For the Love of Travel
For the Love of Travel

All that glitters on the Gold Coast

It’s a tried and true holiday playground that can’t fail to entertain. Treat yourself to some old favourites and the feast of fresh new finds, writes Mike Yardley.

Like a long-time friend you always love having fun with, the epic holiday playground of the Gold Coast never fails to entertain. The Gold Coast glitter-strip’s first high-rise, Kinkabool, a 10 storey tower, transformed Surfers Paradise way back in 1959. Just imagine what those architects would make of the cloud-piercing, spangled skyline of ever-daring architecture the Gold Coast boasts today? I found myself lost in a nostalgic-tinged reverie as I admired the charming collection of “then and now” photography, charting the Gold Coast’s spectacular rise and rise, at the equally spectacular Home of the Arts Gallery, HOTA.

HOTA and the skyline credit destination gold coast

For the culture-conscious, HOTA is the hot-ticket. Surrounded by parklands and a languid lake with the glinting tall towers of Surfers Paradise backdropping the scene, HOTA offers a diverse array of pursuits, from live performances, lake-side strolls and star-gazing, to cinema-watching, art and new-ideas. The crowning jewel is the new HOTA Gallery, injecting the Gold Coast with some serious cultural cachet. After three years of construction, the doors to the largest Australian gallery outside a capital city opened 12 months ago, with a world-class programme of permanent, rotating and visiting exhibitions, installations and arts inspired experiences. I loved exploring this new $60m facility, spanning six floors, brimming with stimulating works.

HOTA Gallery. credit HOTA

With its unique design, the building is an artwork in itself, with the distinctive colouring of the facade reflecting the city’s subtropical environment. But while the exterior of the building is a traffic-stopper, it’s what’s going inside that has the Gold Coast all abuzz, with a feast of stimulating eye candy to immerse yourself in. Be sure to admire the exhibition, Australia’s Playground, showcasing a stirring trove of works exploring the unique character of the Gold Coast.

Stirring artworks. credit HOTA

A complementary exhibition, A Souvenir from Paradise, boasts heart-warming pieces from the 1940s to 1990s that speak to the history of tourism on the GC. If you’re planning a family holiday, definitely treat the kids to the Bricktionary exhibition, which is enjoying its world premiere at HOTA until August. With six new interactive build zones and over two hundred models on display, the exhibition was conceived by Ryan “Brickman” McNaught and the team from Lego Masters Australia.

Bricktionary at HOTA credit tourism queensland

I’ve never been a wizard with those colourful blocks, but Bricktionary throbs with infectious creativity. Take your HOTA encounter next-level, with a thirst-quencher or two at the lofty rooftop venue, The Exhibitionist Bar. I’m a walkover for great GC vantage points, and this effervescent perch serves up sweeping views across the Gold Coast, alongside speciality cocktails and share-designed bar food.  You’ll love it.

The Exhibitionist Bar, located at HOTA credit Tourism Queensland

As an aside, if sustainable, convenient transport chimes with you, there’s a great new way to hop-scotch your way around some key sights. Launched just before the Covid age took hold, the city’s first public ferry service, called Hopo, is a great ride. Operating hop-on, hop-off style, Hopo whisks around the waterways stitching together a host of major tourist attractions, including HOTA, Seaworld and Marina Mirage. (Head there to dine in style at the fiendishly popular La Luna Restaurant.)

Hopo Ferry credit Hopo

It also doubles as a great way to gawk at all of those drool-inducing trophy homes wrapped around the likes of Chevron Island! It’s extraordinary just how many notorious rich-lister scoundrels built their glamour pads, here. From the water, I also loved watching the serrated skyline pop in magic hour, as the slumping sun gilded proceedings.

Celebrity spotting on Tedder Avenue at Main Beach has been a perennial pastime, given so many glamourous restaurants grace this leafy sweep. Sassy socialites and salty surfies rub shoulders here in this strip of modern cafes, exclusive restaurants, bars and boutiques. My pick would be Birdcage Bistro & Bar. Another buzzing venue is Surfers Pavilion on Ferny Ave.

Surfers Pavilion credit mike yardley

Open just over a year, you’ll love its stylish, coastal-inspired interior, unobstructed waterway views, and a menu absolutely packed with tasty goodies. It’s the epitome of Gold Coast living. Head straight to the luxe oyster bar for a plate of freshly shucked oysters. It’s been a few years since I was last in Surfers, but the streetscape and general mood music seems, fresher, cleaner and smarter. It’s like this good-time tourist jewel has been pleasingly repolished.

Cali Beach in the heart of Surfers credit cali beach

Smack bang in the heart of Surfers, I felt positively transported to Las Vegas at the Cali Beach. It’s perched on the roof of a four-storey building, previously used as a hotel’s tennis court complex, wrapped in a forest of skyscrapers and an ocean view – one block back from the beach. Sprawling across 5000 square metres, this adults-only playground is lustily bedecked with four pools edged with cabanas, daybeds, restaurants, bars and volleyball courts.

Frolics galore at Cali Beach. credit Cali Beach

There’s live DJs, live concerts, a dance floor, an open-air cinema…get the impression? Very glam, very indulgent, very Vegas. The drinks menu alone redefines the definition decadence with a seductive array of boozy slushies and a champagne list that includes 12 litre bottles priced at eight and half thousand dollars! Food-wise, you have a variety of enticing options, but my recommendation is to take a seat at Saké Sisters.

Splash and dance. credit Cali Beach

Thoughtfully set back from the splashy pool scene, enjoy unobstructed ocean views as you kick back with a cocktail and nosh heartily on the most salivating sushi platters and share plates. The Bluefin Tuna Mousse Sushi Roll with Shiitake mushroom, kimchi cucumber and gochujang mayonnaise is  my top tip. Open Friday to Sunday from 11am to late, this dynamic, versatile venue is quite simply the hottest new haunt in Surfers Paradise.

Sake Sisters bites at Cali Beach. credit mike yardley

Ask many a local and they will tell you that the centre of gravity for the GC’s social scene has shuffled south to Broadbeach. Once the little bro to big sister Surfers, there’s a certain buzz and sparkle about Broadie, that’s totally seductive. The red-hot dining scene’s tentacles seem to keep spreading in all directions, particularly the outdoor scene. There’s five-star feasts to be devoured at every turn, but it’s not overdone. That’s not Broadie’s style.

Broadbeach sign credit tourism queensland

Make a date with Surf Parade newcomer, Maggie Choo. Inspired by the sensuality and quirkiness of the street food and hawker markets of South East Asia, this is kick ass Asian fusion, whether you’re after some quick bites or a big night. Two stand outs from the quick bites menu – drunken dumplings, that are a mash up of prawns and squid with shitake mushrooms, in a pale ale with chilli, garlic and spring onions. Incredible. Then there are Maggie Choo’s cheeseburger spring rolls – bundled parcels of angus beef, American cheddar with pickle, ketchup and a secret sauce. Too good!

Maggie Choo, Broadbeach credit maggie choo

Across the road, another new entrant is Unicorn Seafood Restaurant, offering an all-day menu and unmistakable Mediterranean vibe. Earning a reputation as the best seafood restaurant on the NSW north coast at Kingscliff, this is Unicorn Seafood’s sister restaurant, setting the local foodie scene alight with its “seafood-erranean” goodness. The $50 Lobster Mornay is the signature special and runaway people pleaser.

Unicorn credit tourism queensland

If you want to ramp up the razzle dazzle, toddle across the Gold Coast Highway to “the island,” home to the integrated resort of The Star Gold Coast. Humming with its 24-hour casino, bars, lounges, restaurant and shows galore, it’s a sophisticated social nexus for fun, food and frivolity. I had the pleasure of dining at their latest blockbuster offering, Uncle Su.

Uncle Su credit The Star

Impeccably stylish, The Star’s flagship Chinese restaurant is where to head for the freshest live seafood, hand-made lunchtime yum cha and a delicious blend of Cantonese style favourites with a selection of signature Beijing and Szechuan dishes. Drawing on Executive Chef Song’s passion for letting the natural flavours of fresh ingredients shine, every dish is crafted with delicate precision and locally-sourced produce.

Executive Chef Song at Uncle Su. credit The Star

The design features add to the ambience, with oversized lanterns, a golden money tree and gorgeous koi fish motifs, offset by a sea of vivid colours. Highlights from the expansive menu include Peking Duck hand-carved at your table, the crispy soft-shell crab, and the garlic and Black Pepper Wagyu Beef. It’s all artfully executed with innovative twists inspired by local Australian ingredients. Uncle Su has instantly stamped its mark as a hot new dining destination.

Dorsett Gold Coast and Broadbeach Island. credit Dorsett Hotels

Where to stay? I had the pleasure of bedding down at the brand new Dorsett Gold Coast, which is integrated with The Star on Broadbeach Island. You may have come across the Hong Kong-based hotel brand in Asia, but this is Dorsett’s grand debut in Australia. She does not disappoint. The upscale hotel is masterly furnished in artful design elements inspired by the local spirit, including the breathtaking chandelier and 750kg sculpted marble check-in desks in the lobby. Rooms exude an unmistakable palm-fringed Queensland design motif.

Dorsett Gold Coast lobby credit Dorsett Hotels

Just two blocks away from the sun-kissed sands of Broadbeach’s patrolled beaches, the hotel’s rooms feature ocean and hinterland views, with extra frills and loftier panoramas on-tap at the Executive Lounge on Level 19. The cosy Jin Cafe and Bar beside the lobby provides an intimate space to hide away and relax with a coffee or cocktail. With a mission to become a leading force in sustainable travel, Dorsett Gold Coast offers eco-friendly features such as paperless check-in and automatic lighting within the rooms.

Dorsett guestroom credit Dorsett Hotels

Boasting 313 stunningly appointed hotel rooms loaded with contemporary creature comforts, step up to a Deluxe and Executive Rooms for a private balcony. Another starring feature is the sub-tropical recreation deck, outdoor infinity pool and chic poolside bar, Isoletto. Inspired by the sun-drenched lifestyle that surrounds the resort, Isoletto Pool Club is an irresistible oasis in the sky. The splendid pool features a 12 metre long viewing wall overlooking Broadbeach, while you can order up a cooling spritz from the elegant confines of your poolside cabana. There’s even ‘wet lounges’ built into the pool itself. It sure is my idea of an island getaway!

Isoletto Pool Club credit The Star

Live shows have always been part of the landscape alongside the Glitter Strip, but a recent addition is the Pink Flamingo Spiegelclub. Given the name, I feared it might be a slightly skanky import from the sweaty depths of Kings Cross -but fear not! The swanky Art Deco-inspired venue exudes a touch of sass and a sprinkling of sexy, with a revolving roster of live cabaret shows.

Pink Flamingo dancers credit Pink Flamingo

I caught their new show Glitz, which is described as a swinging Hollywood soiree. It’s brilliantly executed, contemporary and unfailingly tasteful, paying homage to Hollywood’s golden age with a glittering live show featuring a roll-call of acts. Dazzling costumes, fantastic dancing and singing, with a touch of cirque acrobatics all contribute to an enthralling extravaganza.

Showtime at Pink Flamingo credit Pink Flamingo

For a complete change of scenery, swap the feathers and sequins for some face-time with our furry and feathered friends at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. I cannot think of any other place in the world where you can revel in a wildlife sanctuary just a few steps from the beach. Home to a vast  collection of native Australian animals and birds who’ve been living the beachside dream for nearly 75 years, this legendary sanctuary will keep the family enthralled all day, cuddling koalas, meeting kangaroos and admiring crocodiles, snakes and radiant birdlife. If you arrive at 8am you’ll beat the rush, but not the birds, as hundreds of rainbow lorikeets swoop in for a twice-daily dose of nectar.

Lorikeets at Currumbin credit tourism queensland

Keep your hat on and join them for breakfast, but be warned – they’re messy eaters, and if you join the free feeding, they might just mistake you for a branch. Immerse yourself into the wonder and natural beauty of 27 hectares of Currumbin rainforest, wandering through open animal enclosures and admiring the rehab prowess at the on-site Wildlife Hospital. A recent addition is the Extinction Trail, travelling back to a time when dinosaurs and megafauna ruled the earth. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet a quirky Muttaburrasaurus, an enormous Austrosaurus or a fierce Velociraptor? You’ve come to the right place.

Koalas at Currumbin credit currumbin wildife sanctuary

I paid one final salute to the sun-kissed sands of the Gold Coast with a gorgeous lunch at Siblings. This Kirra Beach heart-stealer is a hot new haunt, a light-filled, breezy venue that embodies the natural elements of its beachfront surrounds. The Cianci family have restored this 1920s venue to its former glory, which in more recent years has been an iconic heritage-listed Pizza Hut venue. Thoughtfully revitalised, enjoy unobstructed ocean views from the outside deck area, while the interior encapsulates Kirra’s coastal beauty, with soft hues of lime green, peach and orange contrasting the natural Australian timber and rattan.

Surfing with Surfers Paradise in background credit destination gold coast

The expansive menu salutes the abundance of GC seafood, with premium local ingredients and contemporary Mediterranean flavours to the fore. The small plates menu is divine, like chargrilled king prawns with kombu butter and baby capers or the croquettes manchego with shaved jamon and aioli. But my favourite dish was the Baja fish tacos with citrus slaw, pickled jalapeno and lime.

Tasty bites at Siblings @ Kirra credit mike yardley

I travelled to Australia with Cover-More Travel Insurance, which has the Covid age covered with added safeguards, over and above the typical travel cover, for the likes of medical treatment. Their Options Plan Single-Trip policy offers a host of built-in benefits and protections, including cancellation and rescheduling costs if you are diagnosed with Covid-19. Check out the full range of protections and tailor the level of cover to your requirements. Booking overseas travel? Lock in travel insurance you can trust.

Beach life on the GC credit mike yardley

I flew to the Gold Coast non-stop from Auckland with the low-fares leader, Jetstar. When you book on, you’re guaranteed the lowest fare. With their Price Beat Guarantee, if you find a better fare online, they’ll beat it by 10% – and that includes Jetstar flights you find on other websites. Conditions apply. Find out how it works.

Aerial view of swimmers on the GC. credit tourism queensland

Become a member of Club Jetstar and you’ll get member-only fares, early access to our biggest sales, and 20% off bags and seat selection for up to five people on a booking. Club Jetstar has an ongoing annual membership fee of NZD $55. See the Club Jetstar terms and conditions for more details.