This sun-kissed holiday strip is a magnet for families and schoolies but sometimes a Gold Coast getaway is all about the grown-ups.
Born in the era that brought TV to Australia, the Gold Coast was created in homage to Americana, its perpetual sunshine, glamour and focus on family fun reflected in kitsch suburb names such as Miami and Florida Gardens.
Fast-forward to the Netflix era and Australia’s sixth-largest city has come of age, maturing into a cosmopolitan community with an entrepreneurial spirit, a burgeoning food scene and renewed appreciation of its natural surrounds.
Such a grown-up place needs an itinerary to match so we’ve put one together for you.
What to do on Saturday
Your exploration of the Gold Coast begins in the sleepy enclave of Burleigh Heads. For a taste of the casual Burleigh vibe, stop at Commune café , beloved by locals for its substantial organic breakfasts. Its signature corn-coriander fritters stacked with smashed avocado and housemade chilli jam live up to their cult status.
To walk off this feast, continue to Burleigh headland, one of the few elevated landmarks on the coast. There are two walking tracks in this 27-hectare national park; for a reasonable workout, take the high road, a 2.3-kilometre circuit through tropical rainforest to Tumgun Lookout, with sweeping views across Tallebudgera Creek. If you’re there between June and November, look out for breaching humpback whales – the headland is one of the best places to spot these acrobatic giants during their annual migration.
Taking the switchback descent back to the pandanus-lined shore, detour across the highway into Burleigh Heads township. A stroll down James Street provides a snapshot of the village; funky boutiques sit alongside galleries, surf shops and cafés selling açaí smoothies.
Back at the beach, head for one of the best-located restaurants in Australia, Rick Shores, slap-bang on the sand and boasting uninterrupted views of the Surfers Paradise skyline. With a glass of pinot gris in hand, it’s a great place to people-watch as you dine on Asian-inspired seafood dishes such as kingfish sashimi or fried shrimp wonton. And for dessert, the Sichuan pepper strawberries with white chocolate will set the tastebuds alight.
While the Gold Coast is famous for sun and surf, it’s the man-made elements of its landscape that set it apart from other Australian cities. Over 400 kilometres of canals flank the narrow coastal strip – more than in Amsterdam and Venice combined – and from the SkyPoint Observation Deck of the 77-storey Q1 building, the tapestry of waterways resembles shimmering snakes, curling around islands with their mega-mansions, swimming pools and marinas.
SEE ALSO: The 10 Best Beaches on the Gold Coast
You’ll be part of that skyscraper action at your accommodation, Peppers Broadbeach, a twin-towered resort soaring high above Kurrawa Beach and the lively Oracle precinct.
This buzzing strip of bars and restaurants epitomises the new Gold Coast, with the über-cool Social Eating House + Bar leading the sophisticated charge. As the name suggests, this European-style restaurant is a place to share a bottle of wine over tapas and charcuterie plates.
What to do on Sunday
Early starts are de rigueur in Queensland. Join the brigade of local surfers, beachcombers and horizon-gazers and take a brisk stroll along the high-tide mark. Set your compass for north and after one kilometre, detour to Chelsea Avenue’s Elk Espresso in Broadbeach, a rustically arty café with a mouth-watering breakfast menu.
The fact that the Gold Coast does a great breakfast shouldn’t be surprising, considering the verdant Garden of Eden that lies less than an hour’s drive inland. For food-lovers, a hinterland excursion is a must – a moveable feast through acreage dotted with livestock, fruit and artisan cheese producers, many of which sell direct to the public.
Just beyond Canungra, an eclectic town that marries its timber-industry roots with an artistic bent, the picturesque O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards prepares pre-ordered picnic baskets stocked with locally sourced produce including goat’s cheese, macadamias and cured meats. Everything is provided – food, cutlery, a picnic rug and an idyllic riverside setting where you can watch platypus and turtles at play. A complimentary wine-tasting is also included; then select a bottle of your favourite drop and settle in for the most relaxing alfresco lunch imaginable.
Swinging north from Canungra, climb a twisting road known locally as “the goat track” to Tamborine Mountain in the Scenic Rim. With expansive views of the lowlands, this lofty retreat is the antidote to the hustle of the coast – cool, laid-back and slightly offbeat, where the call of the whipbird and the trickling of waterfalls soothe the stress of city life.
Exploring Tamborine is a little like dipping into a lolly bag; with three villages and 14 sections of national park, you can enjoy little bites of ambrosia without overindulging. For an overview of the region’s crafts scene, stroll down Gallery Walk, where more than 70 shops sell everything from fudge to cuckoo clocks.
Tamborine also offers nature in palatable chunks; easy walks meander through rainforest to lookouts, creeks and waterfalls – and you won’t raise a sweat. The 1.1-kilometre Curtis Falls Track is one such circuit. If you want to cool off in a natural waterhole, continue on from the Cedar Creek Falls Lookout to the rock pools below – but be warned: the rocks can be slippery and the water temperature a heart-starter!
This piece was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.