Gold rush

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am

For a fun-packed family holiday, nothing beats Australia's northeast coast, with its fine beaches and array of theme parks

HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS DO not come any more family friendly than the sun-drenched Gold Coast of Australia.

Granted, the 10-hour flight from Hong Kong to Brisbane is a tad long for young children. But the experience at the rainbow's end is well worth it. (It was literally a rainbow's end as we were greeted by two rainbows following a short rain shower. It's not every day one sees a rainbow in Hong Kong, let alone a double one, because of the pollution).

The Gold Coast can unabashedly claim to be Australia's family entertainment capital because of its fine beaches and array of theme parks packed within a 30-minute radius.

Just an hour's drive south of Brisbane, Queensland, the tourist spot lives up to the state's reputation for being 'beautiful one day, perfect the next'. Because its climate is opposite to that of Hong Kong, it makes for a good vacation destination - summer in December and cool during our summer months when schools break up for the holidays.

Blessed with sunshine for an average of 300 days a year, the mercury rises to 29 degrees Celsius during the summer months - December to February - and drops no lower than 9 degrees Celsius during winter from June to August.

The Gold Coast is also user-friendly for families, once bags and fidgety children are packed into the car. After an easy one-hour drive south from Brisbane airport to the coast, pent-up energy can be let loose at one of the many beaches along the 70km coastline or any of the theme parks where children can get their first experience of Australia's wildlife. The coast has been a popular playground for local visitors since the late 1880s, when a now defunct railway was opened connecting Brisbane with the burgeoning resort area.

The building of the Surfers' Paradise Hotel in the early 1920s further fuelled interest in the lucrative holiday market.

Post-war property prices in the area began to rise sharply, but that did not deter a rush to build large beachfront holiday apartments for the growing tourist trade in the 1950s.

The influx of Japanese tourists and Asian investors in the property market in recent decades has brought an element of commercialism, but this has not overwhelmed the natural charm of the region.

While bustling Surfers' Paradise is more popular with tour groups, especially the young at heart, plenty of other beachfront spots such as Palm Beach and Currumbin suit families with young children.

Accommodation is also designed with families in mind. At the Sea World Nara Hotel, for example, conjoined rooms are fitted with a kitchenette and four double beds that can easily sleep a family of eight.

One experience that children should not be deprived of is a koala cuddle. (Note: only kids over a certain height are allowed to hold these animals). Queensland is the only Australian state that still allows koala cuddling while other states have banned it as a way of protecting the marsupial from stress.

The Gold Coast's theme parks offer a variety of activities - Dreamworld and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary both have koala cuddling and kangaroo feeding. The former also has a comprehensive range of rides and attractions to suit all age groups, and the latter is home to some of Australia's indigenous animals.

Sea World has more than just aquarium and dolphin shows, while sister theme park Warner Bros' Movie World offers a glimpse into the backstage functions of a film, and

Wet 'n' Wild Water World provides water rides, pools and mega slides to get wet and wild in.

Dreamworld and Sea World's rivalry for the affections of children extends to using the star attractions from popular children's TV networks. Dreamworld aligns with Nickelodeon and Sea World with Cartoon Network. As a result of this competition, children end up with more entertaining choices.