After a few days in Brisbane, I left Queensland’s capital behind and headed south in search of beautiful beaches. The Gold Coast stretches just south of Brisbane from Surfer’s Paradise, the metropolitan area Gold Coast, down through Currumbin and ending at the border between Coolangatta and Tweeds Heads. I skipped the first part of the coast. It was far too touristy for my taste, too many resorts and theme parks. The whole area is popular with both Australians and tourists from farther abroad, and it’s not hard to see why. I concentrated my time in the southern suburbs of the 70km of coastline.
I spent the next few days exploring the area between Currumbin and Tweed Heads. And the beaches were perfection. I rate every beach I come across on the gold standard that is the place I grew up, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And I found the one place out of everywhere I’ve been where the beaches not only lived up to it, I think they surpassed it. There’s such a laid back vibe here and I felt so at home. I could have easily spent my days just drifting through the streets of the towns and along the beaches.
From coastal walks and watersports to getting close up to Australia’s native animals, or just spending a few days lazing by the sea, there’s plenty of reasons to add the Gold Coast to your Australia itinerary.
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Stand in two time zones
Coolangatta and Tweed Heads straddle the boarder between Queensland and New South Wales. So I spent a lot of time crossing over the border while I was there. In addition, Queensland does not observe daylight savings time. This mean that if you visit between the first Sunday in October and the first Sunday in April, Queensland will be one hour behind.
Hopping between Tweed Heads and Coolangatta, I spent the entire time having no idea what time of day it was. The line between New South Wales and Queensland is marked on the pavement, but my phone didn’t know that. The clock spent the entire day flipping back and forth between the two time zones.
Try some watersports
My favourite thing I did on the Gold Coast was spend the morning in Tweed Heads stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding. I’ve gone paddle boarding a few times on holiday before but this was probably my favourite time. I headed down to Jack Evan’s Boat dock and met up with Big Trev who rents SUP gear out of a yellow van.
I can’t recommend renting a board for a few hours while you’re here enough, and this is the perfect place to try it for the first time. Big Trev is a laid back and good teacher, I feel like my SUP form is better now thanks to his tips. You start off with feeding the fish in the bay, followed by a quick tutorial, and then a couple of hours of paddle boarding bliss.
The few hours were just so laid back and relaxing, exploring the boat harbour, looking at the fish and stingrays swimming under my board, keeping an eye out for a turtle that supposedly hangs out in the harbour (although I never did find her). I even tried a bit of SUP yoga. He also rents pedalos if you just want to paddle around and it’s one of the most reasonably priced board rentals I’ve found yet while travelling.
Elsewhere, you can try surfing at various spots along the coast, there’s plenty of great spots for beginners and more experienced borders alike. If you are a first timer, you can book a surf lesson.
I spent one day making my way along the coast from Tweed Heads back to my accommodation, stopping off at all the beaches to check them all out. Starting at Jack Evans Boat Harbour after my paddle boarding session, I made my way north along the coast. After Duranbah Beach, I hiked up to Point Danger and along the coastal walk past Snapper’s Rock and the Captain Cook Memorial Light before ending up back at the beach at Rainbow Bay.
Gold Coast Beaches
The main beaches in this area that I visited from North to South are:
- Currumbin – Loved relaxing and swimming on this beach on my last day. This beach is known for its defining feature, a large rock hill called elephant rock.
- Tugun – A huge beach with good surf and nearby to laid-back restaurants and cafes.
- Bilinga Beach – Good for surfing, although I mainly just walked through it on my way back to
- Kirra and North Kirra – These beaches sort of blend into one another. Kirra has quite a few shops and restaurants while North Kirra seemed mainly residential.
- Coolangatta Beach – This beach is huge. And really nice for swimming. But when I visited it the wind changed directions so it was really smoky and I couldn’t stay long (I was there during the bushfires in November). But I’m sure it is idyllic in better conditions. It does seem to get more crowded than the beaches to the north. There seems to be a few beaches that make up this huge strand that starts at Greenmount Beach and then ends at Kirra.
- Rainbow Bay – a popular beach for swimming and surfing near Coolangatta Beach.
- Duranbah Beach – Also known as Flagstaff beach, this is the northernmost beach in New South Wales. Wide and Sandy, located right before a great coastal walk along Snappers Rock and Point Danger
Shopping on the Gold Coast
If you’re after surf brands (perhaps even a board?), head into the big Kirra Surf shop. The shop is huge. I spent my years on the beach wearing all the brands in this shop, so I was loving it. There’s also a decent sized mall in Tweed Heads. Further north, the main drag (The Strand) in Coolangatta is lined with all sorts of shops selling tourist wares and flowy beach clothing.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to see some of Australia’s native animals as well as a few from further afield. Stop by the huge sanctuary to see koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles, echidnas and more.
Local restaurants on the Gold Coast I recommend
- Captain Hooks – A local recommended this little seafood takeaway and it had amazing calamari! Huge battered rings that had been marinated in kiwi juice to make them really tender.
- Craft House – I stopped into this restaurant in search of some local craft beer after a day at the beach. Expect a long, enticing beer menu. I paired my beer with a huge chicken burger.
Selfish – A little fish and chip spot near the boat harbour I stopped in after paddle boarding. I ordered crumbed barramundi and chips, washed down with a Bundaberg ginger beer. You can find plenty of spots outside to enjoy views of the boat harbour.
Elephant Rock Cafe – There’s a lot of cute brunch spots along the main front. I popped into this one, grabbed a seat with a sea view and had an Aussie staple – fresh banana bread. This cafe serves it with a carmelised banana and whipped brown butter.
Tips for visiting the Gold Coast
Getting to the Gold Coast
It’s easy to reach the Gold Coast by car. From Brisbane it’s a bit over an hour. However, I travelled around Australia’s East Coast without a car, so I relied mainly on Greyhound buses and local transport. Following my stay in Brisbane, I travelled to Coolangatta in just an hour and twenty minutes on a Greyhound Bus.
Gold Coast Airport is located in Bilinga, with domestic flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide as well as international destinations.
Getting around the Gold Coast (without a car)
There’s a bus that runs from Currumbin to Tweed Heads and it’s fairly cheap. Route 700 runs pretty much the length of the Gold Coast and leaves frequently. I pretty much used this and walked. It just goes straight down the coast so it’s difficult to get lost and its easy to get off at one of the many beaches.
Where to stay on the Gold Coast
I’m not sure you can go wrong where you stay along this area. I was in an Airbnb in Tugun, which was peaceful and quiet but shops and restaurants nearby. Coolangatta is a solid choice, there’s lots around to keep you entertained. Or if you like a bit more action, you could choose something closer to Surfer’s Paradise.