You’d expect to find wild animals in a zoo rather than an amusement park, however, Dreamworld on the Gold Coast is full of interesting contrasts.
I went there one Monday with a friend, Pam, and we arrived just in time for the 12 pm show on Tiger Island. It wasn’t literally an island, however, there was a moat behind a fence to prevent the tigers from getting too close to the public. Three handlers in green uniforms - obviously braver than the average person - stood on the island holding buckets. They used pieces of meat to bribe their feline companions to walk along raised wooden walkways, leap into the air and climb up poles. Two of the tigers were the usual tawny colour, but one was a rare white tiger which hardly had any stripes apart from on its tail.
In a glass box nearby, another handler sat playing with the three Sumatran tiger cubs that were mentioned in the news. They were about the size of domestic cats and acted like them, too, jumping around and playfully biting her.
After the show was over, Pam and I hurried to the lake - another feature that seemed out of place in an amusement park - for a cruise on Captain Sturt’s Riverboat. However, we soon discovered that it was the slowest boat in the world, inching its way around the island in the centre while ducks swam past us. We got off at the jetty at the halfway point and walked back to the starting area in five minutes (the boat would have taken 15).
I particularly wanted to try one of the rides nearby because I’d seen it on American movies. The fact that it was in the Wiggles World section and painted in bright pinks, purples and greens with cartoon characters didn’t deter me. I sat in one giant teacup and Pam sat in another and we slowly turned around as tickling music played. I found that if I span the cup as fast as possible, it even felt like a real ride.
Pam, of course, wanted to try something more adventurous, so not long afterwards we headed towards the scariest ride in the park. I kept her company as she stood in a queue that wound its way through a tunnel. We passed by caves and saw warning signs about high voltage, long drops and explosives, obviously designed to intimidate people before they even got on the ride. After climbing steep metal stairs, Pam strapped herself into an open carriage with other riders while I looked after her bags and retreated to the entrance, trying to ignore the sniggers from other people in the queue.
I watched the ride from outside: the carriage roared out of the tunnel at an impossible speed then ran straight up the side of a vertical tower and back down again. I could see why it was named the Tower of Terror and was glad I hadn’t tried it, although Pam said she was disappointed that there wasn’t more to it!
My personal challenge for the day was a ride called the Vortex. While waiting in line for it, I became alarmed at hearing teenage boys talking about turning sideways or upside down. I asked the attendant what it did and he said, “It spins you around at breathtaking speeds.” I chickened out at the last minute.
Later, when the ride was free again, I joined the queue a second time and went inside, but got nervous thinking that I might get thrown around, and scurried out again before the attendant closed the door. Pam, meanwhile, became tired of waiting for me to make up my mind and went off to a café.
On my third attempt I was brave enough to stay inside the Vortex and found that it wasn’t nearly as scary as it sounded. The force of it spinning kept me and the other riders pinned back against the wall panels and people only turned sideways or upside down if they pulled themselves up the wall. It certainly did make me breathless though, and slightly nauseous, so I was glad that I hadn’t eaten first.
Towards the end of the day, Pam and I caught the steam train to the area where the wildlife park was. There were no tigers there, but we saw rare bilbies and more common emus and kangaroos, and were watched by an inquisitive dingo.