There's a whole lot more on the Gold Coast, writes Ewan McDonald.
Kitsch and clamour: that's what many think is the currency of the Gold Coast.
Drive 10km south, turn off the Gold Coast Highway and you'll find someplace different: Burleigh Heads, where you can stand on the beach and see the Surfers Paradise high-rises through the sea spray and sun haze, and they'll seem an illusion.
Unpack a board and you'll learn why locals insist this is the real surfers' paradise. Tune into their wavelength, and you'll find what you least expected: the GC as a shrine to wellness, healthy living and mindfulness.
Over the past few years, there's been a new wave of eateries, spas and activities that are far removed from the reality-show version of the strip.
Such as Paddock Bakery. Behind a picket fence and rambling garden, former builder Ben and interior designer Ursula Watts rejuvenated an 80-year-old suburban villa into a bright, airy cafe.
While the name, antiques, knick-knacks, bags of flour, and wood-fired ovens (open to view behind glass walls) give the impression of an old-time farmhouse, the rustic wholefood menu — much more than Carb Heaven — and style are very definitely seasonal, locally sourced and contemporary.
Commune is grungier: the obligatory tattooed arms working the coffee pumps, neighbours and work-from-homers hanging out with the newspaper (honestly), books or even talking to one another among vintage furniture and posters.
If the onetime convenience store now looks like, feels like, smells like and tastes like the blueprint for an urban, eco-friendly, environmentally aware cafe, with its choice of healthy staples and keeping the carnivores happy with bacon and egg rolls, it's because it is. Highly recommended.
You'll have to drive into the countryside to find Pasture & Co in the Currumbin Valley, but it's worth the trip. The bright and breezy cafe is part of Ground at Currumbin, a small development including produce markets sited next to The Ecovillage residential community.
The all-day menu, designed to suit all tastes, diets and intolerances, relies on organic, spray-free, free-range produce, and intentionally blurs the lines between what's breakfast, brunch or lunch.
Lovechild is the supreme example of plant-based dining on the Coast. Naturally abbreviated to "the LC", it's a collective of vegan and organic kitchens operating under one roof and courtyard. The bar pours local craft beers and cocktails.
Open seven days and nights, from morning coffee and bagel to salads and late-night ramen and kebabs, it's designed to be friendly (read, non-threatening) to those who don't think it's a meal without meat. For me, Burgers vs Kebabs' meatless wrap with cheese, sauce, lettuce and fried onions. Fries, natch, and my initial taste of a GC IPA.
It's not all about the food. To show that the best things in lifestyle are free, every Monday and Wednesday morning more than 100 residents line up in seaside Justins Park for tai chi sessions, compliments of the council.
For those who prefer to work off their stress more actively, Burleigh Heads National Park has a number of trails. The wild headland creates the famous surfing point break (a designated heritage site).
On the rocky Oceanview walk, six-sided volcanic columns rise from the sea; in season there might be humpback whales. The Rainforest circuit is a natural wonderland of forest and wetland landscapes and wildlife. Either way, take a picnic.
But in this part of the world wellness and wellbeing should be practised in the water, not next to it. So I head to a huge warehouse behind a strip mall in the dusty suburb of Tallebudgera.
Well, it was. With their parents' help, Natalie and Charlie Evans, sisters behind Greenhouse Canteen vegan restaurant, converted the building into The Bath House, a day spa along the lines of a Turkish hammam.
Rinse off under an outdoor shower then bliss in a warm, herbal-aromaed hydrotherapy spa, sweat in a eucalyptus wet steam room, chill in an outdoor magnesium plunge pool, and gasp in the dry sauna.
Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat, for an hour or so, until the massage therapist arrives.
And before you face the real world again, head upstairs to the terrace for plant-based bites or perhaps something that bubbles like the spa pool, but you are allowed to drink.
Nearby, Tallebudgera Creek is a safe haven for boating, swimming, kayaking, kids to play, families to picnic. Sarnia Rose meets me in a riverside park.
The perfect place to try, for the first time, standup paddleboarding. I hadn't counted on having to do yoga on the board. There is no escape: I have to go with the flow, Sarnia, a gentle, serene, Hawaiian-born tutor, and I float, sometimes paddling, sometimes standing, leaving speedboats and their wake, kids and their yachts, mums and their children, to a rippling, shallow, clear, sandy arm of the river.
Soon there's no one around but us and our boards and the birds. In the morning sunshine, we stretch, breathe, relax, float. Pure Aloha Yoga, Sarnia calls it. Or bliss.
And to my surprise I master the art and the craft. Unlike when I tried jetskiing further down the coast at Hervey Bay. Fortunately there were no photos of that. This time there were. Unfortunately.
Air New Zealand
to the Gold Coast from Auckland and Christchurch. Alternatively fly to Brisbane and it's a one-hour drive to the Gold Coast. House of Travel has flights plus 7 nights from $799 on sale now.