Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Comin' round the mountain

Day 6 (Fri, 7 June 2013)

Final day in Gold Coast.  A gorgeous sunrise to usher in a new morning.

A little about breakfast in Gold Coast.  We're not big on dry sandwich breakfasts and we like to take our time in the morning before heading out, so usually, we would buy a few tv dinners from the supermarket and heat them up in the microwave in the morning.  Australia has plenty of these and they're often on sale for cheap - A$4-6 per pack.  We usually pick the pastas or meat dinners as we don't trust the Aussie version of Asian meals.  Stir up a cup of java and we're ready to face the day!

For some reason when we visit Australia, we feel like we have to make an obligatory visit to a National Park. Don't ask me why.  We didn't want to drive too far so we decided on Tambourine Mountain which is slightly under an hour's drive from Gold Coast. 

Lesley-Anne had said she wanted to try her hand at horse riding, so we made a booking with Tambourine Mountain Horse Trail Rides which is located at Thunderbird Park within Tambourine Mountain.

They have options from half-hour to full-day rides but since this was our kids' first experience with horse-riding, we decided to take it easy with the half-hour option.

Andre was assigned Toby, a tame white mare. This horse is a real darling. When you go close to her, she would turn her head to you, as if asking you to stroke her.

Lesley-Anne, on the other hand, was assigned a strapping young stallion named Nike.  We kinda figured Nike wasn't as compliant as Toby when I overheard the keeper musing to her colleague, "If I put Nike behind Toby, he will bite her. If I put Nike in front of Toby, he will kick her. I'm not sure what to do."

In the end, Nike was led out first, with Toby following a safe distance behind.

Lesley-Anne recounted to me later that Nike was such a character that he would test her at every opportunity. Despite her attempts to control him, he would stop to eat grass (something the horses are not supposed to do on a ride).  He even decided to take a detour on his own accord, ignoring Lesley-Anne's desperate tug at the reins and the keeper's yells. In the end, the keeper had to trek after him off the beaten path.  Meanwhile, Toby followed obediently like a meek, little lamb.

Don't let those pretty eyes fool you. He's probably called Nike for a reason.

Nevertheless, the kids enjoyed the ride thoroughly. This was their first real encounter with horses and I think it's fascinating to know that the animals have their own personalities.  It helps that they're such gorgeous creatures.  Next time, we'll let the kids go on longer rides.

We then make a short drive to see the Cedar Creek Falls, which is right next to Thunderbird Park. It's quite picturesque except there was a rotund man having a nap almost at the edge of the rocks.  I'm not sure if he was really there to have a siesta or he merely wanted to photobomb all the tourist pictures. It didn't seem very comfortable and a slight nudge would have caused him to fall over the edge.

Anyway, he's not in the pictures. Lesley-Anne refused to give him the satisfaction.

In the middle of Tambourine Mountain, there are rows of shops and cafes selling various items such as fudge, trinkets and even cuckoo clocks.  We made a stop at the Witches Chase Cheese Company, a cheese factory that produces, among many cheeses, an award-winning one called the Tamembert.

The shop sells an assortment of cheeses, which you can buy and sample at their beer garden.

We bought a baguette and the Tamembert.  Makes for a nice afternoon snack.

Scenic sight outside the cheese factory.

For our last dinner in Gold Coast, we drove down to Mariner's Cove and ate at Hog's Breath restaurant. We were actually here for dinner on all the theme park days as well.

I believe Hog's Breath has outlets in Singapore too.

They have a juicy burger and fries platter for A$12.95. 

The kids' meals are great value too. Sizeable burgers just without the trimmings, with a drink and 2 scoops of ice cream for A$9.95.  This is the kids' steak set.  We prefer their burgers to their steaks though, their marinade doesn't quite suit us.

A portion of dessert - sticky date pudding with ice cream. A sweet end to a wonderful holiday.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A whale of a time

Day 5 (Thur, 6 June 2013)

Bright and early, we set off for our Morning Whale Watching Adventure.  Our booking came with a free pickup and drop-off which is great.  We didn't have far to go anyway, the dock is at Mariner's Cove which is just five minutes from Xanadu.

We were very fortunate indeed. It turned out to be a sunny day with calm waters. Our operator, Tall Ship, told us we couldn't have asked for more perfect conditions - swells were less than 1m.  Even with that and the fact that our operator uses a large catamaran, we still experienced some rise and falls as we headed out to the open sea. Lesley-Anne, a nervous sailor, didn't enjoy it one bit.

Whale watching at the Gold Coast takes place from June to November as the humpback whales migrate from the icy Antarctic Ocean to warmer waters.  The whales that come here would mostly be the younger males and the calving mums.

A lot of luck comes into play with whale watching since we're dealing with wildlife but luck was clearly on our side that day as we caught sight of a pod of two whales barely half an hour in.

Before the trip, I thought the boat would keep going in search of whales throughout the three-hour trip but that's not how it works. Once it catches sight of a pod of whales, it would stay within its vicinity. Generally, whales come up for air on a regular basis (the duration between such incidents vary among pods) so staying near a pod almost guarantees some great sightings. 

Our pod emerged regularly every 5 minutes or so. We had some spectacular sights, even managed to catch a rare whale breach (which is when a whale leaps into the air and spins before re-entry into the water).  Absolutely breath-taking! Too quick for photos though.

Towards the end of our time there, the pods came up very close to the boat. It's utterly amazing to be able to see these beauties up close. A priceless experience.

That afternoon, we made a trip to the beach. It's not possible to come to the Gold Coast and not visit the fantastic beach.  Last year, the Gold Coast was hit by a torrential storm and this resulted in pretty devastating beach erosion, as shown here.

Compare this with 2006 where you can see hardly any slope.

What this means is that in some parts, it's quite difficult to walk from the street to the beach as it would call for climbing down and back up a steep cliff.  Kenneth had to find an entry point closer to Surfer's Paradise with a gentler slope. Anyway, the beach is simply idyllic. 

As always, the person who enjoyed himself the most was Andre. Honestly, that boy can find fun in anything and anywhere.  Lesley-Anne relished the photo opportunities and went trigger-crazy, with Andre as the subject.

This is what I call the Chariots of Fire shot.

And one of the photographer.

Closing the sea-themed day, we treated ourselves to a seafood dinner at Mariner's Cove.  Hot Rock Grill is run by a Japanese chef, so the sweet marinade for his steaks is more to our liking.  The steaks are served on a hot stone while the sashimi is served on a cold stone.

We ordered two steak sets, each of which comes with a sashimi platter, salad, steak and fries, and a glass of wine (which we swapped for apple juice).

We also ordered a seafood platter for 2, which had giant prawns, a crab, mussels, crayfish, calamari, salmon sashimi and fried rice, with an assortment of dips.

Extremely fresh and the crab meat was very sweet with roe.  This was the best dinner we had in Gold Coast and it was surprisingly affordable - just under A$100 total.

If you're looking for a sumptuous seafood dinner in Gold Coast that doesn't break the bank, I highly recommend this one.