Over 57 kilometres of golden beaches, golden sunshine and golden memories.
Famous around the world for futuristic skyscrapers, fantastic beaches, fabulous restaurants, frivolous fashions and of course, fun parks, Australia’s Gold Coast is bathed in the golden glow of a year-round summer. Here the golden rays of the early morning sun glitter on the ocean’s surface, celebrating the new day.
Seems all that glitters on this iconic stretch of Australian coastline is gold.
But why the name ‘Gold Coast’? In the early 20th century, the small coastal community of Southport at the northern end of what is now known as the Gold Coast was quickly gathering a reputation among wealthy Brisbane residents as a desirable holiday destination, due largely to its proximity to Queensland’s capital city. The Gold Coast was originally known as the South Coast (because it was south of Brisbane), however during the 1950s inflated prices for real estate and other goods and services led to the nickname the ‘Gold Coast’. And the name stuck.
Even though Dinah and I have lived in southern Queensland for the past decade, in that time we have never actually visited the Gold Coast. Our regular pilgrimages south with the caravan from our Sunshine Coast home north of Brisbane have seen us bypassing the Gold Coast as we head for the New South Wales border then south. Time to remedy this. Having spent a month in Bali, a week at Lennox Head, two weeks on New South Wales’s Central Coast and 14 days in the Northern Territory so far this year, we were ready for a little local action.
The parodical pair return
Time to come clean. Dinah and I both grew up in southern Queensland, so we are both quite familiar with this part of the world. During my teens, I surfed the Gold Coast beaches regularly and having met Dinah, in our early 20s we often enjoyed weekends on the ‘Goldie’, including Sunday afternoons at the Surfers Paradise Beer Garden in Cavil Avenue listening to the legendary Ricky May and the Maori Troubadours. But then we moved overseas and eventually back in Australia, to New South Wales to live.
Now here we were, back on the Gold Coast. How this place has changed. Wall-to-wall high-rise apartment buildings and huge shopping malls. Even a casino.
Time to be tourists, not travellers
For us, one of the best things about the Gold Coast is its proximity to the Sunshine Coast – just 2 hour’s drive and freeway all the way. Perfect as we are towing our caravan. We opted to stay centrally on the Coast at the Burleigh Beach Tourist Park at Burleigh Heads. This is a beautiful part of the Gold Coast with wide sandy beaches, majestic Norfolk pine trees and Big Burleigh headland framing some of the most majestic scenery on this 60 kilometre stretch of coastline as well as creating some of the best point breaks on the east coast. A mecca for both surfers and beach-goers alike.
Burleigh beach enjoys dual popularity with those who like to swim in the protected waters and those who love to surf off the headland. Burleigh is often the go-to spot for a wave when other beaches on the Coast are blown-out and choppy. For nature lovers or those simply looking for a little exhilarating exercise, Burleigh Heads National Park is the place. Wrapping itself around the headland, the park offers both beautiful rainforest vegetation and world-class views of the coastline as you look north to the Surfers Paradise skyline or south to Coolangatta. You can take either the 2.3-kilometre return rainforest track or the 1.3-kilometre Oceanway walk to Tumgun Lookout for sweeping views to the southern Gold Coast. Early morning or late afternoon, a walk in the park is magic.
We’ve stayed in a lot of caravan parks over the years and I have to say that the Burleigh Beach Tourist Park is one of the best. The park is well laid out with generous sites that accommodate both the caravan and tow vehicle. The roads within the park are wide and gently guttered, allowing easy access when reversing the van in against the slab. The facilities and amenities too are first class with free barbeques and an entertainment centre. But perhaps the caravan park’s biggest plus is its location. It is literally right across the road from Burleigh Beach, one of the most beautiful wide sandy beaches on the Gold Coast. We would absolutely recommend the Burleigh Beach Tourist Park if you are looking for excellent caravan accommodation in the heart of everything the Gold Coast has to offer. You can book at: www.goldcoasttouristparks.com.au or phone 1300 672 750.
Up and go
May/June is a great time to visit the Gold Coast. The weather is usually very good – fine, sunny autumn days and clear blue skies – and the hordes of tourists have not yet arrived for the July school holidays! A great way to start the day is with a walk along the beach-front boardwalk. Head north towards North Burleigh or south around the headland and through the National Park to Tallebudgera Creek. The Burleigh foreshore is home to towering Norfolk pines that are characteristic of the Gold Coast, with large tracks of lawn offering shady places to picnic or barbecue. This is also the ideal spot for regular art and craft markets and outdoor health and fitness events such as yoga festivals. Here you can also enjoy absolute waterfront dining from the many restaurants and eateries that dot the coastline. There is also a burgeoning funky café culture here, catering for those of us who need our caffeine fix to get the day off to a great start.
One of our favourite spots to relax is the Burleigh Heads Lifesavers Club. Located right on the beach, this is a great pace to pick up that first cup of coffee then sit and watch the day unfold. Or, like hundreds of other locals and visitors, you can walk and sip. If you wish, you can also enjoy a hearty breakfast here. In the evening, a quite drink upstairs in the Lifesaver’s Club offers one of the best views looking north to Surfers Paradise. Tucked right into the headland, the iconic art deco Pavilion is also a great place to start and end your day. You can order a fresh-brewed morning coffee just steps from the golden sands, or for an evening dining experience, book a table right on the beach to catch the last rays of the sun.
While caravanning allows us to be self-sufficient, we do like to treat ourselves to dinner out every now and again and there is no shortage of places to eat in and around Burleigh Heads, many within walking distance of the caravan park. If you’re into Mexican food, then you can’t go past Montezuma’s. Located in the refurbished Old Burleigh Heads Picture Theatre on the corner of the Pacific Highway, Montezuma’s is a favourite in these parts and is a Burleigh Heads tradition. Spicy Mexican food washed down with ice-cold San Miguel beer then a 5-minute walk back to the caravan. Does it get any better than that?
North to paradise. South to the border
Tourist publications describe Burleigh as a comma between Surfers Paradise to the north and Coolangatta to the south. A 20-minute drive north to Surfers Paradise and 20 minutes south to Coolangatta and the Gold Coast Airport, Burleigh Heads is perfectly positioned to see, do and explore all that the Gold Coast has to offer. Which is exactly what we did – minus the theme parks.
My impression is that the northern end of the Coast is more ‘glitz and glamor’, while the southern end retains much of the traditional feel and natural beauty of the Coast. Our first sortie was south to Currumbin and then on to Greenmount and Coolangatta. It was like retracing my steps as a teenager and surfer in the 1960s. First stop, Currumbin Rock and the legendary ‘Alley’, now part of the Gold Coast’s World Surfing Reserve. Wow. Has this place changed? Where once I had slept overnight on the beach beside my car, now there is a massive car park. Across the road where my surfing mate’s family had camped in their caravan, now high-rise apartment buildings. But the Rock hadn’t changed. Nor had the surf that pounded its craggy bulk.
On to Greenmount, Coolangatta and the Queensland/New South Wales border. I recall being hit by an out-of-control surfboard here in the late 1960s. No leg ropes in those days to hang on to your board. The result, 8 stiches in my lower back. This is still a great place to surf and one of the most beautiful headlands and natural right-hand breaks on the Coast. Like Burleigh Heads, Coolangatta Esplanade is lined with Norfolk pine trees on one side and shops and eateries on the other. We had one of the best noodle dishes ever at the Pan Asia restaurant when we dropped in for lunch. Great food with a great beach view as a bonus.
Over the next few days we explored the northern end of the Coast. Surfers Paradise, or Circus Paradiseas one aging music event poster called it, is Australia’s self-proclaimed ‘fun town’; a mecca of clubs, pubs, shops, and restaurants bordering the legendary white sands of Surfers Paradise beach. This place is a magnet for both overseas tourists and schoolies – a destination that the tourist brochures refer to as ‘energetic, enthusiastic, electric and eclectic’. Not really our taste, but fun to visit once every 10 years, as my next blog describes in detail.
The years have passed and the Gold Coast has certainly changed. In the main, the change has been beneficial. Now known as the City of the Gold Coast, this coastal strip has grown to become a truly international destination, attracting over 13 million visitors and approximately 12,500 new residents each year. In recent times, its standing on the international stage was recognised when it was awarded host city for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a hugely successful event.
Dinah and I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Gold Coast. A very convenient and affordable caravan holiday and a week of unbelievable winter sunshine. We will be back.
Tips for the Trip
There’s a lot to see and do on the Gold Coast. Two free tourist publications worth checking out are ‘Hello Gold Coast’ and ‘Gold Coast Tourist Magazine’. They are full of destinations, holiday tips, discount vouchers to local attractions, and maps. Both are available as hard copy booklets everywhere. Or you can go online at: www.hellogoldcoast.com.au and www.goldcoastmag.com.au or you can visit the Gold Coast tourism website, Destination Gold Coast at: www.destinationgoldcoast.com
There are any number of ways to get to the Gold Coast. You can fly in to the Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta at the southern end of the coast, then taxi of shuttle bus to you destination. Or, as many visitors opt to do, you can drive. This is a practical option as you then have your car to explore. The Gold Coast also has a number of very good caravan parks and camping grounds, many adjacent to the beaches. Check out: www.queensland.com/Gold-Coast/Camping
There are literally thousands of accommodation options on this 60 kilometre stretch of Australia’s coast. Everything from 5-Star resorts to Air B&B; high rise apartments with unbelievable views of the Coast to single-story family-friendly budget motels. Check the usual accommodation websites such as Trivago, Booking.com, Expedia, Lastminute.com and Wotif for seasonal rates and special accommodation package offers. And of course, travel agents such as Flight Centre also have special holiday offers.
What to pack, what to wear? Yes, winter does come to the Gold Coast but invariably the weather is a lot milder that in other parts of Australia. You’ll live in shorts, t-shirts and thongs in summer, but throw in a cardie if you planning to visit from May to September.
Main picture: An early morning surf at Burleigh Heads. Definitely gold
- Caravanning at Burleigh Beach Tourist Park
- Burleigh Heads Surf Lifesaving Club and the iconic Norfolk Pines
- Nice balancing act and Saturday morning entertainment
- Yoga festival attracts hundreds of participants
- The Pavilion on Burleigh Beach
- Surfers Paradise skyline from Burleigh Heads National Park
- The walk around Big Burleigh
- Teaching the next generation about our indigenous heritage at Tallebudgera
- Wild flowers in full bloom in the National Park
- Incredible foreshore rock formations – I called it “Bread Rock”
- Reminds me of a bonsai in the wild
- All that glitters on the ocean’s surface
- Currumbin Rock and the Alley
- Greenmount eateries – really excellent noodles
- One last sunset at Burleigh Heads