Beneath a jagged skyline shaped by dozens of high-rise beachfront apartment blocks, the Gold Coast is Australia’s Miami Beach or Costa del Sol, a striking contrast to Brisbane, only an hour away to the north. Aggressively superficial, it’s not the place to go if you’re seeking peace and quiet, but its sheer brashness can be fun for a couple of days – perhaps as a weekend break from Brisbane. There’s little variation on the beach and nightclub scene, however, and if you’re concerned this will leave you jaded, bored or broke, you’d be better off avoiding this corner of the state altogether.
The coast forms a virtually unbroken beach 40km long, from South Stradbroke Island past Surfers Paradise and Burleigh Heads to the New South Wales border at Coolangatta. The beaches, nominally why everyone comes to the Gold Coast, swarm with bathers and board-riders all year round: surfing first blossomed here in the 1930s and the key surf beaches at Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads and South Stradbroke still pull daily crowds of veterans and novices. In the meantime, other attractions have sprung up, notably the club and party scene centred on Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach, and several action-packed theme parks, domestic holiday blackspots mostly based about 15km northwest of the town.
With around three hundred days of sunshine each year there’s little “off-season” as such. Rain can, however, fall at any time during the year, including midwinter – when it’s usually dry in the rest of the state – but even if the crowds do thin out a little, they reappear in time for the Gold Coast Indy car race in October and then continue to swell, peaking over Christmas and New Year. The end of the school year in mid-November also heralds the phenomenon that is Schoolies Week, when thousands of high-school leavers from across the country ditch exam rooms and flock to Surfers for a few days of hard partying, a rite of passage that causes an annual budget-accommodation crisis.Read More
Spiritually, if not geographically, SURFERS PARADISE is the heart of the Gold Coast, the place where its aims and aspirations are most evident. For the residents, this involves making money by providing services and entertainment for tourists; visitors reciprocate by parting with their cash. All around and irrespective of what you’re doing – sitting on the beach, partying in one of the frenetic nightclubs along Orchid or Cavill avenues, shopping for clothes or even finding a bed – the pace is brash and glib. Don’t come here expecting to be allowed to relax; subtlety is nonexistent and you’ll find that enjoying Surfers depends largely on how much it bothers you having the party mood rammed down your throat.
Surfers’ beaches have been attracting tourists for over a century, though the town only started developing along commercial lines during the 1950s when the first multistorey beachfront apartments were built. The demand for views over the ocean led to ever-higher towers, which began to encroach on the dunes; together with the sheer volume of people attracted here, this has caused erosion problems along the entire coast. But none of this really matters. Though Surfers Paradise is a firm tribute to the successful marketing of the ideal Aussie lifestyle as an eternal beach party, most people no longer come here for the sun and sand but simply because everyone else does.
Surfing the Gold Coast
Surfing the Gold Coast
As locals will tell you, the Gold Coast has some of the best surfing beaches in the world. In terms of consistency this might be true – on any given day there will be good surf somewhere along the coast – with 200m-long sand-bottom point breaks and rideable waves peaking at about 4m in prime conditions.
The coast is known for its barrels, particularly during the summer storm season when the winds shift around to the north; in winter the swell is smaller but more reliable, making it easier to learn to surf. A rule of thumb for finding the best surf is to follow the wind: head to the north end of the coast when the wind blows from the north and the south when it comes from the south. Generally, you’ll find the best swell along the southern beaches, and on South Stradbroke Island. Sea temperatures range between 26 °C in December and 17 °C in June, so a 2–3mm wet suit is adequate. Hard-core surfies come for Christmas and the cyclone season, though spring is usually the busiest time. On the subject of general safety, all beaches as far north as Surfers are patrolled – look for the signs – and while sharks might worry you, more commonplace hostility is likely to come from the local surfies, who form tight-knit cliques with very protective attitudes towards their patches.