The Gold Coast is 34 miles of white sandy beaches and aqua blue water fringed by a green hinterland. The Queensland weather is beautiful one day and picture-perfect the next. As a holiday destination, the Gold Coast is one of the best places to immerse yourself in Australia’s national colors: green and gold. There’s the golden sands and glitz of the Gold Coast, plus the green of the nearby hinterland, with its walking tracks in subtropical forests, national parks, and wellness retreats.
Timing A Stop On The Gold Coast
Like Florida, Australia’s famous Gold Coast has beaches and theme parks, making it a popular destination for family and multi-generational travel. To avoid these crowds, plan your visit outside of Australian school holidays and the two-week celebration known as schoolies, which is somewhat similar to spring break in the U.S.
Visiting in these quieter times means access to first-class amenities without the crowds. The Gold Coast boasts some of Australia’s best beaches, and each has its own unique vibe. Some of the best include: Main Beach, Surfers Paradise Beach, Kurrawa Beach, Mermaid Beach, Miami Beach, Burleigh Heads, Palm Beach, Snapper Rocks, Kirra Beach, and Greenmount Beach at Coolangatta. Since the Gold Coast is a long strip, you can walk between many of these. An interactive beach map is available here (scroll down the linked page to see it).
Most beaches are patrolled and manned by lifeguards. For your safety, swim between the flags. The Gold Coast boasts a fit and tanned lifestyle and offers miles of ocean view walking paths, bike tracks, free outdoor fitness equipment, and over 40 golf courses. High-rise buildings offer apartments with magnificent ocean views, and there are also more private options such as glam vans and small docked yachts. The abundance of accommodation means good prices. You can book a water-view apartment with a balcony from around $100 a night.
Most tourists stay in the area known as Surfers Paradise, which has a strip of souvenir shops, but nearby Broadbeach is more sophisticated with trendy boutiques and cafes. Gold Coast meals range from eating inexpensively at local surf clubs right on the beach to dining at award-winning chef-hatted restaurants. Then, behind the high-rise buildings and the glitz of the Gold Coast is the nurturing solace of the green hinterland.
The following four-day itinerary is concentrated on some of the lesser-known Gold Coast activities that invite you to sample the green and the gold. These recommendations will help you plan your trip and inspire an itinerary for when you can travel to Australia.
Day 1: Gold Coast
A day perhaps for just coasting. Although, even if sleeping in, send your early riser off to buy fresh seafood direct from the returning trawlers. Collectively called the Fishermen’s Co-Operative, these boats are where locals and chefs source tiger and king prawns (shrimp, raw or cooked), spanner crabs, and lobster, also called Balmain bugs.
For breakfast, Bumbles is a homey house turned cafe that's popular with locals who try to keep it their secret. Despite the buzzy name, Bumbles is in a residential area overlooking the river. Feast your eyes on the homemade cakes for future afternoon tea rewards. Or, if you just need to kick-start your day, Stairwell, a hole-in-the-wall place, has great coffee. Perhaps you could brave one of their Vegemite bagels. Ask for just a smear as the sharp taste of Vegemite takes some getting used to.
Now for a walk that puts the Gold Coast in perspective. The Federation Walk Coastal Reserve offers sweeping views of the linear Gold Coast coastline that spans from Surfers Paradise to Coolangatta. Start at Philip Park, opposite the Sea World entrance parking lot. The easy 4.3-mile round trip walk suits all fitness levels as there are numerous rest stops and a cafe at the end. Along this tree-lined walk, you’ll have glimpses of the ocean where you can spot sea eagles or even breaching humpback whales. The locals you spy will be at their finest: surfing, bike riding, running, and meditating.
Most of us like to hunt down shopping bargains on vacation. One of my holiday haunts is Harbour Town Premium Outlets, which has 240 outlet stores. There's a stunning new open-air dining precinct lined with palm trees. While it's the place for big-name international brands, it is worth noting that some, such as UGG and Oroton, started in Australia (the boots were invented by an Australian surfer and the luxury handbag company was founded in 1938). The gifts I tend to buy are surf and leisurewear; they’re great for outfitting my teenage grandchildren. If you have a non-shopping partner, there’s free Wi-Fi at the outlets, or perhaps they need a gentle reminder about all those golf courses.
For dinner, throw prawns on the “barbie.” Your accommodation may have barbecues in its bougainvillea trailing gardens. If not, there are over 380 public barbecues in Gold Coast beach reserves that offer surf and sunset views.
Or, if everyone in your party slept in this morning, head out for Kingfish sashimi and oysters served with a Thai vinaigrette at Rick Shores. The restaurant has epic views of Rainbow Bay overlooking the famous Snapper Rocks surf break. Finish off with one of Gelato Messina’s 40 freshly churned flavors of gelato and a seaside wander.
Day 2: Gold Coast Waterways
As the Gold Coast is a waterside paradise, lap it up. Try breakfast at the Palazzo Versace with its bespoke Versace furnishings. Perhaps coffee or morning mimosas beside the 200-foot lagoon pool in your very own private cabana. There are views of the marina in the distance and of the passing superyachts and boats, although you may find yourself celebrity spotting instead. I won’t name drop, but since the Gold Coast is home to Village Roadshow Studios (the largest studios in the Southern Hemisphere), Hollywood star sightings are common.
View the Gold Coast's tall buildings from the perspective of being out at sea. Set sail aboard a luxurious chartered catamaran with Sailing in Paradise, or in whale-watching season (generally May to November), experience the wondrous sight of migrating humpback whales with Sea World Cruises or Spirit of Gold Coast’s whale watching charters. These depart right next door to the Palazzo Versace from the Mariners Cove Marina, next to Marina Mirage.
Have a late lunch at the award-winning Marina Restaurant at Southport Yacht Club. Enjoy stunning views of the club’s private 300-yacht marina while you tuck into oysters Kilpatrick, Moreton Bay bug meat (lobster) linguine, and a glass of Australian wine.
In the late afternoon, jump in the car or an Uber for a six-minute drive (or take the 30-minute walk) to the popular and aptly named Surfers Paradise precinct. Surfers, as Aussies call it, is a mecca for entertainment, beachside shopping, dining, and trendy bars. Wander along the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets dotting the foreshore at the end of Cavill Avenue, where local artisans sell fashion items, tasteful souvenirs, knickknacks, and locally made foodstuffs. The markets are open Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday nights starting at 5 p.m.
Day 3: Burleigh Heads And Currumbin
Time to turn from the gold to the green. Burleigh Head National Park is a 30-minute drive from the Gold Coast and is free to enter. The Ocean View track is an easy 0.8-mile (one way) trail that offers spectacular views of the seaway entrance of Tallebudgera Creek, the neighboring coastline of Palm Beach, and vistas all the way to Surfers Paradise. For a swim, turn right at the fork 10 minutes into your walk via the south Tallebudgera Creek entrance to visit secluded Echo Beach. Or there’s a patrolled, lifeguarded area at Burleigh Heads Beach at the north end of the park. The other walk is the Rainforest Circuit (1.4 miles round trip). This is more challenging with 100 steps and several gradually inclined paths, but the reward is a viewing platform with unobstructed views of the southern Gold Coast.
For rejuvenation, head to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat tucked away in the lesser-known hinterland region of Tallebudgera Valley. Partly owned by actor Hugh Jackman, it’s an impressive ecotourism-certified retreat with indoor and outdoor spa rooms, meditation suites amidst the trees, and a large elevated outdoor deck and lounge area with stunning views. It is not open for walk-ins, but you can prebook an incredible range of luxurious spa treatments for both men and women. Or, stay here in tasteful lodging including heritage cottages and villas built over the water. If staying for a wellness or detox program, they offer Qi Gong (a type of meditation), guided walks, yoga, wellness seminars, and organic meals. Note the minimum stay is two nights, which can be enjoyed as part of Gwinganna’s Graceful Ageing package.
If not spending the day at the spa, there is a lot to do in Currumbin. Freeman’s Organic Farm (normally open Friday to Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) has a cafe with wonderful valley views, organic produce sales, and Sunday farm tours. If heading back to your coastal accommodation, then a stop at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place for tourists who would dearly love to hold a koala. This experience needs to be booked in advance. If you just wish to observe koalas in their treetops, then general zoo entry will suffice. Throw into this eventful day a tasting of award-winning beer at Balter Brewing Company.
Day 4: Gold Coast To Canungra
O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards with its picturesque grounds stretching alongside the banks of Canungra Creek is less than an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast. Part of this complex includes Killowen, a historic homestead serving gourmet breakfasts, indulgent lunches, and simple wine tastings at the bar. Outside options include barbecue or antipasto picnics on the lawns by the creek. For a novelty date, book one of the resident alpacas. Your assigned cutie comes with a lead so they can accompany you on a walk through the vines as you search for the perfect picnic spot.
Just 45 minutes from Canungra Valley Vineyards is O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, which offers a host of free activities from treetop walks and feeding rainforest birds including Crimson Rosellas and King Parrots to short strolls in the surrounding 99 miles of nature trails. You could easily spend the whole day here. Paid experiences include a four-wheel-drive tour through an ancient rainforest to the mystical Glow Worm Grotto and a billy (campfire) tea and history tour. Or head to O’Reilly’s Lost World Day Spa for facials, massages, and even a unique vinotherapy session that affords vacationers the anti-aging properties and novelty of soaking in locally made wine. Meals are available on site and O’Reilly’s has the stunning Moonlight Crag deck with wonderful sunset views.
If not heading back to the Gold Coast for the night, there are 48 self-contained villas on the property. Stay the night and you can experience magnificent views of the western McPherson Ranges and wider Scenic Rim region, not to mention an unforgettable sunset right from your villa door. Have additional time? Head north from Canungra for more coastline on our Great Barrier Reef road trip: Bundaberg to Daintree.