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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gold Coast: Planes, Hotels & Buses

So June for me was an amazing month of travelling.  The month kick started with a trip to Gold Coast, Australia with my siblings during the school break.  Everyone was excited especially the two younger boys as it was their first time going.  Myself and my oldest younger brother had gone back when we were little (I think it was 1993 or 1994) which was an insanely long time ago.

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Preparations and Basic Stuff

Travelling to Australia isn't much of a hassle as far as documents were concerned.  All you need is a valid passport (at least 6 months to expiry from return date) and visa.  If you're visiting Australia for pleasure/leisure and don't intend to stay any longer than 3 months, Malaysia is one of the countries listed for an ETA visa which can be applied for online for AU$20 per person.  However, it's probably much easier to visit your friendly neighbourhood travel agent (like we did) to apply and it was cheaper too (RM20).  It doesn't take long to apply and you get almost immediate approval.  The information is automatically saved in the system.  Although it isn't necessary, I had all our ETA slips stapled in our passports just in case.

Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, June was somewhere end of Autumn/early Winter at the time.  The temperature was in the 14 to 20 degrees Celsius in the day time and from 7 or 9 degrees Celsius at night if I'm not mistaken.  Weather was great and we did get a couple of sunny days while the rest of the days we were there was nice and cool.

All our travel arrangements -- flights, airport transfer, hotel and park tickets -- were purchased online before the trip.

The Flight and At The Airport

We travelled via AirAsia and AirAsiaX which ultimately landed at the Coolangatta Airport (OOL).  It took approximately 8 hours from KL and the Smokey BBQ Chicken on board was pretty decent although we would've preferred a little more to eat.  Fortunately though the flight was at night so we slept through most of the flight and woke up bright and early to land.  For our return flight, we had pre-purchased the entertainment unit and that was nice.  I think it was RM30/unit and had a selection of movies, TV shows and music.  And we had Australian chicken pie on the return flight too.  Quite nice too.  As with all international flights, you will have to fill in an immigration and customs form too and it's best to do so while in the plane, before landing.

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We were all super excited to arrive and that morning was actually quite cold to the point you could see your breath as you speak and breathe.  Haha.  That was fun.  When we arrived, our path immediately brought us to the duty free store (probably the only one in the arrival area) which was strategically located right before the immigration counters.  It's unavoidable though as you have to go through the store to get to the counters.  The airport wasn't that big and right behind immigration were the baggage carousels and customs.  The officers in charge were very nice and friendly despite being thorough with their job.  The lengthiest part of the whole process was actually waiting in line.  Haha.

Flying back, I'd suggest don't wait til the last minute to proceed to the departure halls.  Customs will be scanning your bags for any excessive LAGs and they might also do a random bomb check before you enter.  After all that, we thought we were all set to go since we thought we were already at the gates (must've been for domestic flights) but apparently there was another counter to go through inside the departure area right before our actual gate too.  I think this was the immigration counters? Or was it another customs scan?  Gonna have to check with my brothers to see if they remember.

Transfers and Transport

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I'd made bookings for our airport transfers prior to our departure on the Gold Coast Tourist Shuttle website.  I had contemplated on a few different companies before finally deciding on GC Tourist Shuttle.  Although I've read a few bad reviews for the service, we actually had a pleasant experience.  We only booked for airport transfers for our trip but you can check out their website for other transport packages they offer including theme park transfers and an all in Gold Coast transport package.  I can't remember now how long it took but I believe it was about 30-45 minutes from the airport to our hotel.  

At the airport, we had to go to their counter with our booking confirmation email before boarding the bus/coach.  When we got to the drop off point, the bus driver was kind enough to brief us on pick up for our return airport transfer and gave us a little direction to where we were and where our hotel was (a 5 minute walk from the drop off point).  For the return trip, we just had to call in to confirm our pick up time 24 hours prior.

One of the main reasons why I didn't opt for the Freedom Pass offered by GC Tourist Shuttle was I felt it didn't give us the kind of flexibility that we would've liked.  All the theme parks we were going to were easily accessible by bus so we bought GoCards instead which you can buy at most 7Eleven stores and we had 2 near our hotel.  Hehe.  GoCards are much cheaper -- 30% -- to use than paying for a regular paper ticket.  Make sure you tap in and out properly and don't double tap your card to avoid any penalty charges deducted from your travel credit.  The cards are reloadable also at 7Eleven stores and you have the time to, you can get a AU$5 refund by returning the card.  I'm not too sure how that works because we kept all our cards as souvenirs.  Hehe.  But more info on refunds can be found here.

Before you leave for Gold Coast and if you plan on taking public transportation while there, I strongly suggest checking out the Translink Journey Planner and take note of the buses available for the routes you will be going on.  Plus, it helps give you a rough time estimate for your journey and suggest alternatives based on your travel times too.

Our Hotel

For accommodation, I made reservations through Agoda, a site recommended by my uncle for making hotel bookings.  So we stayed at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Surfers Paradise which was located right smack in the middle of the town and was literally connected to Centro (shopping mall) and Hard Rock.  There were a lot of halal food choices within walking distance from our hotel (Malaysian, Indian, seafood, Middle Eastern and more), Woolworths was right downstairs (inside Centro), Ripley's Believe It Or Not was also nearby and the beach was just a few minutes walk.  Since there was four of us, I booked the family room which was very spacious and could comfortably fit 5 people.  Our check in didn't take long and the receptionist was super friendly and helpful.  We enjoyed our stay there.

The hotel was very conveniently located.  It was a short walk to the bus stops, shopping spots, some attractions, souvenir shops, eateries and more.  After midnight, we needed to use our room key card to enter the hotel lobby which is a nice security measure in my opinion.

Our hotel marked by the red dot on the map
- Click image to enlarge -

Of course we bought some food supplies for breakfast and snacking and some plastic wears too (bowls and cutlery) at Woolworths which were inexpensive.  There are a number of clubs in the are especially down Orchid Avenue so the area around the hotel (no, the hotel wasn't all noisy or anything like that) was still quite alive even at night time which was great!  I'd prefer that to having to stay somewhere too quiet and isolated.  Haha.  Plus, Timezone (gaming arcade centre) was open til midnight downstairs and we had a lot of fun there too.

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