I love the Gold Coast. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Even in spite of its long suffering reputation for glitzy excess. To put it in perspective, the Gold Coast is to Australia what Miami is to the USA. And while some of the flashy clichés ring true, dig a little deeper or simply drive away from the city’s main beach, Surfer’s Paradise, and you’ll find all of the recipes that make an Aussie beach holiday great.
Just an hour drive from Brisbane, the Gold Coast is where a lot of Australians spend their holidays – myself included. For much of my childhood I was at the Gold Coast learning to swim with the help of the local surf clubs, and gaining freckles that would stay with me into adulthood.
I recently returned to the Gold Coast to relive those fond childhood memories, and it was even better than I remembered it. The secret is to know where to go and where to avoid. Spend all your time on the notorious Cavill Avenue strip and you’ll feel like you’re witnessing an Australian version of Geordie Shore. Experience the beaches further south like Burleigh, Kirra and Rainbow Bay, and you won’t want to leave. Here are some of my favourites:
Laugh your way through a surfing lesson
Despite having spent many a holiday at the beach, I had never actually set foot on a surfboard until my recent visit. As a complete novice, I opted for a private lesson with my family at Currumbin Beach. Surf lesson vans are parked at every major beach spot along the Gold Coast and offer group and private lessons for varying levels. I assured our surf teacher Beau (the most Australian man I think I’ve ever met), that we were absolute beginners and then as predicted, proceeded to laugh my way through the entire lesson. Both at myself and my 57 year old mother, who screamed with every wave she caught. In the end I did manage to stand up on the board, and avoided banging into anyone, apart from my brother (doesn’t count), which I think is an even better feat.
Nervously laugh your way through parasailing
Once again, parasailing is a popular and easily found activity on the Gold Coast that I had never actually taken part in until my most recent trip. We drove to The Spit – where most water sports can be found – on a complete whim and 15 minutes later I found myself metres high in the air with a giant smiley face strapped to my shoulders. While I’m not usually afraid of heights, I will admit to nervously laughing throughout the entire experience, much to my partner’s amusement. Learn from my mistakes: a windy day is not the best time to fly in the sky. I highly recommend parasailing in calmer weather, unless you actually want a bumpy ride. Nervousness aside, it is a fantastic way to gain a literal bird’s eye view of the Gold Coast.
Head inland to the Natural Bridge
The Gold Coast isn’t all about the beaches. The rainforest hinterland is well worth exploring as well. One of my favourite spots is the Natural Bridge within Springbrook National Park. Easily found and with paved pathways too it, the Natural Bridge is an incredible cave formation that has been created by water tumbling through it for millions of years. Nearby there are also a number of fresh water rockpools that you can swim in.
Relish an Instagram-worthy breakfast at Dbar
Away from the greasy breakfasts of Surfers Paradise, the Gold Coast is enjoying a gourmet injection by the way of healthy, organic, #cleaneating cafes. Coffee here, as locals will claim, is as good as you’ll find in Melbourne, and even some of the local surf clubs are starting to put a sophisticated flair on their fish and chips. My favourite recommendation though is Cafe Dbar, located near the popular Point Lookout spot at Duranbah. Go for the breakfast smoothies, stay for the view, annoy your family by taking an Instagram photo.
Stalk dolphins at Fingal Head
Of all the beaches and all the rainforests, Fingal Head is my most favourite secret spot on the Gold Coast – even if it’s not technically the Gold Coast. Located just south of the Queensland/New South Wales boarder and hidden off the highway, you can reach the headland by parking near the beach and walking along the path that goes through bush land. At the end you’ll find a small lighthouse and a clearing with sweeping views of beaches, waves crashing spectacularly against the rocky cliff and most importantly, dolphins. Literally every time I’ve visited Fingal Head, I’ve seen dolphins. Not always right away, but if you hang around and look carefully, chances are you’ll see them. On my recent visit we watched in amazement as two pods of dolphins swam past us, some of which were riding waves and then jumping into the air. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘this is why I love the Gold Coast.’
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