Without a doubt, one of the top destinations for family travel has to be the Gold Coast in Queensland in Australia. Many overseas travelers call the area ‘Surfers Paradise’ but Surfers Paradise is actually just the name of a single beach, albeit the best-known beach, on this stunning beach laden coastline. The Gold Coast stretches for approximately 57 km (35 miles) from Stradbroke Island and Sanctuary Cove in the north, to Coolangatta in the south. It has about 30 different stunning surf beaches, each with its own unique character, and it covers an area of over 400 square km, including 400 km of canal waterways and some very interesting tropical rainforest, bush and hinterland areas.
THINGS TO DO IN SURFERS PARADISE & THE GOLD COAST
THE BEACHES AND SWIMMING
The squeaky white sand surf beaches and great climate are some of the top attractions on the Gold Coast. If surfing is your passion you have just found yourself in paradise!
If, however, you have young family members with you, you also have some good options for safe swimming beaches. There is the tidal Labrador Lagoon in the north for safe swimming in the shallow waters of the lagoon, with the bonus of the famous Charis Fish shop with it’s a delicious range of fresh fish and chips for a picnic. At 1 pm every day, the staff from Charis feed the pelicans at the lagoon, which is a very entertaining free show.
There is also the Tallebudgera Creek Estuary beach facing the Burleigh Beach National Park and headland, the Currumbin Estuary, and Budds Beach in Surfers Paradise itself, for good family-friendly safe swimming beaches. Most of the resorts, hotels and apartment blocks also have their own swimming pools, so there is no shortage of places to go for a surf or a swim.
Your best views of the beaches will be from the 36 km walk or bike ride called The Gold Coast Oceanway, which is a network of beachfront pathways that go from The Spit in the north, down to Coolangatta. Walk or bike different sections, or just go as far as you like and then get the bus or tram back to your base.
You’ll find plenty of casual cafes along the way, but during your visit, you must take part in that very popular past time of the local Queenslanders, of sitting out on the decks of one of the many beachfront surf clubs overlooking the beach and enjoying a drink or a meal. Our favorite breakfast place is the Burleigh Surf Club. I recommend the Haloumi Stack. And at the Currumbin Surf Club, you are virtually sitting in the surf!
Ask anyone who has been in the vicinity of majestic whales in their natural environment, and particularly if they’ve seen them breaching, tail slapping or swimming with their young, and they will tell you what an unforgettable and amazing experience it was. The whales do an annual 10,000-mile migration north from the Antarctic. The season on the Gold Coast is from May to November. From May to July the whales are heading north to breed and from August to October they are heading back south with their young.
They can be spotted from the Gold Coast beaches, headlands, and tall buildings, but the best option for a closer look is from a boat tour. There is an abundance of boats and tour companies offering tours with a variety of options available.
Another key attraction, especially for family holidays, is the wide range of theme parks on the Gold Coast.
Warner Bros. Movie World has some adrenalin-pumping rides. The HyperCoaster is said to be the longest, tallest and fastest roller-coaster in the southern hemisphere. For more thrills, there’s also the Superman Escape ride and from Batman, the Arkham Asylum ride.
There are plenty of your favorite movie stars around and you will find them in the daily Streets Star Parade and the Looney Tunes Dance Party. It’s interesting checking out the movie sets.
This is one of the best theme parks for toddlers, as there’s a special section of attractions and rides just for them.
DREAMWORLD & WHITEWATER WORLD
If you’re a family holidaying on a budget, Dreamworld and Whitewater World are excellent value, as the two parks are on the same site and share the same ticket. Whitewater World is a family water park and Dreamworld is mainly about the rides and there are over 40 of them.
The park is made up of several themed ‘lands.’ There’s Ocean Parade, DreamWorks Experience, ABC Kids World, Tiger Island, and Corroboree.
Sea World is the closest theme park to Surfers Paradise and a great park for all the family. It features a variety of shows, attractions, rides suitable for all ages, and marine animal adventures with stingrays, sharks, polar bears, dolphins, and penguins. It is also an important marine research and rescue center.
WET’ n ‘WILD
If you’re looking for the biggest and most extreme waterslides in Australia this is where you’ll find them and a special junior section for the younger members of your group and there are a good selection of pools too including a fun wave pool.
The Australian Outback Spectacular is an Australiana dinner and show package set in a big red barn. Over a three-course meal, an impressive show is presented in the central arena using the latest projection technology and usually featuring some skillful horse riding.
For a total Australian Farm experience you can visit Paradise Country just behind Wet’n’Wild, Water World and Warner Bros. Movie World. There is an Australian homestead and farm shows featuring sheep shearing, stock horses and sheepdogs. You can feed the chickens in the farmyard or get up close to the kangaroos and other wildlife.
CURRUMBIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
In theory, this is not a theme park, but it has got to be one of the best, if not the best, family day trips on the Gold Coast in Queensland. It is 27 hectares of wildlife park full of Australian wildlife and flora and fauna located right in the heart of the Gold Coast. It’s easy to reach by public transport and a must-visit if you are here from overseas.
The day starts at 8 am and finishes at 4 pm with the popular lorikeet feeding. You can collect a feeding plate filled with bird feed liquid and hold it out at arm’s length. The rainbow lorikeets suddenly appear en masse out of nowhere and dive down to feed on the plates. They land on your head, or arms, or back, or where ever they can best gain access to the food. It’s a very colorful and noisy display.
Once in the park, you will have access to wander through the open animal enclosures. You can feed the kangaroos, cuddle a koala or have a snake wrapped around your neck. There’s also a mini-train or a Segway Safari tour to get around the park.
It’s important to get a list of the times of the shows so that you don’t miss the ones you especially want to see. They include a Free Flight Bird Show, an Aboriginal Dance Show, the Crocodile Behavior Show, an Australiana show, Big Fang theory, and Blinky Bill’s Studio adventure.
There are a variety of other activities for an extra charge. Popular with the older kids is The Treetop Challenge which has 11 ziplines and 80 challenges which will take about three and a half hours to complete.
The Wildlife Hospital is one of the busiest wildlife hospitals in the world and you can make a booking to tour through it.
Within an hour’s drive from central Surfers Paradise, you can be experiencing a completely different vista up in the cooler hills and mountains of the hinterland with its rainforest walks, arty mountain villages, wineries, and great cuisine.
You will find waterfalls and tumbling creeks and glow worm caves in Springbrook National Park. Take a dip in the natural swimming hole called Warringa Pool.
One of the most popular spots is O’Reilly’s Treetop Walk in Lamington National Park, 15 meters above the rainforest floor. There are 100 miles of walking tracks through the Park.
Tambourine Mountain is another popular Hinterland destination with its 12 beautiful walking tracks, wineries and an award-winning distillery making liqueurs, vodkas, and schnapps.
Stroll along the famous Cavill Avenue Pedestrian Mall named after the founder of Surfers Paradise, Jim Cavill. It is in the heart of the Surfers Paradise shopping and entertainment district with a range of restaurants, shops, and nightclubs, and in the evenings there are live music performances and buskers.
The Beachfront Markets on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights from 4 pm to 9 pm, are right on the beachfront at Surfers Paradise with over 120 stalls selling a wide variety of goods. You are bound to pick up some treasure as a momento of your trip or gifts for friends and family back home.
Pacific Fair and Robina Shopping Mall are recently renovated upmarket malls that feature all the main Australian department stores, specialty shops, and great food courts.
You can always pick up some real bargains at Harbourtown Outlet Mall Paradise which has a huge range of brand names selling their seconds or surplus stock.
Surfers Paradise is famous for its nightlife. There is a huge range of pubs, bars, and clubs open until the early hours of the morning and always busy. Broadbeach and Southport also have a bustling nightlife.
We can promise you, you will never be bored on the Gold Coast. Your biggest problem will be deciding what to do next.
Guest Post by Maureen Spencer from “So Many Places! So Little Time!”-Online travel magazine and blog.