Discover the Gold Coast Hinterland
There's another side to a Gold Coast holiday that you really should explore. Equipped with a rental car, a backpack and an adventurous spirit, you can set off on intrepid journeys to national parks, waterfalls, mountains, rivers and lakes. After a day in the Gold Coast's great outdoors, you'll have an entirely different view of the region.
You can look at Natural Bridge from the top, then follow steps down to enter the cave. By night you can see millions of glow worms in here - stay quiet and they'll keep glowing.
Springbrook National Park
Just 45 minutes' drive from the coast, Springbrook National Park is centred on a volcano that erupted about 23 million years ago. Many of the trails are kid-friendly and there are multiple picnic areas.
Before you lace up your hiking shoes, drive the Springbrook Circuit to get acquainted with the park. Stop at Wunbrurra Lookout for the big picture, plus a chance to collect maps and brochures from the visitor information centre. There are more lookouts on the drive, each offering a different view of this wonderful chunk of wilderness.
Pick a walk that matches the time you have available and your fitness level. A great choice is the Twin Falls Circuit, which has been named the best short walk in southern Queensland. It will take around two hours to complete and the trail passes through rock clefts and behind two waterfalls - exciting stuff. A longer walk in this park is the Purling Brook Falls Circuit, which has a suspension bridge as its main highlight.
An easy hike (and an absolute must-do) is the walk to Natural Bridge, a rock arch formed by the force of a waterfall over a cave. You can look at the bridge from the top, then follow steps down to enter the cave. There are millions of glow worms in here - stay quiet and they'll keep glowing.
Springbrook National Park is great for views and wildlife spotting. The Best of All Lookout in this park is truly something special. While you're walking, look out for paradise riflebirds, green catbirds, koala, wompoo fruit-doves, and also rarer species like the cascade tree frogs and sooty owls. On summer nights you might see luminous fungi and fireflies.
Tamborine National Park
Less than an hour's drive from the Gold Coast, Tamborine Mountain is an inspired place for a big day in the great outdoors. It encompasses both natural and man-made wonders, including attractions connected to the early years of European settlement (check out the Cuckoo Clock shop!), so you can find things to do that agree with everyone. You don't even have to hire a car - there are hinterland tours that will do all the driving for you.
Families love the rope course challenges at Thunderbird Park, glow worm caves, treetop walks, horse riding, rainforest walks and the excitement of hunting for thundereggs (geodes with crystals inside). There's also plenty of grown-up stuff to do on and around Mount Tamborine, like wine and beer tasting, checking out art galleries, and tasting handmade fudge and ice cream. You could easily stay a few days up here, because there are lots of accommodation and eating options too.
Bush walks to waterfalls are a specialty at Tamborine Mountain. You can discover Curtis Falls, Cedar Creek Falls, Cameron Falls and Witches Falls - most walks are between 30 minutes and an hour. Other popular hikes include Sandy Creek Circuit, Macdonald Rainforest Circuit and Witches Chase Track. The rainforest is spectacular, with large strangler figs, groves of piccabeen palms, ferns, scribbly gums and all kinds of gum trees.
Lamington National Park
Part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, Lamington National Park is famous for its beautiful waterfalls, walking trails and camping areas. And it's not all about wilderness here. As with many Australian protected areas, there are accommodation and eating places within the park. O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat is one example of how you can combine your passion for nature with your love of fine food and wine.
If you really want to immerse yourself in forest life, you can go glamping at Nightfall Camp. It's like living off the beaten track, but with a decent shower, comfortable bed and organic food cooked over a wood fire. There are down-to-earth camp grounds in Lamington too, for those who want to be purist about their outdoor living.
Things to see at Lamington National Park include Morans Falls, Coomera Falls, Elabana Falls and Chalagn Falls. All of them involve a walk, ranging from half an hour to a whole day. The hiking trail network within this park is extensive, so finding a track that fits your plans is easy.
Burleigh Head National Park
Getting a dose of nature on the Gold Coast doesn't have to involve driving. Burleigh Head National Park is right in the thick of things, between Palm Beach and Burleigh Heads. There's a walk around the headland that's level and easy for all ages. Or you can hike up to Tumgun Lookout for huge photo opportunities. Exquisite Echo Beach on the ocean side of the park is irresistible; it's also a good place to watch for whales during the humpback season.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
While it's fun to look for koalas in the national parks, you won't always be successful. They are very good at being hard to spot. For a dead-cert koala sighting, you need to get to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary - an animal park that's right in the heart of the Gold Coast. Koalas are only part of the deal here. Dingoes, birds of prey, snakes, crocodiles, kangaroos, Tazzy Devils and the full spectrum of Aussie parrots are happily living in this protected park. There's also an aboriginal dance show every afternoon.
Mobiking the coast
The Mobike bike-share scheme lets you discover the Gold Coast in a sunny, breezy way. By joining the scheme and downloading the phone app, you can get cheap transport to beaches, parks and all the other places you want to visit. The three-speed bikes are easy to ride and some even have a surfboard rack!