Although in close proximity to each other in the southeast part of Queensland (Australia), the Gold Coast and North Stradbroke Island couldn’t be more different. What they have in common are beaches. As for the rest…

Western end of Home Beach (North Stradbroke Island)

Western end of Home Beach (North Stradbroke Island)

Getting there

Gold Coast is actually the name of a city that extends for 56 kilometres along the Queensland coast south of Beenleigh. However, many people think of the Gold Coast as the string of beaches and holiday towns that run from Southport to the suburb of Coolangatta along the Gold Coast Highway. A car is the best mean of access, although a train from Brisbane also stops at several inland stations. The section from Southport to Broadbeach is now served by a Light Rail system (G:link). The Gold Coast even has it own airport (OOL).

North Stradbroke Island, on the other hand, can only be accessed by ferry from the town of Cleveland located to the north of the Gold Coast. Two pedestrian ferries and one car ferry make the 25-minute crossing several times a day. A bus meets the pedestrian ferries and serves the main populated areas.

Atmosphere

The Gold Coast reminds me of southern Florida, and in some spots, upscale Californian suburbia. Outdoor pedestrian malls, windy surf beaches, high-rises, and a long boulevard lined with metered parking spots for easy access to the beaches and shopping arcades complete the picture.

Surfers Paradise Beach (Gold Coast)

Surfers Paradise Beach (Gold Coast)

During my stop in Surfers Paradise (one of the better known Gold Coast destinations), artists were sculpting Dreamworks animated characters in sand blocks, and kids were learning to surf, while a building that must have been over 60 stories tall cast a long shadow that extended all the way into the ocean. Despite the very windy conditions, the swimmable part of the beach was busy with swimmers and sunbathers.

North Stradbroke is a lot more sedate, and has a rural feel. The three main inhabited areas are Dunwich, Amity, and Point Lookout. Two-lane tree-lined roads join these small communities together. Little cafés and shops, camp sites, and mostly empty beaches are what you should expect.

Deadmans Beach, North Stradbroke Island

Deadmans Beach, North Stradbroke Island

Things to do

The Gold Coast is famous for its great surfing beaches, but you can also swim, jet ski, jet boat, paddle board, scuba dive, have fun on water slides, explore some theme parks, golf, hike, shop, and even hydro fly! And that’s not even all of it.

Hydro flying at Main Beach (Gold Coast)

Hydro flying at Main Beach (Gold Coast)

North Stradbroke also focuses on water activities, such as swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, fishing, scuba diving, snorkelling, and whale watching (between June and November). You can also go on some short nature walks, the most scenic of which is the North Gorge Walk at Point Lookout. The walk starts across the main road from the gelato place.

North Gorge Walk (North Stradbroke Island)

North Gorge Walk (North Stradbroke Island)

Food

Being the sixth most populous urban area in the country, the Gold Coast offers the same variety of eating spots as any city, from souvlaki shops in outdoor malls, to upscale restaurants in luxury hotels. The Surf Life Saving Clubs (SLSCs) are volunteer institutions on Australia’s beaches providing essential beach safety and lifesaving services to members of the public. Some have now open restaurants such as the Currumbins Beach Vikings in Currumbin which provides beautiful views over the ocean and affordable prices.

Having lunch at Currumbin Beach Vikings restaurant (Gold Coast)

Having lunch at Currumbin Beach Vikings restaurant (Gold Coast)

On North Stradbroke, Point Lookout offers the most restaurants and cafés, spread out over several kilometres. All of them are small, and some offer take-away. There is also a FoodWorks grocery store. Amity, a small fishing village, has a single restaurant, but you can buy fresh seafood straight from the trawlers. Dunwich also has a few places serving simple food and coffee.

Tillers Cafe and Pantry, Point Lookout (North Stradbroke Island)

Tillers Café and Pantry, Point Lookout (North Stradbroke Island)

Shopping

With its many pedestrian malls and shopping arcades, not to mention its sheer size, the Gold Coast should satisfy any shopper. From bookshops, to clothing and shoe stores, to souvenirs, it’s all there.

Outdoor Mall, Surfers Paradise (Gold Coast)

Outdoor Mall, Surfers Paradise (Gold Coast)

Shopping on North Stradbroke Island by contrast is limited to a couple of grocery stores and a few small family-owned handicraft/souvenir shops. You don’t come here to shop.

In summary

If you’re looking for a quiet low-key vacation eating simple meals and walking along wide empty beaches where the sand is so fine that it squeaks beneath you feet, go to North Stradbroke Island.

If you’d rather enjoy a cosmopolitan and active beach holiday with shopping, nightclubs and lots of people, then the Gold Coast is for you.


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