Love it or loathe it, the Gold Coast is difficult to ignore. The area’s transition from a cluster of sleepy 1960s surfing towns to today’s urbanised, skyscraper-dominated mega tourist attraction has happened relatively quickly and now propels over two million people a year to the coast’s beaches, theme parks, bars and restaurants.
It’s rapidly become one of the destinations for holidaying Aussies, whether on schoolies or a family break, as well as a party capital for east coast backpackers. But don’t just judge the GC by its northern hub Surfers Paradise. Head south and you’ll find super-chilled surf communities, while inland lay World Heritage-listed national parks. Indeed, there are few parts of Oz that cram so much into a space so small.
8:00: Arrive and drop off your stuff at the Islander Backpacker Hostel (islander.com.au), located less than 1km from the main drag. The hostel has all the usual features like a pool, big dorms, a BBQ area and, perhaps most importantly, an on-site bottle shop.
10:00: Chances are that once in Surfers Paradise, it won’t take you long to spot the Q1 Tower. It’s one of the tallest residential towers in the world and is home to the Skypoint Walk (skypoint.com.au), one of the highest vantage points in the region. Offering beautiful 360° vistas of the coastline and rugged hinterland, it’s a beautiful spot.
12:00: It’s time to start getting a little inverted with Tiger Moth Scenic Flights (tigermothjoyrides.com.au). This company offer a huge array of flights, ranging from low level doddles up to Stradbroke Island to high flying acrobatic adrenalin flights where the only thing higher than your blood pressure will be the amount of G-force your internal organs will be absorbing.
15:00: After some lunch (if you can face it) we’re going to turn it down a notch. Brad Holmes Surf Coaching (bradholmessurfcoaching.com.au), is one of Australia’s only SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) teachers who has also combined the discipline with Thai Chi. It’s a real experience.
20:00: Dinner time should be spent at Malone’s, which serves cold beers and grilled meat. Grab a few travellers from your on-site bottle-o, put on your dancing shoes and hit the strip. Grab a few brews at the Americana-style saloon Melbas, then wind the night out at Cocktails and Dreams where there are always plenty of backpackers.
10:00: Blow out the cobwebs with a quick swim, choke down a little toast and jump on the Paradise Jet Boating (paradisejetboating.com.au) super shuttle bus which will take you to your Jet Boat. Oh yes! These boats have 660 rampaging horses under their bonnets and love to spin around at high speeds in shallow water.
12:00: It’s theme park time. There are good multi-park deals that get you into the big three theme parks, but we’ve only got time for one, so, feeling the heat, head for Wet ‘n’ Wild (wetnwild.com.au). This place is heaving with pools, rides and water slides. Try the Kamikaze or the Constrictor rides, or if you can’t face speed anymore, just sit in the sun and relax.
15:30: Keep on trucking to Currumbin WIldlife Sanctuary (cws.org.au) and tackle the Green Challenge Ropes Course. It’s challenging, but plenty of fun.
17:00: Head down the coast to Coolangatta and check into the Coolangatta Sands Hostel (coolangattasands.com.au), which is where you’ll also be eating and drinking tonight. After the hustle and bustle of Surfers,it’s time to kick back with a steak, a few beers and watch the sunset.
19:00: Did you know Coolangatta has the best club on the Gold Coast? Hit Komune if you don’t believe us. There’s a hostel upstairs (hello) and a swimming pool. Awesome, right? And, there’s a guy who’s the manager or something that wears an eyepatch. We’re not even joking.
10:00: Wait, where are we? Think back, you were at Komune last night, right? Coolangatta is it? Okay, that’s good. Walk it off, solider! We’ve only got one more diem, so we’ve got to carpe the shit out of it, right?
11:00: A short car trip (or coach ride, if you’ve organised yourself a tour) away from Coolangatta is the Gold Coast’s rugged, untamed and decidedly beautiful hinterland. This exquisite part of the world is criss-crossed with national parks that have made the place a haven for hikers. You could spend weeks here if you wanted to, as there are so many different trails, hikes and beautiful spots worth seeing. Some of the best include Witches Falls National Park, Cedar Creek Falls and Macrozamia Grove. Strap on your walking boots, pack a water bottle and get involved.
13:30: One of the highlights is Tamborine Mountain, a 600m high plateau jutting out of the McPherson Range, which runs along the Queensland/New South Wales border. There are a few rugged little hamlets dotted around this area as well, including North Tamborine and Eagle Heights which, aside from being achingly pretty, also serve much of the Gold Coast with delicious Devonshire teas, plus arts and crafts.
15:00: Back in the wheels, head north for a couple fo hours to one of Queensland’s lesser-known hotspots – Stradbroke Island. North and South Straddie (as the locals call them) are basically between the Gold Coast and Brisbane and have all the sorts of lovely, relaxed, islandy activities that you’d expect from Queensland. Snorkel, surf, swim or just chill in a hammock, you can do all that and more here. The area’s also rated as one of the best places to surf in Australia.
19:00: Check-in and zone out at YHA Stradbroke Island (yha.com.au) and stash your gear. Head to the Stradbroke Hotel or one of the slightly more upmarket bars/restaurants at the nearby Beach Resort (stradbrokehotel.com.au) or simply chill by the pool and sleep. It’s all good, friend, you’ve earned the right to do whatever the hell you want.