The Gold Coast is where Australia goes to party. But it’s also a surprisingly sophisticated destination with fine dining and the arts soaring, along with real estate prices.
But since hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2018, Australia’s Gold Coast holiday strip seems to have been working overtime to shed its reputation for tackiness.
What was once little more than a boozy party scene has evolved into a bona-fide arts and culture destination, thanks to a boom in visitors and more Australians moving north for its year-round sub-tropical weather.
Stretching from Southport in the north to Coolangatta in the south, the Gold Coast is now Australia’s sixth-biggest city, boasting more than half a million residents and a local economy that generates 241,000 jobs and is worth $25.7 billion a year.
That’s at risk this year as the tourism industry struggles to overcome a downturn caused by the devastating Australian bushfires and a ban on tourists from China – its biggest overseas tourism market – entering Australia due to the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s firmly on the radar of gold-class travellers.
But with the wave of change that’s occurring – from the beaches of Surfers Paradise to the hinterland of Tamborine Mountain – the Gold Coast is proving to be a popular (dare we say sophisticated) destination for Australian travellers.
Ninety two per cent of visitors to this corner of south-east Queensland actually come from within Australia.
And with more five and six-star hotel rooms being built on the Gold Coast over the next five years than in any other Australian city, it’s firmly on the radar of gold-class travellers.
Boutique restaurant precincts are popping up in areas like Runaway Bay, Mermaid Beach, Nobbys Beach, North Burleigh, Burleigh Heads and Palm Beach.
And the city’s art sector is thriving, from Indigenous culture to local contemporary music and innovative art forms, thanks to government funding.
One thing’s for sure: if you haven’t visited the Gold Coast for several years, you may not recognise it. Here’s a few things to see and do.
You could be forgiven for thinking the Gold Coast is just one long stretch of sand.
With about 70 kilometres of beaches and four epic point breaks, the coastline is home to some of Australia’s most popular surf beaches, stretching from Southport in the north to Coolangatta in the south.
Iconic beaches like Currumbin, Kirra, Palm, Burleigh, Mermaid, Nobby, Main and Broadbeach are just some of the favourite surf spots.
The southern points at Snapper Rocks – Kirra, Rainbow Bay and Duranbah, which combine to form the Superbank – are generally considered the best spots for serious surfing.
Currumbin Alley, or ‘the alley’, is probably the safest, easiest, and most learner-friendly location on the Gold Coast. You can also take group or individual surf lessons at Currumbin with Surfing Services Australia.
Surf life savers patrol the main beaches 365 days a year, but swimmers should stay between the red and yellow flags at all times. At night, the beach is usually illuminated for evening strolls.
Arts & Culture
The arts and creative communities are leading the cultural revolution that’s occurring on the Gold Coast.
Dust Temple, is an old warehouse located along a really diverse stretch of Currumbin Creek Road that has been lovingly re-imagined into one of the city’s most-loved creative event and gallery spaces. Dust Temple hosts regular exhibitions as well as fortnightly life drawing classes, and it’s also the home to SOFA Gallery.
At Mermaid Beach you’ll also find international artists exhibiting at 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace, next to The Sweet Fine Art Studio offering wine and life-drawing classes, right beside fashion designer Isabelle Quinn.
At artist-run The Walls Art Space in Miami, south of Surfers Paradise, anyone with flair can hang their creativity.
Not that long ago, the fanciest meals on the Gold Coast featured schnitzel and chips at one of the many surf clubs. But that’s changed over the past four years with new and innovative restaurants opening every month.
Just six kilometres south of Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach is a food lover’s mecca, with everything from Italian and Japanese to Bavarian and Middle Eastern fare. One of my favourites is Rivea, formerly known as Bin 89, with its tasty share plates.
The Cuban bar and lounge offers a taste of Havana at Broadbeach, with tasty dishes such as Latin American salmon ceviche and honey cinnamon pork belly.
The very touristy Cavill Avenue – lined with shops, nightclubs, bars, and fast food outlets – is still worth a visit.
A highlight is the new Asian street alleyway on Cavill Lane known as Chop Chop (3113 Surfers Paradise Boulevard), with an assortment of Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Balinese and Indian dishes.
Locals and tourists alike are going wild for White Rhino (55 Cavill Ave) and its Moreton Bay bug pizza. It features five bug tails delicately shelled and sliced, marinated in chilli and garlic before being scattered atop a soft, white dough.
Also worth booking: Rick Shores, 3/43 Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads: This popular beachfront restaurant does a clever interpretation of cuisine from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Korea. Mamasan Kitchen and Bar, 3 Oracle Boulevard, Broadbeach: Traditional and modern South East Asian cuisine and cocktails to match. Lucky Bao, 6/90 Markeri St, Mermaid Waters: These guys were early on the bao bandwagon. They do an amazing confit pork belly with cucumber pickle and hoisin sauce.
Miami Marketta, which opened in 2011, was the first of a string of Asian night market-style dining operations to pop up across the Gold Coast in recent years, making it something of a pioneer in the transformation of the local culinary scene.
A line-up of international food trucks, artisan stalls and a new Gin Parlour attract a strong crowd every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening.
The hawker-style street food market strewn with fairy lights occupies a previously abandoned warehouse at 23 Hillcrest Parade at Miami, about 8 km south of Surfers Paradise.
Wednesday is tapas night while Friday and Saturday nights feature culinary favourites from Japan, Thailand, Spain, Mexico, France, Greece and Italy.
Keep in mind the stalls only accept cash and that it can be hard to find a table if you don’t reserve in advance. Stop by Lost Palms Brewing Company for a frosty IPA while you’re there.
The Gold Coast’s after dark scene has also evolved from the seedy, pole-dancing nightclubs that once defined it.
While the climate is ideal for rooftop bars – and there are plenty of them – the city has also embraced hidden bars.
The entrance to Broadbeach’s Soho Place– the Gold Coast’s first official small bar – is concealed behind a bright red door in the shape of a London telephone box, and if you can find Burleigh’s Lockwood speakeasy, you’ll still need to text the venue to gain entry.
From large shopping malls to retail outlets, and cultural markets to farmers’ markets, the Gold Coast boasts a range of shopping options when you need a break from the beach.
Cavill Avenue is the shopping and entertainment heart of Surfer’s Paradise. The street stretches from the city centre through Cavill Mall to the sun-splashed beaches along the Esplanade.
Dotted with date palms and Norfolk pines, the pedestrian-only Cavill Mall is a focal point with its alfresco eateries, restaurants, boutiques, and abundant entertainment venues. Paradise Centre, at Cavill Mall, has around 120 speciality shops as well as a Woolworths supermarket.
You can take the tram from Surfers Paradise to Broadbeach where you’ll find Pacific Fair Shopping Centre. It includes a Myer department store and a Woolworths.
The biggest indoor shopping on the Coast is Robina Town Centre – which has more than 300 speciality shops as well two major department stores, Myer and David Jones. It’s just 20 minutes from Surfers Paradise by car, and buses leave Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach regularly.
If outlet shopping is more your thing, Harbour Town (147-189 Brisbane Road, Biggera Waters) is the holy grail of discount shopping on the Gold Coast. Billed as Australia’s largest outlet shopping centre, this is the place to go for discounts of up to 60 per cent on normal retail.
Ashmore Factory Outlets (12 Central Park Avenue, Ashmore) is around 20 minutes from Surfers Paradise. It’s popular for surf brands like Billabong and Quiksilver, and there’s also a Sunglass Clearance Warehouse.
A visit to The Village Markets is a great way to kick start your Sunday. The boutique fashion and lifestyle market is open on the first and third Sunday of every month at Burleigh Heads State School from 8.30 am to 1 pm.
Art and Craft on the Coast Markets are held every Sunday on the beach fronts at Broadbeach, Coolangatta and Burleigh Heads. With up to 150 stalls, they sell a variety of locally handmade products, souvenirs and fresh produce.
Q1 SkyPoint Climb
Conquer your fears by taking part in Australia’s highest external building climb – trekking up 298 stairs to the top of the iconic Q1 Tower. It’s the highest vantage point on the Gold Coast, with 360-degree views as far as the eye can see.
The 90-minute SkyPoint Climb is no easy feat but the views from 270 metres above sea level are priceless. For the less adventurous, head to the SkyPoint Observation Deck on level 75. It’s a mere 230 metres above sea level.
The newly refurbished SkyPoint bistro and bar is also a great place to soak up the view over a drink and tapas.
You simply cannot visit the Gold Coast without spending time at one of the big four theme parks.
The Gold Coast is Australia amusement park capital, with Dreamworld (including White Water World), Wet ‘n’ Wild, Sea World and Warner Bros Movie World all longtime favourites with tourists and locals alike.
While it’s been a tough ride for the industry since a devastating accident killed four people at Dreamworld in 2016, the theme parks are investing heavily in new rides, attractions and safety measures to win back fans.
Dreamworld, twice voted the number one tourist attraction in Queensland, unveiled a new $17 million virtual reality ride last summer called Sky Voyager – the first of many new attractions its owner Ardent Leisure plans to roll out over the next 12 to 18 months.
Sky Voyager is like a flying theatre and has thrill-seekers swooping, diving, gliding and jetting over iconic spots like Sydney Harbour, Surfers Paradise and the Barossa Valley.
There are more than 100,000 hectares of World Heritage-listed rainforests and native woodlands to explore near the Gold Coast.
Springbrook National Park is home to native wildlife and four sections of walking trails with stunning lookouts.
At Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, you can wander through open animal enclosures, feeding kangaroos and cuddling koalas along the way.
You might also want to take a walk on the Tallebudgera Creek side of the Burleigh Headland. You’ll learn customs of traditional owners the Yugambeh people and hear the Dreamtime story of Jabreen the giant, whose gnarled fingers can be seen protruding from the headland.
Despite its reputation as a graveyard for elite sporting teams (so many teams have tried and failed there), the Gold Coast is home to both major football codes – the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL and the Gold Coast Suns in the AFL.
Although neither team has set the world on fire in recent years, at least you can catch a game of football on any given weekend when the Titan’s play at Robina’s Cbus Stadium or the Suns at Carrara’s Metricon Stadium (AFL).
The Magic Millions Carnival – a horse racing festival tailor made for buyers, punters and fashionistas – is held every January.
There’s also the Gold Coast Triathlon in April; the Corona Open Gold Coast which is the first stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour; the Gold Coast Marathon in July; and the GC600 Supercar event on the last weekend in October.
From Gold Coast Airport, you can take the #761 or #777 bus and within 45 minutes you’ll be in the heart of Surfers Paradise. SkyBus also provides airport transfers for $15 one way.
Be sure to pick up a Gold Coast go explore card, which provides unlimited daily travel everywhere on the tram, trains and bus services from just $10 per day or $5 for children.
It also includes Airport bus #777 to and from airport, plus theme park express bus services.
Use the Gold Coast Visitor’s Map to plan your next visit.
© 2020 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved.
You Might Have Seen Our Work In These Publications