It is 5.30 in the morning and you look down on the Lamington Valley in Gold Coast drifting silently 4,000 feet above in a hot air balloon as the farms below come alive and the sun slowly spreads its wings. Later, it is time to drive to a beautiful vineyard for a sumptuous breakfast, enjoying the breeze, the sun and the lush nature all around.
Almost around the corner from the serenity, lies the rush of theme parks, the bustle of Surfer’s Paradise, the thrill of climbing the Q1 Tower at twilight and seeing the most unforgettable sights, the delight of unending shopping, the joy of seeing playful dolphins swimming along your boat, the wonder of discovering how to throw a boomerang or play the didgeridoo – or the bliss of simply lazing in the sun with a book and tall glass on your deck.
Varied as the Gold Coast is, it offers something for absolutely everybody. For travellers from the Middle East escaping the hot summer here, it has traditionally been a hugely popular destination because of its Muslim-friendly facilities. There is a large local Muslim community, which means not only are there several mosques in Gold Coast – it is also easy to find restaurants offering halal food, hotels that feature the Qibla and prayer mats and chefs dedicated to the Muslim traveller. Most event organisers and tours too cater to halal needs if given sufficient notice.
“Last year we saw a 20% increase in the number of visitors from the Middle East and our economy benefitted by A$ 523 million, an increase of 59% over the previous year. The GCC tourist traditionally stays longer than the global average (45 nights Vs 36) and spends more per head (double the global average at A$ 9,891). What is really interesting is that while traditionally more people visited friends and relatives, now the leisure travel segment is growing fast; it increased by 26% last year, while the average leisure spend increased by 63%.” says Lidia Latimer, Manager International Marketing (Asia and Middle East), Gold Coast Tourism Corporation.
This year Gold Coast expects an even higher influx from the Middle East because the relative value to the US$ has been falling. Currently the Australian dollar is equal to AED 2.6, making it about 30% cheaper than it was last year (AED 3.9 to the Australian dollar) for Middle Eastern currencies that are pegged to the US dollar.
BOX OUT 1.
The GCC tourist gets a standard visa called e600, a two-year multiple entry visa that allows stay for three months. You can easily apply online from the comfort of your home and pay by credit card. Just visit www.immi.gov.au and create an Immi Account – then simply apply, pay for and track your visa!
BOX OUT 2.
Halal friendly restaurants and tours
– Hamza Kebab
– Nando’s Southport
– Ispa Kebab
– Indian Treasure
– Legends Restaurant at Movie World theme park
– Southcross 4WD organises beautiful tours where you can learn to throw a boomerang and play the didgerdoo – and will organise halal food if informed in advance
– Many additional halal hotels and restaurants are featured on the Gold Coast website
– Arabesque Café serves shisha, coffee and sweets, It also has an Arabic grocery store to find all your home favourites.
BOX OUT 3
Do Not Miss!
– Southern Cross 4-wheel drives organised over several routes and offering many local experiences
– Fire 4 Hire! tours organised on fire trucks for children and families during the day – or be transformed into party platforms at night
– Shopping at the new remodelled Pacific Fair, now with 6,500 parking spaces and 420 specialty stores
– Jasmin Organics: A certified organic jasmine farm on the Tambourine Mountains that makes for wonderful photo opportunities. They also make their own pure organic skincare range that must be sampled!
– The new G Link, the tram that makes it convenient for tourists to travel to popular destinations, from Broadbeach to Surfer’s Paradise
– Skypoint Climb for a ride to the 77th floor of the prestigious Q1 Tower, after which you climb 300 steps to marvel at 360 degrees views that are well worth the pant!
– Springbrook National Park for acres of green calm. Especially recommended: the Purling Brook walk
– Duffy Down Under for cruises down the canal where you will most likely see dolphins swimming alongside
– Australian Outback Spectacular for a family show based around horses, food and plenty of fun
– Dorchester on the beach for three bedroom apartments that guarantee private beach access, every apartment has a balcony that overhangs the beach and also offers babysitting facilities
BOX OUT 4
Mark the date!
Of you happen to be in Gold Coast August 21-23, do go and cheer for the UAE Team in the UIM XCAT World Series. The Gold Coast will be the fifth event on the eight-stage 2015 calendar of the series which kicked off in Fujairah in March. Gold Coast will make its debut at the series and will also have its own boat competing in the 15-team series. The city council has committed to spend AU$ 500,000 on sponsoring the event and the boat, but expects to garner handsome returns from the exposure as the race goes to several international locations and from TV rights