Gold Coast: all grown up
The 2018 Commonwealth Games have focused the eyes of an estimated 1.2 billion viewers around the world on the Gold Coast this week. It was gratifying to learn that these progressive games will be the first where para sports run alongside the non-para sports, as well as the first games where there are as many medals for women as for men. It’s also exciting how the Gold Coast has evolved in the lead-up to the games.
Perhaps the most tangible lasting legacy of the games, besides stadiums and other sports venues, will be the light rail system. Hotels — notably Star Gold Coast Hotel and Casino — have expanded and upgraded, as have facilities such as the Pacific Fair shopping centre. And if you need convincing that the Gold Coast has moved beyond its sun, sand, and schoolies past, Australia’s first vegan, cruelty-free marketplace and restaurant precinct is opening at Love Child at Miami.
For those craving Asian food, Cavill Lane has 8 Street, a new hawker-style food market that can accommodate up to 1000 diners at six restaurants and more than 30 street stalls.
Of course, the main attractions of the Gold Coast centre around the beach. You can just grab a towel and head down for a swim, or you can get organised and take surfing lessons from Cheyne Horan, Dave Davidson, or the award-winning Get Wet Surf School. There’s also some great whale watching opportunities just off shore — and the high-rise of Surfers Paradise makes a great backdrop if the whales breach.
Skypoint provides the perfect view of the Gold Coast skyline (Image credit: David Bostock / Shutterstock.com)
The beach, the narrow strip of land, then the canals and waterways behind, are best seen from the air so consider taking a helicopter flight for a bird’s-eye view. An alternative is to head up to Skypoint Observation Deck which looms 230 metres above the beach.
Then there are the theme parks that have gravitated here, where everyone is in holiday mode. Particularly if you’re travelling with kids, Warner Bros. Movie World, Dreamworld, Sea World, Wet’n’Wild, Paradise Country, and WhiteWater World are likely to feature on your itinerary.
Another sign of the Gold Coast’s growing sophistication is revealed when it comes to dining. The 2018 Good Food Guide Awards gave hats to several Gold Coast restaurants, including The Fish House and nearby Rick Shores in Burleigh Heads, Social Eating House and Bar and Mamasan Kitchen and bar at Broadbeach, and Kiyomi in the Star complex.
Chalk and cheese may have more in common than the Gold Coast and the Gold Coast hinterland. The coast is high-rises, bright lights, and the ever-present feeling of sand between your toes. Yet just an hour away, there’s the cool green sanctuary of the hinterlands where parrots chatter in the trees and giant trees shade beautiful walking tracks. It has been described as “the green behind the gold”.
Tamborine Mountain is a good place to base yourself for some tranquillity. It’s the gateway to the scenic rim — the remains of a ridge created as part of the rim of a volcano, 22 million years ago. The elevation provides a cool yet sub-tropical climate and the rich volcanic soil ensures that just about anything grows anywhere. So there are palm groves, tropical flowers, and rainforests, but there’s also galleries, markets, and wineries. The walking is great and so are the various scenic drives.
The Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk provides the rare opportunity to walk through the canopy of trees, far above the ground. Or you can head in the other direction and venture underground to the Glow Worm Caves.
The view from Tamborine Mountain is truly spectacular
Lamington National Park on the Queensland side of the NSW border is a wild place of high mountains and deep valleys. For experienced walkers, it provides a wealth of opportunity. For the rest of us, there are two legendary retreats: O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat and Binna Burra Lodge. They are at either end of a wonderful track that can be walked in a day. Both provide a high degree of comfort, great views and good food, and a long list of local activities to experience.
Diversity is a significant part of the appeal of the Gold Coast. It’s not just the extreme contrast between the coast and the mountains, there’s also considerable variation in the coastal communities that get lumped into the all-inclusive “Gold Coast”.
Some may recall when Surfers Paradise was more a crass concept than a real town and meter maids roamed the streets. Back then, you crossed the border from NSW and you were in the village of Coolangatta. Currumbin was just up the road and you’d certainly stop to see the abundance of rainbow lorikeets at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, opened in 1947.
After Burleigh Head National Park, you were in a strip of motels all the way to Broadbeach, and finally to Surfers Paradise and Southport. There was once bush between these towns and the current canal-side communities like Mermaid Waters didn’t exist. To some extent, each community has kept some of its original character so you can find the point on the dial between “laidback” and “hyperactive” at whatever level suits you best.
If you’re not holding one of the million tickets to the games, it’s a good time to plan your next Gold Coast holiday. Now smartened up and gleaming, it’s waiting for you.
What are your memories of the early days of the Gold Coast? What appeals to you about the updated city? Share your thoughts below!