Australia's Gold Coast is a surfing destination but even if you don't surf, there is so much to do here for families, adventure seekers and beach lovers, like me! From a rainforest hinterland to theme parks, nightlife, street markets, wildlife sanctuaries and some truly unique experiences such as hang-gliding and glowworm caves, there's something for everyone.
What immediately catches your attention in Australia's Gold Coast is the skyline - tall skyscrapers looming against the golden sand beaches, enormous waves, and a boundless ocean. You're highly unlikely to encounter an overcast day here and the extensive coastline is dotted with surfing breaks, glorious warm waters and immense opportunities to capture the perfect sunset.
My Australia trip started in Melbourne and lasted for about 3 weeks and this meant, letting go of a lot of things that I would have liked to do if I had more time. I spent 2 days in the Gold Coast but I could have easily spent a couple more. I'm very much a theme park enthusiast, but having been to several across the world (and also, because I was travelling with my senior parents), I decided to focus on other unique and uncommon activities while here. I have, however, in my post mentioned those things which I had to skip but wish I could have included in my trip.
Australia's Gold Coast wasn't as exciting as visiting Cairns and Great Barrier Reef, or even the Whitsunday Islands but it was a close third in my list, especially because I fell in love with Byron Bay. I drove here from Brisbane, via Tamborine Mountain but if you're already in Gold Coast, then I suggest you start your trip with a visit to the Tamborine Mountain early in the morning. To make the most of your trip, renting a car would be a great idea!
Click here to rent a car in Australia's Gold Coast.
Day 1: Tamborine Mountain & Gold Coast
Although there are other options such as Springbrook National Park & Lamington National Park, I chose Mt Tamborine because of the diversity of experiences available here. Hardly a 40-min drive away from Surfer's Paradise in Australia's Gold Coast, Tamborine Mountain is a lush rainforest with rock pools, canopy walks, hiking trails, adventure parks, and even wineries. You can easily spend a day here so the earlier you start, the better it is!
Cedar Creek Falls
A fairly narrow road that branches off from the Tamborine Mountain road will bring you to the Cedar Creek Falls. Be prepared for a walk down to these falls from the car parking lot. If you're not keen on going all the way down to the falls, you can walk to the lookout point (500m) and return. However, on a bright and warm day, you will surely want to carry your swimwear, sunblock and sunglasses to be able to jump into the cool waters of the rock pools formed below the waterfalls. The track ahead of the viewpoint is likely to be slippery so its best to wear comfortable and rugged footwear. A series of cascades and pools which are frequented by the locals can be found once at the bottom of the walking path. A dip in these shallow pools is well worth your while!
Tree-top Challenge at Thunderbird Park
I went here specifically for the Canyon Flyer Tour, considered to be Australia's highest and fastest zip line attraction. While it sounded like the most exciting experience at the park, there were, of course, other activities for the lesser adventurous people. The Canyon Flyer Tour takes you to 7 highly exciting zip lines, soaring you over the lush rainforest and Cedar Creek gorge below. The groups are usually small and the session timings are fixed, so it's best to find out the availability and the timings before planning your visit. The tour lasts for about 3 hours and costs $120.
If you're looking for something slightly less in the adrenaline department but exciting, nonetheless, you can visit the Treetop Adventure park that has Tarzan swings, flying fox swings, easier zip lines and other rope courses, suitable for the younger people too. Whichever you plan to do, keep about 3-4 hours for this experience. If you're interested in any of the activities, you can simply enjoy some quiet time by the creek or in the cafeteria.
Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk
If you're not really an adventurous person and would rather skip the Treetop challenge and Thunderbird Park, there is yet another way to enjoy the view of the thick forests from the top. This canopy walk is about 1.5 kilometres on a stable platform, that takes you amidst the flora and fauna of the Australian rainforests, providing ample insights into the trees, insects, birds and animals that can be found in the area. A leisurely 45-minute walk takes you past waterfalls, creeks and gorgeous greenery. The experience costs only $20.
Glowworms are typically found only in Australia and New Zealand, so although these caves in the Tamborine Mountain are artificially created and are no match to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in NZ, it's a rare experience nevertheless. Due to the ever-increasing temperatures in Australia over the last few years, these caves were purpose-built to provide a controlled environment for the glow worms to survive. The entrance to these caves is through the Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard & Winery. The tours depart every hour (you can utilize the waiting time in trying out some wine at the cellar or the restaurant on site), and the knowledgeable, as well as passionate guides, explain the significance the mode of the life of these glow worms. The alluring blue glow of the worms is a way of hunting for prey and when thousands of these worms are gathered in one dark cave, it forms a sea of starry lights. One needs to get accustomed to the darkness inside the caves; no photography is allowed. The tour itself lasts for about 30-45 min.
Back to Australia's Gold Coast
In the afternoon, head back to Gold Coast. If you manage to get here before sunset, head to Sky Point Observation Deck, located on the 77th floor of Q1 near Surfer's Paradise, one of the tallest buildings in Australia. You can enjoy panoramic views of the Gold Coast's skyline and coastline. If you're an adventure enthusiast, you can also attempt the Sky Point Climb which starts from the 77th-floor observation deck and is one of Australia's highest external building walks. Harnessed and ready to climb 298 stairs to the building's summit, this activity reminded me of the edge walk in Toronto's CN Tower, except that this one actually requires for you to climb higher than you already are and the only way down is via those stairs. A handrail and harness definitely make the climb easier and safer and the views are absolutely worth it. Needless to say, this experience is NOT meant for the faint-hearted, especially if you're acrophobic!
Sunset at Surfers Paradise Beach
Perhaps one of the most golden sunsets I've seen was at Australia's Gold Coast. Not only is Surfer's Paradise Beach the best for surfing enthusiasts but it is also the most lively with an esplanade with walkers, cyclists and skateboards, and offers the best views of the ocean possible. Several restaurants are located across the road from the beach and one of my favourites was a Mexican restaurant called Gringo Loco Cantina.
Beachfront Night Market
We were fortunate to be in Australia's Gold Coast on a Wednesday night because these amazing beachfront night markets are held on Surfers Paradise only on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights (4 to 9 pm). A very lively atmosphere with entertainment, music and stalls selling local arts, souvenirs, foodstuff, fashion, jewellery and homewares, I was impressed with the designs and collection available here. I am totally a street market person and a sucker for good deals, fashionable clothes, unique and authentic food items and handicrafts.
Suggested budget hotel stay near Surfers Paradise Beach: Mantra on View Hotel.
Day 2: Coolangatta and Byron Bay
Slightly more laid-back and pristine than Gold Coast's Surfers Paradise is Coolangatta, which is located about 30 minutes away by road and on the way to Byron Bay. It is also the border between Queensland and New South Wales and the intriguing part is, that within a span of seconds, you switch from one time zone to another (New South Wales is an hour behind), in the summer month (Oct-Apr). Some popular beaches/ viewing platforms here include Kirra beach, Rainbow Bay, Snapper Rocks and Point Danger.
Another 50-min drive ahead of Coolangatta is one of the most beautiful coastal cities I've seen in a while - Byron Bay. Yet another surfing paradise, I loved this place because of the crystal clear blue waters which were a feast for the eyes. On a warm sunny day, the waters are perfect for kayaking or swimming or even better, hang-gliding!
Although Byron Beach and Wategos Beach are the two most popular beaches to visit in the area, if you're looking to stay away from the crowds, Tallow Beach is completely untouched! However, you're also highly unlikely to find any restaurants or bars in this area; it is a long, untouched stretch of pure golden sand and blue waters, where it is not hard to spot dolphins and manta rays. For some of the best vantage point views, head to Fisherman's Lookout, where an elevated platform offers some breathtaking vistas of the ocean. Grab a quick bite at The Pass Cafe while you're here.
Another popular point to head to is the Cape Byron Lighthouse which offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse stands at the tip of Cape Byron and an easy 4-km walking track is a great way to enjoy the scenic place. But the one activity I highly recommend, especially for adventure enthusiasts, is hang-gliding!
Hang-gliding in Byron Bay
Although I found the activity slightly pricey, there's no feeling like soaring in the skies and enjoying (literally) a bird's eye view of such a beautiful destination. Of course, the activity is highly dependent on the weather conditions so it's best to check before planning the trip if it is taking place on that day or not. I flew with Peter Aitken, a chief flying instructor at Lennox Head (you can book your experience here) and the flight lasted for about 30 minutes during which he taught me how to manoeuvre the hang glider, we saw some dolphins in the sea below and talked about how amazing it is they have the freedom to fly so high in the skies, at the mercy of the winds, without any motor or engine.
Day 3: Warner Bros Movie World Theme Park or Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Unfortunately, my trip was only for two days so I could not fit in either of these options into m itinerary. I prioritized visiting Byron Bay, Mt Tamborine & Surfers Paradise in the limited amount of time on hand. Also, since I had already got my kangaroo and koala fix in Cairns, I was not disappointed about skipping Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. If you have not made it to the many parks in Australia, you might want to head here, the park is hardly about 30 minutes away from Surfers Paradise.
Also, visiting a theme park in Gold Coast is one of the top things to do; 'Goldie' (as Australia's Gold Coast is lovingly called) is a theme park enthusiast's paradise, with several options available such as Warner Bros Movie World, Sea World & Dreamworld. Several multi-park access options are also available which you can read about here.