Travel: Soaking Up the Sunshine State; the Sun Shines on Queensland 243 Days a Year. with the Attractions of Brisbane, theGold Coast and Surfers' Paradise,Andrew Lee Found Plenty of Ways to Make the Most of This Great Climate

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Lee

WHEN the countdown started, I was in a metal pod at the top of the 38-storey high Tower of Terror at the Dreamworld fun park on Queensland's Gold Coast. Three... two. then whoosh!

In one of the fastest and most terrifying thrill rides in the world, electro- magnetic forces using enough power to light a small town accelerated me to 108mph in just seven seconds, giving a feeling of weightless space travel.

The pod,after its vertical descent down a rail,hurtled along a horizontal track more than three football pitches long,before it was braked slowly to a halt.

Dreamworld has 20 different rides, including the spinning, twisting, tumbling Wipeout; the heart-thumping Giant Drop with eight-seat gondolas which plunge 420 feet in five seconds; and the Cyclone, a high-speed roller coaster with a huge circle where you go up and over Down Under.

But Queensland is not only for thrill seekers. The other attractions include the feeding of rare white and black Bengal tigers by trained handlers, who also fearlessly play, swim and wrestle with the big beasts.

And a short drive away is the glitz, glamour and gee-whizz beaches of Surfers' Paradise, the destination of many Aussies who love fun in the sun. At night, street markets open and the area buzzes with neon-lit discos,clubs and chic restaurants.

Coming back from the Gold Coast,I took an unscheduled, off-the-beaten- track drive to the top of the 1,800-foot highTamborine Mountain to explore the wineries, rain forests and country markets selling aboriginal arts and crafts and other souvenirs.

Queensland is Australia's family-friendly holiday state and Brisbane, with 243 days of sunshine a year, is the capital. Inexpensive catamarans called Citycats skim under the landmark Story and Grey Street bridges,past paddle wheelers and ferries to points along the Brisbane River, including the Maritime Museum, the designer shops and bazaars of Eagle Street Pier and the outdoor cafes at South Bank.

Leaving aside the city's attractions, there's also the world's largest koala sanctuary,Lone Pine, where 130 of the cute and cuddly furry animals are kept.

A common misconception is that koalas are bears. In fact, they are tree- dwelling marsupials which sleep for 18 hours a day and eat only the leaves of eucalyptus trees, with baby koalas living in their mother's warm pouch for six months.It's not only children who'll enjoy hugging the koalas and giving food pellets to docile kangaroos and wallabies.

The best way to travel the 12 miles from Brisbane to Lone Pine is not by road,but aboard the river cruiser Mirimar, which passes multi-million pound mansions and old wooden Queenslander homes built on stilts to let cooling air pass underneath.

The Mirimar also skirts Indooroopilly Island,home to a colony of 100,000 screeching fruit bats. Another common misconception is that these bats are blind and use natural echo-location sonar to navigate. In fact, they have excellent vision and can fly over 10 miles at night to find mangoes,bananas, custard apples, watermelons and other fruit to eat.

If you are in Brisbane in early August, make sure you go to the eight-day annual Brisbane Exhibition. …