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Going For Gold

Australia’s shining playground, the Gold Coast, hits the mark for inclusion and accessibility.

While Queensland’s Gold Coast may be best known for its enviable stretches of white sandy beaches and thrilling theme parks, we think the emerging accessibility and inclusivity of the region should be making headlines. Our family has enjoyed many getaways to the Gold Coast and each time we visit we are thrilled to find a new list of accessible activities we can try as a family. Our most recent trip unearthed some beauties. 

Birds eye view

There’s no better place to get the lay of the land than from the 77th floor of the Q1 building at the Skypoint Observation Deck. With views from the coast to the hinterland, this is the spot to go for sunset. While sipping a glass of bubbly we watched the dazzling blue-sky day transform into soft orange hues at golden hour, before the moonlit night and twinkling skyscrapers sparkled below us. The hearty pub-style food at Skypoint Bistro and Bar was eagerly gobbled up by our family. Not a crumb was left on the plate from the pumpkin pizza, tender calamari, nachos and bowl of chips.

Accessiblity is excellent throughout with a lift taking visitors to the observation deck, gentle ramps connecting the split levels and a unisex stand-alone accessible bathroom available. 

A family of four gathered around a table next to floor-to-ceiling windows at Skypoint Observation Deck on the Gold Coast
Take in views from the coast to the hinterland with a delicious meal at Skypoint Observation Deck.

The Whale Highway

Winter offers special delights on the Gold Coast with the whale migration taking place not far off the coastline. Ever hopeful of a sighting we joined other nature lovers on a Sea World Whale Watch Cruise. Having been on whale watching cruises in other destinations, we knew it was important to keep our expectations in check. Seeing animals and sea life in the wild is a privilege so we respect and understand it’s a game of chance – and we won the lottery on this Gold Coast trip.

Leaving the city’s skyline in our wake, we headed for what the crew referred to as the whale highway and it wasn’t long before we noticed a spout of water on the horizon. It was a way off, but it signalled hope. Gazing out we were focused and determined in our role as spotters, and we were rewarded with multiple sightings. Breaching, tail slapping and the sound of the whales exhaling had us and the rest of the captive audience of sea-goers delighted. We marvelled at such close encounters and even watched as a mother and her calf proudly paraded past the boat.  

Wheelchair accessibility is good on the Sea World Cruise with a dedicated space for wheelchair users to sit inside the boat. Tie downs are used to secure the wheelchair while sailing out to open water. Once there, and with the skipper’s okay, a wheelchair user can make their way to the rear of the vessel on the open deck if they wish. Guests with mobility can make their way up the few stairs to the bench seating at the front of the boat. One larger stall toilet is available but being on a boat it is smaller than the usual accessible toilet stalls. 

A whale breaching from calm blue water with the Gold Coast city skyline visible in the background
Seeing animals in the wild is always a game of chance, but we hit the jackpot with a Sea World Whale Watch cruise.

In tandem

Our son’s disability means he is unable to drive a go kart on his own. Tandem karts are rare, so we were delighted to discover that Slideways Go Karting Gold Coast (located in Nerang about 15 mins from Surfers Paradise) offers a double kart. With helmets on, it was time to fulfil the need for speed and lap around the multi-storey indoor/outdoor track.

My son looked somewhat of a bobble head with the weight of the helmet, but his smile could be seen clearly each time he whizzed by with my husband at the wheel. Slideways Go Karting Gold Coast offers a unique surface that allows the karts to drift. Lap times are highlighted on the screen including the times to beat. Even if not the fastest on the track, the fun of trying makes everyone feel a winner. 

Staff guided us to a more accessible route for transferring into the go kart. Some mobility is required for getting into the go kart and there is one step to negotiate to get to the track. We bumped our son’s manual wheelchair down the step. Standard bathrooms are available on the lower level and accessible parking is located outside the building.

Braeden and his father wearing helmets speeding by in a tandem go-kart
The tandem go karts at Slideways Go Karting Gold Coast ensure everyone can participate in the fun.

A taste of Venice on the Gold Coast

After seeing the Gold Coast from the heights of Skypoint and from the coast on our whale watching cruise, it was time to explore the extensive waterways by gondola. 

Our son excitedly rolled down the red carpet for our sunset gondola cruise. Before we set sail we were served our meals and wine was poured. We were off to a good start and settled back into the super comfy bench seats, complete with warm blankets, and cranked up That’s Amore so I could sing along without our guide cringing. While this is an ideal cruise for a romantic occasion, we all loved watching the sunset from the gondola as a family. And what’s better than dream shopping for one of the incredible Gold Coast mansions that line the waterways. 

Some mobility is required to enter the gondola via the single step. Staff are happy to store a wheelchair in their office. As with all jettys, the steepness of the ramp is affected by the tide and can be very steep. 

Braeden and his father wheeling down the red carpet to board a Gold Coast gondola
They wheeled out the red carpet for our gondola ride on the Gold Coast.

Gold Coast’s Home of the Arts (HOTA)

HOTA is a space dedicated to the arts, entertainment, and houses a restaurant with incredible views. During our visit we wandered the galleries and checked out the Lego exhibition that was on. But for locals, or those visiting at the right time, there is a way of engaging in a more hands-on art session. Sunroom is a disability-led art program which occurs on the first Wednesday of the month and has been created for people with a disability aged 18-35.  No prior art making experience is needed, just a willingness to use your imagination and participate. 

Accessibility is excellent throughout HOTA with lift access between the levels, plenty of circulation space within the galleries, accessible parking and a Changing Places bathroom facility located on the lower ground floor. 

Braeden and Amelia looking at a wall covered in framed art at HOTA Gold Coast
Accessibility is excellent and everyone is welcome at Home Of The Arts (HOTA).

A family favourite

Sea World is a family favourite with rides, animal interactions and plenty of opportunities to learn about the rescue work the team at Sea World carry out daily. There are a few extra special accessible treats in store for visitors with a mobility restriction. Head to Castaway Bay if you dare. Wheelchair users can remain in their chair to board one of the Battle Boats, but be warned, no mercy will be shown by those on the sidelines aiming the water cannons towards the boat. Despite valiantly returning fire, we all left soaked from head to toe. 

A calmer activity, that comes with a wet suit, is the specially designed dolphin encounter for guests with a disability. Meet a specially trained dolphin for lots of interactive fun. Our family has played ball and learned dolphin-speak on previous visits and loved it. Just remember dolphin breath is a bit fishy. A pool hoist is available for visitors needing assistance into the water. 

On arrival at Sea World, guests with a disability are advised to visit guest services to learn more about the suitability of rides and other provisions around the park. Companion Card is accepted for entry to Sea World. 

The pool hoist at Sea World Gold Coast
The pool hoist is available for people who need assistance getting into the water at Sea World.

Accessible beaches

It doesn’t feel like a trip to the Gold Coast unless you get sand between your toes and dip your feet in the ocean. We found on this trip that the Gold Coast council offers an extensive beach wheelchair program. Bookings are recommended. Check out the City of Gold Coast website for more information and location listings. 

We recommend combining a picnic at Burleigh Heads with a lovely accessible coastal walk in Burleigh Heads National Park. If you have a manual wheelchair, we recommend starting at the eastern end of Goodwin Terrace to avoid the hill. A Changing Places bathroom is located nearby, next to Nook Café. 

Braeden and Amelia using one of the beach wheelchairs available on a Gold Coast beach
The City of Gold Coast has implemented a wonderful beach access program to ensure all visitors can enjoy the sand and surf.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

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