Spend more than a few days in Australia’s Gold Coast and you’re likely to want to leave the usual tourist tracts and surfing beaches to find something a bit different. Bordering national parks and subtropical rainforests, there’s more to Gold Coast than nightlife and surfing, after all.
With 35 miles of coastline and 530 miles of tidal waterways inland, there are more beaches in the city than you could hope to cover. They’re generally well known – places like Surfer’s Paradise, Broadbeach and Main Beach are just a few out of dozens that surfers get flights to from all over the world.
Walking the waterways and coastline takes you to less populated beaches, though – like one of my favourites, Echo Beach. Head to Burleigh Heads and you’ll find Echo Beach on the other side of the rocky headland, after walking through the lush rainforest or along the ocean. The beach itself is as pristine as any – and it comes with the added bonuses of quiet seclusion and varied wildlife (bearded dragons and carpet pythons, for instance).
For a slightly different approach to the beaches, head up the hill that crosses into the New South Wales border. Between the famous Snapper Rocks and Durnabah (that’s D-Bah to the locals) beaches, the grassy spot at the tip of Coolangatta is a great place to relax and watch surfers.
The national parks
A lot of the real beauty of the Gold Coast gets forgotten in the hype surrounding the beaches – your best bet is to stay in the city, where there are countless affordable hostels with access to all the beaches – but you can head out on numerous trips west to the national parks in the incredible rainforest hinterland. You’ll need your own transport, or a tour bus, and be prepared to hike, and bring your own food. There’s a mix of cafes and restaurants in the parks, but your choice is usually between hit-and-miss standards like “Scuttlebutt Cafe” (a Springbook charm) and expensive holiday lodges.
Springbrook park is a priority, with its range of breathtaking lookouts and wildlife walks. There’s something prehistoric about Springbrook, with ancient trees, reptiles and birds. Amongst the 100 bird species in the park, look out for the rare Albert lyrebird that evolved in the area (which you’re more likely to hear than see).
One of the most popular walks in the park will take you to the massive Purlingbrook Falls, while the stunning cave, pool and waterfall of Natural Bridge is a close second. For something a little different, aim to see Natural Bridge at night – it’s covered by thousands of glow worms that light up the cave: I’ve rarely seen such a beautiful display of nature.
The Gondwana Rainforests, an Australian World Heritage area, are reportedly the most extensive area of subtropical rainforest in the world, and Lamington Park forms part of it, a little further afield than Springbrook. Lamington lies 3,000ft above sea level, and it really shows – if you visit Binna Burra, or trek the Ships Stern trail, there are incredible panoramas down into the valleys. This is one for the hikers and those with their own cars, though; the park is vast, and some of the roads are unpaved and rocky.
Just an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast, Tamborine is a little more accessible than the other parks. It’s on the edge of an ancient volcano (the third oldest national park in the world, in fact), and has plenty to do. As well as dozens of walks into the forests, with waterfalls and views back towards the sea, there’s adventure parks, day spas, and even a brewery (although on a budget you’ll want to do this trip out of the Gold Coast, rather than brave the resorts). Knoll Road and Cameron Falls have great inland lookouts, whilst you can see the sea from the Eagle Heights Resort and the surrounding roads on the East of the mountain – but beware, there are some narrow roads, and not always many places to park.
These are just the tip of the hidden spots you can find around the Gold Coast: with the massive rainforests and countless beaches, a little exploration goes a long way to finding heaps of natural beauty.