Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Gold Coast: First time for everything

As the prawn flies from the barbecue's scalding surface towards my 4-year-old son's face, time slows. The crustacean's angle of descent narrows to a line of approach that seems bound to slap my boy across the chops and into a state of shrimp-battered ignominy.

Already a delicate soul, this could tip him over the edge. Baxter's not what you'd call an adventurous eater, and here, on the Gold Coast, the single-most Australian place a New Zealander could ever visit, he's a little grouchy after a long day of having an awesome time in the resort pool. He's just not ready for his first-ever prawn. Particularly one delivered via means of aerial assault.

The chef who flicked the prawn from the hot grill and toward my boy's face - you, sir, play a risky game! - wears a giant grin.

Death by prawn-off-the-barbie. What could be more Australian?

Baxter with Bugs Bunny at Movie World. Photo / Winston Aldworth
Baxter with Bugs Bunny at Movie World. Photo / Winston Aldworth


Well, quite a bit actually. For one thing, the barbecue we're seated at is at a teppanyaki joint (Misono, the biggest teppanyaki restaurant in Australia, since you asked).

Baxter's already declined chef's kind offer of a fried prawn; but chef's not taking "no" for an answer. Suddenly, with the prawn seemingly about to smear his frowned forehead, time speeds up again: Baxter - my grumpy, fussy eater - snaffles the airborne delicacy like a crocodile launching itself at a goat's carcass.

He takes two chomps and swallows - noting the deliciousness of his first-ever prawn, he nails three more. That's my boy!

In a week on the Gold Coast, Baxter ticked off a great many firsts. First roller coaster ride. Tick. First time driving an amphibious bus. Tick. First time he saw a dolphin. Followed quickly by the first time he saw a dolphin leap out of the water and do a flip in the air, which in turn was followed by the first time he saw a dolphin trainer leap out of the water, propelled by the dolphin. Tick, tick, tick. First time he patted a tiger. Tick.

Which, of course, is one of the main reasons we travel, whatever our age. We look for the chance to explore our boundaries, push those boundaries out a little, try something new and scream like idiots on roller coasters.

Movie World's Road Runner roller coaster is only a little one by the standards of the gut-shuddering, gravity-burning snarlers around the ground of Movie World and nearby Dreamworld. In another corner of the park, the Superman Escape roller coaster takes otherwise rationale adults from a standing start to 100km/h in two seconds, blasting 40m into the air at 4.2 times the force of gravity. There are upside down bits and parts where you think it's going to turn you inside-out. The passengers' screams can be heard clearly over the heaving roar of the wheels blazing over the tracks.

Baxter aboard the Aqua Duck. Photo / Winston Aldworth
Baxter aboard the Aqua Duck. Photo / Winston Aldworth


Meanwhile back on the Road Runner coaster, we're hauled a more manageable 13m into the air before hooning around a relatively sedate track. Baxter's Nana waves to us from down below. Through Baxter's 4-year-old eyes there's little difference between the calm Road Runner ride and the terrors of Superman. He's delighted. His arms flap about in the air, his squeals audible over the machine.

At day's end the Road Runner ride is adjudged to be pretty much the second-best thing on Earth. No 1? Seeing Batman. The glum-faced crimefighter popped up on Movie World's Main Street, and drove about for a bit with some of Gotham's finest police following him in convoy, before beating up a couple of crooks and waving to the crowds.

Kids, my one in particular, were slack-jawed in wonder, following the Caped Crusader's small parade like the hapless toddlers of Hamelin.

Key lesson No 1: Kids love characters. Despite not knowing who or what Scooby Doo is, Baxter buries himself in the arms of the giant walking dog for a massive cuddle when we meet him and his pal Shaggy at Movie World. Key lesson No 2: Kids love animals.

There are a couple of important things to keep in mind when you're patting a tiger. Firstly, do what the tiger handlers tell you (duh!); and secondly, if you're going to pat it on the head, use a hand that you don't want to keep.

As guests at Dreamworld's Tiger Cub Kindy (yes, it's as cute as it sounds), we are - obviously - first-time tiger patters. I can report that 14-week-old Adira and Akasha have the kind of strokeable fur that makes you want to pick the critters up and give them a massive cuddle. "That'd be unwise," deadpans chief handler Simon. "Kai [their seven-month-old brother] is always trying to chew on bits of us."

Elsewhere in Baxter's land of firsts, he meets a koala called Toby and feeds a kangaroo with a joey in the pouch. We meet these guys at the stunning Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, where saltwater crocs bake slowly in the sun. Currumbin is absolute gold; a cool rainforest showcasing Australia's weird wildlife, from goannas to retiree volunteers that show us around.

The cool trees of Currumbin offer respite from the heat. On each day of our stay, we build into the planning an hour or two of letting off steam in the resort pools at the places we stay.

It's the wildlife encounters that are the most memorable firsts. Baxter's first encounter with a Californian sealion comes at Sea World, where he gets to feed fish to Ruby. Dastardly gulls linger, looking for an opportunity to rain on my boy's parade by swooping in and stealing the three fish he's got to throw to Ruby. "You've got to throw it straight to her," says the sealion trainer, Jacob. "Real quick!"

The first fish falls short. 1-0 to the gulls. I know my boy's mood, and sense his spirit dips. His next fish lands on some netting out of reach of Ruby - an easy strike for the birds. 2-0 to the gulls.

The third fish sails majestically from boy to sealion - like a well-grilled prawn whizzing from barbecue to boy. Ruby strikes! Bulls-eyes count for three - in your face gulls!

Baxter with Scooby Doo at Movie World. Photo / Winston Aldworth
Baxter with Scooby Doo at Movie World. Photo / Winston Aldworth


Checklist

GETTING THERE

Emirates flies an A380 service daily between Auckland and Brisbane, with return Economy Class fares for $546. emirates.com

ACCOMMODATION

Sea World Resort is located right by the park and guests get early access.
seaworldresort.com.au
Paradise Resort is family-focused and has a superb water-play area.
paradiseresort.com.au
Treasure Island's self-catering cabins are ideal for longer stays.
treasureisland.com.au

ONLINE

queensland.com

- NZ Herald

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