Last updated 2 April 2020
The Gold Coast has featured prominently on the world stage as the recent host of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. With white sandy beaches that run for approximately 50 kilometres, blue ocean waters that are great for surfing and an idyllic, casual lifestyle, it was the perfect location to hold such an event.
The “Goldie” as it is affectionately known turns on brilliant weather most of the year round, making it the perfect place for all manner of Gold Coast adventures.
Queensland is a perfect destination for those visiting Australia, with warm even weather, plenty of sunshine, and an easy going, relaxed attitude.
Many people who visit the Gold Coast for the first time will have thoughts of the sand, the surf and most likely the theme parks firmly in their minds as must-do activities. These, of course, are all necessary and important parts of this area, but there is so much more to the Gold Coast than this.
I spent a few days on the Gold Coast recently uncovering some great experiences that will make you think a little differently about this well-known destination. The hardest decision you’ll have to make is how long you can stay.
Where is the Gold Coast?
Have you ever asked a visitor to Australia if they’ve been to the Gold Coast and watched their eyes light up? Further probing will usually elicit a response that is bound to include the beaches, surfing, theme parks and even ‘Schoolies’. Whilst all of these are of course true, the Gold Coast is so much more.
For a start, the Gold Coast is not just about the beaches. 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.
Once the home of local indigenous tribes only, later followed by sporadic European settlement, the area was used primarily for farming. Whilst it is hard to believe today, the beautiful white sand beaches were of little interest to those who farmed here. Sand wasn’t conducive to farming.
Eventually, towards the end of the 1800’s some entrepreneurial people started to see the value in the coast. In the early 1900’s 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. In a nice piece of symmetry, the term of the Gold Coast, couldn’t be more perfect for this area lined with golden beaches.
Activities 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, 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 really just depends what kind of holiday you are looking to have.
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! You just can’t. 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.
We first met up with our instructors at their centrally located shop right in the heart of Surfers Paradise. Whilst there are a few change rooms here, it’s best to arrive here with your swimwear already on. It makes it easy then to put on their bright red rashies.
Rashies are used frequently in Qld as they offer great protection from the sun. They also stop your skin from rubbing on the board.
When I surfed in Waikiki, I did it on a long Malibu board. Whilst I felt very cool, it was really heavy and hurt when it hit me. I’m no pro after all! 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 really 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 talking through any 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 was able to feel more comfortable in the water.
For two hours, we attempted to catch as many waves as we could, returning to the beach every now and then for further tuition or advice. At all times, the instructors, who are also qualified lifesavers, were in the water with the group, both assisting people to get up on their boards and for safety purposes.
Getting up on your board and riding a wave into the beach is such a good feeling and I’m pleased to say I did it a number of times, albeit with a fairly awful style!
Where: Go Ride a Wave Surf School – Shop 189 Paradise Centre Cavill Mall, Surfers Paradise QLD Australia. Bookings can be made online and boards can also be hired without having to do a lesson.
Walk 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.
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 more quiet, calmer canals and creeks.
Whilst I have seen people operate these large boards out in the ocean waves, they are more suited, I think, to calmer waters. It certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience.
All Coast Paddle Board Hire operate 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 was ever going to beat any speed records. For most, however, the purpose of SUPing is to relax and to paddle out on the water and watch the world go by slowly.
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 ocean 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 gives 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 on offer 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 who 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.
For a complete guide to all tours check their website.
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’s plenty of beautiful forests to look at through the window of the bus, and there’s always the chance of seeing a koala too.
Enjoy a morning tea at Mt Tamborine
Having tea and scones is not something we do every day, so it’s nice when we do 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 definitely hard to resist.
As part of the tour, we stopped by The Manor, a family owned and run business up on Mt Tamborine.
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.
We visited the Joalah Section of the Tamborine National Park on this occasion, taking the short walking track to Curtis Falls.
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 out for in the forest. They are able to find things that an ordinary person going for a walk would never see.
The guides will point out the special kinds of plants and trees, giving you history and botanical knowledge about them. They also know the animals that frequent these forests, some friendly, some not so.
Australia has always been known, sometimes hysterically, as a place for creatures that will bite or even kill you. It all gets out of hand really. As an Australian, I’m obviously aware of these but most of them I either rarely see or have never seen.
It is therefore interesting to be able 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.
Have lunch at one of the many lookouts
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.
Go mountain biking
Approximately 20 km west of Surfers Paradise lies Nerang, home to the Nerang State Forest and the mountain bike trails that have been 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 be able 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 surely makes the ride easier. From rocks to running water, mud, tight corners, uphill and downhill, it’s a definite adrenaline rush.
I just need to learn how to turn corners without skidding off the track and I could get to like it a whole lot more.
Where to stay
When it comes to staying on the Gold Coast, there is an abundance of options. From luxury hotels like The Darling and Palazzo Versace, comfortable hotels, apartments, hostels, caravan parks and even the retro motels from the 50’s and 60’s still favourites, you will always find somewhere to lay your head.
Out in the hinterland, resorts like Pethers Rainforest Retreat offer a chance to get away from the daily grind.
We stayed at Avani Broadbeach a newly built apartment and residence complex, right in the heart of Broadbeach. For a modern apartment, they are quite spacious and come complete with a fully equipped kitchen (including full-size fridge, dishwasher, and Nespresso coffee machine).
A lounge area with sofa and large, flat-screen tv and dining table round out the living area. All apartments have private balconies, with the higher ocean-facing floors receiving the much sought after water views.
On the other side, balconies open up onto the Gold Coast Highway, providing a view of the twinkling night lights of the Star Casino and in the day, the Gold Coast hinterland in the distance.
All apartments have excellent ducted airconditioning, a good bathroom (albeit with ridiculously small vanity bench space), washing machine and dryer.
The bedroom also comes with a smaller flat screen tv. So that you can recover from all these activities the apartment has full block out curtains and blinds and is constructed well with acoustic protection from the noise of the busy highway outside. A perfect nights sleep is almost guaranteed.
If you haven’t done enough exercise outside, a pool and gym can also be found on-site. Of course, the golden sands of Broadbeach are only a short walk away, as are all the cafes and restaurants of this area. If you need to travel further afield, the station for the Gold Coast light rail is also close by.
Where to eat
You’ll never go hungry when you are staying on the Gold Coast. For some great ideas on where to eat click on the link below.
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 Gold Coast is serviced by the Pacific Motorway making driving in any direction easy. There are also many car rental agencies on the Gold Coast.
Trains operate from Brisbane Roma Street and Central Station. Nerang, Robina and Helensvale on the Gold Coast all have train stations. Shuttle buses do operate from these stations to key points on the Gold Coast. The Brisbane Airtrain also operates from the Brisbane Airport to the Gold Coast.
Whilst there is a push to build a port fit for ocean liners on the Gold Coast, for now, entry to the Gold Coast via sea is limited to those with their own boats. Several marinas operate on the Gold Coast.
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