Currumbin on the Gold Coast has a unique character, writes Paul Rush.
Currumbin has some special attributes that set it apart. It has more natural vegetation than other parts of the Gold Coast due to the steepness of the hillsides and the extensive bush land within a wildlife sanctuary. With less commercial development here, it is a truly laidback seaside holiday resort offering water sports like kite-surfing, surf-skiing, board riding and standup paddle-boarding.
I've enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the best restaurant in town. The Currumbin Surf Club, called 'The Vikings', sits over the water, has stunning contemporary Australian cuisine and offers 180-degree views of the Gold Coast shore and sky.
I embrace the outdoorsy spirit of the area by walking on water in The Alley, a sheltered inlet behind the sandbank on Currumbin Beach. Paddle-boarding is popular here and, after a few tips from the Currumbin Boatshed people, I manage to propel myself along the inlet without falling off.
It's a gentle, low-impact exercise and can be very relaxing with the calming sensation of gliding over the water and watching the marine life pass below.
The inlet is also perfect for children to play in, away from the ocean waves.
I take a swim at the pristine ocean beach and chill out on the sand, where a group of people are enjoying a barbecue lunch. I watch children learn the ropes at the surf school. It's hard to leave this glorious beach, which is so unspoiled that it was voted Australia's Cleanest Beach in the Keep Australia Beautiful 2013 awards.
The beach meets the bush here in a delightful way. I wander through leafy lanes to the bustling village with its boutiques and cosy cafes along Pacific Parade. Over lunch I learn that the Currumbin Valley is the perfect place to enjoy fresh air and birdsong by a bubbling stream.
I drive out to the valley and ramble along the Mt Cougal National Park trail. It's a haven of peace that lifts my spirit. The gem is Currumbin Rock Pools. Families are rolling out picnic blankets and children are splashing around in crystal-clear pools.
After a comfortable night in the Sanctuary Beach Resort fronting the beach, I visit two outstanding attractions. Surf World has a fascinating collection of surfing memorabilia, a wealth of photographic records of past champions and a great display outlining the sport's history.
Superbee Honeyworld unveils the bewildering wonders of bees, spelling out the process of producing honey. The busy worker bees with their body mass should not be capable of flight in aerodynamic terms, but they manage to transport 7kg of nectar to produce just 1kg of beeswax and live only six weeks for their trouble.
My first wildlife experience at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a mildly disorienting lorikeet attack. It begins with a smiling staff member thrusting a tray of watery cereal my way with the reassuring words, "The pretty boys love you".
Before I can interpret the full social implications of this statement, a flock of Technicolor lorikeets perform a rain dance on my head and arms. A kaleidoscope of emerald green, sapphire blue and sunset orange flashes swirl around my head as the marauders devour the cereal, many mistaking my shaven head for the tray in their feeding frenzy.
I'm destined to indulge in more flights of fancy at the Free Flight Bird Show. I learn that Aussie herons are smart enough to drop insects into ponds to attract small fish to the surface, which is a nifty trick. Crows drop nuts on the road and wait for cars to crush them, so using our vehicles as a tool. Fire kites (hawks) carry burning sticks into dry scrub to spread fires that flush out game like snakes and lizards.
Given this level of avian skill I become a little anxious when the curators release raptors trained to skim over the heads of the audience. After a few near-misses by ferociously flapping wings I decide to seek out more convivial company like the cute crocodiles. I hesitantly take hold of a wriggling baby croc and flinch at the feel of its leathery skin.
The little croc is a beautiful creature but it does not display any demonstrable signs of love like the lorikeets. Its handler explains that this natural-born killer reacts instinctively. Once it seizes your finger in its jaws (fortunately they're taped up) it goes straight into a death roll and submerges in the river.
There's an option to meet deadly snake species like the taipan and to curl up with the gorgeous olive python, but I'm beginning to feel that I may relate better to my fellow mammals. I do it in style on the park's Segway Safari through the rainforest and eucalypt glades, soon mastering the intuitive steering system.
Later I get to hold an adult koala that quickly snuggles into my chest and offers his best camera profile. I don't achieve the same cosy relationship with the Tassie devils, wombats and echidnas but a big grey kangaroo briefly engages in a friendly bout of fisticuffs and I lose by a technical knockout.
The Green Challenge Zipline Canopy Tour appeals to my Boy's Own commando instincts and I'm soon swinging through the trees like Tarzan and riding a high wire in the canopy. In all there are 65 exhilarating challenges on offer here but I conserve my energy for the crocodile show in case an emergency 'fright and flight' response is called for.
Visiting animals in their sickbeds and talking soothingly to them can be great therapy for both parties so I hook up with the Behind the Scenes Tour. The animal hospital is amazing, taking in over 4000 patients each year from all over the state.
The nurses show me a brave little koala with a fractured forearm in a sling, a mallard duck with a fishhook in its beak and a lace monitor with a broken pelvis. Interestingly, the animals and birds within the sanctuary are so well cared for that relatively few are admitted.
Their favourite patient was Augusta, a carpet python that wriggled into a henhouse intent on stealing eggs. The owner had placed four golf balls under the brood hen to encourage her to lay. The snake scored the four birdies and was brought to the sanctuary for surgery as it was feeling below par. The golf balls were later sold on e-bay.
Volunteer carers go to great lengths to keep their charges alive. A python once swallowed a cane toad, which wedged in the throat and stopped her heart. The carer extracted the toad and gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She called up later to say her lips were tingling from the toad's residual poison. Another carer with a newborn child kept a baby bandicoot alive by expressing her own breast milk.
Beekeeper and flower grower Alex Griffiths founded Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in 1947, beginning by feeding the lorikeets to keep them off his blooms. Today the not-for-profit property of the National Trust of Queensland is home to 1400 birds, reptiles and mammals. It's one of the state's most loved attractions in one of the loveliest resort areas of the Gold Coast.
I've enjoyed every minute of my visit to the Currumbin area.
1. Robina Town Centre: Splurge out at the Gold Coast's largest shopping destination. Featuring David Jones, Myer, Big W, Target, lakeside dining and 350 speciality stores, it's the ultimate destination to shop, dine and relax in style.
2. Surf World Gold Coast: Surf World Gold Coast is Queensland's only surfing museum. The exhibition includes an extensive collection of surf boards highlighting the evolution of design and technology from the early 1930s to today.
3. Opera on the Beach - May 2014: Sometimes it feels like a crime to go indoors when the skies are clear - so they're taking the opera out of the theatre and onto the beach. This new production is co-presented by Opera Australia and Bleach* Festival and stars some of Australia's finest singers alongside a chorus of community choirs and the Gold Coast's own surf life saving clubs.
4. Gold Coast 7s - October 11 - 12: Come for the rugby and stay for the sun! Why not enjoy the thrill of the 7s on the Gold Coast, and then kick back and relax for a few days on the beach !
5. Golf: For the keen golfer head to Links Hope Island Golf Club, home to an 18-hole championship course designed by five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson and the great team at Thomson, Wolveridge and partners.
6. Learn to surf: Morning and afternoon, join a surf lesson at one of the Gold Coasts most uncrowded beaches just a few short kilometres north of Surfers Paradise at The Spit. This is one of the last undeveloped areas on the Gold Coast and it is a true locals spot.
7. Gold Coast Oceanway: The Gold Coast Oceanway is a 36 kilometre network of pathways along beaches from the Gold Coast Seaway (The Spit) to the Point Danger Lighthouse (Coolangatta). The pathways provide healthy and environmentally-friendly ways for pedestrians and cyclists to explore the renowned beaches of the Gold Coast.
8. SkyPoint Observation Deck: SkyPoint Observation Deck is a must-see for all Gold Coast visitors. With unrivalled 360 degree views from the coast to the hinterland, mini-theatrette and informative feature zones and displays.
9. Burleigh Head National Park: A wild, natural headland in the heart of the Gold Coast offers walks along the rocky foreshore and through rainforest, and the chance to see whales in spring and sea-eagles soaring along the coast. Its northern side is one of Australia's most famous surfing point breaks.
10. Surf Club Kurrawa: With its unique location on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, in the heart of bustling Broadbeach, The Surf Club Kurrawa to stand apart from the rest. Relax and enjoy the superb ambience of their Club overlooking the magnificent Pacific Ocean. Indulge in the bistro or bar, and enjoy the captivating sights of Kurrawa Beach.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: There are direct flights from Auckland to the Gold Coast or it's a one-hour drive from Brisbane.
Things to do: Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is 10 minutes from Gold Coast Airport, 25 minutes south of Surfers Paradise and is serviced by Surfride Buses 700, 760 and 765. Travelling by car from the north, follow the Gold Coast Highway to Currumbin. Cross over the bridge and onto Currumbin Hill. At the bottom of the hill turn left at the lights into Tomewin St. The sanctuary has wheelchair access with numerous ramps and boardwalks. Wheelchairs are free with a security deposit.
Further information: See escapewinter.co.nz.