The Sunshine and Gold Coasts: Brisbane’s Beach Playgrounds

Most overseas visitors traveling to Australia fly into Sydney or Melbourne. Both are cities that are world-class destinations in their own right, but for those looking to spend time on Australia’s best beaches, a better option is the city of Brisbane.

This city of 2.3 million people – about half the size of either Sydney or Melbourne – is the capital of the so-called sunshine state of Queensland. Unlike the two southern cities, Brisbane itself does not have any ocean beaches, but within an hour’s drive north and south of the city, are two of Australia’s most popular coastal playgrounds – the Sunshine and Gold Coasts.

The Gold Coast to the south of the city is the most well known to international tourists as it’s Australia’s version of Miami Beach or Waikiki Beach with high rise condominiums, casinos, theme parks and a myriad of other entertainment options.

The Sunshine Coast to the north or the city is more laid back with less glitz and nightlife, appealing more to travelers looking for a quieter destination that focuses on relaxation, boating, fishing and activities that fit with the more rural feel of this part of the coast.

Both have some great surfing beaches and most backpackers like to spend time in both. Often they will spend a week on the Gold Coast to party, then a week on the Sunshine Coast to recover.

However, Brisbane itself is worth spending a few days in upon arrival. It has some great eating places and coffee shops, and if you are in need of any new travel bags, it’s home to four Luggage Direct superstores where you can pick up branded luggage like Samsonite and Delsey at bargain prices.

Deciding which coast to head to first can be a challenge. Both have so much to offer, and the decision on how many days to spend in each largely depends on the travelers’ interests.

If it’s summer, and there are intentions to travel south, then doing the Sunshine Coast first and after that heading to the Gold Coast as the first leg of the trip south makes a lot of sense.  If it’s winter, and there are plans to head up north into the warm tropics, then doing the reverse saves on traveling time.

Destination Gold Coast, Australia

The Gold Coast has a lot more accommodation available than the Sunshine Coast because of the number of high-rise condominiums (most of the accommodation on the Sunshine Coast is low rise). Look out for new condominiums opening because these places often have good deals available for the first couple of months as they seek to establish themselves in the market.

There’s no real off-peak period on the Gold Coast because in winter many Australians come up from the southern states seeking warmer weather. However, in the coolest months between June and September, some discounts may be available outside of school holidays.

The Gold Coast has some great shopping malls for those who need to stock up on summer clothing, and is also home to Australia’s largest permanent market at Carrara. With over 350 stalls, it’s a great spot to spend an afternoon browsing for discounted beachwear, sunglasses and fashion accessories.

Among the most popular attractions on the Gold Coast are Warner Bros Movie World, the iFLY indoor skydiving, Infinity and Holoverse (high-tech interactive experiences), and the Skypoint observation deck.

Around the Gold Coast and away from the beach, there are many other attractions including the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary that enable overseas visitors to see and touch some of Australia’s unique wildlife.

For those who like to be close to nature, there are many rainforest walks in the Gold Coast hinterland around Mount Tamborine. O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk and the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk. Curtis Falls in the Tamborine National Park is another spot well worth visiting.

The hinterland is also home to several renowned wellness spas including the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, but with rates that are around $500 a night, they are beyond the budget of most backpackers or budget travelers.

Destination Sunshine Coast, Australia

The Sunshine Coast – or ‘Sunny Coast’ as locals call it — has a completely different feel to it. Even the drive north through pine forest plantations and past the picturesque Glasshouse Mountains is different, contrasting with the drive to the Gold Coast which feels like it is an extension of Brisbane’s southern suburbs.

Whereas the Gold Coast is one long urban strip from where it starts around Sanctuary Cove, right down to Coolangatta on the New South Wales border, the Sunshine Coast is made up of three urban areas centered around Caloundra at the southern end, Maroochydore and Mooloolaba in the middle and Noosa Heads at the northern end.

Although it is somewhat oversimplifying the accommodation options, many refer to Caloundra as the ‘budget’ end, Noosa as the upmarket end, and Maroochydore/Mooloolaba somewhere in the middle.

Certainly the cheapest accommodation is most easily found around Caloundra and some of the nearby beach suburbs because this area has a lot of older properties, but Maroochydore has some reasonably priced accommodation too.

Noosa Heads and Mooloolaba are the places to go for good restaurants, cafes and coffee shops, and Noosa has some very trendy boutiques for those looking to update their wardrobes. Most of the boating and fishing activities are based around Maroochydore and Noosa, whilst Mooloolaba and Coolum are popular spots for surfers.

The Sunshine Coast has an interesting hinterland too with the iconic Eumundi Markets, the Ginger Factory in Yandina, and a picturesque drive along the Blackall Range through the villages of Maleny, Montville and Mapleton, which offers panoramic views of the coast.

There are also several eco-resorts and alternative lifestyle centres that function as wellness retreats in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. These are smaller than those near the Gold Coast and the rates are more affordable.

The Australia Zoo, which was established by the late Steve Irwin of ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ TV fame, is another popular stopover on the trip from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast.

What is your favorite coast in Australia?

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