Stepping onto the Main Beach Marina helipad of Gold Coast Helitours – the blades of a Robinson R44 whirring to life and whipping my clothes with their resultant winds – memories of my first chopper ride rise to the surface.
It’s been almost five years since that day. Coincidentally, also on the Gold Coast. But a lot has changed since then. This is not the city it was, with a glow-up sweeping from its northern tip down to the New South Wales border.
New towers have sprung up along the oceanside stretch (notably The Star Residences and multifaceted ‘Jewel’ home to The Langham), while an influx of talented chefs are now charting a fresh course for the city’s culinary scene.
But there’s only so much you can see from ground level (or the top of a tower). With that in mind, this joy flight is the perfect way to see more of the key changes in a short time – and it isn’t the only adventurous pursuit I have lined up.
Seeing the sights with Gold Coast Helitours
Strapping myself in, pilot Michael explains his intended path for our 20-minute run. We’ll be flying northeast past Sea World, over The Spit and out to sea for some whale watching, before tracking back over the Broadwater for a buzz across the canals.
As a longtime resident of northern NSW, I thought I had a solid grasp of the Gold Coast, but, as we now take to the sky, I realise how much I’ve been missing, and it’s fascinating to see it from this high-speed vantage.
Michael points out landmarks big and small, rattling off a list of facts bringing the city and its colourful history to life (who knew it boasted more canals than Venice?) while also keeping watch for telltale signs of a breaching humpback.
With migration season between June to November under way, it doesn’t take long to spot the distinctive splash and blow of a passing female – her new offspring trailing closeby.
Given our speed and height, there isn’t long to savour the moment – there's much to see and little time to do it. That said, it is impressive how much ground we can cover.
Heading south above RACV Royal Pines Resort, down to Robina and then over to Broadbeach, we soon make our way up the coast to take in the skyline from its greatest vantage.
It’s a rush viewing the city from this angle, and even as my feet return to solid ground (or pontoon, as the case may be) my heart continues to race. Time to slow things down.
Raising a glass on a Broadwater sunset cruise
Though best known for its man made wonders, the Gold Coast has plenty of natural delights too. The Broadwater is among its underrated gems: a 3km-long shallow estuary fringed by leafy parklands and luxe hotels.
Having just taken in the glittering expanse from above, it’s time to experience it at sea level. And with ‘golden hour’ fast approaching, I need to get a move on.
Conveniently, charter yacht operator Sailing in Paradise is based in the same Main Beach Marina as Gold Coast Helitours, and within minutes I’m boarding a Seawind 1160 Deluxe catamaran.
After brief formalities, our cat’s on the move, and it’s amazing to see just how much life is on the water – jet skis and boats zipping by, often with small kids clinging to inflatable rings under tow; whale watching and fishing charters heading to sea.
Sparkling wine on ice and a grazing platter of fruits, cheese, seafood and crackers have been arranged, though it’s just as easy to BYO and fire up the back deck BBQ, if you prefer.
With the wind in our sails, we soon pass multiple islands big and small, each providing bays and beaches for a cat such as ours to pull up for a picnic or chance to make use of the volleyball gear and SUPs onboard.
As minutes float by and the sunset burns into its red, yellow and orange peak, I’ve not only found a greater appreciation for this lesser-known side of the Gold Coast but have already started mapping out a return.
Back to home base at the JW Marriott Resort Gold Coast, there’s time for a delicious multi-course dinner at Citrique, before hitting the hay in readiness for an early start.
A hinterland adventure with Go Ballooning
As that name suggests, I’m here to go hot air ballooning, with the small hinterland town of Jimboomba our intended departure destination for this morning’s flight.
Given sunrise is a while off yet, I use the drive as a chance to get some shut-eye. And less than an hour later, we’re pulling into the grounds of Hills College where not one but two balloons are being readied for take-off.
I’m assigned a space in the 24-seater basket of the smaller balloon: one holding 450,000 cubic feet of air, versus 500,000 in the larger. And after admiring the gentle rise of the black, red and green balloon, it’s time to climb onboard.
Once ropes are released we begin our ascent, slow at first but soon picking up speed as we cross the Mount Lindesay Highway and start aiming for the coast.
Hot air balloons aren’t an exact form of travel. Their path is largely at the mercy of the winds, and it’s up to pilot Gary to read the signs and adjust our height accordingly.
While he’s manning the burner and communicating with the ground team via walkie-talkie, all that’s left for passengers is to breathe in the view (and hold onto their phones and cameras).
Light spills over the olive and gold landscape – tin-roofed houses and grazing cattle pepper the fields far below; farmers already up and working while we watch on from above.
Before we know it, it’s time to land, and with a gentle hop, glide and rock we touch down in the paddock of a friendly farmer, where the task of rolling the balloon like a sleeping bag is shared by all. Now, it’s back to the coast.
As you’d can imagine, this trio of high-end experiences are by no means the only ones worth noting on the Gold Coast – the city is evolving at a rapid pace, after all, and new ways to see, do and discover its wares continue to spring up by the week.
If it’s been a while since your last visit, now’s the perfect time. Need somewhere to stay? Here’s our guide to best Gold Coast luxury hotels.
The writer travelled as a guest of Destination Gold Coast.