Gold Coast backpacking guide

The complete backpackers guide to the Gold Coast

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The Gold Coast has over 10 million visitors each year, thanks to its sandy beaches, great surfing, party atmosphere and theme parks. If you’re one of the backpackers who has decided to head over to Australia’s Sunshine State to enjoy a slice of paradise for a few days or even months, here are some tips to help you decide what to do.

Where to stay

Not surprisingly, there’s an abundance of accommodation options on the Gold Coast. Don’t want to pick a dud? Look at a few important factors when picking a hostel:

  • Where is it located? It may be cheaper, but if it’s right out of town you might have pay bus fares to get to where you want to go. Pick somewhere close to the beach if you’ll likely be spending much of your time there, and this will also mean you’re close to restaurants, shops and bars.
  • What events and extras does the hostel offer? Some hostels provide body boards for you to take to the beach, free breakfast, or a full calendar of events, which are usually very cheap. Pick what’s most important for you and look for that.
  • What do others have to say about it? Look at testimonials on traveller websites to see what other backpackers have thought.

Here are a few of the most recommended choices:

Aquarius Backpackers

Offering a pool and licensed bar, Aquarius in Southport is close to the tram, which can take you to all the hot spots in the area. It has been recommended by Lonely Planet, who described it as valuing cleanliness as much as partying. It has a fully equipped kitchen so you can save on dinners (but it is quite small so it does get busy during the high season) and also offers free Wi-Fi for one hour per day. Perhaps best of all, they’ll give you a free slushy on arrival to cool you down! If you want peace and quiet avoid the ground floor, as you’ll be able to hear the noise from the pub (especially on Saturday nights). It has been rated 3.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and 85% on Hostelworld.

Gold Coast Backpackers

Gold Coast Backpackers

Gold Coast Backpackers is located within walking distance to iconic Surfers Paradise beaches. When you’re not at the beach, you can keep yourself occupied at the fully licensed bar, cooking a BBQ out on the terrace, or playing games like pool, darts and Wii. It also offers free Wi-Fi – so you can Skype your friends back home whenever it suits you, and free tea and coffee. This hostel has a rating of 2.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and 85% on Hostelworld.

Islander Backpackers Resort

This is the biggest hostel on the Gold Coast, and as it’s attached to a 3 star hotel, you get to use the resort facilities for free! These include a tropical pool, spa, steam room, tennis and squash courts, BBQ, entertainment room with video games, and sundeck. There’s also an onsite restaurant and bar, and onsite car rental for anyone wanting to explore the area. Located just 50m from the famous Surfers Paradise beach and Cavill Avenue, you’ll be right in the action. This hostel is rated 3 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and 79% on Hostelworld.

Surfers Paradise YHA

With wide open verandahs overlooking the marina, bars and restaurants at your doorstep, SeaWorld just a few minutes walk away, and nightly activities including pub crawls, BBQs and movie nights, Surfers Paradise YHA at Main Beach will certainly keep you busy. Located right across the road from Main Beach, the hostel offers free shuttles into the heart of Surfers Paradise. It has been rated 3.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and 84% on Hostelworld.

Places to eat on a backpacker’s budget

Mama Roma, Broadbeach

Mama Roma has to be one of the most popular restaurants on the Gold Coast. Serving delicious Italian cuisine, it’s not only affordable but the servings are huge. The fettuccine carbonara is a favourite. If it’s a nice hot night out, enjoy the alfresco dining area. Best of all? You can enjoy a great night out on a shoestring with mains under $20.

Hakataya Ramen, Surfers Paradise

Hakataya Ramen Gold Coast

You’ll find Hakataya Ramen on the Surfers Paradise Boulevard – just look for a long line of people waiting (seriously, that’s how good it is). You’re going to want to order the tonkotsu soup (pork bone broth), which is simmered for 39 hours. Too hot for soup? They also have some mind-blowing pork dumplings and musubi (rice balls) too.

The Plantation House Cafe, Burleigh Heads

Organic eatery and nostalgic grocer in one, Plantation House does a great Thai beef salad and delicious zucchini fritters. For the lovers of juice, they also do some fresh squeezes that will leave you feeling fresh and rejuvenated. Spend the last of your day’s budget on the white or dark chocolate fondue.

Southport Surf Life Saving Club, Main Beach

Surf clubs, which are found in almost every suburb on the Coast, usually provide a great choice for a cheap and cheerful meal right near the beach. This one is no exception. Located on Southport esplanade, it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days a week. Enjoy one of the 12 local beers on tap and soak up the stunning view of Main Beach. Try the crispy pork belly as either an entrée or main, or the salt and pepper calamari.

Waxy’s Irish Pub, Surfers Paradise

Waxy’s provides eight daily pub menu options at the bargain price of $10, including a cold beer to accompany your meal (only available Monday through Friday). These are different every day but often include the usual pub food culprits like beer battered fish and chips or chicken schnitzel with chips and salad. And if you think that’s good value for money, then pop in to enjoy a $2 steak lunch served every Sunday afternoon.

Things to do

While bathing in the sun all day (or ‘sunbaking’ if you’re an Aussie) might be appealing, there is plenty more adventure and fun to be had during your stay at the Gold Coast. Here we’ve created a list of some of the things you may want to check out:

Days at the beach

Gold Coast beaches

There’s a reason why they call it the Gold Coast with a 70-kilometre stretch of golden sandy beaches. Check out:

Tallebudgera Creek is one of the Gold Coast’s best-kept secrets – perfect if you are looking for somewhere to escape the droves of other tourists. Be sure to swim in the patrolled area as this beach can have strong currents and rips.

If you’re after good surf, Kirra is the playground for some of the biggest surfers including Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore. Don’t be surprised if you spot them here enjoying the awesome surf breaks. The prime surfing spot is Kirra Point, famous for its long right-handers.

The Burleigh Heads foreshore is spotted with towering pine trees, making it a great place for a BBQ or a picnic. Or, if you’d prefer not to bring your own food, there are stunning oceanfront dining options and funky cafes. Try the breakfast at Commune, a trendy, eco-friendly café with great coffee and ‘meat-free Mondays’.

Explore the rainforest

Beyond the surf and sand of the Gold Coast, there are a number of beautiful subtropical rainforests that are full of Australian wildlife. Here you can spend a day or more hiking, climbing mountains, or spotting incredible native species of birds and animals. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat offer a free treetop walk made up of 9 suspension bridges in the Green Mountain section of Lamington National Park. Lamington National Park is World Heritage listed and is considered Australia’s largest preserved subtropical rainforest. With much of the treetop walk being 15 metres above the ground, you are provided with a unique vantage point from which to view life in the rainforest canopy.

You could also visit Tamborine Mountain, which is at the centre of Tamborine National Park. Here you’ll find amazing walking tracks that lead to pristine waterfalls and breathtaking views. There’s also a great local community of winemakers and artists. If you’re into wine, visit the Queensland Wine Centre at Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard where you can taste some of the most awarded wines and more specialised varieties such as Durif, Tempranillo and Mourvedre. At Tamborine Mountain, you can also visit a magnificent glow-worm cave, which has one of the largest colonies of these creatures in the world.

Learn to surf

Surfing Gold Coast

Get Wet Surf School are so committed to helping you learn to surf that if you aren’t standing by the end of your first lesson, they’ll refund your lesson fee. With small class sizes and expert teachers, they can pay you enough attention to you to ensure you get the most out of your lesson. They offer beach surf lessons in a true locals spot, just a few kilometers north of Surfers Paradise at The Spit. Or, you can learn to surf in perfect controlled waves and heated water in the wave pool at WhiteWater World – perfect for winter sessions.

Skydive

Just when you think you’ve seen enough of the beaches, you can view them from a whole new angle – from above! If you’re a thrill-seeker, you’ll love the rush of falling at 200km/hour towards the picturesque Gold Coast while tandem skydiving. Gold Coast Skydive, the only tandem skydive operation on the Gold Coast, have a great team full of experienced instructors. And if you’re nervous at all, ask for Steve – he’s done over 16,000 jumps to date, so you can be pretty confident he knows what he’s doing.

Visit the theme parks

With Dreamworld, Movie World, Sea World, Wet’n’Wild and WhiteWater World all on your doorstep, you can never complain of being bored on the Gold Coast. They each offer all kinds of fun rides and adventures. There are combo entry deals too, if you are thinking of taking on all five. If you can’t stand queuing, try Q4U on your smartphone at Dreamworld. At $15, it means you can hold your spot in the line through your phone. Try to steer clear of school holidays, when families from all over Australia converge on the theme parks.

Go shopping

The Village Markets Gold Coast

One of the main shopping areas on the Gold Coast is Surfers Paradise. Just 10-minutes’ drive south of Surfers Paradise you’ll find the largest shopping centre on the Gold Coast, Pacific Fair. It’s full of all the big name shops, so could make for a big day out if you’re in the market for some new clothes or want to stock up on presents for everyone back home.

Love a good market? Every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening on the Esplanade at Surfers Paradise there are over 100 market stalls selling everything from jewellery to memorabilia and loads more. And on the first and third Sunday of the month, The Village Markets are held at Burleigh Heads. They’re full of quirky stalls selling unique or vintage fashion and quality handcrafted products. With a friendly atmosphere, live music and yummy coffee, it makes for a relaxed Sunday morning out. Don’t forget to take cash if you go along.

Big Night Out

On Wednesday and Saturday nights, backpackers from a number of different hostels get together to hit the nightclubs of Surfers Paradise on Gold Coast Backpackers Big Night Out. This is a great chance to explore and meet fellow travellers, and includes free pizza and VIP entry into all clubs.

The Gold Coast really is a backpacker’s dream – with so many daytime activities to choose from, world-famous beaches to relax on, rides to tackle, and nightclubs to visit, you can have as much fun with a huge group of friends as you can on your own.

Have you been to the Gold Coast yet? What was your favourite thing about your stay?