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Friday, June 15, 2018

Gold Coast - day 1

Gold Coast is now officially my favourite Aussie holiday destination!

I thought we had seen almost everything there is to see in Australia. We had been to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. So when Viv suggested Gold Coast for Xena’s June holidays, I agreed readily, but it was mainly to get away from Singapore’s heat. The destination itself didn’t excite me terribly. For some reason, I had thought that Gold Coast = beaches and surfing and that’s it. I was SO wrong. As I did my research and did up our itinerary, I realised there was so much more to see and do.

The holiday begins! Behold our gorgeous Changi Airport!

Happy girl on holiday

We took a Scoot flight on Thursday night. Xena fell asleep almost as soon as the flight took off, but woke up at 3.30 am totally fresh! I knew I had to keep her entertained as I wanted Viv to get some sleep since he was going to be driving as soon as we landed. I'd taken along my iPad to read my e-book (Rebecca) on the flight and so we played sudoku on that for a bit. I hadn't gotten much sleep, and after some time I convinced her to go back to sleep so I could catch a quick nap too.

We landed at 7.20 am on Friday morning. As soon as we got out of the plane, the cold weather hit us. We felt so cold that Xena, in spite of her full-sleeved clothing and a jacket, started shivering and saying, "It's tooo coldddddd, Mama. Let’s go back to Singy!" Ha, cold weather weather over hot weather any day for me!

As part of the security screening at Gold Coast airport, they had a black serious-looking dog come and sniff us and our luggage. Xena, used to seeing mostly cuddly and fluffy pet dogs, was feeling something between utter fascination and terror when the no-nonsense dog went around her ankles.

We headed to the Europcar counter to get the keys to our rental car. Xena looked in wonder at all the different car rental company counters and declared, "Daddy, good that you chose Europcar and not Thrifty." We asked her why she said that, expecting some quirky reply about the word 'thrifty', but she said, "Because the Europcar logo is green in colour!" Green is her current favourite colour.

This was the first time in all of our road trips that we had got a white car. Xena named her Ili, as her number plate was 1LI. 

When she was very young, I used to have to sit next to her at the back to tend to her and entertain her. Now that she's older, she's happy to sit in her child seat at the back and let me sit in front with Viv. 

We set off towards our AirBnB accommodation in the suburban town of Nerang, named after the Nerang River that flows through it. It was a beautiful area, with lots of greenery around, and Xena was thrilled to see horses on the way.

Ili was happy to be parked amongst all the greenery. 

The house itself was gorgeous, tucked away in a quiet and peaceful area, and stocked with almost everything that we would need during our three-day stay. The fridge had almond milk, regular milk, orange juice, freshly-laid eggs (our hostess has her own hens!) and all sorts of sauces and dips. The kitchen also had bread and lots of snacks for our use. 

The hostess had even baked a batch of the legendary Anzac biscuits for us! 

Anzac biscuits date back to World War I, when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was established. The biscuits, made with rolled oats, flour, sugar, butter and golden syrup, were made and sent by women to their soldiers abroad because the ingredients kept well during naval transportation. Interestingly, Anzac biscuits do not use eggs as there was an egg scarcity during the war (most poultry farmers had joined the war effort) and also because eggless food items were unlikely to spoil when travelling long distances.  

We unpacked and took a hot shower. The hot water felt like heaven, as we (Xena and I, not Viv) had been shivering even indoors! Xena declared that she would be spending the rest of the vacation under the hot shower. When I finished my shower and came out, Viv was talking to the hostess who had popped by to check if we had everything we needed. I asked her about Eeliza the eel mentioned on her AirBnB page and she told us where to find the dam where Eeliza and her family lived, and the food to feed them. Xena was thrilled as she had never fed eels before (as if I had!) and we immediately went to the back of the house to find the dam.

It felt glorious to be out in the sun!

We saw a whole group of Australian white ibises. 

And this was the dam with the eels. 

We got the eel food from the garage and started tossing it in the water. Soon, the first eel made its appearance in the murky water!

That's another one, popping up to get the food. We saw 5 or 6 of them that morning. Many other hungry fishes also turned up. 

Ooh, a big fat one! Xena kept asking me which one was Eeliza. As if I would know!

After the eel-feeding, we decided to explore the little orchard at the back of the house. 

There were some very short trees with a lot of fruit hanging from them. I was quite amazed. 

An orange on an orange tree!

After spending a relaxed morning in the house, we decided to drive up to Tamborine Mountain to see the glow worm cave and do a short hike that I had pencilled in for the day.

Off we go!

A short drive later, we were at Tamborine Mountain. We bought our tickets for the 2 pm glow worm caves guided tour, and then sat down for a quick burger and nuggets lunch at the cafe located there.

We then proceeded towards the waiting area, where we spotted an Australian brush turkey, a bird that we had first encountered in 2013 during our Ashes road trip. Xena, then only 2.5 years old, had pointed it out to me and said, "Turkey ne yellow necklace pehna hai!" 

There was a lake and lots of greenery around the place. 

When I was doing my research on the glow worm caves, I found out that we could choose to go either to a natural glow worm cave after dark, or go to the artificial Tamborine Mountain glow worm caves. We chose the latter for two reasons. One, it was a 30-minute guided tour so we would actually gain some knowledge about the glow worms, and two, we didn't want to be driving around the mountain too late in the evening.

Goofy shot

The first section of the cave was dimly-lit where the guide gave us a briefing. We were shown a video telling us about the origins of the place and the conservation efforts. It is a purpose-built cave, complete with artificial stalactites and stalagmites, where local Queensland glow worms have been introduced under a breeding programme. Glow worms need a permanently moist habitat and rely heavily on rainforests and wet caves for survival. Unfortunately, due to habitat destruction, their numbers are dwindling.

Once our eyes got used to the dim light, we were handed glow-in-the-dark bracelets looped through a string, but we were asked to wear them such that they dangled behind our necks. This was to make sure people didn't bump into one another once we entered the next section, which was completely in the dark. There were also tiny red lights making a path on the floor so you have a route to follow.

The next section was pitch dark, with thousands of glow worms on the walls and the ceiling of the artificial cave. Glow worms are the larval stage of a gnat, and they glow to attract prey. As adults lose their digestive system in exchange for a reproductive system, all eating is done at the larva stage. The larvae spin a nest out of the silk and hang down silk threads that hold droplets of sticky mucus (you can see a photo here). It then glows to attract its prey, which included all kinds of insects, and sometimes even snails and millipedes!

The guide used a red light stick to allow us to take a closer look at the glowing critters. Glow worms can’t see red light so it's a safe way to see them clearly. No photography of the glow worms was allowed, of course, as they needed to be in complete darkness. Even watches and shoes that glowed weren't allowed. The guide mentioned that they did allow non-flash photography at some point, but even after reminders, some people would still use the flash so they decided to do away with photography altogether. Glow worms stop glowing if exposed to light and may starve as a result.

Our guide then asked if anyone had questions. I asked if prey really did come into the artificial cave on their own. He praised my question and I felt like I was in school again! Apparently the guides collect thousands of insects every day and release them into the cave for the glow worms to eat! Oh well, it's a conservation effort. Apparently, the number of glow worms has gone up from 300 to about 8000 over the last decade, and eventually they will be released into the wild. Near the exit, there was a red light quarantine zone so that sunlight doesn’t enter the cave when people open the door to exit the caves. Wow, these guys had thought of everything! More details on the Tamborine Mountain glow worm caves can be found here.

There was also a small frog display section nearby called 'Frog Hollow', and we took a stroll through it. There were various kinds of frogs (Tamborine Mountain is home to over 23 species of frogs!) and insects in glass enclosures.

A stick insect!

Preserved insects

We were done by about 3 pm or so, so we decided to do a hike. There are many walking tracks winding through the rainforest, and one of the most famous ones is the 1.1-km Curtis Falls walk. Xena was only too happy at the idea of the hike because she wanted to rake up points on her UNICEF kid power watch, an initiative to help feed underprivileged kids using steps counted by the watch.

And off we go!

Dwarfed by the giant rainforest trees

Artistic shot by Viv

We saw many, many uprooted trees...

...And trees growing at strange angles.

Daddy and baby

It's low season so we saw very few people, though I can imagine how crowded it would be when the season is high. 

It was starting to get quite chilly and our hats and caps came out. 

We reached Curtis Falls soon enough. The Falls were named after the Curtis family, who built a timber mill in the area in the late 1800s.

Family shot with the Falls

After the hike, we decided to grab dinner at 'Gallery Walk', a street full of cafes, souvenir shops and art galleries. 

We expected a lot of food options in Gallery Walk and sure enough there were. However, to our shock, every single eatery had closed by the time we got there. It was only 4 pm!

We spent quite some time walking up and down, trying to find an eatery that was open, but had no luck. The buildings were very pretty though. 

We found some quirky signs too. 

A scarecrow's outfit?

Giant bottle

It was starting to get quite cold and Xena borrowed my woollen cap. It was so big for her, it came down to her lips!

It was also starting to get dark, so we decided to head back and find some food closer to home. Our hostess had recommended a place called Foodie Indiya. However, it was only 5 pm and too early for dinner. So we decided to pack some dinner and have it at home later.

5 pm -- unbelievable!

While our food was getting cooked and packed, we went to the Coles nearby and bought some breakfast supplies, snacks and Moscato. By the time we came home, it was still too early to eat, so we played Scrabble. I beat Viv by 4 points muahaha! Finally, we had dinner, but mainly because Viv and I were very tired and sleepy. Xena was still her energetic self. Even though she had walked a lot, she was still walking around the house trying to earn more steps on her watch! Finally, we convinced her that it was bedtime and she could get more steps the next day.

Click here for Gold Coast - day 2!



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