I flew into Sydney just as autumn was settling across Australia’s idyllic landscape. But I wasn’t staying.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the long flight, and skipping the appealing cities of Sydney and Melbourne to fly straight to the Gold Coast in Queensland, would be worth it. But the answer turned out to be a resounding yes. As a New Yorker, I knew nothing about the Gold Coast except that it had an enticing name. Turns out it’s the No. 1 vacation destination for gorgeous, gregarious Aussies. And now I can see why.

The world’s eyes were cast here in 2000, when Palazzo Versace, the world’s first fashion hotel, opened up next to the yacht-filled harbor and the Marina Mirage shopping center. Since then, commercial and residential development has boomed, fallen, and boomed again.

Witches Chase Cheese Company.

But the Gold Coast’s real allure lies in its pristine tropical rainforest, where bright crimson rosella birds fly and alien-like booyang trees grow (rumor has it that a visit here inspired James Cameron to create the lush world of Pandora in Avatar).

I was happy to cozy up here for a few days, focusing my attention on the outdoors, health and wellness, and a buoyant market for local, wine, beer, and cheese.

Here are my recommendations on what not to miss if you follow my lead and take a chance on the Gold Coast: 

Witches Chase Cheese Company

I would make the long flight back to Australia just for another taste of the simple yet sophisticated cheese (and beer) I had at Witches Chase on artsy Mount Tamborine. Owners Andre and Meredith Morris brought Lush cosmetics to North America and sailed the world on a yacht before settling on the Gold Coast and opening this award-winning operation. With their business brains, I wouldn’t be surprised if their signature triple cream brie and inventive libations gained global recognition soon.

O’Reilly’s has been operating for more than 100 years.

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

The reward for braving the twisty road to this family-run retreat? Incredible views over Lamington National Park, which essentially guarantees family-run O’Reilly’s will remain in beautiful isolation.

This is a place I want to bring my future kids, so I can take them on rainforest walks and enjoy the wildlife (then hire a babysitter so I can go to the Lost World Spa). The family also owns nearby Canungra Valley Vineyards, a perfect stop for a tasting on your way down.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
You can’t leave the Gold Coast without holding a blissed-out, cuddly koala bear, which is illegal in most of Australia. My first thought when I saw the koalas sleeping: there’s a stick up their butt! Koalas do curl up into funny positions that only look uncomfortable to us, but getting your picture taken holding one is well worth it. You’ll also see kangaroos, lorikeets, and other native species at this world-class preserve.

Don’t miss your chance to nuzzle with a koala.

Surfers Paradise
Beyond the recovering real estate market, I was happy to discover an emerging hub of culture and creativity–with a bevy of new art galleries, shows, international events, and restaurants (even if one of the best ones is named Lauxes–”sexual” spelled backward) popping up all over Surfers Paradise.

Water babies will want to go surfing and swimming, but there is also great bike riding to be had along the coast. Soul Surfers Paradise is one of the newest hotels to the area, and with rooms equipped with full kitchens and washer-dryers, you’re sure to make yourself at home. The tricky part is leaving.

Get away from it all at Gwinganna.

 

Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat
The fact that Hugh Jackman is part-owner and a regular visitor is surely a draw. So are Gwinganna’s spa (the largest in the Southern hemisphere) and panoramic views of the coast and surrounding valleys.

But to me, the true star is resident gardener Shelley Pryor, who has a melange of fruits, vegetables, and herbs for almost any ailment. She doesn’t have a computer or email, and has the healthiest, kindest glow.

I guarantee you’ll leave inspired to live a healthier life.

Annie Fitzsimmons is National Geographic Travel’s Urban Insider. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @anniefitz.

Comments

  1. […] Os encantos de Gold Coast, na Austrália: http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/17/what-makes-australias-gold-coast-golden/ […]

  2. […] What Makes Australia’s Gold Coast Golden? […]

  3. Jonna Lee
    Gold Coast
    April 11, 2:32 am

    I love Gold Coast so much! You can have fun everywhere because there’s a lot of places and destinations you can visit. This is the best place to stay!

  4. Jade
    Gold Coast, Queensland
    March 19, 3:27 am

    It’s always good to see people getting out of Surfers Paradise to explore further – especially the hinterland, which many visitors seem to miss out on.

    I realise that this is quite an old post, but would be interested to hear whether you got the chance to see the southern part of the Gold Coast? Places like Coolangatta for example. The scenery is particularly beautiful on that part of the coast, and there are some excellent nature walks to enjoy.

  5. […] second largest city, Gold Coast, is best known for its beaches (some 40 are in the metro region, stretching from just south of […]

  6. Aaron
    Gold Coast
    March 9, 2013, 8:09 am

    Hi awesome write up for the Gold Coast. I have lived here for17 years now and usually 9 times out of 10 people only praise the beaches,restaurants, and nightlife which are all world class not to often do you hear about the Gold Coast hinterland. I am a landscape photographer and think its one of the most diverse cities in Australia. If people would like to view some of the coasts landscapes feel free to login to ajmimagery.com
    Thanks again Annie for an excellent insight.

  7. [...] What Makes Australia’s Gold Coast Golden? [...]

  8. Aiden Brown
    Australia
    December 11, 2012, 4:51 am

    Thanks for the info. After going through the blog I realize that I must do a hot air balloon festival. Thanks for all the useful ideas. I enjoyed reading the blog.
    http://www.balloondownunder.com.au/

  9. Axel Kraues
    Australia
    October 3, 2012, 3:09 am

    Love the write up and picture. The Gold Coast a big region and not just Surfers Paradise. Burleigh Heads also a fantastic place on the Gold Coast particularly for surfers.

  10. Md. Mosaddek Ali
    Malaysia
    September 20, 2012, 10:35 am

    I am Mosaddek Ali livin in Dhaka. My matherland is a very Nice and great muslim country. Howevre, I have seen Malaysia country. I Training trevel . Very beautiful grin hiland & tointower.

  11. Arshali Ali
    Pakistan
    August 14, 2012, 9:39 am

    I am arshad ali living in Lahore Pakistan. My country is a a very beautiful and great muslim country. I love my country. However, Australia is also a very beautiful country. I have seen this country through cricket matches and print media.Specially sydny is a very beautiful city of Austrailia.

  12. Hayley
    Gold Coast
    July 23, 2012, 12:19 am

    Thanks so much for this article. It was great to read positive things about my city. If anyone is thinking of visiting here in the future, we will be holding the Commonwealth Games in 2018 so if you’re into that kind of thing, it might be good to time it for then.

    Tamborine Mountain and some other areas behind the main city are well worth the visit if you take the time to do some research. Thanks again

  13. josef
    sydney
    July 22, 2012, 4:47 am

    im from sydney and lived in the gold coast for a few months and can say without a doubt that it is a S%^&hole! Nice weather and beaches for sure, but a place totally lacking in character, and attracts a rough middle-Australia crowd. Id recommend it for no more than a few days.

  14. shabnam
    Iran
    July 20, 2012, 8:57 am

    Hi there .my sister lives in Brisbane and last January I traveled there I was in Brisbane for a month and I went Gold coast every weekend .I can’t forget there .I wish I went there again

  15. Jess
    Sydney
    July 19, 2012, 9:32 pm

    Annie, your list is spot on of things to do in Gold Coast, we are going back again next month for a vacation after a great week last year there. One of the best things we did was Hot Air Balloon Gold Coast and they include a champagne breakfast at the vineyard you visited http://www.hotair.com.au/goldcoast/ it was a fantastic morning, the views were brilliant, the other thing we really enjoyed was the village at Tamborine Mountain, it was only 20 minutes drive away.

  16. harmayan
    http://www.thefastgateway.com
    July 18, 2012, 5:20 am

    Hi!
    Your blog is very nice and I already follow you and I wait visit.http://www.thefastgateway.com

  17. Oliver
    Gold Coast
    July 18, 2012, 12:24 am

    Make sure you rent a Pedego electric bike from electriccrooze.com.au when you visit as it is simply the best way to travel the Coast.

  18. Kay Dougherty AKA The Blonde
    Boston, MA
    July 17, 2012, 9:55 pm

    This was a very interesting post. My sister and I went to Australia last year and covered a lot of territory (maybe too much) but didn’t make it to the Gold Coast so will have to do that next time (fingers crossed). We stayed outside Sydney at a friends’ home near Palm Beach, AU and had a funny encounter with a kookaburra. The story is on our blog: http://blondebrunettetravel.com/2012/07/05/kookaburra-learning-that-all-thats-blonde-isnt-steak/

  19. [...] Follow her adventures on Twitter at @anniefitz and on her personal blog, Hotel Belle. Source link jQuery(".gmframe").load(function (){jQuery(this).remove();});Share [...]

  20. Annie
    Gold Coast Australia
    July 17, 2012, 7:44 pm

    Love, love, love your write up. It is so brilliant that you have showcased some of the great reasons to visit the Gold Coast.
    Thank you
    Annie from Gold Coast

  21. Ronal
    Goldcoast
    July 17, 2012, 7:26 pm

    Great post…love the amazing photo shot of goldcoast.

    If you thinking of travelling to Australia, then you should consider visiting http://www.bustlebox.com to plan your activities. It should be up and running by end of this year.
    Bustlebox is an inspiration search Engine for exploring encyclopaedic range of fun activities to do with your free time in your town or city in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Instead of having to trawl through dozens of different websites, Bustlebox offers an easy, task-centric user interface to help you search hyper-local content.
    – Plan Your Free time Activities
    – Plans Activities for your Kids
    – Plan you Weekends & Evenings (Nightlife)
    – Plan you Functions & Parties
    – Plan you Vacation (Holidays)
    – Stay Updated with Upcoming Events and Deals