7 days of family fun in South-East Queensland [itinerary]
Rewind 20 years and family holidays abroad called for a bus, an upbeat tour guide and a group of 20 (sometimes odd) travellers. Sure it was well-planned and stress-free – but it was also a bit vanilla.
Oh, how times have changed.
Today the family getaway comes in a different package. It’s me, ‘The Captain’, right up there in the driver’s seat of our hired SUV, my brother aka ‘The Google-Mapper’, my teenage sister ‘The Social Media Princess’ and my parents serving up drinks, fruit and stories for the drive.
Call it “relative” chaos.
To take the chaos out of one of Queensland’s favourite driving destinations, I’ve put together a tried and tested 7-day self-drive itinerary for Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast – all the top must-do activities included!
DAY ONE: BRISBANE
10AM: KOALA AND THE RIVER CRUISE
Get that bucket list ticked straight up and jump on board the Miramar Cruise for a 75-minute leisurely ferry ride from Brisbane city to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Don’t be fooled by their innocent looks, these koalas are notorious for ‘getting around’ and have snuggled up to the likes of Mariah Carey, John Travolta, Taylor Swift and other A-listers. Why not you? When you’ve had your fur fill, head over to feed the kangaroos, drape a snake around your neck, and check out the wombats.
3PM: QUEEN STREET MALL
Dock back into the city just in time for some retail therapy in the nation’s biggest pedestrian-only mall. Gents, if shopping does not run in your blood, order a flat white with a side of avo (short for avocado) on toast in Gramercy Coffee in the Wintergarden on Queen Street or pop up to the top end of town for a fast game of Blackjack at the Treasury Casino. Ladies, grab your latte to go and strut the Mall – there are 700 retail outlets warmly waiting for your plastic fantastic.
7PM: WATERFRONT DINNER AT EAGLE STREET PIER
No trip to Brisbane is complete without paying homage to the iconic Story Bridge. So we say, do that while feasting. Eagle Street pier offers dozens of dining experiences and megawatt views over the city to our own shrine of steel. Go top end at Blackbird Bar and Grill or keep it casual at Riverbar & Kitchen.
DAY TWO: TANGALOOMA ISLAND
10AM: ALL ABOARD FOR TANGALOOMA
Who doesn’t love dolphins? Take a short 15-minute drive to Brisbane’s Holt Street Wharf at Pinkenba, park the car and hop on a high-speed catamaran to Tangalooma Island Resort, 24 kilometres due east of Brisbane and a cruisy 75-minute ferry ride away.
With 80 family activities on offer this is not an island, but an entire playground made out of an island! The number one must do here is the nightly wild dolphin feeding. Of course there’s also guided whale watching (June to October), sand tobogganing (this place bags the title of third largest sand island in the world) and the chance to churn up the sand on ATV quad bikes. It’s a full day of fun.
DAY THREE: SUNSHINE COAST
10AM: CROCOSEUM AT AUSTRALIA ZOO
Crikey! One hour’s drive north of Brisbane is Australia Zoo, home of the Crocodile Hunter, the legendary Steve Irwin. This zoo is huge but thankfully we have a handy ‘How to get the most out of a day at Australia Zoo‘ itinerary to make choices easier. That said, the number one activity is the jaw-snapping Wildlife Warriors live Croc Show at the Crocoseum (also the most appropriate place to use the phrase “Crikey”!).
3PM: MOOLOOLABA JET BOAT
Wave-dive, figure 8s, duck-tails – do these phrases mean anything? Get ready to understand them while being strapped into the Mooloolaba Jet Boat for a one-hour ocean thrill ride. Located 25 minutes north of Australia Zoo at the beach-side town of Mooloolaba, the jet boat promises a squealing good time. Tip: Call ahead to make a booking.
7PM: BON APPETIT AT MOOLOOLABA ESPLANADE
Mooloolaba Esplanade is the main dining and shopping precinct with ring-side views over a picture-perfect surf beach. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from with many serving the iconic Mooloolaba prawn – plump and fresh and straight from the trawlers at the nearby wharf.
DAY FOUR: NOOSA, SUNSHINE COAST
11AM: LUNCH AT NOOSA SURF CLUB
Take a short and sweet 40-minute beach-side drive further north to Australia’s chicest beach town, Noosa. The main dining and shopping precinct is Hastings Street but for the best beach views you can’t go past the Noosa Heads Surf Club where you can immerse in the long-standing history and culture of Australia Surf Life Saving Club while ordering a good ol’ beach burger and the typical surf club fish and chips. Any closer to the waves you would get wet.
2PM: SLAP ON SOME SPF50 AND PLAY WHALE
It is not a Queensland holiday unless there is time to relax on the beach. This part of the itinerary requires swimwear to be on, and phones off. Music lovers put on your headphones and hit the ‘zen’ playlist or simply enjoy the sound of waves.
6PM: SUNSET DINNER AT NOOSA BOATHOUSE
Drive for 10 minutes west of Hastings Street to Noosaville and the beautiful Noosa Boathouse. Floating serenely on the Noosa River, this is a top spot to watch the sun set while chowing down the region’s signature local produce, Moreton Bay Bugs and Mooloolaba prawns.
DAY FIVE: BROADBEACH, GOLD COAST
9AM: BE A ONE-DAY SUPERHERO
Check out of the Sunshine Coast and get ready for a two-and-a-half hour drive south to the Gold Coast and Warner Bros. Movie World, one of five theme parks located within minutes of glitzy Surfers Paradise. As the name suggests, Movie World is home to movie stars and superheroes and is the best place to tackle tonsil-tingling adventure rides like the Batwing Spaceshot and the adrenalin pumping Superman Escape. Don’t forget to see the live action stunt show ‘Hollywood Stunt Driver’ and the daily spectacular Star Parade.
7PM: DINNER AT BROADBEACH
Just south of Surfers Paradise is Broadbeach, a seaside precinct known as ‘Broadie’. After a day of adrenalin-pumping rides, Moo Moo Wine Bar + Grill will tick your chillax box each time. Located in the heart of Broadie, it’s been crowned Queensland’s Best Steak Restaurant and Gold Coast Restaurant of the Year. The people watching gets a gold star too!
DAY SIX: SURFERS PARADISE, GOLD COAST
10AM: SURF LIKE A PRO
The Gold Coast is famous for two things: good fun and great surf. So why not learn how to master the rip curls while you are here. Get Wet Surf School provides beginner and intermediate level lessons and guarantees everyone will stand up on their first lesson or they get their money back.
5PM: TWILIGHT AT SKYPOINT OBSERVATION DECK
Ride to the highest point above the Gold Coast and sip on a cool ‘bevvie’ (Aussie speak for ‘beverage’) as you watch the sun set 77 levels above sea-level on top of the Q1 Building, the sixth tallest residential building in the world. SkyPoint is the ‘IT’ place to snap a photo, check-in on Facebook and hashtag #thisisqueensland. Green. Envy. Yes!
7PM: DINNER AND LATE-NIGHT SHOPPING
Return to ground zero and take a short seven-minute stroll down Surfers Paradise Boulevard until you reach Cavill Avenue the heart of action where endless restaurants and bistros serve up dinner and 14 shopping centres and arcades are open for late night shopping. Don’t forget to check out Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets (every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday night) for special hand-made trinkets and souvenirs.
DAY SEVEN: GOLD COAST
10:00AM: SHOPPING HAVEN
Celebrate the last leg of the holiday with a full day of retail therapy. For a good bargain on brands, Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre 20 minutes north of Surfers is Australia’s largest outlet shopping with more than 220 stores and a minimum 30 per cent off the retail price. (Don’t believe us, check out this vlog). Alternately, 20 minutes south-west of Surfers is Robina Town Centre, a huge edifice and home to David Jones and Myer department stores, and 350 specialty stores.
And that ladies and gentlemen is how to drive through South East Queensland in seven days, with plenty of family fun and relatively little chaos to remember.