Queensland's Gold Coast could be called the ultimate big kids' playground: reliable summery weather, world-famous beaches, and Australia’s best theme parks make it the perfect spot for a high-octane holiday. Now, thanks to the city’s preparations for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, there’s even more reasons to get over here: it’s easier than ever to get around; theme parks are continually investing in their attractions and a new park is in the planning; plus you can grab great deals on tickets.
Whether you’re a big thrill chaser, a film buff, or just want see some koalas up-close, Australia's theme parks like Dreamworld, Warner Bros Movie World, and Wet 'n' Wild have you covered. Here’s our guide to making the most of your Gold Coast visit this year.
All the big theme parks have loads to offer so it’s a good idea to allow a full day for each park on your hit list. If your time is limited and you can only do one, you’re probably best heading to Dreamworld where you can experience heart-pumping rides like the Tower of Terror II before splashing down the slides at WhiteWater World – both are included in the cost of your ticket. You can also do some more uniquely Australian activities, checking out the dingoes and tree kangaroos, or catch a sheep-shearing show and ‘virtual corroboree’.
If you’re interested in learning more about Australia's unique wildlife, save your pennies for Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, David Fleay Wildlife Park or Paradise Country, where you can get back to nature and meet marsupials, or head to Outback Spectacular for dinner and a live show that brings to life Australian high-country folklore.
Best for kids
The Gold Coast's theme parks all cater for kids from toddlers to teenagers, but if you’re entertaining the under-5s, Dreamworld is a good option. Littlies can ride the Big Red Car in Wiggles World and meet the iconic Bananas in Pyjamas at ABC Kids World. Older kids will dig the DreamWorks Experience with rides and shows based around Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and Shrek.
Wet 'n' Wild, adjacent to Warner Bros MovieWorld, and WhiteWater World within DreamWorld, both give you the chance to cool off on water slides when tempers start to fray. Don't forget your swimsuits and some sunscreen!
Best for grown-ups
Your perfect theme park really depends on your definition of fun. For spine-tingling rides Warner Bros Movie World is your pick. The park is home to the HyperCoaster, billed as the longest, tallest and fastest roller-coaster in the southern hemisphere.
Team that with a visit to Wet 'n' Wild next door where you can ride the Constrictor – a slide with the tightest banking turns in the world – then head over to Dreamworld to dry off on The Claw.
Given its focus on animal conservation, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary might not be the obvious choice for adrenaline junkies, but there is one thrilling drawcard inside the 27-hectare reserve: a zipline course. The TreeTop Challenge high ropes and ziplines swing right over the animal enclosures (including crocodiles!), adding an extra element of daredevil adventure. It costs $69 for an adult pass with admission to the sanctuary (usually $49.95) included, so you can hang around to meet the locals after your ‘flight’.
If it's only roller-coasters you're after, Movie World is the cheapest of the big parks at $79 for an adult pass.
How to score the best deals
It’s worth doing your research to find a great deal on passes, as prices fluctuate to reflect demand and seasons. Start online at the theme parks’ websites and check for discounts on sites like Groupon (if you’re a member) or for locals, Australian motoring associations RACV, NRMA and RACQ. Also ask about deals at your booked accommodation as they may have access to special offers for guests.
Generally, it’s better value to get a three- or seven-day pass, which allows you access to one or more parks over consecutive days, rather than a single-day ticket. Buying online is cheaper (and more convenient) than queuing to fork over cash at the gates.
If you want to cram in as much as you can on your Gold Coast trip, look out for passes that offer extras, like access to the SkyPoint Observation Deck, which offers stunning views of the coast and hinterland; relaxing river cruises to unwind after all that excitement; or awe-inspiring whale-watching tours in winter when whales migrate along the coast. It’s an economical way to tick off some of the area’s highlights while you're here.
How to get there
Most of the Gold Coast’s theme parks are located north of Surfers Paradise in Coomera and Oxenford. Public buses or transfers are the easiest way to get there and avoid the hassle of finding a car parking space.
Movie World, Wet 'n' Wild, Paradise Country and Outback Spectacular are within the same precinct – worth bearing in mind if you’re planning on visiting more than one attraction in a day.
Local bus operator Surfside Buslines runs regular trips to all the theme parks – it’ll take 30-40 minutes from Surfers Paradise and costs around $8 to $9 per person. Alternatively, you can book a transfer with your hotel. SkyBus offers a Freedom Pass that combines airport transfers with theme park transport (the best of all worlds).
Best time to go
School holidays are, naturally, peak times for the theme parks and coupled with searing temperatures over summer, can make your day more tedious than fun, so it pays to check your dates before booking. During ‘Schoolies Week’, towards the end of November and early December, the Gold Coast will be overrun with Aussie teenagers blowing off steam after their final exams – families may want to steer clear!
Winter (June to August, Down Under) could be your best bet – the weather is usually still warm, and dry enough for rides and water slides (which are heated to a balmy 25-26 degrees) and you’ll be able to take advantage of whale-watching tour add-ons.
Aim to visit on a weekday and you’ll be more likely to avoid crowds – and scoop up the discount ride of your life.