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Mike Yardley: Southern Stars of the Gold Coast

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 23 Mar 2024, 1:39PM
Southern Gold Coast. Photo / Destination Gold Coast
Southern Gold Coast. Photo / Destination Gold Coast

Mike Yardley: Southern Stars of the Gold Coast

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 23 Mar 2024, 1:39PM

Coolangatta, or Cooly as the locals call it, is the southernmost town of the Gold Coast, rubbing its salty shoulders with the New South Wales border. And it’s as sweet as a peach. Fringed with sprawling white-sand beaches, the vibe is chilled and down-to-earth in this cheerful, embracing town. If you want to crank up the serenity factor on the GC, Cooly delivers in spades. It’s a distinctly laidback haven with a relaxed rhythm infusing proceedings, amid the wider hustle of the holiday mecca.

You won’t be struggling for towel space here. My base was The Sebel Twin Towers Coolangatta, sitting pretty just a block back from Coolangatta Beach. Generously loaded with amenities, the hotel boats an outdoor and indoor pool; steam room, spa and gym; tennis courts, mini golf and onsite BBQ areas. Accommodations are spacious with dreamy balcony views across the region, while Signatures Restaurant serves up a cracking buffet breakfast. Bonus points for the salivating pastries!

Balcony view from The Sebel. Photo / Supplied

For a sparkling head-clearer to start the day in the morning glow, I stepped out on the sweeping coastal path that connects with the Greenmount Beach boardwalk trail, leading you around Greenmount Hill to Rainbow Beach. From there, take in the iconic surf break of Snapper Rocks (great rock pools), Froggies Beach and Point Danger, which is home to the Captain Cook Memorial and Lighthouse for celestial ocean views. Strike it lucky and you might spot a whale, particularly if you’re visiting during Humpback Highway season between June and October. To the left of Cooly, it’s a quick stroll to neighbouring Kirra Beach, while further north, Burleigh Heads is another southern star of the GC.

Look at a map and Burleigh sits like a cool comma between Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta, a photogenic punctuation mark along the Gold Coast. I’ve always adored taking leisurely strolls in Burleigh Head National Park which wraps around the headland, serving up dazzling ocean views. But for a walk with a difference, I joined a walkabout with Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural centre. This is the Gold Coast's only dedicated Aboriginal cultural centre and is fully owned and operated by the local Aboriginal community. Based at the foot of the headland, adjacent to Tallebudgera Creek, the centre brims with illuminating galleries and exhibits, complemented with a stunning gift store featuring local indigenous craft and art works. I joined a two hour guided walking tour which brings the headland to life. For indigenous people, Jellurgal means the “Dreaming Mountain”, and it’s studded with culturally significant sites.

My local guide Credence captivated us with the Dreaming stories associated with the creation of Jellurgal, and imparted an array of insights on traditional life, bush tucker and their ecological practices. Credence remarked that Tallebudgera Creek has long been a favourite seafood spot and that his ancestors would commune with the dolphins, encouraging them to usher the fish inshore so they could spear them! We learnt how ochre earth is a trusty sunscreen and gazed in awe at an ancient midden, adjacent to the track, loaded with thousands of shells. The midden has been carbon dated as being 4000 years old. As we strolled around the Oceanview Track, in addition to the white-bellied sea eagles riding the ridge updrafts, Credence told us to keep an eye out for koalas and water dragons that inhabit this fascinating headland. A Jellurgal Walkabout adds eye-opening richness to a GC escape.

Dishy dining? After stretching the legs, surrender to an indulgent lunch at The Tropic, in Burleigh Pavilion. The eatery’s jaw-dropping perch makes you feel as if you’re dining on the edge of the ocean. With plantation-style ceilings, this stylishly cool venue features crisp white tables, soothing greenery and splashes of pastel blue and creamy yellow. The Mediterranean-inspired menu is produce-driven, sourcing only the freshest local ingredients, so anything seafood is guaranteed to please. Don’t go past the Ocean King Prawns.

Burleigh Pavilion overlooking the beach. Photo / Destination Gold Coast

Another gorgeous venue to salute the sun-kissed sands of the southern Gold Coast is at Siblings. Adjacent to Coolangatta, this Kirra Beach fan-favourite is a light-filled, breezy venue that embraces the natural elements of its beachfront surrounds. The Cianci family restored this century-old venue to its former glory, which in more recent years played host to Pizza Hut. 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. 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 or the croquettes manchego with shaved jamon. But my favourite dish was the Baja fish tacos with citrus slaw, pickled jalapeno and lime.

Just across the road, the new kid on the block is Kirra Beach House, where more panoramic oceanfront views, a Mediterranean-style grazing menu and exceptional cocktails are all part of the package. This elevated beachfront venue only opened three months ago but has instantly cemented its stature as a local favourite for its seaside eats and resort-inspired drinks. I enjoyed a plate of fried calamari with yuzu mayo, plus a stunning dessert of pina colada ice cream with torched merignue. The drinks menu spills with inventive temptations but I highly recommend their signature Havana cocktail. It’s a blend of rich rum, brandy, banana, dolce de leche and an “obnoxious amount of nutmeg.” It’s achingly delicious.

The Gold Coast hinterland abounds with sensational soft adventure pursuits. As the locals say, it’s the Green behind the Gold, a lush high-country wonderland of rainforests, waterfalls and hinterland hamlets. From Coolangatta, I made tracks for Springbrook National Park and the noticeable climb in elevation. Springbrook Mountain is the tallest peak in the hinterland, topping out at 1000 metres. Average temperatures are generally 3-5 degrees cooler than the coast. This national park makes up a quarter of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest, with seriously vintage vegetation spanning 100 million years, and trees that can remember the time Australia and Antarctica were connected.

Antarctic Beach Trees in Springbrook. Photo / Mike Yardley

After refuelling at Springbrook Café, where a cheeky kookaburra sidled up to me, I headed for Purling Brook Falls, accessed by a suspension bridge that hangs over the creek and rainforest canopy. The circuit starts by passing through open eucalypt forest of New England ash before descending into the gorge. The walk is 4km return and you’ll be rewarded with a dramatic view of the waterfall from the gorge below. It’s a staggering spectacle of rainforest, cascading water and canyon-like cliffs, flaunting their volcanic hues. Natural Bridge is another great trail, that only takes about an hour to complete and is suitable for little legs and tired legs. At the bottom of a paved path, a glittering cascade pours through a basalt cave, completely backlit by natural light.

As the name would suggest, Best of All Lookout is the grand-daddy of all views, serving up a sweeping canvas of scenery from Springbrook’s high plateau, reaching across the border into New South Wales and to Mt. Warning, which was the core of the ancient Tweed Volcano. (It hasn’t erupted for 20 million years.) This spot is actually the first point in Australia to be touched by the sun, so if you’re up for a virtuous sunrise experience, set the alarm early! To reach the lookout entails a 10 minute stroll through ancient rainforest, which also boasts the geographical oddity of mighty Antarctic beech trees. They are unique to the area, a hangover from Gondwanaland, and the gnarly giant specimens on this walk are over 2000 years old – and still going strong.

There’s some fascinating wildlife in the hinterland. I thought I was already familiar with most feathered and furry specimens of Australiana, but you’re likely to add some new entries to your wildlife check-list. First, the red-necked pademelon. I saw scores of them in Springbrook, although they’re super shy. If a wallaby is like a small kangaroo, a pademelon is like a super small wallaby. No bigger than a rabbit. Very cute. I also glimpsed one of Australia’s most extraordinary birds scurrying into the foliage, Prince Albert’s lyrebird. There’s only an estimated 3500 left in existence – and your only chance of glimpsing one is here. Timid and about the size of a weka, it’s the world’s largest songbird and reputed to have the most powerful, musical voice of any species.

Sir David Attenborough adores it. With the power to sing non-stop for four hours, it’s the Pavarotti of the rainforest, and adding to its repertoire is the lyrebird’s uncanny ability to mimic all manner of sounds, from other forest birds to a chainsaw busy at work. Previously shot to be eaten in pies, this crafty crooner is far too talented to be condemned to pastry filling. On the reptilian front, keep an eye out for the land mullet - a fat, black, shiny lizard is also known as the world’s largest skink.

Back down on the coast, there’s more furry and feathered friends waiting to welcome you to 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.

Lorikeet feeding at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo / Destination Gold Coast

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.

From the glitter strip of the beach scene to the mountain villages and forest trails of the hinterland, the Gold Coast bursts with a world of possibilities. www.destinationgoldcoast.com

I flew to Coolangatta with the low-fares leader, Jetstar. When you book on Jetstar.com, 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. Jetstar ensures its base fares are the most affordable, by giving you complete choice and flexibility over whether to include checked luggage, an in-flight snack or assigned seat. For the best fares, head to www.jetstar.com

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.

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