There’s more to this glitzy beach-side city than high-rises and rollers! The Gold Coast has a wealth of natural geographical beauty, healthy haunts and curious culture to offer alongside the mega-clubs and super yachts. Once you start to delve a little deeper, you could be pleasantly surprised by the many quirks and intricacies flying under the radar at this notorious holiday hot spot.
The green behind the gold
Weaving through the concrete jungle of Surfers Paradise, you’d never guess that a World Heritage-listed wilderness is less than an hour’s drive away. Springbrook and Lamington National Parks make a refreshing escape from the city bustle, and offer spectacular bush walks through historical rainforests. Start with the rewarding Purling Brook Falls circuit in Springbrook and cap it off with scenic eye candy at the aptly named Best of All Lookout just down the road.
Secret swimming holes
The beaches here are already legendary, but they’re not the only place to take a dip. The Gold Coast is peppered with magnificent waterfalls and natural swimming holes that offer cool respite from the sizzling sand and powerful surf. One of the best has to be Cougal Cascades at the edge of Springbrook National Park, where you can marinate in a series of pretty, terraced pools formed over thousands of years of natural water erosion.
The GC has never been renowned for subtlety – this is a city where gold bikini-clad ‘meter maids’ were once the star attraction, after all – but the famously flashy town is fast developing cool-kid cred. Photogenic cafes and restaurants are popping up all along the coast: at Burleigh Heads, the achingly hip Rick Shores restaurant teams smart pan-Asian fare with a show-stopping view. Meanwhile in Mermaid Beach, Bam Bam Bakehouse combines a rustic French fit-out with truly drool-worthy pastries.
A jaw-dropping $670 million expansion has transformed the tired Pacific Fair mall at Broadwater into a fashionista’s dream. With flagship stores from the world’s top labels and a luxe tropical vibe, it’s less like a shopping centre and feels more akin to visiting a resort. If you’re not keen on tackling the mega complex, go treasure hunting in the Gold Coast’s back streets instead. You can find the signature peach door of garden-slash-homeware store The Borrowed Nursery nestled between warehouses and garages in Mermaid Beach, and an enclave of fashion boutiques championing Aussie labels on James Street in Burleigh Heads.
Totally wild locals
The lush coastline is home to an array of wildlife, from koalas and kangaroos to a staggering range of native and migratory birds. You don’t even have to leave the city to catch a glimpse: Federation Walk near Main Beach is a relaxing 3km stroll through a diverse bird habitat. Keep your eyes peeled for the colourful rainbow bee-eater and the striking red-backed fairywren as you meander through dunes and coastal forest.
A vibrant arts scene
With its dazzling casinos and bedazzled locals you could be forgiven for thinking the Goldie is somewhat lacking in substance, but there’s a thriving arts scene harboured amidst the glitz for culture-vultures to explore. The trick is to look where you least expect it, like in an industrial zone just behind Mermaid Beach. That’s where you’ll find 19 Karen, a sprawling art space filled with work from local and international contemporary artists. If you take your art with a side of espresso, head to Dust Temple in Currumbin Waters, a cool creative space that’s both gallery and café.
Home grown glitter
Linger in the rainforest after dark and you’ll realise this area has always been organically adorned with bling. Australia’s largest colony of glow worms create a magical fairyland under Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park, while glowing fireflies and luminescent fungi light up seasonally throughout the national parks for nocturnal explorers with a keen eye.
Bars with personality
This city isn’t immune to the secret bar trend, and its bustling highway is the perfect spot to hide tiny, trendy speakeasies. If you can drag yourself away from the glamorous water views of the tourist traps, you’ll find an exciting world of underground drinking dens. In Broadwater, a door masquerading as telephone box marks the entrance to Soho Place, a nook serving high-end cocktails. Then there's the appropriately named Hidden, in Tugun, dishes up tapas and wine to accompany live music and burlesque, of course.
Thanks to its lush hinterland and tropical weather, the Gold Coast is blessed with amazing fresh produce. You can quite literally get your hands on it at biodynamic farm Currumbin Valley Harvest. Open on weekends only, the unique site allows visitors to pick their own produce from the abundant veggie patch, stock up on more local farm-fresh supplies in the shop, and finish off with a cuppa in the creek-side café.
Think it’s all about the bright lights of a big city on a busy beach? This isn’t Miami, but Australia, where laid-back living is an art form. Take a turn off the hectic Gold Coast Highway at Tallebudgera Creek and you’ll find yourself in a peaceful paradise where the calm river laps a sandy, palm-fringed shore – perfect for a lazy stand up paddle or swim. There are many more pockets of tranquility all along this 57km stretch of coastline – why not make it your mission to find a favourite.