It’s time once again for me to over-generalize, but I don’t think that many of my fellow Americans know a lot about the Gold Coast of Queensland. I know I didn’t before my visit there a couple of months ago, and that’s too bad. What’s also too bad is that what little I did know was colored by cranky writers bent on criticizing an entire area based almost exclusively on misconceptions and inaccurate information. I expected a trashy beach area with theme parks and drunken casino-goers. What I found after spending a week there was far different, which is why I wanted to devote a post to debunking some of those misconceptions and to introduce most of you to this beautiful area of Queensland, Australia.
Many Australians Don’t Like It
Mention the Gold Coast to an Australian and you’re most likely to be met with a grimace. While this area of coastline about an hour from Brisbane has been a popular getaway for decades, it was in the 1980s and 90s that much of the infrastructure suddenly emerged from the previously rural area. Theme parks, lots of them, waterparks, casinos and crappy hotels are what many Australians consider to be the entirety of the Gold Coast experience and you know what? You can find all of that and more in the tiny towns and hamlets that make up this, one of the most populous areas of Australia. But that’s certainly not all you’ll find, as I almost immediately discovered. The fact is that the Gold Coast, from Surfer’s Paradise to Burleigh Heads, is a lot like many other beach communities around the world. They draw all types of people from all walks of life and do their best to cater to all of these divergent tastes. Do I enjoy hanging out in the trashy areas of South Carolina or Florida? No, not really, but that’s not to say those same areas don’t have nicer places to visit; things to do that don’t necessarily involve mini-golf and foot-tall steins of beer. Misconceptions like these occur everywhere. The Costa Brava in Spain is still trying to correct outdated impressions as are a whole host of other destinations around the world. So, ignore the Australians, ignore many of the guidebooks and instead DO plan a visit to the Gold Coast.
It’s easy to get to and if you have any plans on visiting the Great Barrier Reef, then including a visit to the Gold Coast just makes sense. There’s a lot to do and see in Queensland as I discovered, and at some point you will transit through Brisbane. The key here isn’t just to transfer planes, but to actually stop, stay and explore this beautiful area of the state. Start off by spending a couple of days in Brisbane itself. As I discovered, there’s a lot more to this large city than first meets the eye and I personally think it’s the most underrated city in Australia. Afterwards, hop on the convenient Airtrain – a light rail system that connects Brisbane to the Gold Coast. It takes less than an hour and is a very easy way to get around. Once in the Gold Coast you’ll find that instead of just one community, the area is made up of many smaller communities, each with their own personalities and experiences to offer. In this respect it reminds me a lot of the Jersey Shore or the Outer Banks, but easier to explore without a car. It’s a compact area, as I discovered one day when I took a bike out to see more of the area on two wheels. A series of boardwalks and bike lanes connect a lot of the Gold Coast, and an afternoon spent getting some exercise and breathing in that amazing sea air was one of the best decisions I made while there. Throw in the fact that almost anywhere you stay there will be plenty of restaurants and shops nearby and you have a beach destination that is easy and convenient to visit.
Luxury and Adventure Experiences Are Possible
As I noted earlier in this post, like most beach destinations around the world the Gold Coast caters to many different types of travelers, including those most interested in both luxury and adventure. All around the Gold Coast there are many different accommodations that will please even the most discerning luxury traveler, from hotels to private condos. I spent my week at Pepper’s Broadbeach, an Australian luxury hotel brand that really impressed me. It was my first time staying with them and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the beautiful 2-bedroom condo overlooking the water that came to define my stay in the Gold Coast. Space and the ability to relax are two important luxuries to me when I travel and in all honesty, within a couple of days I felt like I was at home and not in a hotel. More than just where you stay, there are plenty of luxury experiences to be had around the Gold Coast. Enjoy tea or a meal at the gorgeous Palazzo Versace, pamper yourself with some of the best spa services in the country or hire a boat for a private day out on the water. Of course adventure is never too far away in Queensland, and most people may be surprised at how accessible natural and adventure experiences are to the Gold Coast. The hinterlands and amazing parklands are an easy drive and there are many tour companies that offer full or half day adventures exploring the serene forests of the area. I joined a nighttime glowworm safari through the Tamborine National Park where I saw not only glowworms, but many other nocturnal Australian woodland creatures. If you love heights, then be sure to climb to the top of the massive Q1 Tower. The Q1 Tower was at one time the tallest residential building in the world and while it may have lost that title, it’s still the tallest building in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere and now anyone can climb to the top. The SkyPoint Climb experience takes adventurous climbers from the observation deck of the tower to a special platform at the very top of Q1. These are just a small sampling of the many experiences found in around the Gold Coast Area.
Ignore The Haters, The Gold Coast Is Fun
There’s nothing I hate more in the digital travel world than ego-driven writers who think the only worthwhile experiences are ones no one knows about. It’s ridiculous; popular places are popular for a reason, they’re usually fun and interesting. The Gold Coast is yet another popular place that lives up to this hype, and rather than be sucked down a rabbit hole that you may not enjoy, it’s easy to craft your own adventures there. Sure, if you want to go spend a few days at theme parks you’ll be spoiled for choice. But there is so much more to do there, experiences that will put a smile on your face as happened to me. You can spend lazy days on the beach, bike ride the length of the coast, grab some of the best coffees in the country and eat at restaurants that are as far from beach fare as you’ll find anywhere. In other words, to use the overused travel phrase, there’s something for everyone along the Gold Coast.
More importantly though, I think that the unfair representation the Gold Coast sometimes gets is endemic of a larger travel phenomenon: arrogance. Too many so-called experts believe that destinations that are mass-market, that appeal to all styles of travel can’t be worthwhile. Where’s the local flavor, where are the hidden spots they say. Sure, those kinds of trips can be fun, but vacations are meant to be enjoyable and for many, many people that includes spending some time along the legendary beaches of Queensland. So go, enjoy yourself and make your trip one that you’ll remember forever instead of trying to live up to unfair travel ideals espoused by people you don’t even know.