Built for pleasure and remaining a place dedicated to sun, surf and the body beautiful, this strip of coast is possibly Australia’s most iconic holiday destination. Its shimmering high-rises can, when glimpsed from afar, resemble a make-believe city, and its reputation for tackiness is occasionally deserved. But this is far outstripped by the area's youthful spirit and startling physical beauty: some 52km of pristine sand with countless epic surf breaks, stunning sunsets, blissful water temperatures and 300 sunny days a year.
While Surfers Paradise’s malls and mega-clubs entertain the party-hard kids, the other neighbourhoods have distinct charms of their own, from booming culinary scenes and coastal chic to retro beach holiday nostalgia and laid-back local flavour. Not to be overlooked is the lush, misty subtropical rainforest of the hinterland – a good place to get in touch with the spirit of the traditional owners of this land, the Yugambeh people.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Gold Coast.
Burleigh Head is known to the local Kombumerri clan of the Yugambeh people as Jellurgal, who trace its formation to a creation spirit called Jabreen. As you walk the 1.2km (each way) Oceanview Track that edges this 27-hectare rainforest reserve, look out for the six-sided basalt columns Jabreen is said to have left in his wake. You might also spot sea eagles and, from May to November, whales. Side tracks lead up to a pair of lookouts.
Hugging the water's edge on the Southport side of the Broadwater estuary, this large park features free barbecues, beach volleyball, a swimming pontoon, restaurants and the Great Lawn, where big public events like the Mayor's Christmas Carols are held. Best of all is Rockpools, a free water park for toddlers, where colourfully painted marine critters squirt water into a series of paddling pools. It's also home to the large outdoor pools of the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre.
A 27-sq-km national park, Springbrook is an ancient volcanic landscape with a 900m-high plateau cut through with gorges and a few even loftier outcrops. It's a world away from the coast, with cool-temperate rainforest and eucalypt forest. A walking wonderland, it's full of some of Australia's oldest trees and rare bird life, dotted with excellent lookout points and rock pools, where you can cool off.
The 200-sq-km Lamington National Park is a Unesco World Heritage Site with more than 160km of walking trails. This is a wonderful place for bushwalking, including the three-day Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk, which runs 54km from Green Mountains (O'Reilly's) and across to the Springbrook Plateau.
This nicely restrained, old-style operation includes Australia’s biggest rainforest aviary, where you can hand-feed a technicolour blur of rainbow lorikeets. There’s also kangaroo and crocodile feeding, photo ops with koalas, reptile shows, a treetop ropes course and Aboriginal dance displays (some activities have fees). There's often an adults-at-kids-prices special online. Note, the parking is $10 extra – or you can park for two hours around the corner for free.
The headland of Point Danger marks the border between Queensland and New South Wales. There are amazing views from here both ways along the coast, and you can use it as a starting point or picnic end to several coastal walks. As well as being a memorial to James Cook, the 1970-built brutalist concrete tower that marks the spot (and the cardinal directions) is a working lighthouse. Once a laser, it's now a tried-and-true electric beacon.
Just off Springbrook Rd, the feathery Purling Brook Falls drops a rather astonishing 106m into the rainforest: worth braving the vertigo-inducing lookout.
Queensland’s oldest national park comprises 13 sections stretching across an 8km plateau. Pick up a map at the information centre in North Tamborine for easy-to-moderate walking trails to features such as the Witches Falls and Cameron Falls. In the Joalah section of the park, a 1.1km return walk through pretty rainforest leads to the Curtis Falls, tucked just below a busy road; look out for lyrebirds and platypuses.
This Aboriginal cultural centre at the base of Burleigh Head (Jellurgal) showcases a collection of artefacts and artwork, and offers a variety of cultural tours taking in sites important to the local Yugambeh people, who have lived here for tens of thousands of years. Tours range from the 2½-hour Jellurgal Walkabout (adult/child $30/15), venturing onto their Dreaming mountain, to longer tours involving traditional dance and an ochre ceremony; book in advance.