One Perfect Weekend on the Gold Coast

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Mar 22, 2017

This sun-kissed holiday strip is a magnet for families and schoolies but sometimes a Gold Coast getaway is all about the grown-ups, writes Julie Miller.

Born in the era that brought TV to Australia, the Gold Coast was created in homage to Americana, its perpetual sunshine, glamour and focus on family fun reflected in kitsch suburb names such as Miami and Florida Gardens.

Fast-forward to the Netflix era and Australia’s sixth-largest city has come of age, maturing into a cosmopolitan community with an entrepreneurial spirit, a burgeoning food scene and renewed appreciation of its natural surrounds.

Such a grown-up place needs an itinerary to match so we’ve put one together for you.

Day 1 AM 

Your exploration of the Gold Coast begins in the sleepy enclave of Burleigh Heads, an alternative village often compared to NSW’s Byron Bay during its hippie heyday, where skyscrapers are yet to cast a shadow on the strip of sand.

For a taste of the casual Burleigh vibe, stop at Commune café (07 5520 3377), beloved by locals for its substantial organic breakfasts. Its signature corn-coriander fritters stacked with smashed avocado and housemade chilli jam live up to their cult status.

To walk off this feast, continue to Burleigh headland, one of the few elevated landmarks on the coast. There are two walking tracks in this 27-hectare national park; for a reasonable workout, take the high road, a 2.3-kilometre circuit through tropical rainforest to Tumgun Lookout, with sweeping views across Tallebudgera Creek. If you’re there between June and November, look out for breaching humpback whales – the headland is one of the best places to spot these acrobatic giants during their annual migration.

Taking the switchback descent back to the pandanus-lined shore, detour across the highway into Burleigh Heads township. A stroll down James Street provides a snapshot of the village; funky boutiques sit alongside galleries, surf shops and cafés selling açaí smoothies. The colourful Threeworlds sells African drums and firesticks that illuminate beachside Justins Park during the Bongos at Burleigh drumming circle on Sunday evenings, a contagious, fairy-winged celebration of rhythm, dance and fire-twirling.

Back at the beach, head for one of the best-located restaurants in Australia, Rick Shores, slap-bang on the sand and boasting uninterrupted views of the Surfers Paradise skyline. With a glass of pinot gris in hand, it’s a great place to people-watch as you dine on Asian-inspired seafood dishes such as kingfish sashimi or fried Moreton Bay bug sliders. And for dessert, the ginger curd served with raspberries and pepper meringue will set the tastebuds alight.

Day 1 PM

While the Gold Coast is famous for sun and surf, it’s the man-made elements of its landscape that set it apart from other Australian cities. Over 400 kilometres of canals flank the narrow coastal strip – more than in Amsterdam and Venice combined – and from the SkyPoint Observation Deck of the 77-storey Q1 building, the tapestry of waterways resembles shimmering snakes, curling around islands with their mega-mansions, swimming pools and marinas. 

The most intimate view of the Gold Coast lifestyle, however, is from the water. And what better way to explore than under your own steam? Kayak the Gold Coast offers sunset tours of the Broadbeach waterways with a gentle paddle around Florida Gardens, the Gold Coast’s first canal development, created in the 1950s.

“This part of the Coast is like a time line,” says company owner Alicia Harvie, pausing to watch bats squabbling in the mangroves that line the eastern bank of the canal. “There are still a handful of original cottages in this estate, though they’re gradually being knocked down and redeveloped. But then on this side, you see a glimpse of the Gold Coast as it used to be. It’s so tranquil – apart from the bats!”

Pulling into a sandy beach, Harvie produces a picnic rug, cheese platter and a bottle of wine to toast the sunset as it paints its Impressionistic magic above. Then, emerging onto the Nerang River 20 minutes later, we’re treated to an iconic Gold Coast view: the city skyline, silhouetted against a fireball sky.

Overnight 

You’ll be part of that skyscraper action at your accommodation, Peppers Broadbeach, a twin-towered resort soaring high above Kurrawa Beach and the lively Oracle precinct.

This buzzing strip of bars and restaurants epitomises the new Gold Coast, with the über-cool Social Eating House + Bar leading the sophisticated charge. As the name suggests, this European-style one-hatted restaurant is a place to share a bottle of wine over tapas and charcuterie plates. The selection does not preclude solo diners, however, with dishes such as the Asahi-battered King George whiting – paired with goat’s cheese balls, steamed asparagus and a poached egg – creating a satisfying meal for one.

Day 2 AM

Early starts are de rigueur in Queensland. Join the brigade of local surfers, beachcombers and horizon-gazers and take a brisk stroll along the high-tide mark. Set your compass for north and after one kilometre, detour to Chelsea Avenue’s Elk Espresso in Broadbeach (07 5592 2888), a rustically arty café with a mouth-watering breakfast menu: try the passionfruit and coconut panna cotta for a light start or, for tradition with a twist, poached eggs with sesame and maple crab.

The fact that the Gold Coast does a great breakfast shouldn’t be surprising, considering the verdant Garden of Eden that lies less than an hour’s drive inland. For food-lovers, a hinterland excursion is a must – a moveable feast through acreage dotted with livestock, fruit and artisan cheese producers, many of which sell direct to the public. 

Just beyond Canungra, an eclectic town that marries its timber-industry roots with an artistic bent, the picturesque O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards prepares pre-ordered picnic baskets stocked with locally sourced produce including goat’s cheese, macadamias and cured meats. Everything is provided – food, cutlery, a picnic rug and an idyllic riverside setting where you can watch platypus and turtles at play. A complimentary wine-tasting is also included; then select a bottle of your favourite drop and settle in for the most relaxing alfresco lunch imaginable. 

Day 2 PM

Swinging north from Canungra, climb a twisting road known locally as “the goat track” to Tamborine Mountain in the Scenic Rim. With expansive views of the lowlands, this lofty retreat is the antidote to the hustle of the coast – cool, laid-back and slightly offbeat, where the call of the whipbird and the trickling of waterfalls soothe the stress of city life.

SEE ALSO: Scenic Tamborine Mountain

Exploring Tamborine is a little like dipping into a lolly bag; with three villages and 14 sections of national park, you can enjoy little bites of ambrosia without overindulging. For an overview of the region’s crafts scene, stroll down Gallery Walk, where more than 70 shops sell everything from fudge to cuckoo clocks. And even if you’re not peckish after lunch, treat yourself to a tasting at the Witches Chase Cheese Company at the southern end of the walk; the Tamembert (its version of camembert), triple-cream brie and washed-rind cheeses are deserving award winners. 

Tamborine also offers nature in palatable chunks; easy walks meander through rainforest to lookouts, creeks and waterfalls – and you won’t raise a sweat. The 1.1-kilometre Curtis Falls Track is one such circuit. If you want to cool off in a natural waterhole, continue on from the Cedar Creek Falls Lookout to the rock pools below – but be warned: the rocks can be slippery and the water temperature a heart-starter!

After Dark

A perfect weekend deserves a celebratory final meal at one of the best restaurants on the Gold Coast – Kiyomi at Jupiters casino. The brainchild of former Nobu chef Chase Kojima, this hatted restaurant takes Japanese cuisine to the next level with innovative, artistic dishes – such as Hiramasa kingfish ceviche with crispy potatoes and Dengakuman toothfish in caramelised miso – guaranteed to send Instagrammers into a frenzy. And, yes, each morsel tastes as good as it looks. 

SEE ALSO: The 9 Gold Coast Restaurants You Can’t Miss