As pilot Brett Anderson lifts our helicopter from the floating pontoon next to Sea World and we rise over the magnificent stretch of the Australian coast known as the Broadwater, the first of the scenic venues that will play a starring role in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games comes into view.
"The best way to see our great venues is from the air," explains Brenton Rickard, the former breast stroke champion who is now a key member of GOLDOC (the organising committee). "And haven't we got a great day for it?"
He's not exaggerating.
On this March morning, it's raining in Sydney, overcast in Melbourne. But here on the Gold Coast? Well, you don't have to be a surfer to think this is paradise.
On April 4, the giant surfboard-shaped countdown clock will register there's just "one year to go". Then, on April 24, people in Australia and the other 69 competing nations or territories can start applying for tickets.
The sense of excitement about "the Friendly Games" has noticeably intensified here since Kurt Fearnley and Anna Meares helped the Queen launch the baton relay from Buckingham Palace on March 13.
News that Durban has been stripped of the 2022 Games for repeatedly missing deadlines hasn't put these 2018 Games under a cloud. If anything, Durban's disgrace simply underlines what a fantastic job GOLDOC has done: all but one of the Gold Coast venues are now complete.
Our helicopter is hovering over one of them now.
The Gold Coast Aquatic Centre, in Southport, will host the swimming and diving competitions, but below us locals and holidaymakers are already enjoying the six pools.
"This is such a spectacular location," Rickard says over the helicopter headset. "For me, growing up in Australia, swimming was always something you did outdoors like this. The atmosphere here is going to be amazing.
"And the TV shots of the 10 metre diving, looking straight down the Broadwater to the Surfers Paradise skyline, will be iconic."
Rickard points out the triathlon's transitional zone in Broadwater Park. "The triathlon is one of the prestige events of the opening day. And like so many of the best events in these Games it is totally free.
"You can bring the entire family along to watch it – and the marathons, the cycling road races and the 10-kilometre walks – without spending a cent.
"A lot of the other tickets will be affordable too. Sure, if you want to see see Usain Bolt in the 100 metres final or the gold medal basketball match, you'll pay a premium. But tickets for the heats start at as little as $20 for adults and $10 for children."
By now the helicopter is flying over the bright blue pitch that identifies the Gold Coast Hockey Centre before heading to the multi-coloured complex of the athletes village.
"I stayed in the athletes villages for the Melbourne and Delhi Games, and saw the one in Glasgow," Rickard explains. "And this is by far the best."
After the Games, the village will become low-cost accommodation for students and medical workers. But the venues themselves are upgraded existing facilities or new additions to the Gold Coast's myriad of attractions open to tourists.
Fancy riding one of the best mountain bike courses in Australia? You can: Nerang Mountain Bike Trails are now open to anyone brave enough to take them on.
Want to impress your mates with a selfie of you standing on the top of the 10-metre diving platform? No worries.
If bowls is your bag, test your skills at upgraded Broadbeach Bowls Club where the young super stars of the sport will be vying for gold.
And if all of this seems too tame, head to Australia's newest velodrome, which hosted the Cycling Australia national track championships this month.
Admittedly, it's in Brisbane (as is the Belmont Shooting Centre), but the $59 million Anna Meares Velodrome is one of the few places in Australia where ordinary cyclists can book in for a "Come and Try" session under expert supervision (and believe me, you have no idea how steep those curves are until you are actually at the velodrome!).
Like Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville will also host Commonwealth Games events (basketball heats, at the convention centres). This is not just a case of Queenslanders "sharing the friendship", but ensuring there'll be no "white elephants" on the Gold Coast when the Games circus leaves town.
Back in the chopper, Rickard points to the twin halls of the new Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre, which will host the badminton, powerlifting, weightlifting and wrestling events.
Now Anderson is hovering above the horseshoe-shaped Carrara Stadium where 40,000 spectators at a time will witness the opening and closing ceremonies, plus the athletics. This is where the two superstars of the 2018 Games will compete.
Bolt has already announced he'll compete at the Gold Coast. Our own Sally Pearson has an enormous hurdle to overcome (if you'll pardon the pun) to put her horrific run of injuries behind her and add another gold to her medal cabinet as Cathy Freeman did in Sydney 17 years ago.
Yet it's the only venue that still has to be "built".
So no pressure then.
"We can't refigure it as a circular stadium with an athletics track until the Gold Coast Suns have finished their season," Rickard explains. "Our teams are primed to move in once their AFL season is over."
To the north we can see Village Roadshow's Oxenford studios. During the Games this part of Movie World will host boxing, squash and table tennis.
And to the south, where we are heading now over Robina Stadium (rugby sevens), lies Coolangatta which will host the beach volleyball, one of the most telegenic contests of these Games.
The nearby Currumbin beachfront will be the backdrop to three free events – the walks plus cycling's time trials and road races (both of which will showcase the Gold Coast's "hidden" hinterland).
As you'd expect, many events will be concentrated on that iconic stretch of Australian oceanfront from Miami Beach north – through Mermaid, Broadbeach, Surfers and Main Beach.
Sure, netball and basketball will be held in the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre. But those prestige marathons and triathlons will be passing alongside that incomparable stretch of beach.
So just pack a picnic, pick a spot and watch some elite competition before heading back to the surf.
WHY THE 2018 GOLD COAST GAMES ARE DIFFERENT
The Gold Coast is the fifth Australian city to host the Games (though the 1938 version in Sydney was called the British Empire Games).
The 2018 Games is easily the biggest multi-sports festival held in Australia outside the Melbourne and Sydney Olympics in 1956 and 2000 respectively.
There are more sports (18), more athletes (6600), more venues (17) and more tickets (1.5 million) than any other previous Commonwealth Games.
Hundreds of thousands of interstate and international visitors are expected to pour in through the two international airports: Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
According to Brian Nourse, GOLDOC's deputy CEO (who worked at the Melbourne, Delhi and Glasgow predecessors), Gold Coast 2018 will be unlike any Commonwealth Games before it.
Why? Because, for the first time, the Games will be held in a city whose primary industry is tourism.
"There's been a big change in the demographics of people coming to the Games," Nourse says. "For a long time people perceived it as purely a sporting event.
"But in Glasgow we saw non-sports lovers buy tickets for the arts and cultural events. Usually they'd add on a few sporting tickets, and find they loved the theatre of live sport.
"Of course, sports fanatics will come to the Gold Coast purely for the sport. If you're a table tennis diehard or a badminton tragic you'll book because you want to see some of the world's best.
"But others will come for a holiday in a world-class destination which already has outstanding attractions, knowing the Gold Coast will be buzzing.
"We fully expect visitors to spend a day at one of the theme parks before watching some squash in the evening. The next day, they might chill out at the beach. And the third day? Perhaps they'll head into the hinterland before attending one of the arts and cultural events.
"Australians are going to be very surprised when they see what the Gold Coast can deliver."
Sea World Helicopters. See seaworldhelicopters.com.au
Anna Meares Velodrome. Come and Try Sessions cost $20. See eventdesq.com
Nerang National Park Mountain Bike Trails. See gc2018.com/venue/nerang-mountain-bike-trails
Gold Coast Aquatic Centre. See goldcoast.gld.gov.au/gold-coast-aquatic-centre-23174
Steve Meacham was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.
GOLD COAST 2018 FAST FACTS
* Eleven days of Commonwealth Games competition begins on April 4, 2018, and ends on April 15.
* The Games consists of 18 sports and a record seven para-sports, fully integrated. The medal table will be the total of both able-bodied and disabled competitors, equally.
* For the first time, there will be an equal number of medals to be won by female and male competitors.
* The projected global TV audience is up to 1.5 billion, across 70 nations and territories.
* The precise sports schedule will be released online on April 4.
* Tourists and locals can apply for tickets online from April 24; see gc2018.com
WHAT THE LOCALS WILL BE WATCHING
Games credentials: Australia's greatest sprint cyclist – three-time winner of the Tour de France's coveted Green Jersey – never got a chance to ride in the Commonwealth Games.
Must see event: "The cycling time trial. Three-time Tour de France Yellow Jersey champion Chris Froome is likely to compete even if he misses the road race."
Games credentials: Rickard is a dual Olympic silver medallist, a former world record holder and competed in two Commonwealth Games, bagging three gold, two silver and three gold medals.
Must see event: "The men's 100 metre breaststroke, for sentimental reasons. Adam Peaty, the English 2016 Rio Olympic champion, is crushing it. But South Africa's Cameron Van Der Burgh won gold at the London Olympics. They're the two fastest breaststrokers in the world, but they'll be challenged by young Australians like Jake Packard."
Credentials: Helicopter pilot.
Must see event: "My main sport is mountain biking, so I'll be watching the contest at Nerang. I've ridden the Games course. It's very good – long rollers and big jumps. We've got some good trails up here on the Gold Coast, but we really needed something like this."