FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Gold Coast: Australia’s Gold Coast

Feb 1, 2004
2004 / February 2004

For many residents of the Southern Hemisphere, the Gold Coast has as close to family-member status as any holiday destination can have. Situated on the northeastern coast of Australia, just south of state capital Brisbane, the Gold Coast is synonymous with sun, surf and summer. However, for those in the Northern Hemisphere, the Gold Coast can seem more like an enigma-a place of vacation myth and legend.

One thing most people do not realize is there’s more to the Gold Coast than the surfing off Broadbeach or the glamour of Jupiter’s Casino. The Gold Coast region can be divided into the beaches, the islands and the Hinterland, each offering a different experience. It’s a place where business travelers can get away from the rush of life, but never be out of touch. The region has a growing commercial district and is recognized as the convention center for Australia, especially with the anticipated 2004 completion of a new 6,000-delegate conference center. The Gold Coast offers business travelers a full range of experiences from decadent luxury to rough-and-tumble adventure.

In the Beginning Once known by the local Aboriginal population as Kurrungul, a name given for its abundance of hardwoods used for boomerangs, the Gold Coast has developed beyond any measure its forefathers could have imagined. Still, it remains as much a summertime pilgrimage today as it was when long-ago nomadic tribal groups trekked hundreds of miles to the shore in search of tropical fruits and hardwoods. And although there are few remnants of the original Kom-bumerris tribe remaining, Queensland has a rich cultural history and its art galleries and museums recall times past.

In 1840, a government surveyor named Dixon charted what is now known as the Gold Coast. He used Aboriginal names to identify various points, such as Kurrawa-meaning “deep blue sea”-for the beach at Broadbeach. These days, the population of the Gold Coast is a mixture of Australians, expatriates and New Zealanders, but is also well-known as a getaway destination of choice for vacationers from Japan.

Tourism began to take hold in the region in 1888 when local entrepreneur J Meyer erected a timber shack-known as the Main Beach Hotel-to house travelers catching ferries to cross the Nerang River. As surfing became more popular in the mid-20th century, the town of Elston earned the moniker “Surfers Paradise.” The population boomed in the 1950s with the construction of canal systems connecting the plains to the coast, a phenomenon that continues today as new canals create versatile neighborhoods with ready access to beaches and watersports. It’s interesting to note that the region earned the name Gold Coast as a result of these building booms. Even today, it remains the fastest growing area in Australia-home to a diverse population, blessed with fantastic weather, close to the valleys and mountains of the Hinterland, well-known for its white sand beaches.

Days of Wine and Roses At more than 1,000 feet above sea level, Mount Tamborine presides over the Hinterland, where swaying fields of sugar cane, dense rain forest and twisting, turning rivers await adventure-seeking visitors. Queensland’s budding wine industry has its origins in the fertile volcanic soils of Beaudesert Shire, as the area is known. Although considered a newcomer in the Australian market, which has established wine regions in the Hunter Valley and in South Australia, grapes have been harvested in the Gold Coast mountains since the 1860s. I toured the vineyards with Judi Jacques, of Cork and Fork Wine Tours (tel 61 7 5543 6584, www.corkn fork.com.au). A local institution, and a force to be reckoned with in local tourism circles, Jacques has established a great series of tours through the little niche wineries perched across Mount Tamborine and in the dense valleys bordered by lush native rain forest. Perfect for travelers with an interest in wine and a taste for the country, the tours offer pickups from b oth the Gold Coast and Brisbane.

Jacques’ tour includes Albert River Wines, one of the largest producers in the area. A family-owned boutique winery compared to other commercial producers, Albert River Wines is based in Tamborine House, one of the state’s oldest and most historic properties. Blossoming bushes of red and white roses indicate the varieties of grapes planted in the long rows, which surround the former chapel of the Carmelite nuns, now the main hall of Albert River Wines. Award-winning winemaker Peter Scudamore produces some fantastic, if not uncommon, sparkling reds.

Heritage Wines, another stop on the tour, is based in a restored ballroom (and one-time home to the Infant Saviour Catholic Church at Burley Heads) perched on the tip of a cliff overlooking the coast. A licensed restaurant offers spectacular views of the vineyards as they slope toward the horizon.

Australians of Russian descent run Tamborine Mountain Distillery. The largest of its type in the country, the distillery produces hard and soft liquors in bottles hand-painted by family members. The liquors, in a wide range of individual flavors based on local ingredients, make great gifts.

The Hinterland is also known for its dense rain forest and Mount Tamborine boasts seven national parks ideal for bush treks and wildlife excursions. An information center at North Tamborine (tel 61 7 5545 1171), offers information on accommodations and mountain activities. The Hinterland rain forests are home to native wildlife that is unique to Australia. With 100 miles of walking trails, highlighted by spectacular views and cascading waterfalls, you’ll be able to see and hear the native animals and birds in their natural environment. Lamington National Park is a 75-square-mile park and includes highly vegetated areas covered with subtropical rain forest. At Springbrook National Park you can swim at the Purlingbrook Falls, or wait until nightfall and see the glowworms. The rangers’ office and information center (3 p.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays) offers free maps and walking trail brochures. There’s a strong community feeling up on the mountain. It’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone and is always ready help out a visitor.

Pristine Moreton Island lies within easy reach of Brisbane. Just 45 minutes by car, followed by a one-hour ferry ride, it’s a perfect place for those looking to get away from crowds and commune with nature. In fact, it’s the ideal setting for enjoying the sun and surf while experiencing true Australian bush camping. There are no flashy resorts, no takeout franchises and certainly no tacky souvenir boutiques on Moreton Island. Environmentally well-managed, it still offers excitement in the form of sand dune surfing and beach four-wheel driving. Treasure hunters will be pleased to learn that a safe offshore anchorage was created by the sinking of several derelict ships to form an artificial reef. Encrusted with coral and sea life, it’s a fantastic spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. Transport to the island is provided by Moreton Venture Ferries (tel 61 7 3895 1000, www.moretonventure.com). A soon-to-launch catamaran service will allow four-wheeldrive motor homes access to the island, which will make camping a more comfortable experience.

While camping is great, it can be hard work. For a more developed island destination, head for North Stradbroke (www.stradbroketourism.com) just off the Cleveland coast, 45 minutes by train from Brisbane. North Stradbroke Island has a subtropical climate and is more developed for tourism with hotels, hostels and campsites. Access to the island is provided by several ferry and barge companies on the coast, including Gold Cats (tel 61 7 3821 3821, www.flyer.com.au). Cylinder Beach offers fantastic look-out points, as well as great surfing on the eastern side of the island. Other island activities include swimming, sailing, golf and sea kayaking, and exploring the picturesque Blue and Keys lake areas.

The Spice of Life If sunbathing, wine-tasting and amusement parks don’t do it for you, rest assured the Gold Coast beckons with a variety of leisure options. Live the dream of becoming a race-car driver at the Holden Performance Driving Centre (tel 61 7 5546 1366, www.performancedriving.com.au) in Norwell, south of Brisbane and north of Surfers. You’ll learn how to react in a skid or slide before it is too late, and get your adrenaline pumping as you zoom around the track under the guidance of experienced instructors. Galleries feature Holden vehicles, racing history di splays and memorabilia.

For a slower start, the MV Circa (tel 61 408 286 888, www.circacruises.com.au) departs from the Marina Mirage complex on the Gold Coast for sunset cruises complete with champagne and views of millionaires’ mansions and the stunning Gold Coast skyline. Experienced staff and a modern sleek launch, which slices through the dusk-lit waters, make for an intimate and relaxing evening. The company also offers breakfast cruises for about $75 per person complete with fruits, pastries and sightseeing. Themed cruises, including formal affairs, are another option.

For an overhead tour of the Gold Coast, set out before dawn with Balloons Aloft (tel 61 755 782244, www.balloonaloft.net) for a hot-air balloon ride over the region’s beaches and legendary golf courses. Take in the view of Gold Coast development from 10,000 feet, then enjoy breakfast at Emerald Lakes Country Club. Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum (tel 61 7 5592 0040, www.ripleys.com) is another must-see for fans of the television program and Ripley’s museums scattered around the globe. It’s guaranteed to entertain kids and adults alike.

For nightlife, the Gold Coast has a great selection of clubs, bars and social events for everyone, from party-seekers to romance-makers. Conrad Jupiter’s Casino at Broadbeach (tel 61 7 5592 8100, www.conrad.com.au) offers a range of bars and cabaret lounges, in addition to 1,100 slot machines and 90 gambling tables. A Las Vegas-style showroom features nightly acts and there are also six restaurants on the casino premises. Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach are also the setting for a full roster of festivals, events and markets.

Bedding Down When it comes to accommodations, the Gold Coast offers options in every style and price range. The coast itself is well-known for its high-rise apartment blocks, which often have large airy rooms and balconies with great views across the beaches and city. One that is affordable and worth a recommendation is South Pacific (www.southpacific.com.au) which overlooks Broadbeach. Just 100 yards from the beach, it has a private swimming pool and spa. It’s also close to the Broadbeach Mall, the scene of frequent live music and the spot for great restaurants. For city dwellers, there are a host of five-star hotels in Brisbane, including the Carlton Crest (www.southpacific.com.au) and the Stamford Brisbane (tel 61 07 3221 1999, www.stamford.com.au). The Gold Coast Casino Hotel (tel 800 331 5334, www.goldcoastcasino.com) is a good choice, while the Ipanema (tel 800 888 892, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

), completed in November 2003, offers the versatility of brand-new self-service apartments in the heart of Surfers Paradise, in addition to conference facilities, a licensed restaurant and three swimming pools. Royal Woods (tel 61 7 5597 0650, www.royalwoods.com.au) is what could be regarded as an urban resort. It resembles one of those ultrafriendly, close-knit communities you see on television, the ones with security gates, kids playing in the street and an ambience of leisure. Perfect for business travelers looking for some time out of the game, large modern houses serve as hotel apartments. Some have large balconies or private outdoor areas. Other facilities and amenities include swimming pools, game room, sauna and steam, gym and a concierge.

On the islands, accommodation is more limited. On Morton Island, there are few options that do not include camping out under the stars, but for many people, that’s the ideal getaway. Crombie Trader (tel 61 7 3203 6399, www.moretonisland.com) provides basic ferry services and some accommodation in the form of huts. Camping permission can be acquired through Moreton Venture. North Strathbroke offers more options in the form of B&Bs and resorts that are accommodating, but not too pricey. Located at Amity Point, Amity Bungalows (tel 61 7 3409 7017, www.amitybungalows.com.au) offers three self-contained thatched-roof bungalows on two waterfront acres with a private jetty for fishing, diving and snorkeling.

The Hinterland is where you will find the warmest Australian-style accommodation. The countryside and the friendly hospitable people make a stay in the mountains or on the plains one of the best experiences possible. On the Tamborine plains, created by the volcanic explosion of Mount Warning, you’ll find a little motel with a big reputation. Beginning life as a rundown little pub in Tamborine Village, the Bearded Dragon (tel 61 7 5543 6888, www.beardeddragon.com.au) has blossomed as a small but lovely little motel with a re staurant and friendly pub.

The countryside here is true-blue Australian with gum trees and a grazing alpaca herd. Little pieces of history are everywhere-from tin soldiers to ancient beer commercials and farming equipment. Mountain Edge Lodge (tel 61 7 5545 3437, www.mountainedge.com.au) is, as the name suggests, set on the tip of the mountainside. Massive villas, complete with living room, bathtub and private grassy outdoor area, overlook Surfers Paradise. Lillydale (tel 61 7 5544 3131, www.lillydale.com.au), hosted by Pam and Doug Hardgrave, is a beautiful and tranquil property 90 minutes west of Brisbane and the Gold Coast. It’s nestled among several mountain peaks, including Mount Barney, the second largest in Queensland. It truly offers the classical Australian farm stay and its hilltop position makes for awe-inspiring sunsets. Ride horses up into the hills to watch the sun set or swim in the heated pool while you take in the serene countryside. Combine the beautiful surroundings and the great company of Doug and Pam (and Pam’s cooking, which is brilliant) and you have a truly remarkable experience.

Go for the Gold Despite the Gold Coast’s reputation for tourist-related hustle and bustle, its combination of celebrated beaches, under-explored mountains and undisturbed islands adds up to more than enough space, attractions and variety for even the most finicky traveler. The Gold Coast holds firmly to its reputation as one the most diverse and attractive holiday destinations in the world. Lush natural rain forest and hidden wineries, lifeguards in yellow and red bathing caps standing on massive sand dunes, thrilling theme parks and endless stretches of highway-hugging pristine coastline make Australia’s Gold Coast a truly remarkable and diverse vacation destination.

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