Full of theme parks, hedonistic nightlife, cheap accommodation and a plastic fantastic attitude, the Gold Coast’s Surfers Paradise is the nearest Australia gets to Las Vegas, and it’s certainly not for everyone. However, there’s far more to the Gold Coast than the parties that Surfers Paradise is so famous for. Sun-drenched beaches, featuring some of Australia’s best surf breaks, stretch south for 70km through a procession of increasingly laidback surf communities, all set against a hinterland which features a World Heritage-listed national park.
The Gold Coast suburb of Surfers Paradise, just south of Queensland capital Brisbane, is one of the top vacation destinations (and areas for buying holiday homes) for Australians, thanks in part to being serviced by many cheap flights and lots of accommodation, whether luxury hotels, budget backpacker hostels of cheap family holiday apartments. Indeed, Surfers Paradise’s loud and proud intent to become Australia’s most popular tourism resort town with a cool beach lifestyle can be demonstrated by two events – in 1933, when the town changed its name from Elston as a marketing move, and in 1965, when a local entrepreneur started paying girls to wear gold bikinis and wander the streets putting money in parking meters so that nobody got a ticket.
Surfers Paradise is also famed for being Australia’s party capital, with clubbers heading home at sunrise a common sight. For this reason it’s probably best to avoid planning a family holiday to Surfers Paradise at the start of the school holidays in late November/early December, when drunken school leavers (so-called ‘schoolies’) take over the town in huge numbers (not dissimilar to Spring Break).
Gold Coast Theme Parks
Surfers Paradise is not just about drinking and people watching on the beautiful golden beach. Surfers Paradise is also the theme park capital of Australia, making it great for family holidays. One of the best is Dreamworld, where you can try a stomach-churning range of rollercoasters and then explore the zoo and even cuddle a koala. At Warner Bros Movie World, Australia’s version of Universal Studios, there’s plenty of film-related fun. Also good is Sea World, where you can watch dolphin and sea-lion displays, plus go on rides and even swim with sharks at Shark Bay.
Entry to Surfers Paradise's theme parks can be expensive, especially if you’re buying family tickets, but shop around for multi-theme park passes as there’s cheap deals to be had.
Other Things To Do in Surfers Paradise
Once you’ve toured the theme parks and tried learning to surf, there are still many things to do on your Surfers Paradise holiday. Amongst all the thrills it’s easy to forget that Surfers Paradise is actually quite stunning. Perched on a narrow strip of land interwoven with more canals than Venice and Amsterdam combined, Surfers Paradise has skyscrapers right up to the beach. Taking a helicopter scenic flight is a good way to soak it up, or take the cheap option and travel up to the observation deck of the Q1 Tower, the world’s tallest residential tower.
You can also take bicycle tours, go Zorbing, jet boating, skydiving, bungy jumping, off-road buggy driving or learn to kite surf.
Late October is an exciting time to be in Surfers Paradise as the streets are turned into a Monaco-style racetrack for a series of V8 races. It’s a busy week, so book your hotel early if you’re planning your holiday for then.
Travelling South from Surfers Paradise
It’s really worth hiring a car to travel down Australia's Gold Coast, away from the bright lights of Surfers Paradise and towards Byron Bay, over the New South Wales border. There’s a succession of laidback and family-oriented beachside surf communities like Broadbeach, Burleigh Heads, Currumbin and Coolangatta, all technically suburbs of the stretched out city that is Gold Coast, the biggest city in Australia that isn’t a state capital.
Starting with Broadbeach, just a few minutes travel from Surfers Paradise, all the way down to Coolangatta, which forms the state border with New South Wales, these all share a much more relaxed and genuinely local feel to them.
At Burleigh Heads there is a wildlife sanctuary and small national park, where you can stroll through diverse forests that have sprouted from the volcanic soils.
All of these Gold Coast suburbs have plenty of hotels and other accommodation options, often right by the beach, as well as surf schools.
Surfing Australia's Gold Coast
Surfers Paradise, ironically, is one of the worst places to go surfing on the Gold Coast, even though the wider area is home to some of Australia’s best breaks.
The long, straight beach, with reliably small waves, however, does make Surfers Paradise an excellent place to learn to surf. There are plenty of surf schools more than happy to take you on those tentative first lessons and teach you how to master the snap.
The Gold Coast as a whole, however, truly deserves its reputation as one of the best places to surf in Australia, perhaps the world.
The most famous breaks can be found at the southern end of the Gold Coast. Burleigh Heads and Currumbin Alley are both rated as world-class surf spots, while most famous is Snapper Rocks, which marks the start of the longest right-hander in Australia, the 2km “Superbank” towards Kirra.
If you like watching the masters at work, or simply ogling surfers, then time your Gold Coast holiday to coincide with the Quiksilver Pro, the first world surf tour event of the season. It visits Coollangatta in late February, with competing surfers travelling to wherever the best surf is.
Another popular option with local surfers is the east coast of South Stradbroke Island, just north of Surfers Paradise (and only 30km from Brisbane). While there, also make sure you eat local delicacy Moreton Bay bugs. They may sound disgusting but are actually a delicious variety of lobster.
The Gold Coast Hinterland
Make sure you jump in the hire car again or join a tour to travel inland and explore the mountainous and rainforest-coated hinterland. Within a handful of kilometres it feels like you’ve entered another world. The sun-drenched beaches give way to beautiful wilderness and thundering waterfalls over 100 metres high. Perhaps most mesmerising is Lamington National Park, part of a World Heritage-listed area, where ancient eucalypts cower under the looming presence of nearby Mount Warning. It is easy to find accommodation deep within the wilderness, with most hotels at either Green Mountains or Binna Burra. Horse riding tours are a popular option, while there are also plenty of spectacular walks within Lamington. The more adventurous hiker should take on the five-day Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk, which links the park with Springbrook National Park, 54km away. Tamborine Mountain, further north, is also an excellent city getaway.
Getting to the Gold Coast
Travelling to Queensland’s Gold Coast is very easy. Gold Coast Airport (less than two hours’ flight from both Sydney and Melbourne) is located in Coolangatta, 25km south of Surfers Paradise. You can also catch a flight to Brisbane International Airport, just north of Surfers Paradise. All the major Australian airlines fly to one or the other (or both), meaning competition is fierce, so flights are regular and often very cheap. There are plenty of hire car companies around.