Shiny skyscrapers lined up along the coastline. Young people wobbling past on heels that are a little too high. Powerful waves crashing on the beach and a frying hot sunshine closer to 300 days a year. The pace is a fast along Queensland’s Gold Coast, an hour’s drive south of Brisbane. The big city Surfers Paradise is like a mix of Miami Beach and Orlando. It has become a place where Australians love to show off a perfect sun-drenched life wearing flip flops and fashion designer clothes, chasing luck and an Australian version of the American dream. But behind the sunshades, baggy eyes are hiding. Hung over teenagers and red sunburnt visitors are more the rule than the exception.
Surfers Paradise undoubtedly is designed for a certain narrow clientele, and with narrow meaning the beautiful and young. Many partygoers and students come here during school holidays and weekends to celebrate their leave with alcohol during late nights. Gold Coast is Australia’s entertainment area number one. People travel here from all over the country to spend their days in amusement parks, screaming until their voices break, to only later dance the night away. As a visitor, you do best to have a lot of money in your pocket. And not to mention, you should manage with only a few hours of sleep per night. There is a lot to do along the Gold Coast if you thrive in an ostentatious city-environment near the beach. Surfers Paradise is considered a tourist trap according to some. But for others it is just paradise. It all depends on what you expect. Come mentally prepared and there is no problem. And don’t forget that the beach is never far away.
If you visit the countryside, you will get a completely different experience. The city-bustle disappears as soon as you leave the skyscrapers behind. The landscape changes and the silence take over. Dense and lush rainforest reigns and one waterfall after another call for you in the tropical heat. After all, Queensland is an exotic place with coconut palms and banana plantations. Springbrook and Lamington national parks have lots of natural beauty to explore. When small roads can be of substandard and public transport is sparingly, your own vehicle is the best option. With good viewpoints and signposted hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty, the national parks are well worth visiting, even for inexperienced hikers.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Hike all or part of the 54 kilometre-long Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk (nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/great-walks-gold-coast-hinterland/index.html). For the seasoned hiker, there is the four-day hike Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk at 54 km to accomplish. The trail goes through ancient forests and past mighty volcanoes, through the heart of Springbrook and Lamington national parks. The best time to do the hike is from March to October when the temperature is at a comfortable level. Springbrook National Park (npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/springbrook/index.html) covers a part of UNESCO’s world heritage-listed Gondwana rainforest. The park is not far from New South Wales’ border and is full of greenery and small lakes to have a dip in. Visit Natural Bridge (visitgoldcoast.com/places-to-see/springbrook/attractions/natural-bridge-springbrook-national-park), where a waterfall cascades down through a half-open cave. Glow-worms lights up the cave ceiling as stars do during the night. There are guided tours to Springbrook National Park if you want to relax and let someone else take care of the itinerary and the lunch (wotif.com/things-to-do/springbrook-tamborine-rainforest-full-day-tour.a426965.activity-details).
West from Springbrook lies Lamington National Park (nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/lamington). Discover many different animal species and lots of eucalyptus, vines and waterfalls within the park. Many hiking trails run in crisscross through Lamington Park. Cross the suspension bridge O’ Reilly’s Tree Top Walk (oreillys.com.au/walking-tracks-at-lamington-national-park) to get an unbeatable view of the rainforest. It is nine connected bridges of 180 meters in length and almost 15 meters up in the air to cross in total. Arranged daytrips are available to book if you prefer to travel with an organizer who plans everything from pick-up at hotel to food, entry for the national park and excursions (wotif.com/things-to-do/oreillys-lamington-national-park-day-tour.a254474.activity-details). Tamborine Mountain (visitgoldcoast.com/places-to-see/mt-tamborine) is the name of a cosy little town by the mountain Tamborine. Small shops sell local handicrafts and souvenirs. And there are many shorter hiking trails to try out.
For a day on the beach, the beach in Surfers Paradise is for many a given choice, with skyscrapers as a fund along the kilometre-long beach. Burleigh Heads is a suburb wedged between Surfers and Coolangatta. The beach here is not as crowded as the Surfers. Here, the whole family can learn to surf (wotif.com/things-to-do/beginner-surf-lesson.a255178.activity-details). There are waves good for surfing, although some stone boulders to watch out for. If you have no problems with high altitudes, pay a visit to the observation deck in SkyPoint, a 240 meter tall building (wotif.com/things-to-do/skypoint-observation-deck-tickets.a170599.activity-details). If you dare to go all the way up to the top of the skyscraper, a lift will take you up most of the way, then you get to do the last 30 meters outdoors with a safety harness anchored at the stair railing (skypoint.com.au). You will be rewarded with an expansive view of Surfers Paradise.
Amusement parks and zoo
There are many amusement parks to choose from along the Gold Coast. On hot summer days, a day on Wet’ n’ Wild (wetnwild.com.au) is difficult to beat. Bring your swimsuit and towel and spend a whole day amid water-based attractions. Try AquaLoop, where you stand in a capsule and the floor opens so that you fall into a tube, sometimes reaching speeds around 60 km per hour. Come early to avoid congestion. Dreamworld (dreamworld.com.au) is the country’s largest amusement park and features roller coasters and a variety of other attractions. If you plan to visit more than one amusement park, you can buy a discounted pass (wotif.com/things-to-do/7-day-super-pass-movie-world-sea-world-wetnwild-water-world.a290679.activity-details). A zoo well worth a visit is Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (wotif.com/things-to-do/currumbin-wildlife-sanctuary-tickets.a170587.activity-details) that lies a few kilometres north of Gold Coast Airport. Challenge yourself to climb high among the treetops in the Tree Tops Challenge Adventure Park (wotif.com/things-to-do/admission-to-treetop-challenge-high-ropes-adventure-park.a439794.activity-details) which is adjacent to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets (surfersparadise.com/things-to-do/beachfront-markets) is held in the evenings on every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday down at the beach in Surfers. Around 120 different stalls sell overrated souvenirs, finer crafts and everything in between. In bad weather, the market is cancelled. To keep track of the latest update, take a look at their Facebook page (facebook.com/SurfersParadiseBeachfrontMarkets).
It is teeming with night clubs and pubs in Surfers Paradise, most of which are located along Orchid Avenue. Sin City (sincitynightclub.com.au) is a big drawcard for older teenagers and twenty-something with DJs and special drink offers. To hang out with a slightly older clientele, Surfers Paradise Beergarden (surfersbeergarden.com.au) might be a better fit. They often have live music and many kinds of draught beer. If you are interested in craft beers you can go on a arranged tour to some of the Gold Coast’s most appreciated places (wotif.com/things-to-do/highlight-tour-of-gold-coast-breweries-with-tastings.a438075.activity-details). For something to eat, Alfresco on Elston (alfrescogc.com) at 2/3 3018 Surfers Paradise Boulevard in Surfers Paradise is a good choice. It is an Italian restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere that pumps out finely prepared dishes. Pizza, pasta and risotto are some of the elementary dishes prepared by the Italian family that runs the kitchen. But shellfish and meat are also served. They do take-away. Citrique Restaurant (marriott.com/hotel-restaurants/oolsp-surfers-paradise-marriott-resort-and-spa/citrique/57220/home-page.mi) can be found at Surfers Paradise Marriot Resort & Spa at 158 Ferny Avenue. They serve a most appreciated seafood buffet, including shrimps, oysters and crabs. An absolute must in Surfers.
Good to know
There is a Visitor Information Centre in the domestic terminal at Gold Coast Airport, as well as one in Surfers Paradise on 2/18 Riverview Parade.
Warnings and preparations
Avoid school leave, and especially Schoolie’s Week (schoolies.com), which is when Australia’s high school students get off school and celebrates this with a trip to the Gold Coast. Otherwise, you will have to put up with an abundance of pesky youngsters. As the sun shines almost every day of the year, it is possible to visit the Gold Coast regardless of season. However, count on temperatures being slightly lower in the hinterland during the winter.
Several low-budget airlines fly to Gold Coast Airport which is located a few kilometres away from Coolangatta. Several companies fly here from other domestic airports, but mainly from Brisbane. There are also international flights to cities in Asia and New Zealand (wotif.com/Flights). From Brisbane Airport you can get to the Gold Coast with the help of Air Train (airtrain.com.au). Otherwise, Greyhound buses run to Surfers Paradise. Cars can be rented at airports or cities (wotif.com/Car-Hire). Surfside (surfside.com.au) run buses between the Gold Coast and other coastal cities.
There is quite a wide selection of accommodation options along the Gold Coast. The vast majority are located in the main resort Surfers Paradise (hotelscombined.com/Place/Surfers_Paradise.htm). Many are close to the beach which is the resort’s main attraction. With lots of young visitors, there is a whole bunch of hostels to choose from. It is not unusual that they have different offers for night clubs that they are trying to impose on you. Surfers Paradise Backpackers Resort (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Surfers_Paradise_Backpackers_Resort.htm) is centrally located at 2837 Gold Coast Highway, not far from the night clubs and restaurants and very close to the beach. They have free Wi-Fi and washing machines. Swimming pool and tennis court are also available on site. They organize appreciated nights out and pub crawls.
Gold Coast Backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Gold_Coast_Backpackers_Hostel.htm) at 28 Hamilton Avenue is a clean and simple hostel a few minutes’ walk from night clubs, the beach and shops. It is an option that is slightly quieter, and they have their own bar. If you are looking for accommodation more suitable for an adult, there are apartments and condo hotels nearby. Copacabana Holiday Apartments (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Copacabana_Apartments.htm) is located a few steps from the beach in Surfers at 24 Hamilton Avenue. Affordable accommodation where all rooms have a balcony. Rooms are air conditioned and have a private kitchen. The area has two swimming pools lined with palm trees.
Xanadu Holiday Resort (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Xanadu_Resort.htm) at 59 Pacific Street have stunning views of Main Beach. This is a finer apartment hotel with large open spaces, fresh kitchen and balconies. They have one- and two-bedroom apartments to choose from. There are many facilities on site, including a spa area, swimming pool and a well-equipped gym. But also, a tennis court, a sauna and barbecue grills. Good campsites are a scarce commodity in the central areas of Surfers. If you want to camp, you can go north or south of the city to find a place to put up your tent. The website Visit Gold Coast (visitgoldcoast.com/where-to-stay/caravan-and-camping) lists some sensible options.
A Saturday on the Gold Coast
08:00 – Great start
Start the day with a filling breakfast, or why not a brunch, at Tribeca NYC (tribecanyc.com.au/breakfast) at 58 Thomas Drive on the slightly more peaceful Chevron Island. So much better than the sloppy eggs and bacon that many cafes serve up. Here you can order sandwiches with poached eggs, avocado smash and bagels. They have good coffee and tea. It’s worth to stay seated for some time to charge the batteries, getting ready for the day.
11:00 – Beach and surfing
After a slow morning with a large food intake you move towards the beach. Pack the sunscreen, your swimwear and a good book. Relax and immerse yourself in the sea when it gets too hot. Or be active and learn how to surf with Surfin Paradise (surfinparadise.com.au). They arrange surfing lessons where you, along with five others, will learn the basics. Then try to keep your balance on the board on your own. After all, you are in Surfers Paradise. To try surfing is kind of a part of the visit.
13:00 – Time for lunch
Back at Chevron Island for lunch, this time at Café Alfons at 38 Thomas Drive. They have good salads, grilled fish and wonderful coffee. And of course, tasty desserts. If you feel like having a look around, take a trip around the city or visit the Gold Coast City Gallery (theartscentregc.com.au/gallery) at 135 Bundall Road to look at art exhibitions. The entry is free.
16:00 – Viewing time
It’s time to properly have a look at the city. Feel the wind tear in your hair as you climb up to the top of the skyscraper Q1 (skypoint.com.au), or choose the more peaceful option by taking the elevator up to the viewing platform. No matter how you get up, you’ll have a breathtaking view of Surfers. The sea stretches out far, starting just in front of your feet, and you can see the mountains in the distance. This is an unbeatable photo opportunity.
18:00 – Dinner meal
Head to 9 Hamilton Avenue for dinner at Longboards Laidback Eatery (longboardsbar.com.au). This is the obvious choice when it comes to gourmet burgers on the Gold Coast, with around twenty different varieties to choose from. Worth noting is that they sell the burger Phat Bastard Burger at 1.8 kilos, so make sure to bring your appetite.
20:00 – Dance all night
After a long day with plenty of food and sun, it’s time to move those legs of yours. And in Surfers, visiting a nightclub is the thing. Bar crawl along Orchid Avenue and try every interesting bar until you find what you are looking for.