Australian Gold Coast tourism slogan, “Famous for Fun”, is a truth in two
halves. Located 94km south of Brisbane, the Gold Coast is famous – for the lowbrow glamour of Surfers Paradise, an
over-the-top beach area packed with high-rise buildings and a cluster of theme
parks. But there is also plenty of fun to be had without climbing onto a rollercoaster
or booking a stay at the gaudy Palazzo
exploration of the underrated region at the southern end, 25km south of Surfers
Paradise. As you drive north from the Gold Coast Airport, you will hit three
smaller beachfront towns, each with a slow-paced village feel behind its
stunning and very surfable beaches.
Coolangatta: Home to that surfing competition
stop is Coolangatta, Queensland’s most southerly coastal town, located on the
border with New South Wales. Each February, Coolangatta (or “Cooly” to the
locals) is awash with activity when the famous Quiksilver/Roxy Pro surfing
competition storms into town. Throughout the 10-day event, men and women surf
for pro-tour points and more than $500,000 in prize money.
Coinciding with the Quiksilver/Roxy Pro competition,
the excellent Bleach Festival
showcases art, photography, music, film and theatre. The inaugural event in
2012 had events ranging from surf film premiers to pop-up art galleries in
shipping containers to beach parties and street theatre.
Even if you do not make it in February, there
is plenty of water-based action to be had year round. Sign up for surf lessons
and join the tanned and toned beach bodies carving up the waves; two-hour group
lessons with Walkin’
on Water and Coolangatta
Learn to Surf start at 40 Australian dollars and private lessons start at 120
Australian dollars per hour (prices include wetsuit and board hire). If
paddling out into the surf is too hairy for your liking, opt for paddleboard
lessons instead, where you will be taken out to a creek and taught to stand up
on an oversized surfboard, paddle in hand. It does not usually take long for
most newbies to stand up and paddle themselves across the water. Try a lesson
with JM Stand Up Paddle from 80 Australian
dollars per hour (prices include board hire).
For something more sedate, the Comb Artspace puts on quality, contemporary exhibitions that belie its compact
space. Staff are friendly and can organise to have the reasonably priced
paintings/photographs/craftwork shipped to you at cost. Forthcoming exhibitions
include a group show featuring sticker art.
You could also spend hours trawling through all
the quality vintage wares at the massive Antiques and Collectibles Market (33
Mclean Street; 07-553-688-4833), which is filled with vintage crockery,
furniture, books and even such oddities as Masters of the Universe toys from
the 1980s. International shipping can be arranged if that 1960s pencil-leg
sideboard really catches your fancy.
And come night
time, head up the stairs beside the Comb Artspace into Neverland Bar, where local indie bands
jam to a young, too-cool-for-school crowd. Skinny jeans are essential, and
leave those flip-flops for the beach.
Currumbin: A shrine to
It is easy
to wile away many an hour in Currumbin, 7km north of Coolangatta. Just off the
white sandy beach, lunch or a beer is available at one of the many breezy oceanfront
restaurants on Pacific Parade. Try Allure, with its mesh of French
and Australian cuisine, including chicken breast filled with lobster, and tiger
prawns served with kipfler potatoes, snow peas and truffled carrots.
postprandial walk to the very low-key Surfworld Gold Coast museum, a
shrine to surfing legends both international (Kelly Slater) and local (Layne Beachley).
Boards dating as far back as 1915 sit alongside videos installations, clothing
and other memorabilia.
If you want
to check out Australia’s famed marsupials, continue next door to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, where you will
likely find out that koalas are not as sedate as they look in photos, as they
spring from eucalyptus tree to eucalyptus tree and engage in loud screeching
Burleigh Heads: The place
for food and fashion
not much at first glance, this compact town 8km north of Currumbin is known for
its bustling beachfront and excellent surf. However, drag yourself away from
the sand and you will find several great options worth visiting for. The town has
an inordinate number of thrift stores, perfect for fossicking for vintage clothing and bric-a-brac. For retro
styles, indie fashion labels and handmade jewellery and crafts, check out the Village Market, held on the first
and third Sunday of each month at the Burleigh Heads State School.
In 2011, two hip Queensland baristas decided to
bring quality coffee to the locals and the result is Canteen Coffee. Tucked off a
laneway (how Melbourne!), Canteen has dark walls, found-wood furniture and even
a bank of old cinema seats outside. Slurp down espresso-based coffees topped
with silky-smooth milk and pick up some coffee beans to go.
Lane Pizzeria and Bar is an
uber-trendy spot that sits incongruously beside the town’s greasy takeaway
joints. Sit shoulder to shoulder with locals digging into thin-crust pizzas,
topped with fancy ingredients such as buffalo mozzarella, serrano ham, smoked
pork belly and local tiger prawns. If you want to see and be seen, opt for
dinner at the bar in the front dining room that faces the beach. For dessert, try
the red wine-poached pear with mascarpone or the hand-made ice cream. It is a sweet
end to the real Gold Coast.