There’s a lot to be said for the Gold Coast. This shimmering coastal city is well known for its of sandy beaches, cool surf credentials, collection of theme parks, some super-tall skyscrapers, and a plethora of nightlife – and wildlife – to boot. But sometimes, you may just want to take a break from all that and escape somewhere different. Whether it is for a weekend getaway or day trips from Gold Coast there are some amazing places to explore only a short drive away.
If you want more beaches, but in a more chilled out setting, you can certainly get that in Northern NSW. And if you really want to get away from it all – also with the bonus of beaches – then Moreton Bay and its castaway islands await.
More big city vibes can be found in the Queensland Capital of Brisbane, and there are inland delights at the Scenic Rim and even in the seemingly far off tableland of NSW High-country.
If all this is making your head spin and you’re wondering which place is right for you, don’t worry: here’s a guide to these awesome destinations below, guaranteed to whet your appetite for an adventure away from the city.
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BRISBANE – DAYTRIPS FROM GOLD COAST
If you’re in the Gold Coast and you feel like a quick break to somewhere with a few more city credentials, Brisbane is a great option.
You’ll be happy to know it’s easy to get there – just a short hour’s drive up the M1, or a direct bus – your choice.
Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland. It’s pretty big, and there’s heaps going on here. There are museums, cool cultural spaces to check out, riverside living to enjoy, and a friendly atmosphere, all making for the ideal spot for a few days’ weekend getaway from Brisbane.
There are a fair few landmarks to hit up while you’re there, too. One such spot is the South Bank Parklands. Developed for the World Expo held here in 1988, this area is opposite the CBD and is an excellent place for a breath of fresh air: promenades wind through grassy lawns and under patches of rainforest trees, all on a backdrop of skyscrapers.
There’s Streets Beach, of course, which is a great place to chill; wind your way here through the park, ducking into restaurants and cafes along the way.
If you’re after nightlife, fashion, and heritage, Fortitude Valley is where you should head to. It lays claim to the title of Australia’s first entertainment district and is still up there with the best of them. James Street, which is all about upscale boutiques and brunches, is the area’s beating heart.
Nearby, along the Brisbane River, the heritage-listed Howard Smith Wharves continues the theme of chic eating and drinking, with restaurants, hotels, brewpubs and boardwalks. There are fantastic close-up views of the iconic Story Bridge too, making this area perfect for sundowners.
In terms of museums and galleries, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Brisbane. Head to the Queensland Cultural Centre, in the south of the city; it’s a one-stop-shop for all things art, culture and history. Namely, that’d be the Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, and Gallery of Modern Art.
For something a little more natural, you could visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where you can get up close and personal with the cute critters. If your time is short but you want to see what Brisbane is all about, hop on a boat and take a tour on the Brisbane River, complete with incredible views of the iconic Story Bridge.
Highlights of Brisbane include:
- Climbing the Story Bridge for a view of the city with a difference
- Spending the afternoon relaxing and swimming at Southbank Parklands
- Enjoy a cold beer on the lawn from Felons Brewery at Howard Smiths Wharves
- Lapping up all the culture at one of the city’s many museums and galleries
- Visiting the koalas at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – book tickets HERE
- take a Citycat ride on the iconic Brisbane River
- Strolling through the beautiful Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
- Kayak on the iconic Brisbane River
Where to stay in Brisbane
Brisbane has some amazing 5-star hotels including the only W in Australia so far. It is also home to the Spicers Group who have a portfolio is gorgeous boutique hotels on the East Coast including Spicers Balfour inner-city New Farm in Brisbane.
Our other favourite luxe properties are the uber-cool Calile Hotel in Fortitude Valley, the Fantauzzo Art Series Hotel underneath the Story Bridge at Howard Smith Wharves and the 2 Ovolo Hotels in Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley, which are also two of Brisbane’s best Pet-friendly hotels.
The Calile Hotel
MORETON BAY ISLANDS
Moreton Bay, the glimmering stretch of water off the coast of Brisbane, is home to seemingly countless islands; however, none are quite as beautiful as Moreton Island itself.
This protected sand island located off the southeastern Queensland coast is a national park (well, 95% of it is). With no roads and plenty of natural delights to explore, it’s the perfect getaway from Brisbane.
The third-largest sand island in the world, Moreton Island is the place to come if you’re keen on discovering beaches, fantastic scenery, hitting up some impressive dive spots, or hiking dunes. The scenic credentials here are off the charts.
Whale watching from Cape Morton is one thing you can do here; humpback whales migrate past from June to November. You may also be able to spot dolphins, sharks, and dolphins.
With all that marine life, it’s no wonder that the scuba diving and snorkelling are incredible here. The sea teems with 175 species of fish, 112 different corals, and even a few wrecks to explore.
Of all of that sounds like too much, then just hanging out at the beach is the (understandably most popular) thing to do. It’s easy to visit Moreton on your own if you have a 4wd vehicle – read HERE about how to how to get there and use the resort pools and other activities!
Another of the Moreton Bay islands you may want to check out while you’re in the area is North Stradbroke Island – affectionately called “Straddie” by locals.
Practically in the Brisbane suburbs, but still offering a wealth of adventure, this easy-to-reach slice of paradise is a perfect place to get away from it all.
Stradbroke Island is low key and easygoing, the perfect place to relax and kick-back. Simply hop on a ferry from Brisbane, and you’ll be there in less than an hour. Again, the beaches are the order of the day.
Cylinder Beach is one of the best, with its fine white sand, all day sunshine and gentle surf making it a good spot for families. Point Lookout is the spot to come if you want to see whales in season – no need to step foot on a boat!
There are a couple of hiking opportunities, specifically to Brown Lake (created by rainwater) and Blue Lake – or Karboora (“deep silent pool”). Both are of great cultural significance to native Quandamooka people.
Highlights of North Stradbroke Island
- Strolling along the scenic North Gorge Walk.
- Glimpsing whales on the “Humpback Highway” from Point Lookout.
- Hitting the waves at Cylinder Beach.
- Scuba diving on the reefs and wrecks off Moreton Island.
- Sand tobogganing on Moreton’s big dunes.
Where to stay on Moreton Bay islands
On North Stradbroke Island, there are a few small resorts in Point Lookout such as Whale Watch Ocean resort and Allure Resort. The iconic Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel is the most upmarket place to stay with stunning north facing views and a great bar and restaurant.
SOUTH STRADBROKE ISLAND
At the northern end of the Gold Coast, just south of Brisbane, South Stradbroke Island – or South Straddie, as the locals call it – sits within Moreton Bay. To get there from the mainland, it’s a simple matter of taking a ferry from Toondah Harbour or Hope Harbour (both take around 40-50 minutes).
Once you’re there, prepare for a fantastic time – it’s super chill. To give you an idea of just how small this place is, only 41 people officially live on the 21 by 2.5-kilometre island. The people who live here are actually outnumbered by the hundreds upon hundreds of wallabies that also call this place home!
It’s not far from civilisation, but it feels like it is. There’s hardly anything here, except beautiful beaches, a scattering of campsites, and a few essential amenities.
If relaxation and total tuning out is what you’re after, count South Straddie as one of the best weekend getaways from Gold Coast you could ever ask for.
So, yes, you’ll probably want to pack your tent, bring your BBQ essentials, and don’t forget some chilled beers. You won’t be doing much of anything at all (definitely not a bad thing).
Things you can do on South Stradbroke island include, well, surfing. That much is a given. In fact, you’ll find some of the best and most consistent breaks on the Queensland Coast here. Head down to Porpoise Point and Moondarewa Bay for some prime surfing on the island.
If you prefer staying on dry land, there’s plenty of bushwalking to be done. South Straddie is actually a conservation park, so it offers some pretty awesome trails – the Broadwater being one of them. It’s a coastal trek skirting sand along the Pacific Coast.
- Meeting the resident wallabies!
- Stopping off for something to eat at Tipplers Cafe
- Sleeping under the stars at one of the island’s handful of campsites
- Hitting the surf and riding some pipes at Moondarewa Bay
- Explore the islands coastline by jetski
- Strolling along the Broadwater Trail
Where to stay on South Stradbroke Island
One of the big attractions of South Stradbroke is that it is largely undeveloped. There is one resort, Couran Cove, and a couple of holiday homes nearby.
Couran Cove is a great spot, especially for families. It is a big resort with 2 huge pools, a big marina, restaurants, bars and many activities including bike riding, a day spa, educational trails and tours a huge variety of sports and equipment and even a surf school!
NORTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES
Given the Gold Coast borders NSW a perfect place for a weekend escape is just minutes away. It’s an ideal spot to get back in touch with nature after all the skyscrapers and busy beaches of the Gold Coast.
Northern New South Wales is where you can hike along winding waterways, hike in lush rainforests, and glimpse epic views from mountaintops – and more, besides. It’s a fairly large region, though, so you’ll probably want to hone in on something in particular if you’re just on a weekend getaway from the Gold Coast.
Byron Bay is one of the region’s most popular destinations. It’s just over an hour’s drive away from the Gold Coast and has long been a spot for holidaymakers, who are drawn here for nature, culture, surfing and beautiful scenery.
In Byron Bay, you can also catch sight of migrating humpback whales; head to good viewpoints like Captain Cook Lookout to spot them between June and November.
There are loads of beaches, scuba opportunities, and chances to snorkel in Cape Byron Marine Park. Nearby, the Nightcap National Park offers up its lush subtropical rainforests and waterfalls for visitors to explore.
Another Northern New South Wales destination to hit up is the Casuarina Coast and it’s even closer to the Gold Coast than Byron Bay is.
A mere 15-minute drive from Coolangatta will have you lapping up all there is to see in this very pretty stretch of towns and villages along the coast including Kingscliff, Hastings Point and Cabarita.
There’s a permanent laid-back summer vibe in this part of the world with its surfing breaks, surf clubs, relaxed beaches and plenty of parks and fresh seafood on offer.
Highlights of Northern NSW:
- Checking out the subtropical rainforests and glow worms in Nightcap National Park
- Spotting whales and dolphins off the coast at Byron Bay
- Seeing what life is like beneath the waves with a snorkel at Cape Byron Marine Park
- Hitting up the surf along the Casaurina Coast
- Sampling the delicious cuisine on offer along the waterfront in Kingscliff
- exploring the beautiful green hinterland villages like Federal, Uki, Bangalow and Newrybar.
Elements at Byron
Where to stay in Northern NSW
Being one of Australia’s most pre-eminent holiday spots you would expect there to be a lot of great holiday destinations and there is!
With so many hipsters, celebrities and well-heeled holidaymakers visiting the area there are several stunning 5-star choices at the upper end. In Cabarita, you will find one of Australia’s most Luxe beachfront boutique hotels, Halcyon House, with its award-winning restaurant Paper Daisy.
In Byron Bay, you can bask in luxury at the newly refurbished Byron at Byron or the expansive beachfront eco-resort Elements at Byron.
The popularity of Shitt’s Creek has seen a global comeback for funky motels conversions and this area is leading the way in Australia with The Brunswick and The Sails Motel in Brunswick Heads both fantastic options. Such a great town too!
Similarly, The Bower in Byron Bay is a funky new oasis and recently featured in Vogue magazine.
Inland the small country towns and hamlets have a lot to offer. The newly renovated Eltham Hotel is a great spot for a weekend escape as is Bangalow Guesthouse in trendy Bangalow. Think luxury heritage cottages that are perfect for groups and weddings too!
NEW ENGLAND, NSW
Just over the Queensland border and behind the Northern Rivers region is New England – an area that runs from Tamworth in the South to Tenterfield in the north. It’s rife with abundant nature and things to see and do so the best way to explore the area is on a road trip.
New England is a blend of charming towns, welcoming countryside pubs, and small town B&Bs, making this area somewhere anybody could enjoy.
Tenterfield is just under 4 hours from the Gold Coast and is a great place to base yourself to explore the area, as is Glen Innes.
If time permits try to get down to the beautiful heritage town of Armidale with it’s stunning Art Deco and Colonial architecture. Its not called the ‘Cathedral City’ for nothing!
Tenterfield is a small town, with a population of around 4,000 people, but there are some pretty strong historical draws to the area.
It claims to be the “Birthplace of Australia” as it’s here that Sir Henry Parkes delivered his famous 1888 speech in which he called for the federation of Australia instead of separate colonies. The rest is history!
Today, the streets of Tenterfield are home to many heritage-listed buildings. One of the best ways to take it all in is with a self-guided heritage walk. You’ll get to see all the elaborate colonial-era homes, as well as the town hall, old bars, and the train station.
Away from all the history, you’ll find nature. Near Tenterfield, you’ll find Bald Rock National Park, which offers the opportunity to explore gushing waterfalls, eucalyptus forests, and grassy woodlands – all wrapped up in a dramatic granite landscape.
Tenterfield is also very close to Queensland’s best wine region, the Granite Belt. A few nights in or around Stanthorpe is always a great idea too!
Highlights of New England:
- Discovering the heritage buildings of Tenterfield
- Trekking on the Boonoo Boonoo Falls Walking Track for incredible views
- Exploring the history of Armidale on a self-guided tour
- sampling its trendy cafes, restaurants and bars!
- Visiting Australia’s highest waterfall in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park
Where to stay in New England
Comerford Hall B&B is an absolute delight and has a long-established reputation luxury,comfort and service.
Between Tenterfield and Glen Innes is the wonderful Donegal Farmstay which has an apartment that can sleep up to 6 and it’s pet-friendly!
In Glenn Innes the Glen Farmstay will be a hit with the kids while couples will love The Bank Guesthouse. For something very different check out this converted pet-friendly wagon too!
Less than an hour inland from the Gold Coast will take you into the heart of Queensland – and a region rightly called the Scenic Rim. It’s rich with mountains, beautiful vistas, rainforests, heaps of national parks, wineries, and charming towns.
Here you can really get stuck into country life and slow down the pace for a moment.
A visit to the Scenic Rim is not complete without checking out one of its six national parks, including Mt Barney National Park – complete with challenging (and rewarding) hikes – and the Lamington National Park, which boasts 160 kilometres of much more approachable walking trails.
The Scenic Rim is also excellent for mountain biking. One of the most popular areas for this is the Mt Joyce Mountain Bike Trail Park. It runs along the banks of the Wyaralong Dam and makes for some truly scenic cycling.
If you like rock climbing, there are some well-known spots for this in the Scenic Rim. Mt Barney itself is a popular spot, as is Mt French in the Moogerah Peaks National Parks; there are around 400 routes to try out here.
For something more laid back, Lake Moogerah is a more chilled destination for boating, swimming, and general relaxing (and picnicking, of course) in nature.
If you wanted your weekend getaway from Gold Coast to come with wine, no sweat – the Scenic Rim has that covered, too.
In recent years, this region has been developing a reputation with foodies and wine-lovers and is home to a selection of award-winning wineries, craft beer bars, and orchards.
For chardonnay, head to Tamborine, which offers up some of the best in the country; Shiraz is the thing in warmer areas of the Scenic Rim.
Highlights of the Scenic Rim:
Where to stay in the Scenic Rim
There is a diverse range of places you can stay across the Scenic Rim ranging from 6 star luxury to cheap and cheerful cabins and rooms.
Spicers Peak Lodge is one of the most beautiful luxury lodges in Australia and offers all-inclusive suites in their magnificent mountain top lodge as well as luxury Glamping on their 8000 acre property.
The Old Church B&B near Dugandah is a lovely spot for a short break and is quite close to the wonderful Overflow Estate 1895.
Another much coveted spot to stay is the award winning Ketchup’s Bank Glamping, with luxury tents and private ensuites it is perfect for couples looking for relaxation, isolation and amazing views.
Closer to home Tuckers Retreat is situated on the western side of the Tamborine Mountains and offer adults-only luxury eco tents with barbeques. Some even have hot tubs!
The Sunshine Coast
One hundred kilometres north of the Gold Coast (2-4 hours by car), you’ll find the spectacular Sunshine Coast.
Popular as a destination for years, this coastal area runs from Caloundra to upscale Noosa, with mangroves, lakes and the Coral Sea just about everywhere in between.
At one end upscale Noosa is a highly sought after town set around one of Australia’s best beaches. With world-class restaurants, bars, shops and an incredible National Park there is a reason it is one of the most sought after destinations in the country.
If beaches are your thing, the Sunshine Coast couldn’t get much better. Kings Beach near Caloundra, for example, is one of the best. It’s fun and family-friendly, with protected swimming spots, a saltwater lagoon to swim in, and rockpools to explore, making it perfect if you’ve got kids with you.
For something a bit more out-of-the-way, Mudjimba Beach may be for you. It’s a more hidden away sandy spot. Another option for something a bit more local is Alexander Headland – or “Alex” – as the locals call it.
This is a laid-back kind of place with a string of easygoing beaches, and local spots to eat and drink. It’s also an excellent place to learn to surf. Picnicking and BBQing in the charm of this small town is pretty gorgeous.
If you’re a fan of hiking the Sunshine Coast isn’t just about chilling out on beaches. The Kondalilla National Park has some pretty unforgettable walking tracks, one of which runs all the way from the Kondalilla Falls into a spectacular rainforest valley.
Mount Coolum National Park plays host to Mount Coolum, dominating the skyline. Try tackling this peak if you like, but go prepared. You’ll be rewarded with some incredible views.
Then there are the amazing Glass House Mountains which can be admired from your car window on the drive up to the SC or explored on foot on variuous hikes. It’s actaully a lovely drive past them along the old Highway, now called Steve Irwin Drive as it’s where you will find world-famous Australia Zoo.
Back in civilisation, you may want to try on a bit of retail therapy. There are plenty of markets to while away some time browsing and buying some hidden gems. The Caloundra Twilight Markets, for example, are a great spot for artisan goods.
Highlights of the Sunshine Coast
- Paying a visit to Australia Zoo and making friends with the local inhabitants! – Book tickets HERE
- Walking the steep path to the summit of Mount Coolum.
- Explore the Incredible Noosa Everglades and Biosphere
- Spending the day kicking back with a beachside BBQ at Alexander Headland.
- Booking into a yoga class in Noosa.
- Visit the famous Eumundi markets and Noosa and Yandina Farmers Markets
- Hire a pontoon boat on the Noosa River
- Shop at fabulous Grebe Street square in Peregian for local labels and designer wares
- Lunch at iconic Noosa Surf Club with is unbeatable views
- Take the family for a swim with the seals at Sea Life
Where to stay on the Sunshine Coast
With over 1000 hotels, apartments, Airbnbs and hostels to choose from finding the right accommodation on the Sunshine Coast for a short break can be a bit overwhelming.
Around at Noosaville we love to stay at Skippers Cove with its private beach and affordable price point.
Sunshine Beach is another perennial favourite with La Mer consistently delivering comfort and amazing views whilst further south at Coolum The Point has a wide range of apartments with equally spectacular views over the headland.
For something a bit different you will find excellent Glamping and Camping at Rivershore Resort, also right on the Maroochy River and full of excellent amenities and facilities such as a massive kids playground and a very good bistro.
Twin Waters resort – The Novotel and The Sebel