Great Heights on the Gold Coast
It’s no big secret – I’m terrified of heights. I hate the feeling of looking over the edge of any lookout, cliffside, tower or rooftop. I’m always the guy that’s quite happy keeping a couple of metres away from the side, and rather content hugging the wall while others marvel giddily at how incredibly high up they are.
So for that reason alone, I was a little anxious about the idea of travelling to Queensland’s Gold Coast to see the southeast of the Sunshine State from a higher perspective. Don’t get me wrong – I love Queensland. I’m a seeker of the sunshine, and a huge fan of beautiful beaches, but activities that involve me climbing above the ground, where my feet aren’t planted on a firm earth surface freak me out, quite significantly. And so, with anxious trepidation and some steady breathing, I board my plane, “up” to the Gold Coast.
Hot Air Ballooning
My foray into my day of heights involved a rather early start, leaving our accommodation in Gold Coast at 5:30am to travel out to the hinterland to see the sun rise from a hot air balloon. My knowledge of hot air balloons is pretty limited – I had no idea how high they went up, how fast they move, and what the sensation of floating through the air was like, so there was a certain degree of curiosity there, and I was somewhat eager to let my sense of adventure overtake, albeit for a short time, my fear of heights.
We arrive at a large open field, and the crew at Balloon Aloft Gold Coast unpack their balloon and set themselves up for our take off. It’s quite a sight against the darkness of dawn – an open, grassy field with a large basket and colourful balloon lit up by the hot flames. A group of ten climbs into the basket and we’re soon lifting up slowly into the air.
This is potentially the scariest part of the actual experience, lifting up and leaving the ground beneath you. But, once I accept the fact that there’s no going back (for a while, at least!), I’m taken in by the totally foreign sensation of floating gently through the air. You see, what’s so unusual is the movement of the actual hot air balloon. Being carried by the wind results in very minimal movement of the actual basket – you hardly feel like you’re moving at all. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was literally watching clouds pass by, I wouldn’t believe that we were actually moving at such a pace.
Speaking of clouds, physically climbing 6,500ft and floating straight through the middle of clouds is an incredible experience. Surrounded by fluffy balls of cotton, seeing them move all around you is fascinating enough – but then add in the spectacular view of the morning sun rising through them.
Dreamworld’s Giant Drop
Unfortunately for me, it’s not all smooth sailing up on the Gold Coast. No, the friendly team at Expedia thought it’d be great for me to experience a hair raising view of the southeast Queensland at the home of adventure, Dreamworld. But I’m not there to take photos with Shrek, ride down the river rapids, or feed the tigers – although, let’s be honest, what I was about to do makes getting up close with tigers seem easy.
The Giant Drop is one of the highest freefall drop rides you can experience, anywhere in the world. It stares down at visitors to Dreamworld, looming over them with a grave sense of impending doom – okay, maybe that’s just me. If that wasn’t enough, the horrifying screams of terrified riders echo through the park.
So I’m sure you can appreciate that I’m a little anxious as I get strapped into this ride, ready to experience a view over Dreamworld for myself. It’s a 90 second climb (which feels a lot longer), up into the air. Feet dangling below me, it is terrifying. I can’t even look up to see how much higher I have to go but that’s good as I’m forced to stare out a pretty spectacular view.
Okay, back to the reality of the situation – I’m dangling from a chair roughly 119 metres high in the clouds. The moment the ride stops and the terrorising wait for the impending drop is the worst. There’s no count down, there’s no notice or warning – it’s just an empty wait, bracing yourself for gravity to take over. You think you’re able to judge when the drop is going to come, but it feels like an eternity.
And then, the ride drops, and you plummet to the ground. The breath is literally taken from me, and I’m in too much shock to actually scream for the first few moments. It’s a terrifying five seconds of pure adrenalin, falling 35 storeys at 135km/hr. And trust me, the subsequent shaking and tears will last a little longer than five seconds, that’s for sure, but boy, what a rush! A must do for adrenalin junkies.
Sky Diving over Coolangatta
Despite suffering through such a traumatic experience at Dreamworld, we drive to Coolangatta to pretty much repeat this emotionally scarring experience of going up in the air to drop down to the ground once more – but this time, out of a plane, and from a slightly amplified height. After a safety briefing and getting harnessed up, it’s a series of standard sky diving questions from me, including, “how long has my instructor been doing this?”, “is it totally safe?”, “what if I pass out mid air?” I’m reassured that it is in fact a brilliant experience, and that I’ll enjoy every second of the dive.
At the airport, we board a light aircraft for a short 15 minute ride. We climb to a whopping 12,000 feet. For me, similar to our Dreamworld experience, it’s the climb that really sets my heart racing. I lean back to ask my instructor, who is at this point securely attached to my back, if we’re at our highest point. He replies, laughing back, that we’re only half way there.
Eventually, I’m told to “get ready”, and I shuffle towards the door. I go against everything my whole body is telling me to do and move towards the open plane door of a plane. I’m still not sure if I didn’t have someone on my back physically pushing me, I don’t think I’d actually get to the door. Feet dangling out the door, it is, hands down, the most terrifying moment of my life.
Thankfully, I don’t have much time for the emotional gymnastics to play out, as I’m thrown from the plane by my instructor, and sent tumbling into the open air. Wind surging against my face, it’s one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever felt. I will be honest, those first few seconds are of sheer shock. I literally can’t scream, and I have to remind myself to breath. But once I grapple with the fact that I’m actually sky diving, I take in the full experience of free falling through the air at an incredible speed.
The parachute opens and it’s like a totally different experience. The bellowing sound of the wind soaring across you is replaced by an eerie silence, and it’s an almost calming contrast to the total shock your body experienced just moments ago. And suddenly I can appreciate my beautiful surroundings. From this height, I can see the many different views of the Gold Coast area – from the greenery of the Gold Coast Hinterland, the many winding waterways and rows of majestic buildings, to the long stretch of golden sands and blue waters. It’s a moment to take it all in and soak up what is an overwhelmingly breathtaking experience.
My final challenge for the day is to climb Australia’s tallest residential building, the Q1 with SkyPoint. This is the highest external building climb in the country.
After suiting up and a safety briefing, we travel 77 levels up the Q1 (in just 42.7 seconds, mind you!), to commence a 298 stair climb out in the open. It’s the 25th tallest building in the world, and the construction of glass panels and see through grates makes this experience all the more visual.
Through a complex system of harnesses and railings, I’m guided around the circumference of the roof. Now I do need to explain the setup of this climb to you – as, to be honest, it wasn’t really what I had been expecting. This isn’t a typical lookout point climb, where you’ve got fences, barriers and gates all around you. No, SkyPoint is all about giving you as much of an unrestricted view of the Gold Coast as possible. That means not having anything between you and the terrifying 270 metres drop except your harness attachment.
You’re able to peer over the edge of the building, right down to the streets below. Our guide brings us to a special point where one can sit on the surface of the walk, and dangle your feet over the edge. Up the very top of the crest, we’re led to “the lean back” – a part of the climb where we get to step to the very edge of the walk and with our backs facing the drop, lean out into the air. You’re placing all your trust into the harness while dangling from the top of the building. It’s knee shaking to say the least.
With the sun setting, this view of the Gold Coast is second to none. It’s undeniably one of the best ways to take in the many beautiful angles of the Gold Coast, with 360 degree views. Beach goers are tiny specks on the golden sands and surf boards are dots on the blue waves. The winding waterways weave their way on the other side of the Surfers Paradise buildings and the setting sun lights up the region with a golden filter.
For me, my day has made me appreciate that the Gold Coast isn’t all just about beautiful stretches of beaches, or partying it up with mates. This day, as terrifying as conquering my fear of heights has been, allowed me to see a totally new side of the Gold Coast. It’s been a side that’s showed off the stunning scenery and many contrasting landscapes. There’s been a few amazing adrenalin rushes too. Expedia’s Aussie travellers spend 2-3 nights on the Gold Coast – plenty of time to work in a few adrenalin inducing activities and have still have downtime too
I may not be a heights addict, but I definitely have a newfound appreciation of the eye opening perspectives that come from climbing up into the air. That, and how good it feels to be back on solid ground too.
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