Why the Gold Coast?
Apart from being the host city for this year’s Commonwealth Games, the Gold Coast is the gateway to Queensland – the “Sunshine State”. Famed for its long sandy beaches, world-class surfing breaks, theme parks and old-school “Meter Maids” (clad in gold hotpants they pay your parking meter for you), the sixth largest city in Australia also has one of the country’s most recognisable skylines.
Ideally situated an hour’s drive from Brisbane, the state capital, and the northern New South Wales beach enclaves of Byron Bay and Bangalow – Olivia Newton-John and Chris Hemsworth have homes here – the Gold Coast has many faces. If Surfers Paradise, with its beaches and popular Cavill Avenue shopping and entertainment zone is its heartbeat, then the Gold Coast hinterland, with its national parks and mountain retreats, is one of its major arteries. But it’s not all about the environment in which the city thrives. In a bid to elevate itself in a cultural sense, the arts precinct is currently being re-imagined, with the former Arts Centre Gold Coast (now known as the Home of the Arts or Hota) undergoing a multimillion-dollar transformation.
The Evandale precinct currently has an outdoor stage and concert lawn, a cafe, two cinemas, an art gallery and a dedicated theatre space, and by 2023 will have a new art gallery and a bridge linking it to Surfers Paradise. The laid-back vibes and year-round picture-perfect weather will have first-time visitors wondering why they hadn’t visited sooner.
A comfortable bed
The biggest decision you need to make here is where you want to be – in the centre of the city, in the hinterland or on the southern end of the coast. Palazzo Versace at Main Beach is perhaps the most elaborate choice. A room here will set you back about A$399 (Dh1,126) per night during low season, and could land you with neighbours like P!nk or Beyoncé, depending on who is in town.
A little further south Peppers Broadbeach is great for beach dwellers and those wanting to be close to the action. Most suites here offer uninterrupted sea views and start from A$299 (Dh844) per night. Burleigh Beach Tourist Park is ideal for those with less luxurious intentions, as is Tallebudgera Creek Tourist Park, with standard cabin accommodation costing as little as A$57 (Dh296) a night.
Up in the mountains, a 30-minute drive from the city, Witches Falls Cottages with its national park surrounds is worth a look at A$250 (Dh705) per night (conditions apply), as is the Cedar Glen Farmstay – the whole family will enjoy the Australian experience here for A$350 per night, cottage-only.
Find your feet
With the Gold Coast’s 60 kilometres of coastline, 600km of canal and 100,000 hectares of nature reserve surrounding it, there are plenty of places to find your feet. I’d suggest starting in Cavill Avenue, the popular entertainment/shopping precinct in the centre of Surfers Paradise. If you’re not staying in this part of the Gold Coast a walk around the pedestrianised mall on your first day lets you mark one of the city’s must-see attractions off your list.
No matter how long you’re staying, make sure you take a seaside stroll. The 30-minute oceanview walk from Burleigh Heads to Tallebudgera Creek is lovely, and you can opt to take an alternative route back via the rainforest. For a proper hike though, the Gold Coast hinterland has 154 trails to choose from. A wander through Southport Broadwater Parklands is also recommended. Apart from being a great spot for a picnic and a paddle in the rock pools, it is also home to the new Gold Coast Aquatic Centre , which is the venue for the swimming and diving programmes at the Games during the next fortnight.
Meet the locals
Just about every beachfront suburb has its own surf club, and it’s at these you will come across many a local, be they volunteer lifeguards, mad surfers grabbing a bite in between swells, or families enjoying a long lunch or prepping for a Sunday afternoon barbecue. The cafe scene is also a lively part of the Coast lifestyle, and with some of the best coffee shops found in places like Burleigh Heads and Broadbeach, you’ll certainly get a feel for the place while sipping on your latte. The Burleigh Headland is an ideal spot to put down the picnic rug and enjoy the fish and chips alongside the so-called “GC” set. And although on the NSW side of the Coast, popular beach breaks like Snapper Rocks and Kirra are great spots for a beachside lunch – you might even see Aussie surfing champion Mick Fanning.
Book a table
Food is as much a part of the landscape as the beaches. For the best waterfront dining, you can’t go past Rick Shores at Burleigh Heads – it sits right on the beach and has an Asian fusion menu offering contemporary dishes that will please those with a taste for Vietnamese and Thai, and of course, the seafood is great too. Mains here start from A$34 (Dh95). Seafood lovers should head straight for one of the region’s surf clubs, where you’ll get good quality offerings at good prices. Currumbin Surf Club in the south is one of the best, with a seafood platter for two from A$75 (Dh211).
Those looking for fine-dining options should check out Ristorante Fellini in the Marina Mirage complex at Main Beach, where you can enjoy handmade pastas with straight-off-the-trawler seafood. There are plenty of sunset drink venues, The Island Rooftop, also at Main Beach, is fast becoming a preferred spot among the locals for its vibe and views. If you’re after a hidden coffee gem, however, you should seek out Bumbles Cafe at Budds Beach. For street food, head to Miami Marketta.
If you’re a shopper, you’ll want to leave plenty of time for retail therapy. Pacific Fair continues to be the go-to shopping mall thanks to its recent multimillion-dollar overhaul – you’ll find luxury brands, Aussie retailers and upmarket restaurants here, and there’s a valet parking service. Robina Town Centre is also worth a trip, but is out of the city centre.
The best outlet shopping can be found at Harbour Town , which is a 15-minute drive north of Surfers Paradise, with more than 240 shops offering discounted brands. Carrara Markets are also worth a wander around on the weekends (Saturday/Sunday), with stalls open from 7am to 3pm.
Getting a selfie with the iconic Surfers Paradise Beach sign. Also make sure you take a trip up to SkyPoint Observation Deck atop the Q1 building. It affords visitors 360-degree views of the 60km of coastline 230 metres below. You can even climb around the outside of it for A$75 (Dh211) per person. For a real touch of Australiana though, book yourself tickets to the Outback Spectacular , which combines legendary Aussie yarns and animals with engaging stunts. For dinner and the show (and an Akubra hat) you’ll pay A$99 (Dh279) per person. Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is also a good day out, the kids will love cuddling a koala. If you visit in September, check out the Swell Sculpture Festival , and of course the theme parks are a good option for families. You can choose from Movie World, Dream World and Wet’n’Wild.
What to avoid
“Schoolies” – from mid-November to early-December – when Australia’s school leavers converge on the city. And if you’re not a fan of the V8s, avoid late October, as Surfers Paradise is cordoned off and the city full of revheads for the Gold Coast stage of the V8 Supercar Rally.
Etihad and Emirates fly direct from Abu Dhabi and Dubai to Brisbane respectively from about Dh6,045 return. The Gold Coast is an hour’s drive south.Trains run between the two.
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