I feel like I owe the Gold Coast an apology. I judged it years before every experiencing it and while part of my presumptions were on the money some were not. The Gold Coast is like the Miami of Australia. With it’s tacky high-rise apartment buildings right on the beach, glistening perfectly sculpted bodies everywhere, hoards of tourists seeking sunshine and a spot on the beach, plus the binge drinking culture that comes with all this. However it is also a really pleasant place to be, if you know where to go.
Don’t expect to get out this cheaply though. The gaudy Golide is expensive and most budget options are very limited and shitty. What we did find, that surprised me most, was how the vibe of each town within the Goldie changed. The difference between Burleigh and Surfers Paradise is vast and a little bit of research could be the difference between you hating your GC experience, and having a great ‘city on the beach’ kinda time.
There are a lot of small towns that make up the Gold Coast, I will just run through a few of them here, the bigger ones, which are where most of the action is centered around.
Lets start on a highlight. Burleigh Heads is the closet thing we have seen to a Melbourne vibe in Queensland. Packed with small cafes, all serving cold drip coffee with almond milk, this is the hipster side of the GC. Burleigh offers you the chance to sip a latte, skip over the road for a dip in the ocean, skate the beachfront, grab a paleo lunch stack, do some shopping, hit the gym, get a haircut then meet mates for a decent dinner and drinks. Or… you can do absolutely fuck all and relax the day away on the beach, walk the headland or just watch the world go by. Burleigh is great for people watching.
Burleigh is great for daytime, however I would not suggest trying to find somewhere to stay the night on a budget. The camping ground offer sites for $45 per night. All the camping grounds on the Gold Coast are owned by the Council and privately operated under the banner of Gold Coast Tourist Parks. We had a pretty shitty experience with their Miami park. After trying to book into Burleigh Campgrounds we were told that all their available sites had concrete slabs and that with a tent we were best to go to Miami park. Our reservation was transferred across and we arrived at Miami to find that the park had no kitchen facilities besides a BBQ. The campsite was a glorified carpark, actually, it wasn’t even glorified, it was just a carpark and the power on our site did not work. It was cold when we arrived and we could not even boil water for a cup of coffee. It was bullshit and we complained (repeatedly), ended up getting a refund for our booking and leaving early. This is pretty standard across of the Gold Coast though, there are SO MANY tourists coming through this area that the services don’t need to be great, people will pay for them anyway. Accommodation costs are out of control. Our suggestion would be to park your van in the carpark during the day and use the free facilities on the beach and foreshore (which are better than what you can find in most caravan parks) and then head to sleep elsewhere at night. Or… just park somewhere inconspicuous and risk getting a fine, it’s probably cheaper than paying for a campsite anyway. If you’re in a tent, you’re kind of stuffed. You’re better off parking your tent at one of the Tweed Coast parks (which are a much more reasonable price off peak times) and just hitting Burleigh Heads (the whole of the GC actually) for a daytrips unless you’re willing to pay big.
While in Burleigh Heads, try to check out Commune cafe – first good coffee we have had since leaving Melbourne over 12 months ago.
This is what I had imagined the whole GC was like – tacky, touristy and tastless. Backpackers flock here because they don’t know any better. Expect to see drunk English tourists and thick-headed walking steroids in Surfers Paradise. Be better. If you want to check it for yourself then feel free, but don’ pay for parking for more than an hour, that’s all you’ll need.
If you want to get a good birds-eye view over the Gold Coast, there is the SkyPoint Observation Deck where you can get a good view across the GC. It costs $24 for adults to go up and take a look, which is more than I’m willing to pay, but I head the view is worth it.
click here to See more photos from our Legendary pacific coast tour
If you want to swim at the beach, enjoy the surf but not have all the tackiness of Surfers Paradise, then head to Broadbeach. It is literally the same beach as Surfers, just 1km south. The walk from Broadbeach to Surfers Paradise along the beach is well worth taking too. Broadbeach is a little older than Burleigh Heads, but not as touristy as Surfers Paradise. You will find great little cafes and good coffee, but also a fair few Hawaiian shirts and bum-bag toting Americans.
We stayed in the back of Broadbeach in an airbnb offering and it was okay. Not great, but good for the price. Ideally you want to be close enough to the centre of the action to walk to everywhere, driving is a real pain around here. The roads are very congested and the high number of tourists means that traffic does not flow as well as it would if everyone knew where they were going.
Tip: For good food and drink head to Elk Espresso, the Broadbeach Surf School is also next door which is handy for gromits!
An unexpected beauty. I really like Coolangatta beach. It is quieter than the northern beaches (like Burleigh and Surfers) and has a lot of space. It has great views across to the rest of the GC and feels like it’s a different place entirely. It is also where the airport lies so you do get a lot of low flying planes coming across the beach, which I don’t enjoy, but looking past that, it’s a great place to spend the day.
Coolangatta is one of the Twin Towns with Tweed Heads, the two towns act as one but are on different sides of the NSW/QLD border. Behind the beach are a bunch of high-rise apartment buildings and motels, but just ignore them and have a great time on the beach! Coolangatta is also really close to the Tweed Coast, which is a little nicer to stay on that the Gold Coast and a little cheaper also.