely cut out, leaving eerie silence and the whistling of wind as we start to tip forward and plunge to the dark blue water below.

After what seems like an eternity the engine splutters back to life and we use the speed built up to whip back up into another rolling loop. Occasionally we hit pockets of turbulence that rattle and bounce the plane mid-manoeuvre.

We take a few more laps around the buildings, spotting pools on the very top of the high rises. With nerves now completely gone it's easy to marvel at what is a stunning place - high above street level the area's natural beauty is on glorious display.

If the hair-raising acrobatics aren't your thing, scenic flights are available. For us, there's another round of barrel rolls, loops, stalls, spins, climbs and dives on the way home, before Geoff circles around to land.

As someone who grips the armrests when touching down on even the most basic commercial flight, the touchdown is one of the scariest moments for me - but after the early thrills, Geoff puts the plane down gently.

We are both smiling as we roll back through the fields to the hangar, past the same cow and under the same gum trees.

A 35-minute Surfers Paradise flight costs $525.

An action-packed plan for a Gold Coast visit

Rent a dream car
A once-in-a-lifetime experience for all those who had a poster of a supercar on their walls as a kid - feel your head snap back as you drive a Lamborghini Gallardo or Ferrari 360 Modena around the Gold Coast, winding your way through the hinterland on real open roads, with gum trees forming a canopy overhead.

$488 per person for drivers, $363 for passengers (with a paying driver) for a one-hour, 40km route. Driver must be at least 30

Quad Bike Safaris
The ideal (and lazy) way to get a taste of the Hinterland. Owners Todd and Wendy escort an ATV quad-bike safari through a range of terrain on a 170ha farm, dotted with areas of lush bush. Stop-and-stare views are offered by the surrounding Springbrook National Park and adjacent Numinbah Valley. The flash and bustle of the coast feels a distant memory during the two-hour tour, which covers 22km. Keep an eye out for eagles, wallabies and goannas.

$150 per driver (must be at least 16 years old)

Wildfire Harley Davidson Tours
Choose your own route and cruise on the back of a Harley Davidson. With the driving taken care of, it's the best way to experience the area's excellent people-watching. We cruise past a Pamela Anderson lookalike exiting a Porsche, shirtless muscle-heads working out in parks, and Chinese tour groups. Tours also go to the famous Burleigh Heads and down to Byron Bay.

One-hour tours from $150

Gold Coast Sky Dive
One of the most scenic skydives in the world - once the parachute's ripcord has been pulled take in the views across the Gold Coast (pictured left), its waterways and the hinterland, then land on the white sand beach at Coolangatta.

It's a huge adrenalin rush and it's hard to remember just how terrifying the ocean looked from up in the plane when you are happily relaxing on the beach after the jump is complete.

Tandem skydive is $432 per person

- NZ Herald

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