Things to do on the Gold Coast that don’t involve the beach

Nikki ParkinsonTravel 34 Comments

The Gold Coast and I have a long-standing relationship.

The Glitter Strip was our Mum’s Christmas holiday destination of choice through the 1970s and early 1980s. Although, to be honest, there was not much glitter involved in these trips.

Christmas lunch was held in a hot, fibro shack at Mermaid Beach. We feasted on a hot chook and coleslaw from the strip of shops on the Gold Coast Highway at Broadbeach – the same shops where we bought mum the same 4711 eau de cologne every year.

We wanted desperately to go to Sea World but I suspect it was a whole lot cheaper to go to Marineland across the road. Because that’s where we went.

The year that Mum booked us into the Florida Car-O-Tel at Miami was the year that, as kids, we felt we had ARRIVED. This was an apartment complex, across from a patrolled beach, with two pools. TWO POOLS. I think I may even have sent postcards to my friends boasting about the number of pools … because you can swim in more than one at the same time, right?

When my Nan and Pop retired to the North Coast in 1979, we visited the Gold Coast less often. Our beach allegiances became tied to the strip of sand north of Brisbane, now called the Sunshine Coast and my home of the past 23 years.

As an adult, trips to the Gold Coast have varied from “Toolies” trips at the end of each uni year, nights driving down from uni in Brisbane to Jupiters Casino (because at the time that seemed like a fun way to spend a night) and latterly as a parent for various theme park excursions – mostly day trips.

We last visited two years ago when the Hilton Surfers Paradise opened and to catch up with friends who moved there from the Sunshine Coast when our now teenagers were babies. One particular baby (Miss SY) is only a couple of months away from her Schoolies visit to the Gold Coast (I KNOW).

The Gold Coast may be an iconic destination to many but to me it’s a destination built of holiday memories, layer upon layer, Sara-Lee-pastry-style.

Memories which all came flooding back to me last weekend (and one of my roomies, Mrs Woog).

In a coup for the Queensland tourism industry, the 2013 Problogger Conference (if you are thinking about starting to blog or already do and missed out, you can get a virtual pass here and listen to all the sessions) was held at the QT Gold Coast (more on this fabulous hotel below), bringing 450 bloggers from all around Australia (and some US speakers) to the region.

Not only was this huge from the Australian blogging profession’s point of view – it was the first time a blogging conference had been held outside of Sydney or Melbourne – but many of the visiting bloggers also shared their experience of the hotel and the Gold Coast across their own blogs and social media platforms.

That’s a whole of grass-roots tourism promotion and I’m not afraid to join in the promotion as well.

I may be using the fact that I was actually at the Gold Coast for a two-day conference as some kind of excuse for not getting sand between my toes but in reality, I was happy simply with just being able to see the beach from our hotel room.

You too might be quite happy with this version of a beach holiday, so I thought I’d share some things to do on the Gold Coast that don’t involve the beach. Things I did – and holiday memories I made – last weekend.

QT Gold Coast

I’m already engineering a plan that gets me back to this hotel pronto. Mr SY yesterday read my roomie Baby Mac’s post on the buffet breakfast in the hotel’s Bazaar restaurant and that was enough for him to get on board too. This is the second QT Hotel I’ve visited (you can read about the QT Sydney here). I cannot stress enough how much fun it is to stay at a hotel that doesn’t look like another in its chain – or the hotel chain next door.

QT Gold Coast Foyer

The staff at the QT Gold Coast were the most friendly I’ve ever met, there are fun visual points of interest at every turn and the decor completely suits its Surfers Paradise location. If you’re as *mature* as I am then you’ll remember the Gold Coast International? Yep? Well, this is the same hotel … just brought into this century … on the inside at least.

QT Gold Coast Bazaar Restaurant

QT Gold Coast Fixx cafe

Snaps to the free lemonade and iced tea (served in jars, OF COURSE) and equal snaps to the paid drinks available at The Stingray Bar, also served in jars. Here’s the hot tip: Friday nights go off … or maybe that was just our champagne-fuelled, impromptu dance floor observation at 10.30pm when the DJ started belting out a mix of Don’t Blame it on the Boogie and Madonna’s Holiday.

QT Gold Coast Stingray Bar

QT Gold Coast Stingray Bar sliders

On the room front, if you’re travelling with more than two people, do yourself a favour and book an ocean view king suite. These rooms have a separate lounge with a sofa bed and the main room and ensuite includes a bath, double vanity and long shelf that proved very useful for displaying the amount of accessories bought to wear across three days by three grown women.

QT Gold Coast room

QT Gold Coast room king ocean suite ensuite

QT Gold Coast pineapple candle and cockatoo lamp


As you already know if you’re a regular on this blog, I may be able to opt out of a trip to the beach on a weekend or holiday away but the same cannot be said for my need to treat myself to a little spa time. I’d already given the spaQ at QT Sydney the big thumbs up and I’ve got double thumbs up for spaQ at the Gold Coast. When we booked our accommodation months ago, do you know what we did at the same time? Yep. We booked an hour each in the spa. I shouted Mrs Woog for her 40th and she made the executive decision that we’d all have facials. Actually, that’s not quite true. She decided on a facial for herself. Beth and I opted for the same to avoid losing the spray tans we’d invested in just the day before.

spaQ Gold Coast treatment room

We steam-roomed first in the Hammam-inspired room and then were lead to our separate treatment rooms where my face was treated like it should be treated on a more regular basis using uskincare products, awesome Australian products that combine herbal and scientific technology and research for awesome results. I had the Regenerative Pure C Facial ($130) which did bring on a boost of radiance that could not only be put down to the flush from the champagne we opened to celebrate our time away. Favourite product used? The Bamboo polish – an exfoliator you can use from head to toe that invigorates with ginseng and ginkgo but then calms with lavender.

spaQ Gold Coast lounge

Hellenika Restaurant

The night before the conference got started the lovely Shelley and Celeste from Tourism Queensland whisked a few of us away for a dinner that I will remember for a very long time. Hellenika sits in the strip of shops at Nobby’s Beach, below where (back in the day) Magic Mountain was home to a chairlift and waterslide. When you rock up to a restaurant on a Thursday night and it’s absolutely pumping and then you instagram a photo of said restaurant and people are telling you not to leave without eating the slow-cooked lamb or zucchini chips, then you know you’re in for something good.

Hellenika restaurant Nobby's Beach

And something good was what we got. We sat down to the banquet menu ($55 per person) starving (because apparently champagne is not a food group after all) and left rolling out the door unable to even contemplate food for about 12 hours. Highlights? The aforementioned slow-cooked lamb, saganaki (grilled haloumi-like cheese), salty pork belly with leeks, calamari and whole snapper, which was de-boned in front of you on the table. Missed out on the zucchini chips, which is a good thing because that means I have to make it a mission to go back, don’t I?

Hellenika restaurant Nobby's Beach slow-cooked lamb

The Village Markets

On Sunday morning I dropped my roomies, Baby Mac and Mrs Woog, back at the airport to fly back to reality (FYI, it’s a 30-minute drive if you’re flying in and then staying in Surfers Paradise … I think cab fares were about $75 … and an EXTRA 10% if you wanted to use an EFTPOS card to pay!). On the way back north I stopped into The Village Markets at Burleigh Heads State School (where they are held the first and third Sunday each month; and on the fourth Sunday at Paradise Point Parklands).

The Village Markets Gold Coast

The Village Markets Gold Coast The Spring Shop

These markets are some of the best I’ve ever seen, thanks to a beautiful boutique-y mix of fashion, interiors and food stalls, served up to a backdrop of local live music. They’re five years old and were started when former students Marissa Bowden and Sarah Schoeller came up with the business plan for them as part of a university assignment. I managed to buy more jars and straws at The Spring Shop (blogger Catherine has a stall here); flamingo bunting (I KNOW!); cold-pressed juice to revive me for the trip home and cupcakes to bring home for the kids. I could have gone mad at Kiss Create on upcycled vintage pieces and at the SunLounge Collection where a few pineapple art pieces more than caught my eye. Next time …

The Village Markets Gold Coast SunLounge collection

The Village Markets Gold Coast Kiss Create stall

So tell me … did you holiday on the Gold Coast back in the day? Where did you stay? When did you last visit the Gold Coast? What did you love doing and seeing?

Comments 34

  1. Oh Nikkie, We are clearly the same vintage …. childhood GC holidays on the cheap (ours was camping at Tullebudgera – fibro shacks were too chic for us) toolies in the 80s, and now t’s all about gourmet and spa. Glad you liked your getaway!

  2. Great tips for a future trip to the GC – love the look of the QT – thanks Nikki xx When I was temping in Brisbane many moons ago my sister popped over the ditch and we had a fun couple of nights on the GC staying in quite a flash backpackers (we only had to share our bathroom with the couple next door – a palace in backpacker terms!) and my only other stay there was 3 years ago with 2 kiddos in tow, too young for the theme parks – they were too busy chatting and singing away in the back seat to notice all those rollercoasters and billboards along the motorway, much to our amusement! Next time!!

  3. Far out I am an erstwhile GC dweller and I’ve never heard of those markets! I admittedly live on the hardcore outskirts but still. How good is Hellenika??! I loved it MAJORLY. We went there for our anniversary this year. All the stuff about the QT buffet breakfast has me DESPERATE to give it a try asap.

    1. I’m wanting to know why you didn’t come and hang out with us at the “breakout” sessions in the Stingray bar, Slapdashmama … next time no piking. And do get to those markets. When they’re at Paradise Point might be closer for you?

      1. Haha! I actually did come down to the Stingray bar on the Sat night! Couldn’t have done more than that or the sprogs would have had to come too…I felt like a crazy stalker as it was! And yes Paradise Point is much closer will have to go!!! xx

  4. I must get back to the QT…that breakfast! And I missed out on the spa and the hotel shop.
    I am working on a plan where somehow I get to spend the weekend there by myself but then my boys come and meet me for breakfast.

  5. Looks like you had an awesome time, even though you didn’t get sand between your toes! Your pics of the QT do it great justice and bring back fab memories of the weekend for me – it was lovely. I did manage to get sandy feet (great exfoliator!) as I tramped around Surfer’s on the QT photography famil which was awesome 🙂 Wish I’d got to those markets on Sunday though. Hope your book is going well, and it was lovely to touch base with you, albeit briefly.

  6. We holidayed on the GC when I was a teenager in the late 70’s or early 80’s… went to Sea World etc. My dad set up a business meeting with the mayor of the GC and we went along – met Lovelace Watkins (a Vegas performer) who the mayor happened to be entertaining. It all fitted the glittery view we had of the GC at the time! Went back in my early 20’s with my sister, and besides the pool, beach, shopping, casino etc, we hired a tandem bike to ride around town, and a car to go up into the Glasshouse Mountains. I loved this post Nikki, it did bring back memories but more than that it makes me want to go back! (much like your Bali postings did!)

    1. Summer holiday memories are the best. I need to get back to creating them with my kids … our weekly annual beach holiday has fallen by the wayside. Will be back on the agenda once we’re not living at the beach, that’s for sure! And shhh … I’m back to Bali in a month for my girlfriend’s 40th!

  7. When our girl was a wee toddler I decided that we just had to go with Al to Brisbane for a conference, and stop in Surfers for two nights as well. I picked the most horrible motel right on the strip as it was Cheap. I had had a long term desire to see polar bears – so SeaWorld it was. So, it was a strange little stay. I know next time we will stay somewhere gorgeous. Though we don’t head to QLD very often at all. We had the one “trip to QLD” as children and stopped for the day in Surfers on the way to the sunshine coast. We seemed to stick to NSW north coast and south coast for our hols when I was a kid!

  8. Oh my goodness, full is an understatement for how I felt after dinner on Thursday night but I can’t wait to do it all over again! Fabulous night and fabulous post, Nikki. This icky cold kept me from The Village Markets on Sunday morning, which was a real shame but luckily for us we can duck down the highway every second weekend if we like! 🙂 So great to catch up. You are looking every bit the rock star blogger these days and all of your successes are completely deserved. xx

    1. I don’t know how you kept going with your cold Celeste … the markets were fabulous. Missed the breakfast as was dropping Beth and Kayte to the airport but loved wandering around afterwards. And I’m no rock star … just love weekends like the one just had where we get to hang out with like-minded people. x

  9. We are hitting the Goldie this Christmas! It will be my first visit since schoolies week many many years ago, although this trip will be a theme park kiddie type of trip – so I booked a week at the Byron at Byron beforehand to emotionally prepare!

    1. You are SO wise, Paula. My tip with the theme parks is to get the three-day pass and then spend part days there instead of full ones. We’ve now got annual passes to Movie, Sea and Wet and Wild so will duck down from Brisbane but not for whole days!

  10. Lots of memories of GC Holidays, but my most lasting memory was a visit to a fortune teller on a holiday there in my early 20s. She told me I would not meet my husband till I was 30- nearly dead and so OLD!- but that it would be worth the wait. She was so right, but wish I’d listened when I was kissing frogs and getting my heart broken, that way I could have just enjoyed the ride.
    We’ve moved on from the GC to Byron Bay, then Kingscliff (Northern NSW) and now we tend to head to Qualia or overseas for our beach fix.

      1. Couldn’t agree more Nikki. How can you judge and appreciate something wonderful if you haven’t had a few bad experiences?

  11. Yes I have been to the Gold coast many many times ,I do remember those holiday apartments with pools back in the day,when Dad would drive up and we would bicker in the back for hours and hours but once we hit the main street and those suntan signs we shut up. I think the last place we stayed at was the Apollo ,we took the kids up when they were about 12 and 14 I do remember the balcony was lovely and I went shopping a lot and they went to the Theme parks with their Dad,one good thing about having a bad leg ,you get out of theme parks 🙂 The last time we went there was a lot of development going on,I hope they make everywhere like the QT Hotel.My son went for schoolies too and that was nearly 7 years ago.I love the markets and the shops and of course any spa action.

  12. Last time I was in the GC was enroute to the 1988 Expo, and was also my first plane flight – from Tas to Qld! Was the trip of a lifetime and best of all my bestie came with us. We felt so grown up!
    We arrived late so I remember waking up to the view of the beach and our pool below, all a bit of a blur now though! I do remember our hotel was no where near on the level of the QT!
    I’ve been back to Brissie and north from there a number of times but have never quite made it back to the Gold Coast… one day.

  13. I loved reading this post.
    The QT looks just like my cup of tea – fabulously different.
    My first taste of the Gold Coast was on our first ever trip to Australia. We were staying in Perth, but as a Christmas treat we flew across to Brisbane and stayed at the Versace – Our love affair with the East Coast began at that moment. 😉 The rest is history!

  14. Well you have just transported me back to 1977 and the Florida Car-O-Tel Nikki. Stayed in a caravan there for two consecutive September school holidays after driving 3 days from Melbourne and sleeping overnight in the car on several occasions. Memories – Seaworld was a ski show back then and of eating my the first Golden Gaytime – still my favourite. The 2 pools were very fancy indeed. Last time we hit the GC we stayed at Burleigh Heads – a divine view from the 9th floor. We are coming up for a footy weekend next year with the teenagers – do you think the QT is suitable for family accomodation, or more for a special weekend away?

    1. Golden Gaytimes are the best! And yes, we stayed in the caravan park too for a couple of weekends. Love the idea of the Burleigh apartment. With the QT, we were in the biggest rooms – main room with king bed and huge ensuite/bath; and a lounge room with a sofa bed and bar area and powder room – would depend how old they are I guess? The other option in Surfers for a family I’d recommend (and close by) is the Hilton – they have two and three bedroom self-contained apartments as well as the hotel room tower.

  15. I will always have a soft spot for the GC. I spent all of my holidays as a kid there as my grandparents lived at Palm Beach and my cousins had a holiday house there too!!! Lots of very happy memories! Now we tend to stay on the northern end … Especially to do the GC half marathon each year which definitely involves a day spa trip. The QT looks amazing.

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