Caroline Zielinski writes: For many Australians and international visitors, Queensland’s Gold Coast is a magical place where beautiful men and women do nothing but tan their perfectly sculpted bodies, and children run amok the beaches, happily chasing each other and collaboratively building sparkling sandcastles.
Of course, let’s not forget the four amazing theme parks, offering their visitors more than their share of entertainment: who wouldn’t want to see live tigers performing tricks, happy dolphins gurgling their amusement and terrified children walking on shaking legs after a heart-attack inducing roller-coaster ride?
And what about the amazing beaches? The sandy dunes? The warm weather? And acres of clubs, bars and shopping malls, created to suit every drinking and shopping whim imaginable?
The first time I visited the Gold Coast at the age of 13, I loved it. Despite the agonising purple sunburn I received on my second day, I couldn’t get enough of Wet’n’Wild, Movie World and Sea World. The tropical weather and the fresh, salty breeze passing through the windows of our rented beach side apartment filled me with wonder and a lust for the Queensland lifestyle: why couldn’t I live in this city of sunshine? Imagine going to school in your shorts all year round! The possibilities were endless. But alas, after 10 days, my journey was over.
Until this year.
At the age of 22, I returned to our sunny state in July, expecting to feel as enchanted as before. However, the moment I stepped off that plane, I felt a distinct shift in my attitude: why weren’t the roads and palm trees fascinating anymore? Why wasn’t it particularly warm? And why did the central shopping district suddenly appear cheap, overcrowded and tacky?
It appears that the bloom of childhood blunts reality to the extent where we don’t recognise, or notice, certain things around us. Even now, as I write this, the Gold Coast as I first saw it is cloaked in a haze, with memories softened by the excitement of being on vacation and being somewhere new. Back then, I gave into the mystique that still surrounds the Gold Coast: the never-ending quest for leisure, and the simple childhood luxuries of ice-cream, warm weather and novelty items sold at every corner.
But this time, my memories are much clearer. I don’t know whether it’s the effect of time, or the result of the experiences I had, but as I walked along the beach this past July, I observed the same beautiful people and their panting labradors jogging beside the ocean, their physiques the picture of Australian health, without feeling envious: I just longed for a nice swimming pool, where jelly fish don’t exist and showers are provided.
Similarly, the city centre was just a mass of tourist attractions and rather haphazardly placed shops featuring boomerangs, kangaroo plush toys and dirty sidewalks littered with teenagers skipping school.
The theme parks? I didn’t even bother. Somewhere down the line, I had developed a phobia of heights, and therefore, spending $70 to die of fright wasn’t as appealing as last time.
The only experience I found fascinating was my visit to Bond University. Coming from the architecturally-British Melbourne University, seeing the ultra sleek and modern Bond University captivated my interests intensely. Initially, I loved its setting amongst an artificially designed forest of towering trees, as well as the curved walls circling a flawlessly manicured lawn: it was just so different to what I’m used to.
But after an hour of exploring, I finally recognised what was bothering me: the University had no soul.
What I find ironic is that universities are not actually part of the Gold Coast experience: yet, my solitary visit was the only aspect which truly interested me during my trip. I guess that for some, the debauchery of Gold Coast events such as schoolies and its promise of endless fun really does wear thin.
But how did my (mis) adventure end? On our last day, my boyfriend and I visited the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. We saw koalas, petted kangaroos, and even attracted the romantic attentions of a certain randy emu.
But somehow, despite this all-Australian and all-natural activity, which undoubtedly attracts scores of enthusiastic international tourists, I failed to be enamored.
Maybe I have become cynical; maybe I’m too Australian to enjoy what this nation has to offer. Or perhaps the Gold Coast is only magical for that first time you see it.