Snowbirding "Down Under"

Summer 2010 CSANews Issue 75  |  Posted date : Jul 20, 2010.Back to list

When it came time to retire, Brockville, Ontario residents Chris and Liz Butler knew that they wanted to travel. Like most other snowbirds, they considered Florida as a potential home away from home. Back in 2001, however, the prices in Florida were quite high due to the dollar, and a two-month sojourn to the sunshine state seemed like a financially unwise decision. A close friend suggested Australia; the weather was exceptional and prices were good. The Butlers did their research. Sure enough, wintering in Australia for two months was considerably cheaper than wintering in Florida... and this included airfare. So, off they went to the Gold Coast for a trial one-month stay. Eight years later, the Butlers were still wintering in Australia - and for three months instead of one. What was so great about the Gold Coast that made them forgo Florida and any other popular snowbird destination, such as Texas and Arizona?

"I feel very at home in Australia," explains Chris, who is originally from Britain. "Home" in Australia is the south end of the Gold Coast; "the geriatric section," jokes Chris. The Gold Coast, located between Brisbane and Sydney, is a premier international and domestic destination. The 70 kilometres of coastline boasts golden beaches, pristine rainforests, theme parks, vibrant nightlife and exotic cuisine.

The Butlers rent a condo in the Meridian Tower on Kirra Beach. The condo consists of two bedrooms, full kitchen, dishwasher, in-unit washer/dryer and cleaning services. For the rental, they pay AU$600-700 per month. The Meridian Tower is not a 50+ facility and Kirra Beach is renowned for its superior surfing. So, it's not especially tailored to snowbirds, but that doesn't keep Chris and Liz from enjoying their retirement. The building facilities include heated pool and spa, games room, gymnasium, full tennis court and barbecue. The Butlers find many activities to occupy their 10-week stay. "We like to play golf," says Chris, "and we visit the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. There is an abundance of theme parks. We also enjoy walking on the beach and sitting by the pool."

The Butlers rarely drive while vacationing; they take a bus or they walk wherever they need to go. For special trips, they rent a car for a one- to two-week period. Getting into Kirra Beach can be a bit of a nuisance, explains Chris. If you fly into Brisbane, you must either rent a car or take a bus from the airport to Coolangatta, which can be a long, tedious trip. The best option for the Butlers has been to land in Sydney and take a local plane right into Coolangatta.

According to Chris, the weather is one of the top reasons for returning to the Gold Coast year after year. The period from January to March is the middle to end of summer in Australia. The temperatures hover around 30 degrees during this time, with the ocean temperature a balmy 26 degrees. Rain is uncommon. Says Chris, "In the past eight years, there was only one time when the occasional rainstorm became excessive and the golf courses were flooded. We couldn't play for a week. The main problem now, though, is drought."

When asked what they enjoy most about their winter destination, Chris responds that, aside from the weather, beautiful beaches and a large variety of sports facilities have continuously drawn them to Kirra Beach. Despite being such a popular tourist area, crime is rare. "The area of the Gold Coast is as safe a place as any other I've been to," says Chris. "There is sometimes a young, drunken element visible after 10:00 p.m., but that's never been much of a problem for us. Violence against visitors is almost unheard of in this area."

The Butlers do not participate in many Canadian functions while away, simply because they do not meet many Canadians. Of course, this does not stop them from socializing with the different people whom they meet. They have coffee with friends that they have made at various social functions or at the Meridian Tower itself.

Chris and Liz are not certain that they will be returning to Australia next winter. "The price is creeping up on airfare and it's such a long, long trip," explains Chris as to why they may not return. They are now considering the "usual" snowbird destination of Florida, only because of their increasing age and the close proximity of the popular snowbird state. But their time in Australia's Gold Coast (or Oz, as Chris would say) has been treasured.