’s high rise holiday strip isn’t all brashness and beaches. OK, it mainly is. But there’s other stuff too. Honest.
Why the Gold Coast?
If Australia has an equivalent of Florida, then the Gold Coast is it. For Australians, this is the high rise, fun-filled holiday strip, bathed in consistent sunshine and rammed to the gills with theme parks and watersports adrenalin rushes. It’s a brash, uncomplicated place – particularly in main hub Surfers Paradise where all of the mass market clichés are turned up to the maximum. But this coastal strip doesn’t stick to one personality. It’s a hodge-podge collection of seaside towns that have banded together as one sprawling city. And it’s simply a case of picking the one that best suits. Burleigh Heads is far less showy, and comfortable in its own quietness. Coolangatta, meanwhile, oozes a surf bum vibe – powered largely by the legendary Superbank break that crashes just off the shore.
A comfortable bed
Of the numerous apartment options, Soul (00 61 7 5665 4426) in Surfers Paradise is the classiest. Huge balconies with ocean views combine with showroom-style pristine white leather furniture and a facility overload. The landscaped rooftop parklands and pool on the third level are remarkable. One bedroom apartments cost from A$349.
The QT (00 61 7 5584 1200) is much more fun, with high design, plenty of colour and splashes of retro beach chic throughout. Rooms start at $219.
Komune (00 61 7 5536 6764) at Coolangatta has a friendly, hostel-style vibe with distinct surfer leanings, but the rooms and apartments are private and well-equipped. Expect an overdose of painted palm trees and flamingos on the walls. Doubles cost from A$120 (Dh390).
Find your feet
The one consistent thing across the whole Gold Coast is long, envy-inducing beaches. They’re hardly undiscovered, but it became the classic resort strip for a very good reason. For people watching, the beach at Surfers Paradise is the best for a toes-in-the-sand walk. Expect kite-surfers, posing muscle men and all manner of stalls and kids’ entertainment along the neighbouring Esplanade.
But the real charm of the Gold Coast is on the other side of the narrow spit, where the Nerang River hosts multi-million dollar homes and boat cruise operators. Between December and April, hop on whichever one is departing next. But between May and November, Whales In Paradise (00 61 7 5538 2111) throws in humpback whale-watching as well for A$95 (Dh309).
The more daredevilry-inclined may wish to stop on the way to clamber over the top of the Q1 tower – the A$69 Skypoint climb (00 61 7 5582 2700) allows vertigo-battlers to get 270m up on the rooftop with unmatched views of the beaches and other skyscraper peaks.
Meet the locals
If it all gets a bit too intense on the coastal strip (and, for locals, it frequently does), then a 40 minute drive uphill and inland will take you to Tamborine Mountain. Cutesy gallery and café-packed villages line up inside the northern rim of a humungous, extinct volcanic caldera, and the eucalypt forests of southern Australia butt heads with the lush green rainforests of the country’s north. The Rainforest Skywalk (00 61 7 5545 2222) is an excellent introduction to a landscape that man has mostly managed to wipe out – with interpretive signs lining the route along vertiginous walkways constructed just below the canopy roof.
Book a table
Seaduction (00 61 7 5635 5728) inside the Soul complex is leading the way for complex, inventive modern Australian dishes in a region that for a long time lagged behind big city restaurants in and Melbourne. Local providores are used where possible, and options include the $40 (Dh130) pan-roasted duck breast with fruited sweet potato puree, lime confit and coffee foam.
For seafood, the Fish House (00 61 7 5535 7725) at Burleigh Heads sources impeccably, and the chef’s banquet selection shows off generous proportions of the day’s best catch for A$75 (Dh244).
The Gold Coast’s shopping is very mall-orientated. The relatively small Marina Mirage at Main Beach has an upmarket slant, with a few international designer labels, and plenty of well-respected Aussie names, such as well-heeled womenswear designer Carla Zampatti.
For a proper credit card-thwacking, however, the Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre is the largest outlet mall in Australia, and offers bargain deals on mostly mid-range, high street style shops.
What to avoid
The Gold Coast spills over in school holidays and – especially – in November when the end of the school year brings partying teenagers in for three very messy weeks. Accommodation prices shoot up then, and theme park queues become hideous. At other times of the year, however, the best park for thrill-seekers is Dreamworld (00 61 7 5588 1111), home of numerous gut-churning rollercoasters. A day pass costs A$60.
It requires an obnoxiously early start, but Hot Air (00 61 1300 766 887) offers the chance to see the hilly interior just beyond the sandy strip from a hot air balloon. Horse paddocks, eucalypt groves and bounding kangaroos can be spied below as the balloon’s burners roar. The trip, including hotel pick-ups and a full breakfast after the flight, costs from A$250.
This guide was researched in September 2014 and written for The National.
All content copyright David Whitley.