The eastern coast of Australia is home to quite the dynamic coastline, environment, and many cities & towns which make it a very popular place to visit on a short vacation. From The Great Barrier Reef & the Daintree Rainforest in northeastern Queensland down to the popular capital city of New South Wales, Sydney, there is many reasons why someone visiting Australia for the first time could easily spend a month on this coastline alone. At the core of the coastline you'll find the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast.
We spent ten days driving from Cairns to Sydney in our campervan, but we quickly learned that is not enough time to dedicate to these sections of the coasts. If you haven't figured it out yet, Australia is big. The drive from Cairns to Brisbane is 1,046 miles (1,684 km) and the drive from Brisbane to Sydney is another 569 miles (916 km). For this reason, we decided to drive straight through the northern section that covers a span similar to the distance between Seattle and LA, which is home to the Sunshine Coast. We found ourselves on a deadline in Australia, but if you wanted to drive from Cairns to Sydney and really have time to experience everything in between we highly suggest allowing at least 14 days.
Fun on the beach in the Gold Coast.
After a very long two days of driving straight down the coast, we found ourselves arriving in Brissie, aka Brisbane and the biggest city in Queensland. A new mate of ours in Brisbane taught us the method behind the Aussie slang and short words. An Aussie will always try to find a way to shorten words and in some cases even elongate words that are too short. You will hear sunglasses called sunnies, your kangaroos as simply roo, and an 'as' behind adjectives like sweet or lovely as to add some extra emphasis. Therefore, with our sunnies on we arrived in Brissie to meet our new Aussie mates, Matt & Nicole, who would host us and tour us around the city.
We found ourselves headquartered in the suburb of Brisbane called Paddington, a laid back residential district with lots of boutique clothing stores, charming cafes, independent shops, and easy-going bars and overall social mentality. When it comes to food and drink in this neighborhood, you might find yourself enjoying the worldly flavors found on the Anouk Cafe's menu or singing along to an Australian 'anthem' like "You're the Voice," by John Farnham while putting back some craft beers at the Newstead Brewing Co. Don't worry if you've never heard the song or don't know the lyrics, just enjoy the show as groups around you in the bar may bust out into random sing a long. Besides the laid back and friendly vibes of this suburb, another thing that makes it cool is its location on the lower hills at the base of Mount Coot-tha. This is a must do stop for any traveler going through Brisbane. The best panoramic views of the city are located at the top of this mountain that is the highest peak within any urban location around the city. This city park would be the perfect location for a picnic or park day. It is large and offers kilometers of bike trails, walking trails, grassy knolls, forests, and even a waterfall. Lastly, if you're looking for good evening and late night festivities you might stop by Left's Old Time Music Hall where you can catch some solid live music in this lavish, old-time saloon-feeling venue.
At Newstead Brewing Co singing "You're the Voice," by John Farnham with new friends!
Enjoying the beautiful panoramic views of Brisbane with our friends and hosts for the weekend, Matt and Nic.
Brisbane is the biggest city in Queensland and a great low budget way to see a lot of the city and downtown is to take the CityCat, a smooth catamaran ferry that stops all along the central business district along the shores of the Brisbane River. Kick back and enjoy the wind through your hair as you cruise along the river as it winds under bridges and between beautiful city riverside parks and in through the core of the city. To mix things up, we got off at the South Bank Parklands, an area made into a premier lifestyle and cultural part of the city after hosting the World Expo 88. The Wheel of Brisbane, a ferris wheel sitting on the edges of the Brisbane River, is found here, along with a riverside public pool, lots of pubs and restaurants, and a beautiful riverside pathway which will lead you over the Goodwill (walking) Bridge over to the Brisbane City Botanical Garden and Riverstage, an outdoor music venue nestled in the botanical garden just off the shore of the river. The path along the Brissie City Botanical Gardens will eventually wrap you around the river where you will see the cliffs of Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park and end up in the central business district where you can get a sense of the urban sprawl of the city and catch people on the other side of the river walking over the Story Bridge. Stop by any bar or restaurant for a good taste or drink. We enjoyed some chef's choice sashimi and sushi at Oshin Japanese Restaurant. We would definitely recommend this to someone who has way too much trouble deciding from an overly long sushi menu. Just let the chef take care of you as he prepares you selections of across the menu until you're full. You won't be disappointed.
On the CitiCat heading to the South Bank Parklands.
Hannah, Matt and Nic taking in the views on a nice summer day.
Beautiful views from the South Bank Parklands area. There were a lot of people picnicking and hanging out in the grass.
We didn't have time for all of the following, but if you're looking for other ideas for activities around and in Brisbane then you might want to consider the following ideas:
Take a ferry to Moreton Island for a tropical day-trip getaway
Take an adventure climb over the Story Bridge, a cheaper alternative to Sydney's Harbour Bridge Climb.
Go shopping at the Queen Street Mall
Visit the Mount Coot-tha Botanical Gardens
Cuddle a Koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Spend the weekend bar hopping and trying different menus from any place in the city with your mates.
The Gold Coast
Just an hour south of Brisbane you'll find one of Australia's premier surfing spots and favorites by many for weekend getaways, The Gold Coast. When you hear this, you may think it's a section of the coast where the sun shines gold. Well both are true, but it's an actual city with a decent sized metropolitan area located directly on the coast giving off a vibe like Miami and Santa Monica had a baby and that baby's name was Gold Coast. PS - there's actually a suburb of Gold Coast called Miami, and this is where we actually stayed.
Firstly, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when you find yourself in the Gold Coast, due as the people of Surfer's Paradise do and surf. If you're like me, a first timer to surfing, take a lesson from Cheyne Horan Surf School and they will have you standing on a board in the first hour. Surfer's Paradise is the epicenter of the metropolitan area in Gold Coast and offers a ton of shopping, bar hopping, and many miles of beaches to stroll and take in the coastal city-scape.
Surfers Paradise in the distance, seen from Burleigh Heads.
Casey after a surf session on the Gold Coast.
However, maybe you're a more skilled surfer looking for some bigger, more shreddy waves. If this is the case then bounce down to Burleigh Heads Beach where the surfing is often a little better (so I heard) and for a more laid back beach vibe. You can see downtown Gold Coast located many miles down the coast as you take a peaceful walk through the coastal headland national park full of shoreline, rainforest trails, and wildlife viewing. We opted for a sunset picnic on the edge of the coast in the grass along Burleigh Heads National Park over a craft brew. If you're an American who has missed pigging out on juicy and savory BBQ food, then you should absolutely go to the Burleigh Heads Smokehouse to bask in the smells and tastes of the ribs, brisket, and on point BBQ comfort food.
Delicious BBQ dinner with Hannah's cousin, Robert. Robert lives on the Gold Coast.
Our sunset picnic on the edge of the coast in the grass along Burleigh Heads National Park.
Perhaps you're a top notch surfer looking to join others on a party wave or show of your moves in a huge tunnel wave, then you might find yourself down in Rainbow Bay around the point near Snapper Rocks. Be careful surfing here because there are a lot of rocks near the shore and the space can get crowded. Not the best place for beginners (take my word for it). If you're just spectating, then take a walk to the top of the coastal hill on the northern end of Rainbow Bay where you can take in picturesque views of Rainbow Bay on both sides of this high point lookout. Then walk along the beach to the southern tip of Rainbow Bay and check out Snapper Rocks to watch some of the best surfers catch waves at this famous surf break.
The views overlooking Rainbow Bay
The picturesque Rainbow Bay
Just because it's called the Gold Coast doesn't mean there isn't some amazing inland activities to do up in the rainforest and mountains. Take a day trip to Tamborine Mountain & Springbrook National Park. Get up nice and early and leave yourself plenty of time to explore these vast inland mountain regions.
An absolutely breathtaking double rainbow we witnessed driving up to Tamborine Mountain & Springbrook National Park.
For the first half of the day, stop by the Tamborine Mountain Skywalk and Rainforest walk to take views of all levels of the rainforest whether you're in the canopy on the park's canopy walk or scouring the riverbank for the duck-billed platypus that has taken a home on the ground floor of the rainforest. After you're done here, then bounce over to Curtis Falls, only a quick drive away. This is a shorter 3-4 km roundtrip walk through the rainforest leading to a good sized waterfall in the heart of this dense rainforest. Check out all the ferns, palms, Eucalytpus Trees, and keep an eye out for Australia's ever-present wildlife. We saw many large waterdragon lizards on out walk. This path was nice because it seemed to be a little under the radar and wasn't filled with tourists.
An easy 3-4 km roundtrip walk through the rainforest takes you to this waterfall, Curtis Falls.
Hannah posing at Curtis Falls
A very peaceful stroll around the skywalk at the Tamborine Mountain Skywalk and Rainforest walk
The second part of the day can then be devoted to Springbrook National Park. However, this area is quite large and could easily merit a whole day in itself to enjoy. An absolute must do here is the Natural Bridge. This is a rainforest walk that leads you along the river where you'll find a section where a waterfall has carved it's way through the ground below and left a naturally formed bridge which you will cross to get to the bottom of the falls. When you wrap around down, below the falls you'll find that they unload in the middle of a cave full of bats where the river picks back up and continues on. It really is quite the spectacle that it's hard to get a picture to do it justice. Go see it for your own two eyes.
The view above looking down on the Natural Bridge.
The view below at the Natural Bridge.
Finish off your day by heading up to the other side of the mountain range in this national park to the "Best of All Lookout." The drive up to this lookout is an adventure on its own because you'll carve along cliff side roads and dodge through passing wallabies and tree kangaroos. This lookout is a short walk to the edge that offers you huge open views of the mountain range and country side for miles upon miles. It makes you feel tiny. If you've left yourself enough time, take the quick five minute drive over to the Canyon Look out on the west end to catch the last views of daylight. On a clear day you can see the city scrapers of the Gold Coast far off in the distance as the sun ducks behind the horizon.
"Best of all Lookout" view. We were the only two people here and it was so peaceful!
Casey taking in the scenery at the "Best of all Lookout"
Breweries of Brisbane and the Gold Coast
While traveling around Australia we were constantly on the search for our favorite Australia IPA (stay tuned for a future post to learn the winner), and we toured heaps of breweries while in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Perhaps you may not be hop heads like us but for those who enjoy craft beer, here's a list of 5 must do breweries between The Gold Coast and Brisbane.
Bacchus Brewing Co. - The absolute best craft brewery award in Australia and perhaps even anywhere I've ever been goes to Bacchus Brewing Company, in my opinion. This is a completely under the radar brewery that has actually taken many awards for some of their historical brews. It's located in an industrial part of town south of Brisbane and has a descent-sized area and tasting roomy. Parking is limited in this area, beware. The owner, Ross, is from England and has never compromised his quality over quantity brewing techniques. There is a 9 part brewing set up where only 20 new kegs are brewed per day. Also, every week he is creating 9 new recipes ranging from IPA, to dessert stouts, to sours with myriads of flavor. These beers have won national and world competitions, but it's not about the money or competition awards for Ross. It's about love of the craft. There were 15 beers on tap to choose from and another 40 in bottles for takeaway. This is number one on all my breweries in Australia for anyone who just wants to be impressed by the craft art of brewing beer.
Black Hops Brewing Co. - This is a straight to the point brewing company located near Burleigh Heads in the Gold Coast that puts out solid brewed craft beers. The IPAs from Back Hops Brewing Co. are definitely high on our list of some of the best.
All In Brewing Co. - Located a little north of Brisbane CBD in an industrial zone is All In Brewing Co. It has an open warehouse feel too it and offers a great Red IPA.
Newstead Brewing Co. - Located in the suburb of Paddington in Brisbane right next to Suncorp Stadium. Enjoy the delicious home brews, guest taps and the warm neighborhood feel of Paddington.
Fortitude Brewing Co. - This is located on the way to Tamborine Mountain and has a huge area to hang out and get lunch and a tasting while up in the mountains. It's very peaceful and relaxing despite its over-sized feeling.
Bacchus Brewing Co. - one of our favorite breweries in Australia
The set up at Bacchus Brewing Co.
Watching the Super Bowl at All In Brewing Co. We're Steeler fans at heart but were rooting for the Eagles and our Glen Dale friends!
All In Brewing Co.
When you think of Australia's ocean waters you might have this preconception of coastlines filled with sharks and crocodiles. Well you're definitely right, but the crocodiles are up north near the Great Barrier Reef and the sharks are rarely spotted along the beaches. You're more likely to be struck by lightning than attached by a shark in the Gold Coast. Therefore, don't be afraid to enjoy the water and go surfing or swimming while visiting the Gold Coast.
Did you know?
Prior to 1950, the Gold Coast was originally known as the South Coast. However, soon after WW2, this region of the coast began to grow and build out more due to being a popular holiday destination for servicemen returning from the war. Soon the real estate prices began to inflate and the cost of living raised so much causing to people to nick name it the Gold Coast. At first, this name was considered offensively by locals but soon it just became the name that would ultimately be legally granted in 1958.