You don't have to break the bank to enjoy this popular destination, writes Alexia Santamaria.

The Gold Coast has long been a favourite spot for Kiwis looking for some sun when the glorious weather starts to fade back home. In three and a half hours you can be on a beach that dreams are made of, with pristine sand and bright turquoise water. Sure, it's full of glittery high rises but that's part of its flashy charm. And it's a haven for kids — theme parks, shopping malls and swimming every day will please even the sulkiest of offspring and instantly make adults forget their New Zealand winter blues. But what if your budget isn't as shiny as the Gold Coast's blingy vibe? Don't fear, there is plenty of fun to be had without emptying your wallet directly on to those white sands. Here are 10 great tips for an affordable GC holiday.

1. Go self-catering

Rent an apartment rather than booking a hotel. Drinks on the balcony with nibbles from the markets can save you a ton in eating out costs. Many complexes have a pool where you can cool off when it gets too hot for your delicate Kiwi constitution.

2. Theme parks

If theme parks are a big driver for your trip to the GC, make sure you buy entry online as it's slightly cheaper than buying at the gate and you can avoid the queues. The themeparks.com.au website offers multi day and multi park passes. Bringing your own snacks to cut costs is a great idea but each park has different rules (some allow nothing, some only homemade food, some only water and fruit) so check first.

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3. To market, to market

Farmers markets are the best for picking up fresh produce for the fridge in your apartment. Palm Beach, Burleigh, New Helensvale, Bundall and Organic Gold Coast are all great for a bite, good coffee and tasty treats for the fridge, and your mouth! Check out dates online.

4. Be a beach bum

Those beaches are stunning — and free. The Gold Coast is all about being in the water, so pack up a picnic of supermarket items and choose from 21 beaches to park your towel and pass the day between swimming, relaxing, eating, reading and excellent people-watching. What more could anyone want?

5. Have a whale of a time

The Gold Coast is often referred to as the Humpback Highway. If you're there any time from June to November it's worth checking out vantage points at Southport Surf Club, Miami Hill, Burleigh Headland, Tumgun Lookout, Kirra Hill and Point Danger as the gentle giants often come closer to shore in these periods. Bonus, if you don't see any whales, you'll still experience stunning views.

6. Check out street food options

There are plenty of night-time casual food stall options; perfect when you're watching what you spend, but don't want to feel like you are. Dumplings here, a souvlaki there, some smoked meat in bun — take your pick. There's Miami Marketta on Fridays and Saturdays (and a smaller version Wednesday); Helensvale's Nightquarter also on Friday and Saturday; the family friendly Sanctuary Market next to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on Fridays, BBQ Bazaar in Burleigh Heads on Fridays and Saturdays (carnivore heaven); and the bustling Chinatown Street Markets on Saturday nights.

7. Get your Art on

The Gold Coast is more than just beaches and bronzed bodies. Head to Home of The Arts for live performances, cinema, lakeside meandering and indoor and outdoor art. Entry to the gallery is free. If you're happy to part with a few dollars, 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace is wonderful.

8. Waterfalls

We tend to think of beaches when we think of the Gold Coast but there are also a lot of magical waterfalls to see, a great low-cost excursion. Curtis Falls in the Mount Tamborine area, the beautiful Natural Bridge in the Numinbah Valley (so Insta-pretty it hurts) Coomera and Yarrabilgong Falls and many others in Lamington National Park. Do a bit of googling before you head off anywhere as some are a quick walk from the car park and others a decent hike.

9. Retail Therapy

If the budget stretches to a little retail therapy, hit the craft markets and outlet malls for shopping that won't make your credit card cry. Harbour Town is Australia's largest outlet shopping centre with more than 240 stores, and there's also a whole lot of craft markets on different days of the week (some are permanent) all around the Gold Coast. There are gems to be found in all, even if some of them are hidden in between clip-on koalas and Australian flag stubby holders. Carrara Markets are actually Australia's largest permanent markets, then there's Coolangatta, Broadbeach and Burleigh Art and Craft Markets plus Art and Craft on the Coast and Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets. The Village Markets are the place to go for fabulous fashion, furniture and homewares.

10. Check out the wildlife

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is probably one of those places where it's worth splashing outfor the entrance fee. It's a uniquely Australian animal experience in a beautiful area —and who doesn't want to cuddle a koala? If you book in advance online you can save $10 per adult but if the budget just won't stretch that far, you can feed the lorikeets every day at 8am and 4pm for a gold coin donation without entrance to the Sanctuary.

FACT FILE
GETTING THERE
Jetstar, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia all fly direct from Auckland to the Gold Coast.

DETAILS
destinationgoldcoast.com