ben-southall

Did I really do that much in just 4 days?

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If the next six months continue at the speed these first four days have started at then I’ll have an entire lifetime worth of experience to talk about!

Now I’d love to go into the most ornate detail about each and everyone of the activities that I’ve been involved with since I last wrote my blog but that would a) take me all week b) make you die with envy and c) wear the end of my fingers out with typing so much!

In order to give you an understanding of each experience I’ll be writing a limited entry on each of the mind-blowingly amazing things that have happened….and so here I go!

Thursday 2nd July – A baptism of fire here as there’s no rest for the wicked (something I’ve never considered myself but hey onwards): straight to the Fantasea Jetty for a transfer on Voyager to Whitehaven Beach. An exquisite 7km long stretch of white silica sand lapped by crystal clear tropical waters providing an incredible place to start today’s little adventure. As we pulled into the bay the sight was spectacular; infinite blue skies, deep green bush, and an ocean occasionally dotted with pleasure craft, all there for the same thing – to enjoy Queensland’s most beautiful beach…it’s official!

Whitehaven Beach is incredible

Nah Judd, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services Project Officer, walked Bre and me up the beach towards the horizon and explained to us how the beach was formed, the variety of lucky life which considers this place home, and an interesting little fact…you can clean silver jewellery with the silica sand as its tiny spherical grains are just perfectly abrasive.

We relaxed in the waters until the distant rumble of an Air Whitsunday’s seaplane engine signalled an end to the relaxing break, within seconds it had landed slowly cruising to a stop in the shorebreak in front of us before we boarded and settled into our seats. As our pilot brushed the controls forward we pressed back into our seats, slowly gaining speed before breaking free of the ocean’s surface and instantly becoming smooth and graceful…much akin to the flight of a seabird as it struggles for speed before take-off.

Swooping low over the beach we gained height leaving the flotilla behind us and passed over beaches, inlets and reefs; the aqua colours below a jewel to behold…and yes it does look just like the brochures!

Whitehaven Beach

These planes are awesome, I love the fact that they can land on the water, taxi to the slipway, drop a set of wheels and with a flick of the throttle become land-dwellers as they hoist themselves onto dry land: Truly adaptable. Our next stop Hayman Island and lunch at the Hayman Chef’s Bench.

At the Chef's Bench

Glenn Bacon, and his Cellar Master Bruno, had prepared a culinary delight for the two of us: an opulent array of six taster courses, each one more intricate and delightful than the last, leaving our taste buds tantilised, our stomachs full and our thoughts about the early onset of gout further increased! A visit to the Chocolate Room finished off the meal with a final top-up of extravagant sugar…

Our starter is served

In the Hayman chocolate room!

Friday 3rd July - Hit the dock at the Fantasea jetty, to be met by Kellie, and straight up onto the bridge to take control of the amazing vessel which would sweep us across the Coral Sea to Daydream Island Resort and Spa. Expecting to see a big wheel controlling a vessel of such a size I was a little taken back when the captain offered to let me steer using a 10cm long joystick and nothing more…no fighting the swell or having to lean into it – this is 21st century fly-by-wire electronics which made steering this thing a breeze as I headed towards our fast approaching destination.

The musical arrival on Daydream is accompanied by the presentation of a necklace made from shells, which gives the resort a truly tropical feel and the staff, as before on my first visit, were amazingly welcoming and it felt like I’d come home to see them again.

Now back in January when the position of Island Caretaker was first advertised one of the key parts of the job was feeding the fish. I couldn’t resist the temptation to do it all again and, instead of walking past the diversely stocked reef pool, I stopped to have another five minute session with Pancake and his fellow rays, filling their stomachs with tasty fish morsels until I was pulled away to continue the tour of the resort. With only a few days to go until the Gold Coast half marathon, and a serious lack of training having been completed over the last few weeks due to media commitments, the kind staff at the spa invited me up to their tables once more for a leg and foot massage. It was just what I needed, half an hour with no cameras in my face and a rub down which relaxed my string bean legs to no end – finished off by a fruit and cheese platter of note.

After taking a few more photos and saying thank you it was time to head back to meet Bre for dessert at the Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island. We’d be doing our own thing for the next few days, as I head down to the Gold Coast for my race, and Bre spends her time getting an orientation for the island and the delights it has on offer.

Racing against our schedule all of the time, we rushed to the airport as fast as our golf buggy would take us, keeping well within the 20 mph speed limit of course – it’s very difficult to beat when you have possibly the least powerful buggy on the island! Then off into the big blue yonder on the Virgin flight back to Brisbane to meet Denise Deveney, my Tourism Queensland contact for the next few days, who knows everything about the Gold Coast having spent a number of years working and socialising there.

A quick stop off at the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s office in Brisbane for an interview and photo for the Gold Coast Bulletin, and we were off again – down the motorway south to another new destination and the location for my next few day’s adventure – the famous Gold Coast!

Now over the last few days and weeks I’ve been lucky enough to stay in some pretty amazing hotels and locations but nothing could quite prepare me for the extravagant, opulent surroundings of the Palazzo Versace. This hotel exports the best of Italian luxury and places it delicately on the edge of the marina overlooking the entire Gold Coast as it disappears to the horizon in a blaze of twinkling lights. From the ornate mosaic flooring to the 750kg chandelier which graces the reception of the building and once featured in the State Library of Milan, from the plate glass doors to the 65m main lagoon complete with sandy beach – this exquisite establishment has the Versace brand written all over it. On arrival the smell of Versace oil and rose petals greeted me and as I stared in wonder at the vastness of the reception room a thousand night-lights flickered giving the hotel a magical feel. If you do one thing when you visit the Gold Coast, drop in for High Tea here and experience it first hand.

Palazzo Versace

Saturday 4th July - Up bright and early and on with the first appointment of the day…well I say appointment but my next meeting was actually with some friends of a different variety who live in a very different world and have a very different outlook on life – one from under the water!

Sea World and the hugely talented dolphins known as Sunny and Starbuck! I’ve always wanted to do this but never had the chance to get quite as close I as was about to. When I lived in South Africa I used to surf in the Indian Ocean and, on occasion during the summer, dolphins used to swim up under us as we sat at backline waiting for waves but they always kept themselves a good distance away, in fact at such a range that the fast moving shadows in the water below us used to scare the living daylights out of us – the first reaction being ‘SHARK’!

Sea World

The chill early morning air greeted me as I left the changing room having just donned a shortie wetsuit and flotation jacket, essential if you’re heading into the water with these gentle marine mammals just in case they sweep you off your feet. Sunny and Starbuck are two Common Bottlenose dolphins who’ve lived at Sea World all of their lives and love their environment, handlers and interacting with people. It’s awesome hearing them click and gurgle their way around almost having a conversation with Ben the handler, and my guide for the session. Armed with a bucket load of fish we made our way down into their pool and I had my first introduction with my new friends, Sunny being the most keen to nuzzle up against me and try to gently persuade the fish from my hands. Hang on a minute, you show me why I should be feeding you! And with that he was off tearing through the water and back to me, giving me a gentle kiss on the cheek for my patience. Now dolphins love showing off and knowing that a tasty morsel comes as a reward motivates them to do even more tricks, fast swim-bys, jumps in the air and then a final little hug with me before all too quickly my session with them was over.

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As we walked back to Renee’s office, our host for the afternoon, the luckiest thing for her happened all over her lovely blouse…yes a bird decided to use her as a toilet. She was very unamused, understandably!

The Gold Coast has everything within very easy access and a short walk around the Marina Mirage brought us to the pontoon and the offices of Gold Coast Helicopter Tours, as we arrived the owner of the company, and our pilot for the day, Scott Menzies was just tying his houseboat up along side the dock. After a short safety briefing we secured our life jackets to our waists and climbed aboard the Robinson R44 waiting for us on the helipad, what a swish bit of kit this is and a definite toy for the collection when I’m lucky enough to make my first £1m pay cheque!

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Scott cleared the take-off area and took us up to 1000ft, the view getting better with every second that went by until I could see right down the coastline towards the NSW border in the distance. Now there are a few stunning looking residential apartments on this coastline but none quite as impressive as the Q1 building, which dwarfs everything around it. Built in 2005 it now has the prestigious claim as being the world’s tallest all-residential building at 323m above sea level, thanks to no small part to the 48m spire, which sits atop its highest liveable level. I’ve never been a great believer in city dwelling with my love of the great outdoors, but I could really see myself watching the sunrise out of the Pacific Ocean from one of these luxury apartments. Maybe next year :)

Q1 on The Gold Coast

Our 20 minute flight took us up into the hinterland and to our destination for lunch, The Ruffles Lodge and Spa run by the very hospitable John and Jan Nicholls who have to live with one of the finest views of the coast in Australia. Scott skilfully lowered the chopper onto the smallest piece of grass he could find, we departed and he took off again heading back to the office for another customer – not bad work if you can get it! John and Jan have travelled, now when I say travelled I mean travelled – they’ve sailed the high seas all along the Queensland coast and to many far and wide locations around the world. With it come an entire volume of tales and stories which kept me intrigued and amused until lunch was served and as a little surprise and part of the preparation for Sunday’s race, their Spa Manager treated my ungainly feet to an oil and massage session. I now feel very guilty for not entering the full marathon.

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Before I knew it the sound of the helicopters rotors became evident and Scott popped into view from below as he climbed the hillside to meet us ready for part two of this aerial adventure. Our 45 minute ride deeper inland came with tales of shootings, downed aircraft and extravagant parties, all part of life as a helicopter pilot evidently! We swooped low over the bush climbing to 4000ft allowing us to see across the interior of the country and to the mountain ranges in the distance. Just my cup of tea and I WILL be back to explore them further at some point very soon. Passing over the set of “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”, down to the Currumbin Creek separating the states of Queensland and New South Wales and over the lush sugar cane plantations before making a final turn back up the coastline towards home – taking a ride like this really gives you a great perspective of the area and the lay of the land.

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Now I’ve only ever experienced AFL (Australian Football League) on the program “TransWorld Sport” and all I managed to pick up from it was a bunch of guys running around like headless chickens occasionally bouncing a fat rugby ball before wellying it towards a number of sticks on a curiously rounded pitch! This evening was a total education in everything about it.

The Premier Anna Bligh has invited me to be her Guest of Honour over the weekend, and for a formal dinner prior to the game between Richmond and Adelaide at the Gold Coast Stadium, Carrara was our first engagement. After a lesson in kicking on the pitch, the presentation of a match shirt and some excellent food we sat in the stands and took in the game. Marcus, a veteran of the game, explained to me the essential rules and it all became a little clearer – in fact a pretty simple game to understand. After the four quarters had been played Adelaide came out on top with a 102 – 85 difference.

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Sunday 5th July – Race day – The half marathon was scheduled to start at 06.20hrs so when the alarm went off at 04.30hrs I leapt out of bed and made my way to reception to meet the film crew and DD. We caught a water taxi across from the Spit to the seafront, made our way to the start line along with the Premier and her aides and joined the other 23,500 other people all waiting in the chill air for the starting gun. As the sunrise broke the horizon excitement echoed through the crowd and the anticipation of the race ahead built with just a few minutes to go until the big off. On the stroke of 06:20hrs the starting gun fired and after a couple of false starts we were finally off….

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It’s the best way to see a new city; running through it in the early morning light with minimal traffic and with the locals out for the festivities adding to the atmosphere – it’s pretty hard to fly under the radar when you have ‘The Best Job in the World’ emblazoned across your shirt for all to see! Plenty of back-slapping and well wishes carried me through the first 12kms as we turned and headed south back into the city…and then the legs started to feel it. A serious lack of training over the past five weeks due to the extensive media commitments have meant I’d arrived at the race under prepared, but I don’t ever give up and I don’t stop running – it’s the worst thing you can do. When the conditions get tough I start to play a mental game with myself – ‘The Counting Game’ literally counting every breath from 1 up to 1000, it really does help to focus the mind and take the pain in the legs away…temporarily!

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The crowds built as we entered the final few km’s together with the excitement of finishing my first Australian race. Everybody being cheered over the line by the ecstatic supporters and even a few film crews there to capture my first staggering, bleating words – not the easiest thing to do when you’ve just finished a race. I made my way to the VIP area (ooo how exciting!) and saw a friend I’d met the night before, Tara Panayis, a gorgeous, courageous little nine year old who lost her leg to an illness a couple of years ago and now has a prosthetic replacement. She will put you to shame with her commitment and attitude – this is her second race at the event and this year completed the 2.25km dash together with her sisters. Please visit her website at www.GoGCKids.com and buy one of her bracelets. Tara, a massive well done from me, it was a huge pleasure to meet you and your family.

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I wearily made my way back to the hotel and, for the first time whilst staying here, had an hour to myself to enjoy the Jacuzzi bath and the bubbles…perfect for my tired limbs.

My stay on the Gold Coast has been nothing short of spectacular; there really is something for everybody. Whether you like the opulent surroundings of some of the finest hotels in the world, the simplicity of km’s of sandy beaches and surf, or the chaos of a fun filled night out on the town. I will be back to the Gold Coast and very soon I hope.