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Wed 15 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Living it up down under

Sara Hamdan finds the most civilised corner of Australia and makes herself at home.

Living it up down under
Living it up down under
Living it up down under
Living it up down under
Experienced surfers tend to opt for better breaks in Burleigh Heads and Tugun, famous Gold Coast beaches that lie about a twenty minute drive from the heart of town.

Sara Hamdan finds the most civilised corner of Australia and makes herself at home.Oversized wicker fans in the reception area of Surfer's Paradise Resort & Spa, Marriott create a playful breeze that gives guests a feel of stepping onto an outdoor terrace rather than the lobby of a luxury resort. You will be the centre of a well-rehearsed choreography as one bellboy fetches your luggage, another greets you with a bow and the third escorts you to the reception desk.

After a quick signature, you are guided past a marble staircase towards the elevators leading up to the rooms, leaving the green, earthy tones of the lobby behind. Upon entering the room, you'll find yourself immediately drawn to the balcony; from the right, ocean waves can be heard distinctly though the beach lies approximately 500 metres away from the resort across a busy, main street.

Couples spend hours meandering through the markets, which conveniently face an array of fresh seafood restaurants and bars.

To the left is the winding Nerang River, dotted with waterfront mansions and boats against a backdrop of the mountains in the distance. Suites come equipped with jacuzzis that are surrounded by glass, offering similar sweeping views of the city's greenery and skyscrapers.

While all 330 rooms offer panoramic views, those situated on the higher levels of the 28 storey resort will have the best seats in the house.

The sunny, pastel shades of the rooms complement the commanding views of the endless coastline and high rises of Surfer's Paradise. One wall is dominated by floor to ceiling windows and balcony doors - a constant reminder that you should be outside enjoying the sun, sand and surf rather than staying in the room itself.

And that is exactly the thing to do. Spend five minutes admiring the view and another five getting your sunglasses and suntan lotion, headed for the beach or the pool.

Aquatic adventures

The choice between the two is difficult to make. An aquatic playground forms the centerpiece of the resort and spreads across a hectare of exquisitely landscaped, lush gardens. This includes a five-metre deep saltwater lagoon, home to more than 400 tropical fish and an artificial coral reef. Guests of all ages scuba dive, snorkel and swim through waterfalls into rock grottos and spas.

Engaging young children and adults alike, the lagoon is surrounded by fine sand to give the illusion of being on a private beach.

For bona fide beach lovers, however, 70 km of unspoiled coastline beckon from across the street. Those looking out for surfers riding the waves will be disappointed, however, as experienced surfers tend to opt for better breaks in Burleigh Heads and Tugun, beaches that lie about a twenty minute drive from the Marriott and the heart of town. The Marriott is 1 km away from the street markets and restaurants of Surfer's Paradise; far enough to get a feel for staying at an exclusive resort, yet close enough to be a part of the action.

Attractions including Movie World, Seaworld, Dreamworld and Wet n' Wild are within a half hour drive from the resort. Neighbouring cities can also be worth a trip for those with cars; Coolangatta, a beach town housing the Gold Coast's airport, is half an hour away and Brisbane, one of Australia's main cities, is an hour away.

To get yourself acquainted with Queensland's charm, it is best to start by exploring the bustling beach town of Surfer's Paradise itself, which is a ten minute walk from the hotel.

American and Asian families can be found strolling through the winding, cafe-sprinkled streets at all hours. The shopping is excellent, with casual beachwear stores adjacent to upscale Louis Vuitton and Prada boutiques. Tanned and happy shoppers weave in and out of them in bright sarongs and sandals.As the sun melts into the horizon, colourful lanterns light up the beachside streets. Vendors selling everything from clocks to portraits to earrings begin setting up stands by the sand.

Couples spend hours meandering through the markets, which conveniently face an array of fresh seafood restaurants and casual bars. It is easy to work up a ravenous appetite after spending a day in the sun and the Marriott's proximity to Broadbeach, Main Beach and the wharf provides access to a range of dining experiences. The majority of tourists in Broadbeach, located just ten minutes away from Surfer's Paradise by cab, are Australian as the beachtown offers a mix of quiet, island life and busy city life.

Las VegasDown Under

Broadbeach is the Gold Coast's answer to Las Vegas on the beach, where the key word is "entertainment." Each hotel has a themed performance or dance show, ranging from a Salsa extravaganza to a quiet showcase by a jazz trio. Restaurants are sprinkled throughout the strip, with waiters luring passersby with specials on the Barramundi and snapper fish for which the region is famous.

The more romantic at heart will appreciate the restaurants along the lantern lit streets of Main Beach; just fifteen minutes away from the centre of Surfer's Paradise, it houses the highest concentration of hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars overlooking a marina. Waterfront bars sit at the tip of a circular wharf that resembles a pair of outstretched arms trying to gather all the yachts in its embrace.

For fine, Asian fusion cuisine, guests need look no further than the Benihana Japanese Steakhouse at the Marriott. The Teppanyaki chefs' ability to entertain is only surpassed by the quality of their meals, ranging from chicken and steak to seafood dishes including hibachi vegetables, steamed rice and green tea.

Though the temptation to fall into bed may be difficult to resist after a fulfilling meal, the ideal way to top off an evening is to enjoy performances from local musicians at the hotel's Lobby Lounge Bar. The bar emanates a casual yet elegant atmosphere with views of the tropical lagoon, showcasing a variety of acts each night along with a selection of tapas and original cocktails. After a busy day of eating, drinking and tanning, there is nothing more gratifying than sinking into bed.

The king sized bed looks like it could easily fit four people, with at least ten pillows and a plush, white goose down comforter draped over the mattress like thick icing on a cake. Though the pillows are uncomfortably soft and the drapes do little to keep the room dark once the sun rises, it would be a shame to sleep in with paradise waiting outside.

With the express check-out option, all you need to do is sign on the dotted line and drop an envelope off at the reception area to be on your way back to the real world. Because, unfortunately, you have to return at some point.

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