1 May 2016
While winter tightens its grip on many parts of Australia, the Gold Coast sticks to what it knows best – sun, surf and sea, writes Tatyana Leonov.
Dreamy beaches fit for a postcard. Towering hotels of polished concrete and glass boasting some of Australia’s best ocean views. A diverse range of shopping experiences spanning everything from lively outdoor malls to intimate luxury boutiques. And so many activities on offer it would be a challenge to even contemplate trying them all in one visit.
In juxtaposition, there’s the hinterland – a lush vastness of rainforests and home to Queensland’s oldest national park – and all this only 45 minutes’ drive away from the seaside. If there is one destination in Australia that has it all, it’s the almost-always-sunny Gold Coast.
The summers are spectacular, but winter is the best time to visit. The cooler months usually mean fewer people to share the beaches and forests with and more time experiencing everything the region has to offer.
Deciding where to stay is one of the hardest decisions, with everything from plush suites overlooking iconic Surfers Paradise to secluded rainforest retreats or glitzy modern hotels. The best way to tackle the where-to-stay challenge is to try out a couple of places every time you visit.
The breathtaking skyline and buzzy atmosphere is one of the many reasons people choose to stay at Surfers Paradise. Over 40 percent of the Gold Coast’s accommodation is located here.
If you’re looking to mingle with the Gold Coast elite, then your first port of call should be QT Gold Coast. Opened in 2011, the bold and bright design scheme is still a talking point with travellers. Nic Graham, the brain behind the innovative design concept, used the 1950s and 1960s as stimulus for his refreshing design – and it’s all about quirky-cool fused with modern-luxe. Explosions of bright colour in the form of contemporary artworks and attention-grabbing furnishings are part of the effect. There are plenty of patterns scattered throughout, and pieces, such as Eames-era chairs and artist-created feature walls, are all fun inclusions.
If something classic tickles your fancy, Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa is a luxury resort retreat amidst the buzz. All the rooms are exceptional, but for the utmost indulgence book a suite with Elandra Retreat Club access. The views from the 27th floor lounge are unsurpassed and breakfasts and evening canapes are part of the package. There’s really no better place to watch the sunrise, and days can be spent exploring the grounds or lazing about in the one of the hotel’s plush poolside cabins. You can even step out of your room and swim with tropical fish in the hotel’s saltwater lagoon.
If you’re an avid surfer and it’s all about waves, the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort is the only five-star resort on the Gold Coast with direct beach access. Perfectly positioned on Main Beach, the location is also ideal for families wanting to check out some of the theme parks around.
Sofitel Gold Coast Broadbeach is another chic choice for guests not wanting to stay at Surfers, Paradise. Just five minutes walk from Pacific Fair Shopping Centre and linked to Oasis Shopping Centre, it’s an ideal place to stay if shopping is on the cards.
But no visit to the Gold Coast is complete without a stop at Palazzo Versace, the glamour puss of hotels and certainly a must-see destination in itself. The iconic hotel recently won the Leading Hotel Australasia award in the World Travel Awards, and it’s easy to see why. Gigantic gold columns, a shimmering pink marbled floor and a colossal crystal chandelier in the reception space; glitzy rooms fit out with elegant Italian furnishings; Versace trimmings any way you look – it’s an extravagant decadence and that’s exactly why you book here.
New and battle-seasoned chefs are flocking to the Gold Coast to open their very own Next Big Thing. With an abundance of fresh seafood, organic meats and locally grown vegetables, you’ll be hard-pressed to not find something up your alley.
Some of the best restaurants and bars are located inside hotels, so it pays to stay somewhere where the food offerings entice... if you don’t want to walk very far that is.
At Palazzo Versace, Vanitas Restaurant has recently undergone an elegant refurbishment. Chef de Cuisine Dayan Hartill-Law (who refined his skills in the kitchens of three-hatted restaurant Quay in Sydney and two- Michelin-Star restaurant Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London) brings his signature whimsical style to the table, focusing on a seasonal menu featuring the freshest local produce.
Earlier this year, Sofitel Gold Coast Broadbeach’s elegant restaurant, room81, was awarded two hats by the Australian Good Food Guide – it’s one of just a few two-hatted restaurants in the region. Head chef Sam Moore spotlights local produce, with multi-course degustations the star of the show.
For an entertaining teppanyaki experience, Misono Japanese Steakhouse at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa can’t be missed. It’s Australia’s largest teppanyaki restaurantandhighlyrecommendedforgroupbookings. Head chef Henry Bongay ensures customers enjoy a great meal with extra helpings of laughter (an insider tip – the deluxe wagyu banquet is a top choice).
Another great group option is QT’s Bazaar. The marketplace concept means people with differing palates always find something to suit, with a plethora of fresh salads, piping-hot dishes and seasonal specialties on offer.
Of course,beyond the hotels there are hundreds of eateries, cafes and bars to investigate.For the finest seafood, The Fish House in trendy Burleigh Heads was recently awarded second place in the Top 10 Restaurants in Australia in the 2015 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. Raw, smoked, fried, grilled... however you like your fish, there’s something on the menu to tempt.
Oskars on Burleigh is another neighbourhood gem. The delicately seared Hervey Bay scallops and Moreton Bay bugs are the seafood must-haves.
Not into seafood? Co-owners Matt and Amy Jefferson manage Social Eating House + Bar, a casually chic eatery popular with residents and visitors alike. The emphasis is on sharing dishes, with plenty of meat and vegetables alongside a few seafood gems. The confit pork belly and boneless saltbush lamb shoulder are popular meat-eaters’ choices.
Steak aficionados should head to The Institution Ale House & Dining for the best steak in town. The sophisticated tavern was the winner of the World Steak Challenge in London recently, and judging by the amount of steak-eating patrons, it’s obvious the locals agree.
Boom Boom Burgers is another meat-lover’s gem. All the burgers are hand made in-house and the assemblages are something to drool over. The La French burger comes with Angus beef, tapenade, truffle mayonnaise, pickled cauliflower, lettuce and the option of foie gras for extra oomph. Wham Bam Lamb is a prime lamb, smoked buffalo, mozzarella, pesto, smoked tomato and Chipotle mayonnaise delight.
If basking in the sun and eating all gets too much, there’s plenty to do and see. And we’re not talking more food (although there are some great foodie experiences around, including funky high tea concepts at both QT Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, tequila appreciation classes at QT Gold Coast, and a food-lovers tour through Burleigh or Broadbeach with Gold Coast Food and Wine Tours).
Surfers Paradise is humming with energy day and night, and while the on-ground view is spectacular, it’s even better from above. Standing 270 metres above sea level, SkyPoint Climb is Australia’s highest – and most impressive – external building climb. Once you reach the top you’re met with supreme views of golden sand, azure blue waters and the jagged Gold Coast cityscape.
If you prefer to stay on ground, then shopping is the answer. Surfers Paradise alone is home to 14 different shopping centres and arcades.
There’s plenty beyond Surfers Paradise too. Pacific Fair’s $645 million redevelopment has just been completed and avid shoppers now have greater choice, with newcomers H&M and Japanese apparel retailer UNIQLO, luxury retailers, and Australian designers all added to the mix.
It’s also sensible to dedicate time to natural wonders. From June to October it’s possible to see whales breaching from many of the beaches. Whale-watching cruises are another way of increasing the odds of witnessing these magnificent giants.
Then there’s Gold Coast’s hinterland – verdant greenery, quaint towns, charming shops and friendly locals with fascinating tales to tell – just 45 minutes drive from the glamorous coastal strip.
The township of Tamborine Mountain is one of the main attractions and an eccentric delight. Fudge shops, a cuckoo-clock store and a teashop whose claim to fame is stocking Australia’s largest selection of quality loose-leaf teas are some of the unusual finds here.
Tamborine Mountain Glow Worm Caves is an underground phenomenon kids rave about. The tour starts with an educational overview of the marvel, then the group enters a dark cave filled with thousands of glowing worms.
To conclude your Gold Coast hinterland experience, take a rug and some nibbles to one of the many lookouts on Tamborine Mountain. The sunsets are stunning and most of the lookouts offer panoramas that take in the green expanse of the hinterland, with the Gold Coast’s cityscape and white beaches in the distance. It’s a fitting image that captures the quintessential Gold Coast feel – beaches, city life, forests. No wonder it’s one of Australia’s favourite holiday spots.