Mention the Gold Coast region and various images come to mind… stunning beaches, exciting theme parks, sun-kissed locals, sophisticated style, the list goes on. The Gold Coast truly offers something for everyone.
It’s a holiday destination of wonderful contrasts. From the sophistication of Main Beach, the glamour of Surfers Paradise, to the quiet beachside towns and World Heritage listed rainforests of the hinterland… the Gold Coast is teeming with holiday options. Add this to the non-stop energy of the theme parks and a 70 km coastline with more than 40 patrolled beaches, and you’ve got an idyllic holiday destination.
The beachfront esplanades of Surfers Paradise, Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta invite you to sit back, relax and soak up the holiday atmosphere. While on the Gold Coast hinterland, you’ll feel as though you’re miles away from everything. Explore quaint mountain villages and natural escapes in the World Heritage listed Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves.
Built for pleasure and remaining a place utterly dedicated to sun, surf and the body beautiful, this strip of coast is possibly Australia’s most iconic holiday destination. Its shimmering high-rises can, when glimpsed from afar, appear like a make-believe city, and its reputation for tackiness is occasionally deserved. But this is far outstripped by a booming, youthful spirit and startling physical beauty: some 52km of pristine sand and countless epic surf breaks, heartbreakingly hazy sunsets, blissful water temperatures and 300 sunny days a year.
While Surfers Paradise’s malls and mega-clubs let the party-hard kids have their fun, the other neighbourhoods have a distinct charm of their own. Main Beach and Broadbeach corner coastal chic; Burleigh Heads, Mermaid and Palm Beach have a retro charm and booming culinary scene; while Coolangatta pleases with its pro-surfer vibe. Not to be overlooked is the lush, misty subtropical rainforest of the hinterland.
So come experience the contagious excitement, glorious weather and natural beauty of the Gold Coast. You’ll want to come back again and again.
Gold Coast Theme Parks
The gravity-defying rollercoasters and water slides at the Gold Coast’s American-style parks offer some seriously dizzying action and, although recently beset with a number of accidents, still attract huge crowds. Discount tickets are sold in most of the tourist offices on the Gold Coast or can be bought online. The Mega Pass ($110 per person for 14-day entry) grants unlimited entry to Sea World, Warner Bros Movie World, Wet’n’Wild and the little-kid-friendly farm-park Paradise Country (all owned by Village Roadshow). Dreamworld and WhiteWater World have a Summer Season Pass giving unlimited entry (adult/child $99/79).
A couple of tips: the parks can get insanely crowded, so arrive early or face a long walk from the far side of the car park. Also note that the parks don’t let you bring your own food or drinks.
Dreamworld Touts itself as Australia’s ‘biggest’ theme park. There are the ‘Big 9 Thrill Rides’, plus Wiggles World and the DreamWorks experience, both for younger kids. Other attractions include Tiger Island, and a range of interactive animal encounters. A one-day pass (adult/child $65/55) gives you entry to both Dreamworld and WhiteWater World.
Sea World Continues to attract controversy for its marine shows, where dolphins and sea lions perform tricks for the crowd. While Sea World claims the animals lead a good life, welfare groups argue that keeping such sensitive sea mammals in captivity is harmful, and is especially exacerbated when mixed with human interaction. The park also displays penguins and polar bears, and has water slides and rollercoasters.
Movie World Movie-themed shows, rides and attractions, including the Batwing Spaceshot, Justice League 3D Ride and Scooby-Doo Spooky Coaster. Batman, Austin Powers, Porky Pig et al roam through the crowds.
Wet’n’Wild The ultimate water slide here is the Kamikaze, where you plunge down an 11m drop in a two-person tube at 50km/h. This vast water park also has pitch-black slides, white-water rapids and wave pools.
WhiteWater World This park features the Cave of Waves, Pipeline Plunge and more than 140 wet and watery activities and slides.
The Gold Coast possesses some of the longest, hollowest and best waves in the world, and is lauded for its epic consistency. The creation of the Superbank – a sand bar that’s formed as part of anti-erosion efforts and stretches 2km from the Queensland–New South Wales border up to Kirra – has made for a decade of even better waves, even more often.
Gentle waves for a body bash or some white wash for learning the ropes are easy to find but we’ve listed the breaks of surfing legend.
It’s worth noting you won’t be alone out the back. Local surfers have a reputation for being territorial and once you’ve seen the cut-ins, you’ll understand why. Be respectful.
Snapper Rocks A highly advanced point break at Coolangatta’s far south; home to the Quiksilver Pro World Surfing League, and home break to Australian pro surfers Stephanie Gilmore and Joel Parkinson. It’s so good it gets ridiculously overcrowded.
Duranbah Universally known as D-bah (and, officially, just over the Queensland–NSW border from Point Danger), this point and peaky beach break is good for those who like their waves technical and punchy.
Greenmount Classic beach break that benefits from a southerly swell – sightings of pro surfers Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson are not uncommon.
Kirra Beautiful beach break that doesn’t work that often, but, oh when it does. Expect long barrels that are some of the world’s best.
Burleigh Heads Strong currents and boulders to watch out for, but a perfect break that’s more often on than not.
The Spit One of north Goldie’s stalwarts, this peaky beach break can work even when the surf is small. From here, locals often make the precarious paddle (boats! marine life!) over to TOS (‘the other side’) – South Stradbroke Island – where the barrels are better than big.
- The 200-sq-km Lamington National Park, with its subtropical rainforests, steep cliffs and wildlife-filled valleys, has superb bushwalking. Serious hikers can tackle the 21km Border Trail, linking two sections of the park. There’s also a scenic tree-top canopy walk.
- Remnant of a vast 23-million-year-old shield volcano, Springbrook National Park has lush subtropical scenery with deep gorges, awe-inspiring waterfalls, and rich flora and fauna. You can lodge in a woodland-surrounded guesthouse or chalet – a fine base to take in the park’s beauty.
- The unique coastal habitat on South Stradbroke can be experienced with just a brief boat ride from Main Beach with Water’bout.
The Gold Coast’s culinary scene is booming. Head south for an edgier, independent scene or go for glam up north. If you’re on a budget, there’s great lunchtime dining at a new breed of produce-driven cafes and some very decent Indian and Thai cheapies tucked away down arcades and strip malls, that also service the home-delivery market.
Cafe opening hours often come as a shock, with many opening as early as 5am, and virtually all of them pumping by 7am. Local culinary quirks are all about the climate and the coast’s fitness ethos. Don’t miss the surfers’ delight, a Brazilian acai bowl – essentially a thick smoothie topped with granola or nuts; iced lattes made with macadamia or coconut milk; and poke, a Hawaiian–Japanese fusion of marinated raw fish, rice or quinoa and vegetables.
Some may mumble that paradise has been lost, but there’s no denying that Surfers’ frenetic few blocks and its glorious strip of sand attracts a phenomenal number of visitors – 20,000 per day at peak. Party-hard teens and early-20-somethings come here for a heady dose of clubs, bars, malls and perhaps a bit of beachtime as a hangover remedy before it all starts again. Families like the ready availability of big apartments, loads of kid-friendly eating options and, yes, that beautiful beach.
Directly south of Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach may be all about apartment towers and pedestrian malls, but it’s decidedly more upmarket than its neighbour, with carefully landscaped streets and smart places to eat, drink and shop. To its south, the low-rise blocks and rambling beach shacks look rather a lot like the Gold Coast of old. But nestled in these seemingly suburban streets and strip malls you’ll find some of the region’s most innovative eating and drinking options. Of course, the gorgeous stretch of golden shore is beguiling here, too.
North of Surfers Paradise, the apartment towers are slightly less lofty and the pace eases up. Main Beach makes for a serene base if you’re here for views, beach time and generally taking it easy. Tedder Ave may no longer possess place-to-be cache, but it still has a pleasantly village-like atmosphere, with enjoyable eating options alongside its chichi shops.
Further north the Spit separates the Southport Broadwater from the Pacific Ocean, stretching 5km to almost meet South Stradbroke Island. Its southern end is home to Marina Mirage, another upmarket shopping and eating zone, along with Mariner’s Cove, a base for aquatic activities.
The beach up here, backed as it is with dunes and native parkland, has a startling sublimity. It also has some very uncrowded surf breaks that deliver when nothing else does.
Around the point from Burleigh, Palm Beach has a particularly lovely stretch of sand, backed with a few old-style beach shacks. Its numbered streets are also home to some great coffee stops and dining ops. Further south again, Currumbin is a sleepy family-focused town, with a beautiful surf beach, safe swimming in Currumbin Creek and some evocative mid-century architecture worth clocking. It’s also home to the iconic eponymous wildlife sanctuary.
Inland from the surf, sand and half-nakedness of the Gold Coast, the densely forested mountains of the McPherson Range feel a million miles away. There are some brilliant national parks here, with subtropical jungle, waterfalls, lookouts and rampant wildlife. Springbrook National Park is arguably the wettest place in southeast Queensland, with cool air and a dense sea of forest. Lamington National Park attracts birdwatchers and hikers; kitschy Tamborine Mountain lures the craft/cottage weekend set.