Geographically, Australia’s Gold Coast lies in a golden zone

The Gold Coast is the golden, sandy facade of one of the world’s most desirable living spaces – something akin to the flashing white teeth in the bright smile of a beautiful, healthy young girl. Yet there’s much more to the Gold Coast than the flash of beach beauty that smiles on its visitors.

The Gold Coast’s climate is about as healthy as the human can find. Here, heavily forested mountains rise behind the famous beaches. Verdant rainforests with towering trees and abundant wildlife stand in complete contradiction to the harsh, sunburnt conditions in Australia’s popular Outback image.

With one of the world’s most functional governments, high living standards and idyllic climate, the Gold Coast is a place that many inhabitants of ‘The Lucky Country’ – as Australians often refer to their homeland – wish they could move to. And, as the Gold Coast’s swish suburbs with luxury, canal-side homes testify, many wealthier folks have already done so.

Situated right in the middle of Australia’s east coast, the 30 kilometres of Gold Coast beaches stretch along the southern-most coast of Queensland state, ending where they border against the state of New South Wales. Brisbane, the state capital just 100 kilometres north of ‘The Coast’, is a modern city whose two million plus inhabitants enjoy comfortable lives spread through green, leafy suburbs – and use Gold Coast beaches as their primary weekend getaway.

‘The Coast’ occupies a rather narrow strip between beaches and mountains, rarely more than ten kilometres wide. The mountainous hinterland is so diverse and beautiful it can become a complete destination in its own right, offering verdant rainforests, mountains and valleys that cloister quaint, old-style dairy farms and numerous accommodation retreats.

A sub-tropical climate gives the Gold Coast hot summers and mild winters – near ideal for human comfort. The water temperature dips to a winter low of 19 degrees – considered too cold for swimming by the locals, but southern Australians and Asians from Japan, China and Korea are often seen in ocean during those months. When summer pushes water temperatures up to a comfortable 25 degrees the local Queenslanders head into the water in droves. And, of course, that Australian summer falls conveniently over the Christmas–New Year holidays when the northern hemisphere is in deep freeze, making it a desirable winter destination for those living far to the north.

true beachfront accommodations, yes, but just 1 real hotel right on the beach

Is there just a single, true beachfront hotel on the entire Gold Coast? Yes, one, and that’s about it – for now. As the maps here show, the Sheraton Mirage on Main Beach is the only real hotel that enjoys a true beachfront location on the entire Gold Coast. However, there are about 30 Australian-style accommodations right on the beach, though these are all holiday apartments for rent, not real hotels.

Traditionally, when Australians go to the beach they pack the whole family into the car and drive – with those coming from Melbourne taking two days to reach The Coast. Once there, they want to live home-style, doing their own cooking, cleaning and washing. It’s all part of Australia’s passion to make holidays so economical that everyone can go to the beach at least once a year for an extended period. I, too, grew up doing just that, with short but regular drives with my family from Brisbane.

By the 1960s, when I was a teenager running around the Gold Coast, most of the beachfront land was already occupied by private holiday homes, most of which belonged to my fellow Brisbanites. As holiday apartments became popular and profitable, even those had trouble obtaining land right on the beach. When regular hotels – the latecomers – began sinking foundations in Gold Coast sands the beachfront was simply crowded-out and over-priced.

Surprisingly, it will be 2017 when the first true beachfront hotel opens in Surfers Paradise. The photo here shows a promotional artist’s impression of the super-modern, three-tower megalith whose foundations began digging in 2015, Surfers Paradise Jewel. This is on our Broadbeach map, though it’s equally close to Surfers.

Here we have qualified all beachfront rental apartments that operate in the manner of a hotel; they have a reception and accept guests who both walk in or book in advance. Some have a minimum rental period from two to three days, though most accept single night bookings outside peak seasons. Most come in two or three bedroom units with lounge, kitchen and balcony. Services, however, are generally not hotel style, and hardly exist. There is no daily room service, and the receptionist may be the only staff available on site, and even he/she will likely go home after working hours. Guests take care of themselves, home-style. Most holiday apartments have no restaurant, though menus for food delivery from a range of nearby restaurants are generally on hand.

The Gold Coast; beaches of outstanding beauty

The Pacific Ocean is surely the world’s top creator of beach beauty, with so many famous, almost mystical names nurtured by this great ocean. Bora Bora, Waikiki and Samoa come to mind. The Gold Coast, too, owes the outstanding beauty of its beaches to this mother of all oceans. Waves are the makers of sand and beaches, and the vast expanses of the Pacific generate a steady swell that pummels Australia’s east coast with year-round regularity. The sand – so fine is squeaks underfoot in hot weather – is very wide on all Gold Coast beaches, with small sand dunes at the back of most. The deep ocean water that washes up here is also exceptionally clear and clean.

It’s a rare day when the beaches here don’t have waves and surfers. Even during the winter months the keenest of board riders can be seen catching their thrills on the waves – though now they need wet suits to survive the cold water.

The sand is virtually identical from beach to beach, for the ocean moves sand slowly northwards, sharing the same fine-grained stuff along the entire coast. In the 1950s and 60s man-made intrusions blocked this natural sand flow; an artificial breakwater at the Tweed River stopped the flow from northern NSW, starving Gold Coast beaches of sand, and leaving them vulnerable to erosion in big storms. As a boy growing up in this area in the 1960s this writer remembers seeing many Gold Coast beaches virtually disappear, with their sand completely eroded by big storms and waves breaking right over the road at Surfers Paradise and other beaches. It was a horrific sight. Now that scientists have worked out measures to undo man’s destructive interventions, hopefully this won’t be repeated. Read more about the environment of Gold Coast beaches .

Surfers Paradise: lifestyle & entertainment centre

Surfers Paradise is the pulsating, high-energy heart of the Gold Coast. The thick forest of high-rise hotels and apartments dominates all views along the coast, a strong affirmation to Surfers’ claim to local dominance and international fame.

The distinctive high-rise forest runs from Main Beach to Broadbeach, with the tallest peaks marking the heart of Surfers. Other beaches have few, or no high-rise towers, until we reach the southern end at Coolangatta.

The Surfers’ lifestyle that has transformed this into a major international travel destination grew up around the youthful tradition of surfing by day and hunting excitement by night in the local pubs and bars. Today’s beach scene has morphed somewhat with the influx of visitors from afar. Real surfing is beyond the physical ability of most of today’s visitors, however life on the beach and in the waves still provides ample daytime exercise and fun. Come dark, Surfers Paradise sparkles to life with wide spectrum of eateries, bars and entertainment venues catering to all ages and nationalities.

With fame and progress, Surfers has moved upmarket. Today it caters to both older visitors and honeymoon couples from around the world, to local and international families, and to the hoards of well-to-do retirees who have made this their home. There is something for just about everyone in Surfers. However, many younger generation Australians and visiting surfers tend to leave Surfers Paradise to those with deeper pockets, moving to beaches further up and down the coast where prices and styles are more local.

Who comes to the Gold Coast?

Originally the Gold Coast catered to Australians, starting first with urbanites from nearby Brisbane hungry for a weekend break in the sand and surf. The first life saving clubs began opening on The Coast in the 1920s. It was perhaps the 1950s before the Gold Coast gained enough reputation to compel visitors from Sydney and Melbourne to begin using The Coast as an escape from the cold of the southern winters. But it was a long way in those days, a full day’s drive from Sydney and two from Melbourne. The advent of modern air travel, starting in the 1970s, changed all that, however, and began the complete transformation of the Gold Coast into both Australia’s prime beach resort and one of its most desired residential areas.

In the 1980s international visitors begun including the Gold Coast on their itineraries during tours of Australia that typically included Sydney, the Outback and the Great Barrier Reef. Today a few fly in from overseas with the Gold Coast as their primary destination.

While beautiful beaches with sand so fine it squeaks underfoot are the major lure underpinning most visits here, the overall Gold Coast experience now includes lifestyle attractions like good restaurants and diverse dining, nightlife, day tours, whale watching, the casino, ‘Aussie’ surf clubs, theme parks and, for overseas visitors, an immersion in Australia’s easy-going, outdoors culture.

by John Everingham