Gold Coast and Brisbane

Surfing Part One

This post actually covers two separate parts of our trip, because we stopped by the Gold Coast twice. The first time, an extended stop over in the Gold Coast saved us a bundle on flights from Tokyo to New Zealand. Then, the Gold Coast turned out to be a very convenient airport to fly back to Australia as we prepared to explore the final country on our trip. The Gold Coast was also where Eric made some career moves, a stark reminder that the end of our adventure was not far off.

Ibis con frit

We landed early in the morning the first time we arrived at the Gold Coast, so we lingered in the airport long enough for Eric to have a phone call with an old colleague about a possible job. Jess watched a crazy-looking bird steal fries off a nearby table while she was waiting. After the call we sorted out how the train system worked, and we were on our way. We decided to buy the TransLink Go card even though it cost $10 and is normally for locals. We figured we would have enough reason to use it between our two visits, and we also got a tip that you can either sell the card back, or run into a small negative balance on the card to recoup the cost.

We took the bus from the airport and then the light rail north towards a town called Surfer’s Paradise. We got off and walked ~10 minutes to our hotel for our short stay. The city is not called Surfer’s Paradise for nothing, and we planned to get in as much surfing as we could handle, so after dropping off our things we headed to the beach.

We rented two boards for two hours, thinking that we would see how the day went before choosing to go for a four-hour rental on the subsequent days. We quickly found out there was absolutely no way we needed a four-hour rental; surfing is hard!!! We had two surf lessons under our belt, and we knew that we were still beginners, but after some false starts and failed attempts we managed to stand up and ride some white water into shore. We remembered being a little bit tired after our lessons, but we did not realize just how exhausting a full two hours was. When you have lessons there is some classroom/beach time, and you are often waiting for an instructor to help you catch a wave, or to signal which wave to catch. Out there on our own, we made a lot of less-than-optimal attempts to stand up on less-than-optimal waves. Any forward progress you do make though means lots of work to get back out to where the waves are breaking and try again. It was not super deep or powerful, but fighting the ocean is still a lot of work!

Besides surfing, Eric applied for a job while hanging out in the apartment and Jess thinks she got a glimpse into Eric’s ulterior motive for this year of travel. In a cover letter, Eric wrote that as soon as we started planning our honeymoon, he saw it as a “perfect opportunity to work on generative building design”… not exactly the most romantic take on the year!

Our time on Chevron Island, where our apartment was located, also gave us our first glimpse of how the bush fires are affecting Australia. On the beach, the view south was very very hazy, almost as if a strong fog had rolled in. It did not affect our time really, but we would see much more on our next visit.

On our way to Auckland, New Zealand

Surfing Part Two

Our second trip to Surfer’s Paradise puts us back in chronological order. We were back after finishing our New Zealand adventures. We returned to Chevron Island, but a bit further inland this time. This put us in a slightly different neighborhood, and we think it was where more locals lived. On arrival, we went out to grab some breakfast and got an amazing suggestion from a man we literally met while walking out of our apartment. He told us to got to Cafe Alfons, and their brunch was great. Eric got the savory french toast dish shown here. Other than going out to get breakfast and some groceries, we pretty much just lazed about the apartment, went swimming, and relaxed.

View from bridge to Chevron Island

The next morning Eric had a phone call scheduled with his potential new bosses to ask some questions about the offer they had made him. He had to wake up at 5AM to be ready for the call, which is not his best hour, but it was a great conversation, and he decided to take the job… the end of our adventure is even nearer!!

That day and the next we again went surfing, learning a little bit each time. We had hoped to go on a scuba diving trip, but unfortunately, we left the planning too late, and there were no reasonable scuba diving options nearby. This is a bit of a shame because we got our scuba certification, but we will have to wait until our next warm water vacation.

We may not have managed to get up on the board any more frequently after our practice, but we do think we have gotten better at a critical skill; reading the waves. When we had a tutor they would tell us when to go, and we almost always managed to stand up, for at least a little time. When we were on our own however, knowing which wave was worth paddling for was very tricky. Paddling for a wave that does not become anything, and skipping a wave that ends up being quite powerful both result in you being closer to shore, but without even trying to stand up. This makes for a lot of time spent fighting your way back out to sea to try and catch the next wave, and much less time surfing than would be ideal. All that being said, it is great exercise, we did definitely improve a little bit, and we would both welcome the chance to go again.


We decided to go to Brisbane mostly out of necessity. We needed to catch a bus to Armidale where we had plans to house sit and look after an old dog, and the most convenient bus left from Brisbane. Boy are we glad we ended up there! Brisbane was a delightful surprise, and when we looked it up online, we found out it was not a coincidence, Brisbane commonly ranks highly in livability rankings of cities all over the globe.

Getting to Brisbane took most of the morning, but the train was coincidentally free, so that was a win! We got to our hostel which was run by a man from South Korea who had lived all over the world. He gave us a rundown of the city, and we settled in for a quick rest. We have learned at this point to scope out the kitchen of any place we visit, and we decided this kitchen did not look very convenient, so we would do more eating out. We also had saved some extra money in our budget, so we decided to book a special dinner for that night before going out for a walk.

We walked along the very long waterfront created by the very windy river, and loved that you could walk along very pretty, dedicated pedestrian paths basically the entire way. We walked around a bend that contained a lot of commercial buildings and then found ourselves on the edge of a university. The pedestrian path went between the university campus and the botanical garden, which we thought was pretty cool, and then there was a dedicated pedestrian bridge over to the newly developed river area known as South Bank. South Bank was an amazing stretch of urban planning with many distinct zones all blending together seamlessly. The man-made section of waterway had fountains and restaurants galore, there was even a sandy beach section, providing loads of activities for the hundreds of people enjoying their summer day out in the city.

On the walk back we went through the main shopping area and found out there would be a light show on the City Hall building at 7:30 PM, but we had that fancy dinner reservation, so we planned to come back the next day. While crossing the bridge back to our side of the river we saw some cranes all concentrated in an area, nine of them! We speculated about what they were, and Jess pointed out they were all identical, so it could be a dock/port area. That made sense, but we decided to investigate. When we got there, we found out it was an absolutely huge construction site! Something very big was clearly going on. While we were peering through the fence, a man leaving a building nearby saw us, and when he heard our interest in the project, invited us to come into the building next door for a better view. It turns out he is involved with the project, and we got to see renderings of what was planned, ask all about the development process, and gawk at an absolutely massive hole in the ground. While looking at a rendering Jess commented that it kind of looked like the Marina Bay Sands building in Singapore, and he said that is exactly what inspired that portion of the project!

Now it was time for our special dinner out. We went to a place called Alchemy and opted to get the chef’s tasting menu and the wine pairing! We’re really glad we went for the wine splurge, as this introduced us to some of our favorite wine pairings of all time, i.e. a strong white wine that went with a pork belly dish. The dishes were all delicious, and beautifully presented, see the gallery below for some of our favorites. During the meal we saw another couple wander to a corner of the restaurant and stand in front of a chef for a little while. When we asked what they were doing we were told it was the Nitrogen Experience, and that we could go later. The chef put infused whipped cream into a vat of liquid nitrogen, and let us try three different types. It was pretty fun to watch, and super cold, reminding us of the strange desert we had in Hanoi because it let you breath smoke while you ate it. This was better though, because whipped cream tastes better than weird bland Cheetos.

We started the next day out lazily, went in search of brunch, and then went to a rock climbing gym that was only a 15-minute walk from our hostel. When we arrived it was around 11AM, and the place looked small, but empty. Not for long!! While we were registering, a stream of children started to march down from the upstairs area. The flow of energetic 8-11 year olds seemed like it would never end, and it turned out there were 60 of them! We were told they would be leaving around 12:30, so we decided to stick it out and do a few climbs while trying not to crush small humans beneath us when we fell. The staff was very helpful keeping a rope clear for us, and we did some yoga to bide our time. After the kids cleared out we had about another hour of climbing in us, before we were pooped. We had not climbed in almost an entire year, and it felt pretty good to be back on the ropes.

After climbing we went back to the hostel for a quick shower and rest, then headed out for the evening. We headed towards the water where we planned to catch a ferry rather than walking. On the way we stopped by a cathedral we had seen a few times and explored the inside. There was the usual beautiful architecture and stained glass, as well as some very neat cardboard sculptures. The free ferry service runs between a handful of wharves on the section of river that is downtown. The ferry was not terribly quick, but it was relaxing, and a fun way to get around. We hopped off one stop early to walk through the beautiful South Bank area, but tried to make good time because we were on a mission to get to the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA).

The GOMA had an exhibit called “Water” which looked spectacular, and we made it in time to have a little over 90 minutes to explore. This was one of the more interesting exhibits we have seen before, and had a huge variety of displays beyond the traditional mediums of painting, photography and video. Some highlights were a foam sculpture that continuously poured a tube of foam from some pipes, a watering hole surrounded by taxidermy, and an indoor river. Unfortunately we forgot to take a picture of one of the best installations, which was a metal grid hung with hundreds of gymnastics rings at varying heights. This exhibit was interactive, and guests were invited to try and cross from one side to the other without touching the ground. Apparently only about one in 20 people manage to make it across. Eric fell, blaming his tired hands and flip flops, but Jess made it all the way, definitely impressing the attendants with her determination.

After the GOMA, we killed a little more time outside playing cribbage trying to time it right so that we would be at the town hall building when the light show was happening. When we arrived at the town hall, we got way more than we had hoped for! They were doing their dress rehearsal of the upcoming Christmas parade, and we got to watch about 20 minutes of performers and floats go by! The idea of Christmas in the summer definitely messes with our heads, as we heard songs about sleigh bells while wearing our flip flops. After the dress rehearsal we saw the projection that we had anticipated shown on the town hall. It was a very cute story of a young Koala running around the bush trying to get his last minute Christmas shopping done. Beautifully animated and a very cute tale for little kiddos, we were satisfied.

That was our last night in Brisbane, and it made us very very happy. Brisbane was a wonderful surprise, we are glad we went and probably could have enjoyed even more time there. But there was a dog named Billy waiting for us to take care of him, so the next morning we were on our way with an all-day bus trip to Armidale.

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