With several action-packed theme parks, a huge party and nightclub scene, around three hundred days of sunshine a year, long wide beaches, perfect surf and even a huge shiny casino – Queensland’s glitzy Gold Coast is the place where locals, backpackers and holidaymakers go to get some sun, surf, and non-stop partying. Unashamedly brash, the coast’s main priorities are leisure and fun, and it really doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it.
I last visited the area as a shoe-string backpacker 15 years ago and stayed in a budget hostel in Surfer’s Paradise. Back then I have to admit it wasn’t my favourite place in Australia but last May I was invited as guest of Queensland tourist board and I was awe how much the coast had changed. High-rise beachfront apartments and hotels still imposingly flank the surf soaked beaches and Surfer’s Paradise still remains a little too chaotic and overbold but the rest of the areas are most definitely worth the stop. Broadbeach (where I was based and would definitely recommend) is sandy and chic and attracts the beautiful people in droves, Burleigh Heads has seaside charms and Coolangatta is known for its laid-back surfer vibe. There’s also a surprisingly varied range of activities on offer. Bit of a travel snob? Here are my recommendations for the best things do in the Gold Coast which would satisfy even the most hardened travel snobs out there…
Make the most of the beaches
This is arguably what is the Gold Coast is most famous for and although the developed area of the region might not be to everyone’s tastes, the vast golden stretches of sand are undeniably beautiful. There’s also plenty of them to choose from. The coast forms a virtually unbroken beach 40km long, stretching all the way from South Stradbroke Island past Surfers Paradise and Burleigh Heads to the New South Wales border at Coolangatta and the numerous beaches swarm with board riders and bathers all year round. Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads and South Stradbroke are some of the best.
Have lunch at the Cardamom Pod
With gorgeous decor and an easy-on-the eye clientele, the Cardamom Pod seems to epitomise the laid back chic of the Gold Coast’s Broadbeach. If you’re a die-hard meat fan it will also probably shake off any preconception you may have of a vegetarian/vegan restaurant. It has a relaxed atmosphere, well-chosen trendy background music and a team of affable staff who serve up tasty creative fare sans meat. They also offer flavoursome smoothies and desserts and gluten-free options are available if required. It’s also reasonably priced – for around $25 you can get three generous curries or vegetable hot dishes or salads, just make sure you try their marinated tofu sushi pockets and spiced kofta balls!
Go for a Hot Air Balloon ride
Take it from me, there’s really no better way of seeing the beautiful Gold Coast Hinterland than floating silently many feet above it and watching the sunrise! The hot air balloon ride, skillfully organised and executed by Queensland based Hotair.com was really one of those bucket list moments. With a fun, informative team, plenty of clean fresh morning air and views which were nothing short of spectacular, it was a truly incredible experience. After the trip, we were treated to a champagne breakfast served up in the picturesque O’Reilly’s Vineyard, a boutique vineyard and historic Queenslander homestead surrounded by seemingly endless rows of grapevines and a gently babbling creek. Even without the hot air balloon trip they welcome visitors with free wine tasting and maybe even a chance to spot a platypus or two.
Try a lesson at the Tamborine Cooking School
Cooking schools don’t get much more beautifully located this. Nestled in an almost story-book type setting atop the stunning Mount Tamborine (in the Gold Coast Hinterlands), the Tamborine Cooking school offers a variety of cookery lessons overseen by qualified Chef Terri Taylor. The idyllic surroundings offers more than just fabulous views; the fair climate and nutritious soil are also able to provide the school with locally grown produce of exceptional quality. I was lucky enough to participate in the French cooking lesson and the combination of Cherry’s enthusiasm, warm nature and encouraging manner made the whole thing a very pleasant experience! Terri shows you how to cook a broad range of delights using farm-fresh produce and simple techniques with plenty of insider tips thrown in. The highlight of course, was the tasting of our freshly cooked wares at the end of the lesson, served up with good company and fantastic views in an attractively laid dining room.
Take in the views at Skypoint
One of the Gold Coast’s most popular attractions, Skypoint is the place to go to really appreciate the coast in all its glitzy glory. Australia’s only beachside observation deck, it rises 230 meters into the sky and here you can sit back, relax and enjoy the seemingly unending 360-degree views of the area, extending from the swell of the surf to the unspoilt hinterlands beyond. If you’re feeling a little braver opt for the SkyPoint Climb where you’ll get to enjoy an exhilarating walk around the top of the region’s most iconic residential tower, Q1 – though definitely not for the scaredy cats like me!
Go for High Tea & a spa treatment at Palazzo Versace
The Gold Coast has more than its fair share of luxury hotels but there are few more extravagantly flamboyant than the Palazzo Versace. Dripping in gold embellished lavish furnishings, artful floral arrangements and with a lobby adorned with a 750kg chandelier, the hotel is the perfect accommodation showcase for the famous fashion brand. Firstly I visited their basement-located spa. The spa surroundings were as beautifully opulent and tranquil as I expected and staffed with attentive therapists who are clearly passionate about their chosen profession. They use their own brand of award-winning spa treatments (where only the purest extracts of botanically active ingredients were used) and the massage was unsurprisingly indulgent.
Next was their famous High Tea (aptly named the ‘Couture Tea’) and they even catered for my very tricky diet, gluten-free vegetarian. The delicate sweet treats, cakes and sandwiches were all exceptionally presented and suitably luxurious – it was the first time I’d ever seen gluten-free cakes layered with gold leaf! Served at the elegant Le Jardin Lobby Bar which is also the perfect spot to watch the passing parade of in-house guests and visitors who come to the hotel to enjoy a taste of the high life.
Stay at Pepper’s Broadbeach
I was based at the gorgeous Peppers Broadbeach during my week on the Gold Coast. This upscale all-suite hotel, set in high-rise towers on the Gold Coast, lies just a stone’s throw from the beach and offers a stylish design and panoramic views as well as boasting everything hi-tech and high-end. I was lucky enough to stay at the fabulous blogger room Queensland’s #room753 – a luxurious two-bedroom suite adorned with personalised touches such as photos, my favourite movies and music loaded onto the iPod docks. The fridge was filled with my favourite food (and even ginger beers with my photo on the label – yes seriously!), staff were exceptionally friendly and there was nothing quite like falling asleep to the lulling sound of ocean waves and opening my balcony doors to the beautiful beach every morning, it was very hard to leave!