Queensland: We've come a long way

By Paul Davies

After a decade or so, Paul Davies is back on the Gold Coast - marvelling at the skyline while mixing it up on a cocktail course.

With all the activities there are on the Gold Coast, it almost requires a reminder to get yourself into the surf for a cleansing salt water swim.
With all the activities there are on the Gold Coast, it almost requires a reminder to get yourself into the surf for a cleansing salt water swim.

I would listen with envy as the other kids spouted stories of Movie World, Dreamworld, surf, sun and golden sand. My school holidays were spent in Northland and we never made it to the promised land of theme parks and endless summer.

Perhaps I overcompensated then, as a teenager, when I packed my bags and moved straight to Surfers. It was 1999 and we partied, staying with family and taking full advantage of the younger legal drinking age while generally marvelling at the glitz and the glamour of the Goldie. My infatuation faded and eventually I moved on, only to return for the first time this year.

A lot has changed since those days and one thing is certain, the Gold Coast has grown - up.

After an easy arrival in Coolangatta, the first thing that struck me was the skyline. Several far larger buildings now dominate the already established row of towers on the sand.

The tallest five towers have popped up over the last decade with Q1 leading the race to the clouds. It's the highest building in Australia at 322.5m. The Skypoint observation deck is a great place to grab a coffee, learn a bit about the area's history and check out the outstanding view.

If you're game enough you can even do the Skypoint climb, which takes you around the frame of the building's spire, but don't fret - you're well and truly harnessed in. From the top you'll see the second in command of the GC skyline, Soul.

Soul is a sleek new residential tower with stylish, spacious apartments. It has been rewarded with an Australian Institute of Architects' Award. Venture through the opulent lobby and up the marble staircase and you'll find one of Australia's top 50 restaurants, Seaduction.

After an incredible meal of wagyu beef I kept it classy, heading out for cocktails - something you would've struggled to do in 1999, unless you settled for a Tequila Sunrise at the local surf club.

The Fix Cocktail Bar at the Hilton is the best place to enjoy a carefully crafted concoction in a suave setting.

I'm sure you'd be happy enough sitting back and sipping on a Mexican Hand Grenade (a tequila cocktail served in a hand grenade mug with a sparkler), but if you want a more interactive experience, then try your hand at out-juggling Tom Cruise at their cocktail-mixing course, the VIP Bar School.

Class starts with the bartender showing off a few of his own original recipes, displayed in watering cans and teapots with dry ice, jelly, brownies and other tasty bits. Once you've witnessed the professional and sampled the wares, he'll run you through a selection of the basics and discuss when to use gin or vodka in a martini.

A word of advice if you're signing up - don't have too many drinks beforehand - dangerous.

It's a busy spot, with many visitors. When hanging out in the high rises gets to be too much head south to Broadbeach. Here, you'll find a slightly slower pace, more locals and a cultured approach to entertainment.

There's an array of international cuisine in this part of town, with Cuban, Thai and Japanese restaurants among the offerings. You can even get a good flat white on the coast now - check out Bumbles Cafe for a smooth brew.

Perhaps what's best about this part of the coast is that it's the home of the annual Blues on Broadbeach Festival, which is now in its 12th year. The sound of the south permeates through the seaside avenues along with associated genres - Trinity Roots and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra will feature in this year's event in May. And if blues isn't your thing, take your pick of the country, opera and jazz festivals that are held every year.

The best thing about a Broadbeach music festival is that you don't have to pitch a tent and go without a shower for three days - there's plenty of accommodation within walking distance of the venues so you can come and go as you please. And, perhaps even better than that, they're free.

In search of something new, I ventured further down the coast to visit a much talked about market that has excited many locals.

Miami Marketta is set up in a converted factory at the southern end of the Gold Coast, offering street food, bars, music, art and designer clothing. Founded by a Melburnian, it definitely has a laneways feel with small bands in front of graffiti'd walls entertaining the crowds.

You can grab Vietnamese baguettes, soft shell tacos or fried chicken wings before making your way to the Cargo and Shed bars for a boutique local beer or wine and to enjoy jazz, blues or even flamenco. A definite scene is developing in Miami, with a craft beer bar named Bine opening just around the corner at the end of last year - the first of its kind on the coast.

With all the activities there are on the Gold Coast, it almost requires a reminder to get yourself into the surf for a cleansing salt water swim.

There's no shortage of places to take a dip but, for me, the best place is Coolangatta. Down here, you'll find a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of local people and a view of surfers at Snapper Rock one way and an impressive coastline jutting out on the horizon the other.

As much as some things have changed, Coolangatta and neighbouring Tweed Heads have kept their chilled vibe with Aussie pubs like The Cooly and restaurants like Bellakai still popular.

Queensland's second biggest city has definitely matured over the years. Even their sports events are gaining on the big boys. The Gold Coast Marathon just become the first in Australia to be given Gold Label status, putting it alongside the world's best.

There is no doubt, however, that some things have stayed the same on good old Goldie - it's still got the fun-filled charm and warm glow that attracted me to it in the first place.

Long may it last.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to Gold Coast Airport.

Paul Davies travelled courtesy of Gold Coast Tourism.

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