There are many ways of exploring Queensland’s Gold Coast canals and rivers and the wonderful Broadwater that stretches north from Southport for thirty kilometres to Stradbroke Island. To discover the area, you can hire a helicopter for a few hours, rent a jet ski or a “tinny” (a small aluminium boat with an outboard engine), or follow the winding footpaths that give access to most areas.
But possibly the best – and cheapest – way of doing it is to hop on HOPO, a small ferry that plies a one-hour route from Sea World, through the Broadwater, under the Sundale Bridge and into the Nerang River and the canals around Cronin and Chevron Islands to Appel Park in Surfers Paradise and back again. Ticket prices range from about AU$10.00 – AU$20.00 and the best to get is the Hop On Hop Off ticket to explore the area leisurely. See www.hopo.com.au
The Sea World theme park is one of the major Gold Coast tourist attractions and I was a bit judgemental about it, not particularly enjoying performing animals – or dolphins – being forced to jump through hoops or clapping their flippers for the audience’s approval. However, during a recent visit I found that most dolphins there have been bred in captivity or saved as injured animals in the wild and given a new chance of life. The centre has also a major research focus, with Griffith University and the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation making great contributions to our understanding of our watery neighbours.
OK – yes – you can go riding on rollercoasters and patting sting rays and eating ice creams and (sometimes) riding on a monorail – but I am happy to find that the fripperies are well-offset by the scientific work.
A quick dash across the Broadwater leads visitors to the Broadwater Parklands.
The Parklands is a huge area of carefully clipped grass, picnic areas, outdoor gyms, playgrounds and the whimsical Rockpools children’s play area with its waterfalls, fountains, concrete turtles and porpoises to ride, green grassy areas for parents to relax and an air filled with squeals of delight as the kids get wet and try sitting on jets of water.
Wedding at Sea?
Near the Marina Mirage ferry stop, where guests can jump off to have a drink at the Palazzo Versace, is a tiny floating chapel. Fujio, our HOPO Captain for this journey, told us that when the chapel is used for weddings, guests enter the little chapel that is then motored out into the middle of the Broadwater. He said that the bride arrives in a flower-decked motorboat rather than the more usual arrival in a limousine with her father beside her. I asked Fujio how he knew all this and he said
- My wife and I were married in this chapel
- Did you arrive by motorboat, too?
- No. I am also a jet ski instructor, so I had a wetsuit over my tuxedo and zoomed up to the chapel on my jet ski
I rather wondered how, at the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom left the chapel. Jet skis for two? Helicopter? Or just wait for the next HOPO ferry … and hope the Captain will allow a mid-ocean boarding party. Did the wedding guests throw confetti? Or were they more environmentally aware and tossed breadcrumbs or fish food pellets? I rather hope it was breadcrumbs as the smell of the fish food would have had a rather negative impact on the marriage bed.
Who said that romance is dead?
TSS and Beyond
Once you cross under the Sundale Bridge – with its bright yellow light railway carriages zipping across – you are in the Nerang River proper, sailing past huge mansions cramped onto small – but immensely expensive – blocks of land. The locals call them “McMansions” probably because the realtor who sold the property asked the buyers “Do you want a helipad with that?”
Some houses DO have their own helipads out front and just about all of them have a mooring for a speed boat or two. However, if you look carefully, there are still one or two modest little houses with overgrown gardens … just waiting for the auctioneer’s hammer, I suspect … and then to be demolished to make way for even more ostentatious blocks of masonry.
The Gold Coast has about 400 kilometres of natural and man-made canals winding around scores of small islands, with high-density apartment towers, elaborate family homes, parks and schools lining their shores.
TSS (The Southport School) is one of Queensland’s top schools for boys. It was founded in 1901 – the same year that Australia became a single nation and not merely a collection of half a dozen random UK colonies.
TSS has superb grounds stretching down to the river and architecturally is a blend of screaming modern and very traditional old-fashioned English Public School architecture. At the moment, the fees for a Grade 12 boarder at TSS are just over AU$60,200 per annum. The UK’s Eton College, by comparison, is about AU$78,200 pa. However, TSS boys wear very sensible Akubra hats rather than old-fashioned top hats, but then, Eton was established in 1440 so a celebration of some of its history is perhaps a good thing.
Also a good thing is the new Home of the Arts (HOTA) just along the river from TSS. If TSS took over HOTA – or the other way around – perhaps the new organisation could adopt yet another acronym: STOTHAS or even SHATTOS.
The Home of the Arts is a work in progress with its main gallery space in a huge multi-coloured gem of a building due to open in 2021. Outside the gallery is the pretty HOTA Green Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over to Chevron Island, and the impressive outdoor stage, where the Queensland Ballet will soon present the classic Giselle. The huge stage has a vast inner space opening onto a large forestage, with sweeping lawns and hills spread before it for audiences. During my first visit in times when COVID-19 was more prevalent than it is now, numerous circles had been drawn on the grass to help spectators maintain social distances.
Every Sunday HOTA is host to the Bundall Farmers’ Market – a yummo collection of fresh farm produce, food to go from all corners of the world, live music with small children dancing in front of the musicians, and people enjoying a morning coffee by the beach that fronts HOTA. Featured image (left) shows the towering Q1 building reflected in the HOTA lake. A fresh vegetable stall fills the air with the strong and succulent scents of fresh basil and parsley.
In addition to the fresh farm produce, there are stalls selling kombucha, açai, “Gut and Brain Food”, Ollie Bollen, poffertjes, organic buckwheat crispy wraps, and a whole range of pet food: kangaroo mince, chicken necks, lamb hearts, brisket bones and turkey mince. What pampered pooches there must be in this part of the world!ß
There was also Blendii – or perhaps Blend 11 – which seemed to be a sort of muesli with chia seeds, flaxseeds, raw cacao nibs, goji berries all topped off with puffed amaranth. I am not even sure what half these things are, but the stall holders have signs on the counter claiming:
- The Best Poos Ever: Guaranteed
- I am not sure that my daily bowel movements would be much of a selling point for ANY product …
And then there was Alejandro.
I was feeling like a good German sausage (perhaps even looking like one) when I came across a stall holder advertising Wurst-Meister Famous German Sausages.
… and I was soon gnawing on a fine bratwurst with onions and sauce and chatting with the stall holder. I remarked that he seemed to be an unusual looking German sausage master and he laughed and asked me to guess where he came from. My first couple of guesses were thousands of kilometres – and several ethnicities off – so he finally relented, told me his name, and asked me
- Where does the best coffee come from?
Again I was wrong a few times but we finally established that he was from Bogota … so I guess the best coffee is Colombian. Glad we finally got that sorted out.
The final stop on the outward loop of the ferry is at Appel Park – just a stroll from Whales in Paradise (some excellent whale watching around the Gold Coast is available at certain times of the year), Jet Boat Extreme, and Cavill Avenue.
Cavill Avenue many years ago was the heart of the whole Gold Coast.
As university students we used to “Hit the coast” which usually meant heading for the beer garden of the Surfers Paradise Hotel in Cavill Avenue, built in the 1920s. The historic pub was pulled down in 1981 and the beer garden is all that is left – and now part of the glitzy Paradise Centre.
Perhaps after a few beers we would then swim in what I always took to be the Pacific Ocean but now find it is actually the Coral Sea. Cav Ave was always a bit seedy and although the local city council has tried to dress it up, it still has a tired and rather shabby feel to it. There’s a Hard Rock Café, a Timezone amusement centre, numerous cheap tourist souvenir shops and a night-time beachfront market.
None of this stops foreign or interstate visitors from jumping up and down for selfies in front of the “Surfers Paradise” sign at the main entry to the beach but sadly these days there are no longer the famous Gold Coast Meter Maids. In the 1960s, shapely young women wearing shiny gold bikinis and glittering tiaras patrolled the streets popping coins into expired parking meters and saving unsuspecting visitors from unpleasant parking fines and from associated unpleasant memories of their time at the glittering gold coast. It was a wonderful publicity stunt.
And Home Again
Then it was time to hop on HOPO again – back up the river, past the Eagles’ Rugby Club, past the huge Rivage Royal apartment complex with its feng shui “Dragon Gate”, back into the Broadwater and on to my ferry stop at the Broadwater Parklands. Would a helicopter have been a better way to see this area? Or a jet ski? Nope – HOPO rules OK? Nope – HOPO rules OK!
Text and photographs © Christopher Hall November 2020
Rivage Royal, TSS, Rockpools photographs from Internet
In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit. I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.
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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight
- Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship