Enjoy Australia’s Gold Coast with a road trip
There’s something incredibly romantic about setting off on a road trip in a far-flung destination. Unless, of course, you input the wrong address into the sat nav. My wild adventure along Australia’s Pacific Coast hadn’t quite got off to the start that I’d hoped for when my husband and I spent the first 45 minutes heading in the wrong direction.
But even this frustrating detour couldn’t dent our first-day excitement – after all, we had finally made it to a country that had long been at the top of our bucket lists, and over the course of two weeks we were undertaking a trip of a lifetime.
The Pacific Coast route is legendary for good reason – it takes in some of the most striking landscapes in Queensland and New South Wales, with rolling green hills, national parks and windswept surf beaches along the way.
We began our journey in Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, a vibrant city with buzzing restaurants and bars, a beach and lush parkland, and a fantastic cultural precinct. It’s worth staying a day or two if time allows, before heading for the Pacific Highway.
Halcyon House, in the sleepy coastal village of Cabarita
We hired a car, a swish 4×4 (from HolidayAutos.com), for our adventure and drove south to the Gold Coast. This almost unbroken 70km stretch once had a brash and tacky reputation, but has now undergone something of a revamp, its world-renowned beaches better known for five-star hotels and sophisticated restaurants than seedy casinos and nightclubs. And since hosting the Commonwealth Games last month – when the region’s landscape was beamed across TV screens the world over – it’s become a new holiday hot spot. So it’s worth putting down roots to explore.
Our base was Halcyon House, in the sleepy coastal village of Cabarita – equidistant (around 40 minutes) from the Gold Coast and famous bohemian beach town Byron Bay.
A former 60s surfers’ motel, set on a rustic stretch of coast, Halcyon House has been transformed into a five-star hotel and spa with Instagram-worthy interiors. A blue and white Mediterranean-style colour scheme runs throughout – from the acclaimed gourmet restaurant, Paper Daisy, to the pool with its blue and white candy-striped loungers, to its 21 individually styled guest rooms.
The feel is whimsical and quirky, with clashing prints and fabrics, antiques and individual artwork.
Three Sisters rock is in the Blue Mountains
One afternoon, we took a couple of the hotel’s restored vintage bicycles along the tree-canopied cycle path to nearby Kingscliff, passing coastal mansions (and a fair few bush turkeys) and ending up on the town’s sweeping white-sand bay.
The hotel handily provides a full itinerary of local attractions, so you’re never stuck for inspiration. And with the Gold Coast’s subtropical hinterland – boasting 100,000 hectares of world heritage-listed rainforests – just over an hour away, there’s plenty to do if you’re not the recline-on-the-beach type.
If you are, Byron Bay should definitely be on your hit list. Known for its excellent surf and hippie vibe, as well as its fantastic shopping, restaurants and bars, you could easily spend a couple of days here.
One of our highlights was taking the scenic walk up through the Cape Byron Headland Reserve to Cape Byron Lighthouse (about an hour from town), located on Australia’s most easterly point, where we enjoyed the views over Byron and neighbouring Tallow Beach.
Our itinerary pushed us onwards, but as we drove further south the scenery proved no less spectacular, with coastal towns Woolgoolga, Nambucca Heads and Port Macquarie offering more beautiful beaches and native wildlife such as wallabies and dolphins.
We then headed inland, through lush forests and hills to the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest winemaking region. The most idyllic spot is occupied by the hilltop Audrey Wilkinson winery, and we pulled up and enjoyed the panoramic outlook over the vineyards, before stocking up on bottles to take home. Book a room at one of the many hotels in the area if time permits, to enjoy wine tasting aplenty.
For us, it was onwards to Sydney – our final destination – just a two-hour drive away, where we checked into the five-star Intercontinental Sydney Double Bay. The hotel is one of the city’s swankiest, in its most fashionable neighbourhood (oft nicknamed “Double Pay”), and the rooftop pool with its harbour outlook is a great place to catch some rays with a cocktail in hand.
First, though, it was time to explore. There’s too much to do in this vibrant city in just a few days, but a good place to start is with the cliff-top coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee, which takes around two hours, past Tamarama, Bronte and Clovelly beaches, and Gordons Bay.
The start of the route begins right next to Bondi Icebergs Club, with its rock pool built into the ocean; the surf crashes over the side as swimmers navigate their way through the salty water. It’s something of a Sydney institution and costs just $7 for casual entry, while the adjoining bar and restaurant is a great spot for lunch before setting off on the walk.
For something more strenuous, the Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb is an unforgettable thrill. Navigating our way up through the bridge’s structure, we enjoyed panoramic views across the skyline and beyond. It’s something every visitor to Sydney should do at least once.
Our trip was almost at an end and we finished on a high, with a surfing lesson on Bondi Beach. It took two hours for our teacher, Michaela, to get us standing up on our boards, but wading through the waves, with the sun shining, we couldn’t have been happier.
Australia has plenty of attractions, but its natural beauty really is its crowning glory. We never tired of those stunning sun-kissed beach views.
1 Stay a few days to explore the Gold Coast’s natural beauty – from its rainforests to its dramatic surf beaches and vibrant native wildlife.
2 Relax at boutique hotel Halcyon House, right on Cabarita Beach, and indulge in a treatment at the newly renovated spa.
3 Spend a day at Byron Bay. When the sun sets, enjoy the best tapas in town at St. Elmo, on Fletcher Street.
4 Head to Newcastle, Australia’s second-oldest city, which has a thriving music and arts scene and great surf at Merewether Beach.
5 Go wine-tasting, and enjoy the scenery, in the Hunter Valley.
6 Hike in the scenic Blue Mountains, just an hour outside of Sydney.
7 Start your Sydney experience in style, with high tea in the Stillery Cocktail Lounge, at Intercontinental Sydney Double Bay (around £38pp).
8 Sample a famous Australian flat white coffee at the open-air Opera Bar, right beside the Royal Opera House.
9 Save money on Sydney’s top attractions with a Sydney Pass (from £57 for adults, thesydneypass.com), which includes the Royal Opera House tour, Sea Life Aquarium and many more.
10 Take a dip in the dramatic ocean pool at Icebergs, overlooking Bondi Beach, before a cliff-top coastal walk to Coogee.
Way to go Return flights with Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com, 020 8961 6993) from London to Brisbane start from £750, and from London to Sydney from £760.
Prices are valid until May 31, 2018, subject to availability. Blackout dates apply.
Car hire with HolidayAutos.com from Brisbane airport starts at £9 per day, based on a two-week trip.
Halcyon House, a Small Luxury Hotel (slh.com/halcyon), has rooms from $600 (approximately £329) per night, including breakfast, and rooms at Intercontinental Sydney Double Bay start from $233.24 (approximately £128).
Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb (bridgeclimb.com) costs from $303 (approximately £164.50) and a one-off surfing lesson (letsgosurfing.com.au) on Bondi Beach and Maroubra Beach costs $95 (approximately £51.50) for adults.
Start your trip the easy way, with Heathrow Meet & Greet Parking, with prices from £99 for a week, when booked at least 24 hours in advance (Heathrow.com/parking).
Mickleach.com is your news, entertainment, music & fashion website. We provide you with the latest news and videos straight from the entertainment industry.