Home > Destinations > Gold Coast adventures – 11 great activities on and off the beach

Gold Coast adventures – 11 great activities on and off the beach

When you make purchases through links on this website we may earn a commission. Read more.

The Gold Coast has featured prominently on the world stage as one of the best places to visit in Queensland and Australia.  With golden beaches that extend for approximately 50 kilometres, blue ocean waters that are great for surfing and swimming, and an idyllic, casual lifestyle, it is a perfect location to visit for a short time or stay for an entire holiday.

But, while the headline act for the Gold Coast is usually the beaches and the theme parks, there are also plenty of activities for people who are looking for something culturally uplifting, or don’t involve having sand between your toes.

The “Goldie” as it is affectionately known, turns on brilliant weather for most of the year, making it the perfect place for all manner of Gold Coast adventures.

So, whether it’s relaxing on the beach, swimming or surfing, enjoying one of the fabulous cafes and restaurants or enjoying the rich and vibrant arts and cultural precincts, there’s no end to things on the Gold Coast.

burleigh heads ocean

Where is the Gold Coast?

The Gold Coast is a major city in Queensland, located in the southeast corner. Reaching as far north as the Albert River (just south of Brisbane), down to the New South Wales border, and out to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range, the Gold Coast City shares both coastal and hinterland geography. It is commonly thought of as just the area that overlooks the ocean, but it is much more.

Towards the end of the 1800s, some entrepreneurial people started to see the value in the coast.  In the early 1900s, the completion of a rail line between Brisbane and the Gold Coast opened up the area further, and development slowly began.  The war years saw more people flock to the seaside towns, and a real estate boom was evident.

The name “Gold Coast” was created initially to refer to this boom, a time when the cost of land and houses was seen to be expensive. 

Burleigh heads looking towards surfers paradise
Burleigh Heads looking towards the north of the Gold Coast

Things to do on the Gold Coast

No one could ever accuse the Gold Coast of being boring.  There’s simply too much to keep everyone occupied.  It’s a city for all ages, all types, and all interests.  It’s also the perfect place to do nothing but laze around the beaches, pools and resorts.  Visitors to the Gold Coast come for both the adrenaline rush and complete relaxation.  It depends on what kind of holiday you want, and who you are having it with.

The internet is full of hundreds and hundreds of things to do on the Gold Coast. This is not meant to be an exclusive list of those things. This is a list of activities that we had personally done or been involved in, so we can personally vouch for each and every one of them.

For those looking for something away from the bright lights of the Gold Coast glitter strip and the beaches, you will be amazed at what is on offer, both on the Gold Coast itself and in the broader region.

Visit HOTA

Just a short distance back from the golden sands of Surfers Paradise lies a large green expanse that many have never seen or heard of. It’s a bit of a local’s secret. HOTA (Home of the Arts), sits on 17 hectares of dedicated parkland. The Gold Coast has been a fervent supporter of the arts for decades.

At HOTA, you can listen to live music and watch theatre of all genres. The centrepiece is the gallery, which opened in May 2021, and has been showcasing local, Australian and international pieces in exhibitions ever since. The gallery itself covers six levels of the impressive building. It is the largest public gallery located outside an Australian capital city.

bright colours hexagonal shapes six story building with lights on at night

Even if you are a novice when it comes to art, you’ll still find plenty to look at and like. I’m one of these people, but I particularly loved the photography exhibitions. It’s also a family-friendly space with exhibitions designed to keep the kids engaged.

The outdoor area is pet friendly, and it’s the perfect place to have a picnic, especially when the weekly markets are on, or there is live music playing in the amphitheatre.

If you’ve had your fill of art and looking for another great Gold Coast moment, head up to the rooftop Exhibitionist Bar for a cocktail and beautiful views of the Surfers Paradise high-rises as the sun sets. It’s the perfect way to ease into the evening.

gold cost at sunset

To make a complete day of it, make a booking at Palette Restaurant. The two-hatted restaurant serves up modern fare in a fine-dining atmosphere while making the most of local, seasonal produce.

Pro tip: Make sure you ask for the signature dessert!

LOCATION: 135 Bundall Road, Surfers Paradise

Go whale watching

Going whale watching off the Gold Coast coastline is a peaceful way to start the day, and the Sea World Whale Cruises team knows exactly where to find them.

Each year, these massive mammals move northwards from their southern homes as they enter their breeding season. As well as the whales, there is often a dolphin or two to be seen as well. It’s a case of keeping your eyes peeled in every direction. The fabulous team onboard will always let you know where to look.

two whales coming to surface and blowing water

There are many time slots available during the day to suit your agenda and preferences. If you’re not an early bird like me, the early breakfast slot might not appeal. Seeing the sun rise over the horizon as you make your way out to sea is truly special, so if you can get yourself out of bed early, you won’t be sorry. You’ll also get a tasty BBQ breakfast, served on the marina deck, before you board.

Buy your tickets online here and get a 12-month voucher that covers the whale guarantee

If you want a dedicated seat inside, look no further than the Captain’s Lounge. Located on the top deck, this is a small area for VIP guests. Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks are also included in the fare. I don’t recommend doing this if you are someone who wants to be outside in the fresh air for all or most of the trip. There is limited room to move around in the Captain’s Lounge, although it does offer good protection from the wind.

Pro tip: Because it’s all about the whales, I recommend getting out onto the deck and into a position where you are comfortable early on. The boat will move around so everyone can see the whales once they are spotted, and you’re free to move around during the journey to get a better view.

Good to know: An estimated 35,000 whales move along the east coast of Australia each year, so you are sure to see one on your trip. If not, don’t worry; Sea World Cruises have a 100% whale sighting guarantee. If you don’t see one on your two-hour journey, you can rebook at another time.

What to wear: Casual clothing is the order of the day on this trip. Just don’t forget your hat, sunglasses and sunscreen during summer. In winter, be sure to wear really warm clothing, including a hat or beanie. If it looks rainy, take a rain jacket as well.

Sea World Cruises yacht moored at marina

Kiff & Culture Tour

If you’ve come to the Gold Coast to check out all of the wonderful dining options, but don’t know where to start, let the boys at Kiff & Culture do all the hard work for you. Their full-day ‘Eat and drink the Gold Coast’ experience is not to be missed.

Pro tip: Don’t eat too much for breakfast. You need plenty of room to fit in all the wonderful food and drink you will be exposed to throughout the tour.

kiff and culture mini van

The location of your first foodie delight is a Gold Coast icon. Bookings here open months in advance and are highly sought after. Rick Shores, located right on the beach at Burleigh Heads, has a stunning view to match its menu. Try their signature Moreton Bay bug roll while sipping on a cool cocktail.

table in front window of Rick Shores restaurant overling Burleigh Beach

The duck red curry is to die for, and their lamb wontons are a treat too. You won’t find a bad dish here anywhere. While seafood features heavily on this perfectly coastal menu, fear not if fishy stuff isn’t your thing. I’m not a seafood eater, and I found many incredible dishes to keep me happy.

After lunch, it’s time to head to Granddad Jack’s Distillery for a gin tasting. Here, you’ll do a tasting of craft gins paired perfectly with a range of different tonics. Sit back in the leather sofa and hear all the Granddad Jack stories. It’s a beautiful place to ease back after your hearty lunch too.

Gin tasting

Afterwards, you’ll pop around the corner to the craft brewery Precinct. Located in a former warehouse, it’s a fun spot for an afternoon drink, and the vibe really picks up on the weekend.

beer tasting paddle

Kiff & Culture is run by two fun-loving lads who know how to give their guests a good time. You’ll be transported around all day in their air-conditioned van, allowing you to simply enjoy the food and drink on offer.

Need to know: Kiff & Culture offer a half-day or full-day ‘Eat and drink the Gold Coast’ experience. Pickups and dropoffs can occur within the Brisbane, Gold Coast and Byron Bay areas. The tour I did was one of many available. For the full list, including all other necessary booking and pricing information, visit their website.

Adventure activities

For those who are keen to be energetic, here are some great activities you can get involved in.


You can’t come to the Gold Coast without surfing! With easy-to-access beaches and pure ocean waters, along with good waves, it’s the perfect place to get your board out.  Don’t know how to surf?  No problem. 

Taking lessons is one of the coolest activities you can do here.  With a backdrop of the Surfers Paradise high-rises, schools like Go Ride a Wave operate daily, using professional instructors to take you through the moves and get you up on your board in no time.

When I surfed in Waikiki, I did it on a long Malibu board.  While I felt very cool, it was heavy and hurt when it hit me. The boards we used here were Gboards, a hard foam-type material, meaning they were lighter to carry and manage in the water and had a much softer result when it pushed into me in the water.  They were very stable also.

Before anyone gets into the water, there’s a safety briefing.  Given the diversity of the groups that come here to surf this is really important, especially where being in the ocean is concerned.  Our instructor did a great job discussing possible issues and what to look out for.

Learning how to push up off the board as a wave approaches and learning how to stand are the two fundamental manoeuvres you need to be able to surf.  Once again, with a detailed discussion and a chance to practice on the beach, everyone felt more comfortable in the water.

briefing before surfing
Learning how to surf

The two-hour lesson provides plenty of opportunity to get out in amongst the waves and to return to the beach for more tuition.  At all times, the instructors, who have also qualified as lifesavers, were in the water with the group, helping everyone to get up on their boards and for safety purposes.

heading out to surf
Heading out to surf off Surfers Paradise
kerri up on the board
I’m up on it but about to crash by the looks of this shot

Bookings can be made online and boards can also be hired without having to do a lesson.

LOCATION: Shop 27, The Mark Centre, 3 Orchid Avenue Surfers Paradise Qld 4217

Short hike through the Burleigh Heads National Park

You don’t need to go out into the hinterland to get amongst the bushland.  The rainforest meets the ocean between Burleigh Heads on the southern part of the Gold Coast and Tallebudgera Creek.  For 27 hectares, the forest grows up and over the headland.

The Ocean View walk, aptly named for the views you can see in both directions from various points along the trail, is an easy-going 1.3 km walk to Tallebudgera Creek.   There are some steps on the Burleigh Heads side, and the track is uphill until you reach the top.  However, it’s a gentle incline and not difficult to walk for people with average fitness.

Along the track, keep an eye out for lizards and bush turkeys.  There are also rock formations located in an area that is of particular significance to the local indigenous tribes. 

Views are possible from many locations along the walk as the trail hugs the coastline.  Those at the top are spectacular, taking in the southern end of the coast and into Tallebudgera Creek.

the view from the top of the hill at burleigh
The view from up on top of the hill at Burleigh
the view back to surfers paradise
Looking back towards Surfers Paradise from the Burleigh Heads National Park

Stand-up paddle boarding

Stand-up paddle boarding, or SUPing, is popular the world over, so it comes as no surprise to see it in a water playground like the Gold Coast.  Showing yet another side to the Gold Coast arsenal, stand-up paddle boarding makes use of the calmer canals and creeks. 

All Coast Paddle Board Hire operates out of a mobile van parked on the foreshore of Tallebudgera Creek.   Qualified instructors assist with board selection and a quick briefing on how to operate the board.  No rocket science is involved here; you just need a bit of muscle and to know which way to use the paddle to go forward and turn around.

With an outgoing tide and a strong onshore breeze blowing, I can’t say I would ever beat any speed records.  For most, however, the purpose of SUPing is to relax and paddle out on the water and watch the world go by slowly.

stand up paddle boarding at tallebudgera creek
Getting the hang of the SUP

While we loved paddle boarding in quiet Tallebudgera Creek, you can also do it near Surfers Paradise if that suits your location better. Bookings can be made here.

LOCATION: At Tallebudgera Creek – Murlong Park, Murlong Crescent, Palm Beach QLD 4221, Australia

Activities in the Gold Coast hinterland

Take a 4WD tour into the hinterland

If you have enough time on the Gold Coast, try to get away from the coast for at least one day.  The hinterland, west of the Gold Coast strip, has so much to offer, including the beautiful township of Mt Tamborine.  Here, the glitz and glamour of the coast give way to a more relaxed, peaceful way of living. 

Small cottage farms operate, growing such things as avocados, organic vegetables and grape vines.  Local producers make jams, chutneys and honey, as well as cheese and wine.

B&Bs operate to give visitors a more homely stay, and the rainforests offer a chance to get out and experience the Australian outdoors.  It’s sometimes hard to imagine that so much could be offered in such a small place.

If time is your enemy, or you don’t have access to transport, consider using a company like Southern Cross 4WD Tours which can take you on a range of Gold Coast day tours. 

Operating half-day and full-day tours, they offer one of the things I love the most if I have to be on a tour – small groups!  There are no large coaches packed to overflowing with people.

southern cross 4wd tour company
Southern Cross 4WD Tours

Our tour included a ride up a dirt 4WD track to the top of a mountain where we could see back to the Gold Coast.  Despite it being quite a hazy day, it was still great to give a physical perspective in terms of our proximity to the coast.

There are plenty of beautiful forests to look at through the bus window, and there’s always the chance of seeing a koala too.

If you love wine, we suggest a winery tour at Mt Tamborine. Tickets for the full-day tour can be purchased online.

Enjoy a morning tea at Mt Tamborine

Having tea and scones is not something we do every day, so it’s nice when we have a chance.  Of course, there’s nothing better than freshly baked homemade scones being served along with bowls of fresh cream and jam.  They are hard to resist. 

As part of the tour, we stopped by The Manor, a family owned and run business up on Mt Tamborine.  

morning tea at The Manor
A traditional morning tea at The Manor

Take a walk through the rainforest

The Gold Coast hinterland is blessed with great rainforests and numerous waterfalls, all of which are worthy of a visit.  Springbrook National Park has some incredible waterfalls and walking tracks.

You might also like to read >> Hiking through Springbrook National Park

We visited the Joalah Section of the Tamborine National Park on this occasion, taking the short walking track to Curtis Falls.

Curtis Falls in the Joalah section of the Tamborine National Park
Curtis Falls in the Joalah section of the Tamborine National Park

The track may be short, but there’s plenty to see along the way.  The beauty of having a professional guide in this situation is that they know what to look for in the forest.  They can find things that an ordinary person going for a walk would never see. 

The guides will highlight the special kinds of plants and trees, giving you the history and botanical knowledge about them.  They also know the animals that frequent these forests, some friendly, some not.  

It is, therefore, interesting to see some of these crazy critters in the bush.  Take the trapdoor spider, for example.  I’ve heard of it but never seen one.  Still haven’t.  But I have now seen the trap door, thanks to our expert guide.  

closed trapdoor
Closed trapdoor
trapdoor spider home
The trapdoor of the trapdoor spider

Have lunch at a lookout

There are many lookouts up on the mountain, and most have an area where you can stop for a while, either to just take in the view or perhaps have lunch.

rotary lookout

Go mountain biking

Approximately 20 km west of Surfers Paradise lies Nerang, home to the Nerang State Forest and the mountain bike trails built or redeveloped as part of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018.  Used by over 16,000 riders each year, these trails attract riders from all over, keen to try their hand at the rugged tracks.

Michael Ronnig, former Australian mountain bike world champion, owns Giant Nerang, a bike store that not only sells the bikes for riding but hires them out as well.  For someone who doesn’t own a mountain bike, this is the perfect opportunity to experience the tracks and get some exercise for a fraction of the cost.

It’s quite exhilarating and sometimes terrifying to a beginner, but having such first-class equipment to ride on makes it easier.  From rocks to running water, mud, tight corners, uphill and downhill, it’s a definite adrenaline rush.

mountainbiking in nerang gold cost adventures
Ready to hit the trails

Where to stay

When it comes to staying on the Gold Coast, options are abundant.  From luxury hotels like The Darling, the Langham and the Dorsett,  comfortable hotels, apartments, hostels, caravan parks and even the retro motels from the ’50s and ’60s, like Tessa’s on the Beach, are still favourites; you will always find somewhere to lay your head. 

You’ll find some of our favourite places to stay in the Gold Coast region below.

  • Pethers Rainforest Retreat Mt Tamborine – Out in the hinterland, resorts like Pethers Rainforest Retreat offer a chance to get away from the daily grind. We loved staying here in amongst the rainforest. The restaurant is excellent too.
  • Avani and Meriton Apartments – Both locations offer modern apartments that are spacious and come complete with a fully equipped kitchen (including a full-size fridge and dishwasher), making them perfect for longer stays, especially for families. They are available in studio, one, two and three bedrooms, with ocean or hinterland views.
  • Dorsett Gold Coast – With the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre right next door, it’s also a great place for corporate people to rest their heads in between meetings and events. The Dorsett Gold Coast is 4.5* (the only reason it’s not 5* is because it doesn’t have an on-site restaurant). Why would you when you are surrounded by so many excellent places to wine and dine? Or, you can order room service from a number of amazing restaurants nearby just by using a QR code.
  • The Langham Gold Coast – a standout right on the ocean’s edge at Surfers Paradise, this is the gold Coast’s latest luxury hotel. Enjoy a divine high tea, drinks on the rooftop bar, or dine on a Michelin-starred T’ang Court.
  • Tessa’s on the Beach – a divine retro hotel on the southern end of the Gold Coast. Grab one of two rooms that open up right onto the beach. This one is an Instagrammer’s delight.

Check availability and reviews of these hotels and apartments and book online here.

How to get there

Getting to the Gold Coast is easy, with the sixth-largest city in Australia connected by air, road, rail and sea.


The Gold Coast is serviced by Coolangatta Airport.  Both domestic and international flights arrive and depart from here.  The airport is close to the NSW border and about 20 kilometres from the heart of Surfers Paradise.

The airport is well-serviced by other transport options, allowing you to reach your final destination as efficiently as possible.

We use and recommend Discover Cars for all our car hire needs and Jucy for campervans. If you are looking for good prices for airfares, check the online booking portal Aunt Betty, part of the Flight Centre Travel Group.


The Gold Coast is connected by the Pacific Motorway (M1), making driving in any direction easy.  Before getting into your car, be sure to know your exact destination. The Gold Coast stretches for more than 40 kilometres and there are many exists off the M1. Getting the correct one will expedite your drive.

Local tip: Avoid driving to or from the Gold Coast during peak hours. In Brisbane, inbound traffic commences from 5.30 am until about 9 am. In the afternoon, expect heavy traffic from 3 pm until 6.30 pm. Driving to the Gold Coast is usually ok in the morning, as most of the traffic is going the other way.


Trains operate from Brisbane Roma Street and Central Station.  Nerang, Robina and Helensvale on the Gold Coast all have train stations.  Shuttle buses operate from these stations to key points on the Gold Coast. 

The Brisbane Airtrain also operates from the Brisbane Airport to the Gold Coast. The Airtrain goes to Brisbane City, approximately 20 minutes from the airport. It then travels on an express route to the Gold Coast.

The Airtrain leaves the Brisbane Airport every 15 minutes during peak times and 30 minutes during off-peak. It operates between 5.40 am and 10 pm daily.

Book your tickets online for convenience.


For now, entry to the Gold Coast via sea is limited to those with their own boats.  Several marinas operate on the Gold Coast.

Once you are on the Gold Coast, there are so many different ways to get around. This list gives you many of the options available.

multi coloured koala structure on gold coast

Thanks to Tourism and Events Qld for showing us around some of the new parts of the Gold Coast. As always, all opinions and images are our own.

5 thoughts on “Gold Coast adventures – 11 great activities on and off the beach”

  1. I almost forget sometimes just how much there is to do and explore around the Gold Coast! So lucky to live in such a diverse part of the world.

  2. Lot of great ideas here! I forget sometimes how lucky we are to have so much natural beauty and so many things to do right on our doorstep.

  3. Jill Greising-Murschel

    Our dream is to travel to Australia as s family, and the Gold Coast is at the top of our list! We LOVE stand up paddle boarding, beaching it, and watching the surfers do their thing. I’m sitting here dreaming about it all!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top