The Gold Coast is a popular beach destination in Australia, but it offers a whole lot more than its golden stretch of sand. While you’ll definitely want to bring your bathing suit along, you could easily spend weeks or even months here without doing it all there is to do here. For those who’ve only got 48 hours to explore the entire coastline, these are our top picks to squeeze in.
**Update: This article was originally written before the devastating fires in Australia. For more information and how you can help, go here.
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Watch the Waves Roll In at Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Heads, referred to as Burleigh by the locals, is a stretch of the Gold Coast you won’t want to miss. Take in the view, watching the waters roll in or enjoy a swim in the protected area. Around the headland is a great place to surf. For those who’d prefer to stay on land, hike the scenic trails in Burleigh Heads National Park, which wrap around the coast providing stunning ocean views as well as the chance to spot wildlife. Just offshore at this gorgeous national park, you can keep an eye out for dolphins and whales. On land, you might see kangaroo, wallaby and many other mammals while all sorts of birds like cockatoos are perched in the trees.
Cuddle With Koalas at the Gold Coast Wildlife Sanctuary
The Gold Coast Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to immerse yourself in the lush Currumbin rainforest. Here you can cuddle up to koalas, feed kangaroos and take a stroll through open animal enclosures along the way. Visitors can also experience wild lorikeet feedings and croc feedings, take a dingo for a walk, watch Aboriginal performances, watch free-flight bird shows and take a journey through Lost Valley. This forgotten world is filled with some of the world’s most unique wildlife like red pandas, lemurs, exotic reptiles, capybaras and cotton-top tamarins.
Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk and Treetop Challenge
Located in the Hinterland of the Gold Coast, the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk stretches for nearly a mile. Along the way, you’ll be able to take in the striking natural beauty of the rainforest, crossing the Skywalk Bridge, the Skywalk Cantilever and reaching the Cedar Creek Viewing Platform which are all connected by a pathway that meanders along the canopy floor. The experience takes just 45 minutes to complete at a leisurely pace, making it easy to fit in. It ends at the main center which offers a cafe and gift shop.
There are many other things to do at Tamborine Mountain, including exploring four waterfalls and taking the Treetop Challenge, where you’ll take on all sorts of challenges relying on only a harness to hang from trees, climb ladders, balance on bridges and navigate suspended tunnels. There are six different courses spread across nearly nine acres of unspoiled bushland that are guaranteed to get your heart racing.
SkyPoint Observation Deck
The SkyPoint Observation Deck sits at more than 754 feet above Surfers Paradise, with the experience here starting at Level 77. The especially daring can take the 298 stairs up the SkyPoint Climb to the top of Q1, the tallest building in all of Australia, and the even more daring can walk on the edge of the stairs with nothing between them but the air and the ground. Viewing the iconic Gold Coast skyline and the brilliant blue ocean below is well-worth the heart-pounding adventure. By embarking on the Twilight Climb, you can watch the sun set over the hinterland and the lights start to twinkle throughout the city.
Surf World Gold Coast
If you have any interest in surfing at all, be sure to check out Australia’s largest surfboard collection and all sorts of other surfing-related items at the Surf World Gold Coast museum. It honors the history of surfing as well as its impact on pop culture with a wide range of surfing trophies, photographs, clothing, boards and other memorabilia. It also hosts a great gift shop that makes an ideal gift or souvenir for surfing fans.
Heart-Pounding Thrills at Dreamworld
The biggest theme park in all of Australia is Dreamworld, home to five roller coasters and more than 40 other rides. Thrill seekers may want to spend one of their two days here as this massive park truly offers it all. At Tiger Island, you can get up close to the majestic cats and watch them play during special demonstrations. Splash around in the warm water at WhiteWater World, fly on the sky-high swing known as the Claw and reach speeds of up to 100 mph in only seven seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness on The Tower of Terror. If that’s not enough, take The Giant Drop – the world’s tallest free-falling ride, something you’re sure not to ever forget.
If you visit between June and November you can take a whale watching tour. The Gold Coast has one of the longest whale watching seasons in Australia. Here you’ll have the opportunity to see humpback whales and occasionally, orca whales too. Dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, sharks and all sorts of other marine life are often spotted on these excursions as well. You’ll find multiple outfitters to choose from, with most offering guaranteed sightings during the season.
Be sure to take advantage of at least one night on the Gold Coast to enjoy a real local’s experience. Miami Marketta, in the suburb of Miami, offers fabulous food, drink and entertainment on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, including street fare from around the world, craft beer, boutique wines and live music in an especially lively atmosphere that many say feels like the back streets of New York City, Barcelona or Bangkok. There are also art and fashion studios, art exhibitions and poetry slams.