Thrills and spills

Vicky Tyler and daughter Cassie splash out on a trip to Australia’s Dreamworld

Travelling to an amusement park with a pre-schooler in tow wouldn’t normally be my choice of dream holiday, but when I took my four-year-old daughter Cassie to Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, we both had fantastic fun.

As an amusement park, Dreamworld is the perfect destination for families with teens and school-age children, but it has plenty of low-thrill rides too, and with WhiteWater World next door, the trip across the Tasman is well worthwhile for those of us with younger kids.

As one of the first families through the gates at the opening time of 10am, our first stop was the Big Red Car, the most popular ride in the park, “If you don’t get there first you may never get on,” we were warned by a Dreamworld staff member.

While Cassie was initially disappointed that preschooler pop idols The Wiggles didn’t really live inside their Big Red Car, an interactive TV show that played during the ride made an excellent substitute.

oeeting her favourite Nickelodeon TV show characters was another high point and getting her photo taken with Dora the Explorer left her buzzing with excitement, though she was a little disappointed that Dora, in her enormous costume, didn’t seem to have much to say for herself.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Cassie was invited up on the stage alongside SpongeBob SquarePants himself, where she won the hearts of her Australian cousins and easily beat a much older rival to be voted best-dressed in her choice of clothes from the treasure trove of SpongeBob’s dress-up box.

A ride on Dorothy’s Rose Tea Cups, plus Dora’s seaplanes then an old-fashioned merry-go-round, followed by a dip at the neighbouring WhiteWater World attraction – which boasts slides at Wiggle Bay – and the day could be described as an outstanding success.

Relaxing by the pool at the family-friendly BreakFree Diamond Beach Apartments at Broadbeach, I weighed up my chances for the next day at Dreamworld: No doubt Cassie would love seeing the Australian wildlife, but could she handle a few of the medium thrill-level rides?

The popular Thunder River Rapids ride looked like a gentle trip downstream – but in amusement parks, things aren’t always what they seem and the ride took a turn for the worse when those river rapids actually became quite rapid. Cassie got a wee fright and, yes, there were tears.

After that first failed experiment, I was surprised when Cassie seemed game to try the log flume Rocky Hollow log ride. The roller-coaster ride ends with a sharp drop into the water, but apart from a pale face, Cassie braved it surprisingly well. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about the Swinger Zinger ride, with its hidden thrill factor – how scary can swings spinning around be? Well quite scary for some of the little ones it turned out.

Fortunately, the Australian Wildlife Experience made the perfect distraction after such a heart-pounding start to the day. There’s nothing like patting a koala bear and feeding kangaroos to help a girl forget her troubles. But there’s a height restriction on koala-cuddling. Children who want to hold a koala must be at least 135cm tall. This is because they normally live high in trees and can get agitated when they’re too close to the ground.

The Kakadu Wetlands reptile exhibit is fascinating too – it’s easy to spend hours watching the crocodiles – and at Tiger Island, there are daily shows that feature both Bengal and Sumatran tigers. It’s the wildlife experience, combined with WhiteWater World next door, which sets this Aussie amusement park apart from all the others around the world. It certainly had the right ingredients to hold the interest of a lively four-year-old. And I’m sure the parents of older children prepared to brave high-thrill factor rides like Cyclone, Vortex and Stingray, would find Dreamworld well worth the trip.

FactfileVisit: Dreamworld is Australasia’s largest theme park. It’s based at Coomera, in Queensland, Australia, and right next-door is water theme park, WhiteWater World. You can buy a Family and Friends World Pass, which gives access to both Dreamworld and WhiteWater World for $241, which is $60 less than buying separate tickets to both theme parks. Family passes can be used by two adults – related or not – and two children. Fly: Pacific Blue schedules at least one return flight from Auckland to the Gold Coast each day. Visit Stay: BreakFree Diamond Beach, Broadbeach Apartments,

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