Coolangatta is one of Australia’s great coastal beach towns. The southernmost spot in Queensland bordering New South Wales, it’s home to perfect sun-kissed beaches, stunning north facing views and is reminiscent of days gone by when beach holidays were simply about the sand and the surf. There’s also a number of fun things to do on your Coolangatta holiday to make sure you go home with the best possible holiday memories.
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The last frontier on the Queensland coast before hitting the neighbouring ‘Twin Town’ of Tweed Heads in New South Wales, Coolangatta has been a favourite with both Australian and International visitors since it was first settled in 1883.
It got its name from the schooner Coolangatta which was wrecked at Duranbah Beach in 1846.
Many Australians have fond memories of visiting Coolie as young adults which usually consisted of surfing, late nights at the Coolie Hotel or the Jet Club and sleeping in the back of someone’s van until sunup and back to the surf.
Otherwise not a lot has changed in Coolangatta in the past few decades.
There are a few new highrise apartment blocks but as the main highway bypasses the town it has been largely overlooked by modern development, much to the delight of many.
There is a good selection of cafes and restaurants as well as all the necessary amenities, shops and services yet the crowds are still reasonable and you can usually score a car park.
There’s a great boardwalk that wraps itself around the two headlands on either side of the bay and its a lovely stroll in either direction.
Greenmount Hill connects Greenmount Beach to Rainbow Bay to the east and you can head up the hill from there to Point Danger, which is the border of New South Wales and a great place to see whales in winter.
How to get to Coolangatta
Coolangatta is actually one of the most accessible tourist spots in Australia with the Gold Coast international airport situated right behind it and only a 10-minute drive ( it isn’t under the flight path however so no aircraft noise!).
It is also just 5 minutes from the Gold Coast highway and 10 from the M1 motorway that links Brisbane with New South Wales.
You don’t need a car if holidaying in Coolangatta as everything is walkable unless of course, you would like to explore more of the Gold Coast and Northern New South Wales.
Local buses leave Marine Parade regularly for neighbouring Kirra Beach, the Airport and on to northern parts of the Gold Coast including Surfers Paradise.
There is a good range of accommodation in Coolangatta to choose from ranging from high-rise apartments to backpackers with many holiday homes and Airbnb’s for rent.
Rainbow Beach is one of the most sought after locations and is host to the famous Corona Open ( formerly Quicksilver Pro and Roxy Pro). This north-facing beach has a small number of holiday rentals and apartments to choose from which book out well in advance.
The second most popular spot to stay in Coolangatta is along the Esplanade with easy access to the shops, restaurants and the beach and hopefully with a great, unobstructed view as well.
The Pink Hotel is is a hipster hotel and it’s certainly different! With all the key ingredients of a hipster haven, from the vinyl LP’s and in-room record players, the craft beer, beard loving tattoo toting patrons, plentiful ashtrays and grungy dive bar this hotel knows who it is and who its appeals to.
Once a tired old beach front motel reminiscent of surfing weekends at Coolie in the 70s and 80s.
This old relic was given a full renovation and reopened in November 2018 heralding a new era in Coolangatta hospitality.
With only 17 rooms, a rooftop bar and an enviable beachfront location The Pink Hotel is not your average Gold Coast hotel.
Things to do in Coolangatta and surrounds
One of Australia’s best beaches, Coolangatta is a beautiful north-facing beach that spans the length of Marine Parade from Greenmount to neighbouring Kirra Beach.
White powder sand, generally calm protected and clear water and excellent walking and accessibility facilities Coolangatta Beach is patrolled by surf lifesavers 365 days a year and has other facilities including toilets, BBQs, seating, showers and a good size car park.
You can often see street performers in front of the beach on weekends and holidays and the Sunday markets are held at the western end twice a month ( see below).
Rainbow Bay and Snapper Rocks
Directly east of Coolangatta Beach and around Greenmount Point is the smaller Rainbow Bay home to one of the countries best positioned Surf Clubs and Snapper Rocks.
Snapper Rocks is world renowned as one of the world’s best surf breaks. Man made as a result of the sand pumping initiative for the Tweed River it hosts the Quicksilver Pro and Roxy Pro surf competitions. This has resulted is a surf ‘super bank’ which stretches for 2 kilometres west to Kirra beach and legend has it that some lucky fellas have been able to ride that entire distance! There are good point break barrels and it is generally best on a south-easterly swell.
Even further to the East is Duranbah Beach or D’Bah as the locals call it. Even when there’s no surf elsewhere on the Coast, you’re almost guaranteed to find a swell here – located between the Tweed River mouth and Point Danger.
Just 1 kilometre over the New South Wales border Fingal Head is a small township located on a narrow peninsula at the head of the Tweed River.
From the lighthouse on Fingal Headland it is possible to see outcrops of hexagonal columnar-jointed basalt named the ‘Giant’s Causeway’ similar to those found in Northern Ireland.
The Fingal Lighthouse was built in 1878 and was electrified in 1980. Although the light is only 7 metres above the ground it can be seen 17 nautical miles out to sea
Cook Island is also located just offshore from Fingal Head and has a number of reefs which make up theCook Island Aquatic Reserve which is popular for scuba diving and snorkelling on the Tweed Coast.
In 2019 it was estimated over 20,000 whales passed along the Gold Coast and numbers are expected to increase. It’s virtually impossible not to spot a whale or several of them from high ground and indeed out on the Whale Watching cruises and day trips.
The expansive views offered at Point Danger see it feature on the list called the Legendary Pacific Coast which provides details of locations and tour operators, as well as information about the whale watching season.
Point Danger is popular for whale watching as it gives spectators twice the opportunity to see whales frolicking in the waters off the Coast and at no cost too.
After heading past the Coast on their way to the warm tropical waters of North Queensland to calve in May and June the humpbacks also pass by again on their return journey to Antarctica in September and October.
The magnificent creatures are usually Humpbacks as well as Minkes, Southern Right, Sei and Bryde’s whales.
Learn to Surf
Have you really visited Coolangatta if you haven’t surfed!? Whilst there are plenty of gnarly hardcore guys and girls on the swell there’s room enough for plenty of beginners too. The guys at Coolangatta Learn to Surf will sort you out and can also provide lessons for Stand Up Paddleboards and coaching for more experienced Surfers.
There’s also a very handy sign at Snapper that explains the protocol.
The Tweed River
In between Point Danger and Fingal Head is the magnificent Tweed River. The river meanders for 78 kilometers through the Tweed Valley from the Great Dividing Range before spilling out into the Pacific Ocean.
It actually flows through the remnant of an 80 km wide extinct shield volcano and has become known as “Australia’s Green Cauldron”, with numerous farms and market gardens thriving on its fertile plains.
There are many things your can do on and along the river. Fishing, of course, as well as diving, crabbing, water skiing and boating. There are a number of tour operators that offer a variety of activities and there are many beautiful picnic and BBQ areas along the banks of the river too. Its worth driving around this beautiful area for a day at least.
Don’t miss the controversial sand bypassing system. There is a jetty on the northern end of Letitia Spit that collects sand and then pumps it under the Tweed River to beaches in the neighbouring state of Queensland. You can also easily see this from Point Danger.
Held every second Sunday of the month in Queen Elizabeth Park right on the beach front at the Western end.
Lots of arts, crafts, handmade candles, fashions and food trucks.
High on the cliff overlooking Duranbah Beach is Point Danger, named by Captain James Cook on his 1770 journey up the east coast of Australia. As a result, you will find a memorial here to Cook that is made from iron salvaged from the shipwrecked Endeavour.
There is also a rather unattractive 1970’s style ‘modern’ lighthouse and memorial plaques along ‘Centaur Remembrance Walk’ to those lost at sea.
A great boardwalk links Point Danger around from Rainbow Bay and Coolangatta Beach, and it’s a popular spot for dolphin spotting and whale watching in season.
Coolangatta Restaurants, Bars and Clubs
Whilst Coolangatta is not known for its dining scene as much as say, Burleigh Heads, there is still no need to leave town for a decent feed.
We had a couple of excellent meals on our last visit and one thing that really stood out was the friendly service. Waitstaff tend to be local students and teenagers rather than transit travellers and their friendliness and genuine desire to assist was quite refreshing.
We recommend :
Bondi Grilled – great ribs and burgers
Eddie’s Grub House – great wings and live music
Cafe Dbar – coffee & vegetarian/vegan
Rockleigh Cafe – breakfast/brunch
Tasca – small, intimate, romantic
Cooly Hotel – cheap meals, live music and great views
Choofa’s Smokehouse and Seafood – great value ribs and seafood across from the beach
Cafe Scooterini – big breakfasts
Greenhouse canteen and bar – cocktails and creativity
Twin Towns – Technically in Tweed Heads, Twin Towns Clubs & Resorts is Australia’s most awarded Services Club and includes a sub-class of the Retired Services League ( RSL).
Twin Towns offers a world-class Showroom showcasing a variety of national and international performers, free live entertainment 7 nights a week, an array of dining options, numerous bars and accommodation.
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