When you visit Australia’s favourite holiday destination it’s best to check your hip inner-city sensibilities at the door. It’s true the Gold Coast isn’t the tacky Vegas-themed beach party it once was, but there’s something to celebrate about a place where you can eat a chicken and sundried tomato focaccia like the ’90s never ended by day and have an expensive cocktail at a crisp Dubai-esque hotel by night.
Like Las Vegas, the Gold Coast has remained relevant to holiday-makers by existing in a constant state of renewal. But despite the seemingly endless development that casts shadows across the coastline – for better OR worse – this coastal metropolis is certainly not short of sun-dappled charm. February is prime time to visit the Gold Coast after the chaos of the school holiday period subsides. Without the hustle and bustle, you can take in the pristine beaches on your own terms and hit the theme parks sans lines.
There’s also a new G:link light rail system – affectionately known by locals as “the tram” – that can shuttle you from Broadbeach South to Gold Coast University Hospital in sleek air-conditioned comfort. The most you’ll pay for a single trip is $6 and you can hit up all the main spots including Surfers, Main Beach and Southport.
Here are eight Gold Coast institutions that stand the test of time.
#1 Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (Surfer’s Paradise)
Ripley’s might be a relic from Cavill Mall’s glory days of the ’90s, but this museum of the “weird and unbelievable” is still a whole lot of fun. The Odditorium boasts an eight-legged pig (mmmmm bacon) and a creepy collection of “authentic” shrunken skulls, while there’s a new-ish laser maze where you get to channel your inner Catherine Zeta-Jones.[video_embed] http://youtu.be/NXgdh1qpvc0[/video_embed]
#2 Aquaduck (Surfer’s Paradise)
It’s an amphibious bus that’s shaped like a duck and it only costs $35 for a cruise through Broadwater. Do you really need to know much more?
#3 Currumbin Zoo Sanctuary
OK, so the Irwins up the road may get all the headlines, but Currumbin Sanctuary is a heritage-listeD wildlife gem. While it lacks Australia Zoo’s celebrity endorsements and ridiculous Crocodile Hunter-themed merch, it still has all the wildlife experiences you could ever ask for – including crocodile feeds, Koala selfies, a Segway safari and their famous bird show. A $4 bag of kangaroo feed isn’t included in the $50 entry, but it’s a small price to pay for getting very close to our most famous marsupial.
#4 Sizzler (Mermaid Beach)
Two words: Cheese toast.
If you visit one Gold Coast theme park, make it this one. You can have a lazy day floating down Calypso Beach in a tube and swimming in the wave pool (with its 100% rip free guarantee). Or you can stop being so soft and plunge down a near vertical 11-metre drop on a slide some mad genius created called a Kamikaze. Pro tip: wear a one-piece or tighten up your boardies for rides like this.
#6 Cavill Avenue (Surfer’s Paradise)
This bustling shopping mall is absolute bedlam when those dreaded Schoolies comes to town #kidzthesedayz. But it’s still the ultimate Surfer’s Paradise experience you can have. Steel yourself for a night-time stroll down this busy precinct, lined with street performers, kids-eat-free restaurants and hilariously tacky souvenir shops that blast pre-recorded promotional messages at full volume. And what trip to Cavill is complete without ducking into Timezone for some pinnies and Daytona?
#7 Palazzo Versace (Main Beach)
This is Gold Coast opulence at its finest, boasting spas, 5-star rooms and its own poolside oasis. But even if you can’t afford to stay here (rooms start at $410 a night), you can still have a cocktail at Le Jardin, which may just be the best lobby bar on the Gold Coast.
#8 Monorail (Broadbeach)
Rumours of this Gold Coast icon’s demise were greatly exaggerated when it closed for a much-needed tune-up for most of 2014. Now back up and running, the monorail runs from The Oasis shopping centre (another Broadbeach relic) to Jupiter’s Casino for only four bucks. Once you’re at Jupiter’s you might as well indulge in the all-you-can-eat seafood buffett because you’re on holiday and you bloody well deserve it.