the attractions of less-known, more local beaches

While Surfers Paradise is by far the Gold Coast’s best known beach, some environmental scientists think the beaches at the south end of The Coast are world-class classics – for surfing. In 2015 the prestigious title of World Surfing Reserve was bestowed on the beaches stretching from Burleigh Heads to Coolangatta, that’s 15 kilometres of beach encompassing the southern half of the Gold Coast; Burleigh Heads, Currumbin, Tugan, Bilinga, Kirra and Coolangatta beaches. Each year only one new World Surfing Reserve is proclaimed, and in 2015 the Gold Coast beat out Noosa, another classic Australian beach about 200 kilometres to the north, and one of Brazil’s best beaches south of Rio. The distinguishing features of these southern Gold Coast beaches – compared to their northern sisters – are the headlands and estuaries that break the coast into distinct segments. Headlands and rocky outcrops provide more interesting geography around which the Pacific swells curl and sweep, giving more varied waves and ideal surfing conditions. Also, the majority of these other beaches along the Gold Coast’s 30 kilometre stretch are distinctly more ‘Australian’, or should we say, ‘middle-class Australian’ than Surfers Paradise. Many, however, have no true beachfront accommodations for rent, and thus don’t feature on maps within this site. Varying attractions make some of these minor beaches worth visiting, however. Here I outline some of the lesser-known beaches while suggesting why each might be worth a visit. The Gold Coast’s two distinct beach zones, northern and southern, each run approximately 15 kilometres. The top end is one long, straight stretch of unbroken sand. With no landmarks separating the different beaches, you can look down a seemingly endless coast without knowing where one beach ends and the next begins. With headlands and rivers delineating each beach in the southern zone, this is geographically more interesting, and, some believe, more attractive. Anyone eager to find a quiet spot with a pretty beach, or those seeking immersion in a more ‘Australian family’ type environment, might find the southern beaches more interesting. And while there’s little entertainment compared to that in the northern area, there’s always the very ‘Aussie’ experience in the local surf clubs, of which there are many.

south of Surfers Paradise – Nobby’s Beach & Miami Beach are rather urban

The Coast’s long northern beach that stretches unbroken for 15 kilometres is divided into six distinct beaches, each with its own surf life saving club, patrolled swimming area and suburb behind. The bottom two, Nobby’s Beach and Miami Beach, have no true beachfront accommodations for rent and are thus not drawn into our maps.

These two are virtually identical to the beaches immediately above, with only the suburb behind showing real differences. Nobby’s and Miami beaches are distinctly suburban, with the shoreline completely occupied by private homes. Here you find those enjoying the sand and waves are almost all locals, with few tourists. There is no high-rise here, though there are a few rental apartments in the backstreets. Miami has a large high school facing the highway. Both have small commercial centres with a scattering of restaurants and shops along the main highway which runs 200 metres back from the beach.

There is a hill and headland behind Miami school that cuts the beach, marking the end of the long northern zone, and the beginning of the more individualistic beaches to the south.

Both Nobby’s Beach and Miami have surf life saving clubs, with Nobby’s Beach having the best, right-on-the-beach location. Miami SLSC sits back across the road with little beach view. These two clubs are quite small compared to some on other beaches, though they do have public bars and restaurants open to the public.

All in all, these two beaches are good for the residents, but have no real attractions to make a special trip here worthwhile.

Burleigh Heads & the interesting southern beaches

Here is one of the few Gold Coast beaches with a headland. This steep, forested bluff offers geographic distinction and elevation to some buildings. Yet most of the mountain is covered in thick forest, through which there is a pleasant walk connecting the north and south sides. With thick, dark forest rising behind brilliant white sand, Burleigh Heads Beach has a distinctive, more natural appearance than most. Lines of huge Norfolk Island pines along the beach soften the look of the few high-rise buildings here and leave Burleigh with a very user-friendly feel.

The beach is partly protected by the headland, and the ocean swells are forced to curl around the big obstruction, often giving the waves excellent form, and occasionally a small barrel break.

Burleigh Heads has no true beachfront accommodations, due mainly to the road running right up the beach. But it does have a lot of holiday apartments for rent overlooking both the road and beach. There’s a small commercial centre right by the base of the big headland that offers a good choice of restaurants, street cafes and take-away food places. Right in the middle, where the main highway slows down for a sharp loop through town, there’s an icon of old Australia – or of old Australians, we might say. It’s an open-air, lawn bowls club. This regal game reserved almost exclusively for the retired generation sees its genteel players come out onto the precisely cut lawns in crisply white uniforms. For foreign visitors it is an eye-grabbing sight.

The local surf club, called Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park Surf Life Saving Club is built right up against the sand, and enjoys some of the best beach and ocean views of all Gold Coast clubs. Stopping here for a meal or drinks is highly recommended. There is an extensive parking area behind the club, but this beach is so popular that finding a space often poses a problem. This beach is a favourite with locals from Brisbane, with very few foreign visitors finding their way here. Interestingly, Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park Surf Life Saving Club was one of the very first established on the Gold Coast, preceding the clubs at Surfers Paradise and Main Beach when it was set up in 1924.

Without doubt, Burleigh Heads is one of the most attractive spots on the Gold Coast, with the beach, surf club and small town all well worth a visit.

Currumbin– The Coast’s most family friendly beach?

Currumbin might be called the Gold Coast’s most family-friendly beach. Currumbin is a short beach distinguished by a steep hill behind and two big, protruding rocks, one at each end of the sand. The surf life saving club is built against the southern protrusion, Elephant Rock, a fortuitous location that gives its bar and restaurant spectacular views in many directions. The estuary is formed by a large creek running down from a mountain valley of the same name.

Currumbin has the standard beautiful, sandy beach with waves rolling in between the two rocky ends some 780 metres apart. But the forte of Currumbin that keeps families and children of all ages entertained for hours is the estuary on the north side. Currumbin’s northern rock shelters the spot where the estuary empties into the ocean, and together these have built up a shallow protected, sandbar some 300 metres wide that runs almost all of the way to neighbouring Palm Beach .

As waves wrap around the outer rock and roll gently over the sandbar they lose power and break gently, sometimes rolling on and carrying young surfers for hundreds of metres. Here is a safe paradise for beginner surfers, and a happy waterworld for children on boogie boards and other water toys whose parents want to be able to see them riding waves in safe conditions. At the same time their toddlers can play in the calm shallows of the estuary.

The only cautions here are to avoid swimming into the out-flowing channel when there’s a strong current, and don’t swim back up into the murky lagoons of Currumbin Creek where the occasional bull shark might lurk. At low tide scores of families with young children make good use of the calm waters and gentle, shallow waves here. Lifeguards patrol this popular area, further helping to make Currumbin a great family beach.

As the photos here show, Currumbin Surf Life Saving Club’s idyllic position against the southern beach rock allows it to lean right out beyond the sand, giving its restaurant those stunning beach views. The club is open to visitors, and is one place this writer recommends highly.

Since it has no beachfront accommodations, Currumbin has no map or separate page within this website. While rental accommodations are available here (but very few), the main beach road runs right alongside the sand ensuring that none qualify as ‘true beachfront’.

Coolangatta & Tweed Heads:

The small town of Coolangatta marks both the bottom end of the Gold Coast and the end of Queensland state. In fact, the border runs right down the middle of town, with the twin city of Tweed Heads on the other side of the main road. Visitors often don’t realise that by crossing the road they are moving from one state to another.

These towns are worth a visit for anyone eager to get a full perspective on the Gold Coast. Here is one of the few hilly spots on this generally flat coast, with the triple green headlands here making it exceptionally attractive. The hilltops provide excellent views in many directions, including vistas of northern New South Wales. Lots of wild brush turkeys, black-and-white ibis and cheeky seagulls hang out watching visitors for food scraps. The twin towns have lots of pleasant, green parks along their beaches and on the headlands, the latter of which are popular for whale watching during the annual migration of humpback whales along Australia’s east coast. The whales head north to give birth in Queensland’s warm waters, and it’s common to see their splashing and spouting off the Gold Coast from June to October. They return to the Antarctic to fatten up on krill during the southern summer.

Coolangatta has a thriving, one-street downtown with lots of old Australian-style shops. A small concentration of high-rise buildings overlooks its unusual, north-facing beach, while the beach road is lined with cafes and restaurants. Coolangatta Surf Life Saving Club sits right by the sand at the south end of the beach, offering the best beach and ocean view drinking and dining. During peak seasons it’s hard to find parking space here.

Tweed Heads; When you do cross the main street in Coolangatta and wash up in New South Wales, you’re in Tweed Heads. There’s not much to see here because the beach is all in Queensland and the suburbs in New South Wales. However, the Tweed valley that runs south of here is an exceptionally scenic area, and well worth a driving tour. There’s an ideal, circular driving tour through both the Gold Coast hinterland and Tweed Valley. You can start through the Tweed Valley and go clockwise, or start with the Gold Coast’s mountainous hinterland and drive anti-clockwise via the Nunimbah Valley. Either way, for a scenic driving day trip through rainforest and mountains, agricultural lands and small villages, this circular route is hard to beat. The distance is not great, and there are several routes back to the beaches.

by John Everingham