All eyes were recently on Australia’s Gold Coast as the Commonwealth Games 2018 took place in this coastal town.
The Gold coast is situated in the Australian state of Queensland and is like no other place on earth, from its endless coastlines to the great outback expanses, the world famous Great Barrier Reef and its array of luscious rainforests.
With all this and more Queensland is a breathing postcard waiting to be explored! But where does one start?
I arrived in Brisbane following a 22-hour long haul flight from London to Abu Dhabi and then on to Australia. I spent my first two days beating jet lag and becoming acquainted with my first introduction to Queensland.
After leaving Brisbane I headed to the Sofitel Hotel, which was going to be my home in the Gold Coast for the next two nights. Upon arrival I was greeted with ‘Bonjour’ which left me confused as I thought I was Down Under not France. Once I stepped inside it started to make sense as Sofitel is a chain of luxury hotels based in Paris.
The Sofitel Gold Coast branch does well to keep up with the group’s counterparts and features heavy aesthetics of French elegance. My suite gave me breathtaking views of the ocean as the hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Broadbeach and 200 metres from patrolled beaches.
Wandering through Broadbeach feels like being in a surf haven due to it being conveniently located between both Surfers Paradise and Mermaid Beach.
The air is fresh and your taste buds will be awakened by the sight of sleek cafes, bars, exquisite restaurants and artisan experiences.
If you love to shop, then the Gold Coast is your ideal destination as you’ll find more than 400 stores at Pacific Fair and great boutiques in the Oasis shopping Centre.
Beyond the Gold coast being a pristine coastal town it also home to one of Australia’s iconic wildlife spots. The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a lush eucalyptus rainforest filled with 27 hectares of natural beauty and an exciting animal adventure waiting to be explored.
Things got off to a lively start as I had a photo opportunity with Koala named Kelisy. It was love at first sight as they brought this grey cuddly creature into my arms. She felt so defenceless, it was hard for me not to get attached despite me only having her for a few moments.
Next it was on to see the Kangaroos who were hopping free in their surroundings and were happy to be stroked. One even took me by surprise as her baby kangaroo (Joey) ventured out of mum’s pouch for a few seconds.
My favourite part of this animal kingdom was the wild lorikeet feeding which involved these exotic birds eating right from my hands or taking a rest on my head and shoulders. The lorikeets founded the sanctuary 70 years ago and generations later they still know the exact time and place to come feed.
A personal highlight of my visit was watching the Aboriginal Dance show with the Yugambeh Aboriginal Dancers.
The cultural performance invited guests to have a glimpse of the Yugambeh language, dance and stories.
The Gold Coast’s roots run deep with the First Nations as archaeological evidence suggests that Aboriginal people have inhabited the region for about 23,000 years before European settlement and the present.
The Gold Coast is just as adventurous in the night as it is during the day. One of GC’s hotspots is Miami Marketta, a market where you can treat yourself to free music performances, fashion plus the added bonus of delicious street food. This family orientated outdoor dining experience has seating for 600 people all undercover.
Miami Marketta had my feasting needs covered with stalls such as Kudo Bros where you can find scrumptious Japanese food and nibbles such as the Karrage Chicken.
Head to the Green Rocket for healthy Vegan dishes or Double T where you’ll find the hottest of Mexican food. It’ll be sweet endings at Reid Street Kitchen who are famed for their lamingtons, desserts, cakes and slices.
As my 48 hours in the Gold coast drew to a close I found it hard to contain my excitement for moving on to Queensland’s Outback. GC’s locals were even more ecstatic for my adventure ahead and gave me advice on what to expect which funnily included the abundance of flies.
A quick two hour Qantas flight from Brisbane saw us land in Barcaldine where we were met by the town’s Mayor Rob Chandler. The Region is one of the largest cattle producing regions in Central Western Queensland and also has a productive sheep, wool and a macropod harvesting industry.
Without a single skyscraper building in sight there was no doubt that I had well and truly left city life behind. Being in Barcaldine felt as if I stepped onto the set of an old western movie, the streets were not crowded and the shops didn’t look fancy but one thing for sure was they were full of character.
We ventured off to the century-old historic Globe Hotel, which was built in 1910, but closed down several years ago and was purchased by the Barcaldine Regional Council in 2011.
The iconic hotel has been revamped with a $2.5 million makeover which includes a new verandah as well as a new roof. One of the eye-catching features is The Globe Hotel’s old stove, which is still in working order and will remain a historical feature on the premise.
Our next stop was at one of Australia’s iconic landmarks, Barcaldine’s Tree of Knowledge. This memorial is made up from thousands of pieces of timber, which was opened in 2009 and marks the site regarded as the birthplace of the Labor Party, which had its roots tied to the shearers’ strike of 1891. Before the memorial there was the original tree, a 10-metre Ghost Gum, which unfortunately was poisoned in 2006 and never recovered.
Barcaldine shedded one exciting layer of Queensland’s Outback but there was more to come as my next destination was Shandonvale, a working outback station in Central Queensland. During the two-hour drive to the station all I could see was endless views of sand plains and salt pans. It was both hypnotic and mesmerising witnessing the vast amounts of natural land that hasn’t been wrecked by modern day living.
Upon arrival I was greeted with the sign ‘Life is better in the country’ which initially didn’t sit well with a millennial like me. T
There was no TV, no radio and very limited WIFI at the station. But what seemed like first world problems actually ended up being a blessing in disguise as minus these distractions I got the chance to fully embrace and enjoy the stress free beauty of these settings.
The owners of Shandonvale, Deon and Lane Stent-Smith made us feel right at home with their warm and welcoming Outback hospitality. Alongside having a digital detox my diet was also getting a mini revamp as our food menu featured gourmet meals, which all came fresh from Shandonvale’s own produce.
On our first night at the station Deon put on a campfire especially for us which was very exciting to watch. When it was time to hit the sack our recently refurbished one hundred year-old Shearer’s Quarters provided absolute comfort with plump pillows and soft bedding.
Life was far from slow lane at Shandonvale as we had more than enough activities to keep us occupied. We soaked up the Outback’s sunset at the boat-shed, popped a champagne and relaxed in the mineral rich waters of Shandonvale’s treetop artesian spa.
My favourite thing about my stay at Shandonvale was making friends with the station’s animals. Human rule in the city but in Queensland’s Outback the animals roam free and have their kingdoms.
Most days we would drive our ATV’s across the 15,000 acres of land and get insight from Deon and Lane on how they manage to tend to 4000 to 6000 sheep, hoards of kangaroos, 140 camels, 20 guardian donkeys, horses, dogs, emus, chickens, pigs, goats, and deer.
Heli mustering was the most thrilling way to see the awe-inspiring distance and wide horizons of Shandonvale. It also gave us a chance to get up close and personal to all of the station’s animals.
Experiences like this made it hard to leave Shandonvale and it was just one of the unforgettable moments for a traveller experiencing the Outback for the first time. ‘A City escape’ has taken on a whole new meaning for me it’s nothing commercial it’s about having a real authentic experience and getting to live life like a local.
A short drive saw us arrive in Ilfracombe where we witnessed history as the Queen’s Baton relay stopped in the town before continuing its journey to the Gold Coast, where the Queen’s secret message was read out by Prince Charles at the opening ceremony.
While waiting for the baton to arrive we had drinks at one of the Outback’s best pubs, The Wellshot Hotel, which has a ceiling full of money and hats adorning the wall.
Our next stop was Longreach, the heart of Outback Queensland, and home to ‘The Big 3’ – Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, Outback Pioneers and Quantas Founders Museum. It is also has the tour of Camden Park Station, where you’ll meet you’ll meet Outback Dan and retrace Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip steps during their 1970 visit.
The perfect place to crash for the night was the Kinnon & Co Outback accommodation, a unique self-catering accommodation which boasts all the comfort of a boutique hotel but has the ambience of a rustic outback stable. From the reclaimed gate headboard to the custom-made copper through wash basin each Homestead stable was full of heritage charm.
For our final day we woke up at the crack of dawn as we had a full-day tour of Winton, one of the Outback’s most fascinating destinations.
My first impression of Winton was that it was laidback as a Sunday morning, you could hear a pin drop in this quaint town. Quiet yes, but Winton is loud with history, from the century old open air Royal Theatre on Cobb lane to The North Gregory Hotel where ‘Waltzing Maltida’ was first performed.
Another one of Winton’s claim to fame is the region being the Dinosaur Capital of Australia. A main tourist attraction is the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum. Many of the dinosaur fossils found in the Winton area are preserved in sedimentary rocks that were deposited in ancient billabongs or watercourses.
The most common dinosaur fossils found in these animals appear to have become bogged in deep mud where they died from exposure or starvation or were killed by predators.
The new Dinosaur Canyon Outpost which lies 2km from the museum’s reception centre offers spectacular views of the rolling western plains and a cooling breeze from one of Australia’s best vantage points.
Visitors can also have a glimpse at the first phase of the main Australian age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History. The building is set to be an international centre of excellence leading in the conservation and research of Australia’s dinosaurs.
As we wrapped up our visit we watched some of the museum‘s volunteers work in the laboratory where the fossils are prepared. While dissecting a new discovery, one volunteer Hugh Caley expressed his excitement of doing his job which to an outsider looks very laborious. He said: “There’s something quite special about being the first person to see a piece of fossil that has been hidden for 100 million years.”
Driving on Queensland Outback road for the last time was one open road journey that I wish could go on forever. I didn’t want this Australian adventure of a lifetime to come to an end.
How to get to Brisbane?
Economy Class return fares with Ethiad Airways start from just £706 per person, including all taxes and charges, or spoil yourself with Business Class return fares from £3,162.
How to get to Queensland’s Outback?
Qantas flies directly to Longreach and Barcaldine from Sydney, Melborne, Brisbane and Cairns.
Where to stay?
For more information on Queensland visit https://www.queensland.com/