Hugging Queensland’s southeast coast for a whopping 70km, the City of the Gold Coast extends far beyond the borders of Surfers Paradise, its hedonistic heart. Once renowned for its tackiness, the “Goldie” has, ahead of the Commonwealth Games, attained a level of sophistication few expected of the city that birthed gold lamé bikini-clad Meter Maids. A raft of swanky new hotels, including The Darling, opened last month, the ongoing refurbishment of Hota, the city’s premier arts hub, and revamped dining and nightlife scenes are among the highlights of a multibillion-dollar facelift. Despite this flurry of development, the vibe remains relaxed. With few must-sees beyond its dazzling beaches, the Gold Coast is a city best explored through your taste buds – one seaside suburb at a time.
Jellurgal Cultural Centre, Burleigh Heads
Named after the Aboriginal word for the headland it sits on (also known as Burleigh Hill), Jellurgal offers the city’s most interesting – yet probably least-known – cultural experience. The centre, free to enter, gives an insight into the Gold Coast’s traditional owners, the Yugambeh people, and works by local artists are for sale. It’s well worth booking the Walkabout Tour (A$20, around £11), a 90-minute amble around the headland led by a Yugambeh guide, who will point out traditional sites and share their stories. The Journey Tour, A$39, includes a performance by the Yugambeh Aboriginal Dancers, who will be perform in today’s opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.
• Open Mon-Fri 8am-3pm, 1711 Gold Coast Highway, jellurgal.com.au
Gold Coast Food and wine tour
Until recently, eating out on the Gold Coast was far from a culinary adventure. But now there are so many great places to eat across the city – from high-end Japanese restaurants to Cuban food trucks – that even locals turn to Karen Inglis-Turner, owner of Gold Coast Food & Wine Tours, to help navigate the rapidly evolving scene. Karen runs four-hour walking tours that include tastings at new and under-the-radar spots in Burleigh Heads (such as tucked-away cafe Be Somewhere, which you’d be lucky to find unless you were looking for it), Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise. They are great fun, with plenty of food and drinks included. Karen also offers a hop-on, hop-off food tour along the G:link, the city’s new light rail network.
• From A$129pp, Fridays and Saturdays, goldcoastfoodandwinetours.com.au
The Gold Coast has 57km of beaches, and this sparkling blue creek separating Burleigh Heads from Palm Beach is one of the city’s most scenic (and protected) spots for a dip – there’s generally more space on the southern bank. Surf seekers may be happier just around the headland at Burleigh Beach, popular for its point break, great views towards the Surfers Paradise skyline, and cafes, bars and restaurants just steps from the sand. These include two of the Gold Coast’s five Good Food Guide 2018 “hatted” restaurants – pan-Asian powerhouse Rick Shores and fine seafood restaurant the Fish House. Several surf schools (including the Cheyne Horan School of Surf) also operate here.
Miami Marketta, Miami
The balmy year-round climate lends itself to Asian night market-style dining, which is now embraced here in many forms. This warehouse conversion off the Gold Coast Highway opened as an arts venue in 2011, and has evolved into a thrice-weekly street food fiesta, with up to 30 international food vendors. Try a Japanese gyoza from Monkey Magic, followed by a giant lamington from Reid Street Kitchen (no relation to the writer). There are also several bars, a handful of design boutiques and great live music. Such is the increasing demand for performance spaces on the coast that Marketta’s owners are redeveloping the neighbouring property into a soundproof venue with capacity of 1,300.
• Wed 5-9pm, Sat 5-11pm, Sun 4-1pm, 23 Hillcrest Parade, miamimarketta.com
The Paddock Bakery, Miami
No longer simply a place to pick up a meat pie and a loaf, the humble Australian bakery has gone haute in recent years. Few on the Gold Coast have nailed the trend quite like the Paddock Bakery, and while there are newer players in town now (including sister venue Bam Bam Bakehouse in Mermaid Beach), this bakery-cafe in a beautifully restored house remains a local favourite. Those in a hurry order a flat white and one of its famous croissants (which take three days to make) to go, but Paddock’s sit-down brunch menu and shady outdoor tables are very tempting.
• Daily 6.30am-3pm, 20 Hibiscus Haven, Miami, paddockbakery.com
Springbrook national park
At weekends, many locals escape the city for the rainforests, waterfalls, wineries and lookout points of the hinterland. Part of the Unesco-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, Springbrook national park is arguably its most beautiful corner. The Twin Falls Circuit (4km, allow two hours) is popular, or the after-dark Natural Bridge Circuit (1km, one hour) takes visitors to marvel at glowworms in a cave behind a stunning waterfall. The entrance to the park is about an hour’s drive south-west of Broadbeach.
• Free, access currently via Pine Creek Road only, npsr.qld.gov.au
Balter Brewing Company, Currumbin
It’s co-owned by three-time world champion surfer (and Gold Coast local) Mick Fanning, but this two-year-old craft brewery has earned its own celebrity status. It debuted with a deliciously tropical XPA in 2016, and won awards including 10 prizes at the 2017 Australian International Beer Awards. Balter beers are now on tap all over the country, but there’s nothing like sampling a schooner (three-quarters of a pint, around A$7) at the source. Balter’s huge, exposed-brick HQ doubles as a brew bar at weekends, with live music, food trucks and a casual, family-friendly vibe compensating for its location a five-minute drive inland.
• Brew bar Fri 3-9pm, Sat-Sun 1-8pm, 14 Traders Lane, balter.com.au
Justin Lane, Burleigh Heads
Blink and you’ll miss this lane off the Gold Coast Highway which shares its name with the dingy arcade-turned-hip-dining-complex that marks its entrance. With a pizzeria, pasta joint and rooftop bar, the Justin Lane Establishment is a destination in itself (there’s also a barber, a hair salon and a surf shop inside), but venture further down the alley and you’ll discover three bars: Iku, a stylish yakatori and whisky bar; Lockwood, a suave speakeasy; and grungy pocket bar Nightjar. On the main road, easier-to-find Jimmy Wah’s (named after the watering hole in Good Morning, Vietnam) looks flash, but its wonderfully light modern Vietnamese small plates are very well-priced. Make one of them the A$9 tempura soft shell crab banh mi (baguette).
La Costa Motel, Bilinga
Big hotels tend to dominate the Gold Coast’s accommodation scene, but an exception is this small, attractively renovated 1950s motel at the southern tip of the city near the New South Wales border. One block back from the sand and a five-minute drive from Cooloongatta’s famous Kirra Beach (be sure to book a meal at smart Kirra Point restaurant Baskk), La Costa is especially convenient for visitors flying in or out of Gold Coast airport, which is just across the highway. Free airport transfers, breakfast and bike rental make it a particularly attractive option.
• Doubles from A$126 B&B, 127 Golden Four Drive, lacostamotel.com.au
The Island Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise
Proving that even Surfers Paradise – perhaps best-known for booze-soaked school leaver parties – is capable of reinventing itself, the coral pink budget hotel formerly known as The Islander reopened last year to considerable fanfare following an extensive renovation. The Island’s 98 guest rooms fuse relaxed coastal living with a playful nod to the city’s 1960s heyday (custom-made retro-style furniture, candy-striped pool umbrellas). Beyond its enticing pool, the Island has a great rooftop bar, a decent Italian bistro, and the G:link stops right out front.
• Doubles from A$179 B&B, 3128 Surfers Paradise Bvld, theislandgoldcoast.com.au
Etihad flies from Heathrow to Brisbane via Abu Dhabi from £720 (23 hours). From Brisbane, it’s about an hour by train or shuttle bus to Surfers Paradise. The Gold Coast also has an international airport at Coolangatta.