The Sunshine Coast towards the north and The Gold Coast towards the south, with approximately a two-hour drive between the two.
Brisbane is the only major city that separates these two rival coasts from spilling into each other.
I’ve heard of both coasts before but if you’re like me and know squat about Australia, then you have NO idea what the heck they actually are, what kind of people or beaches they inhabit, the food, the atmosphere, the weather…nothing. I’m going in blind and documenting my personal experiences in both areas.
I’m visiting the Sunshine Coast first for a few days and then the Gold Coast immediately after. I originally only planned on seeing the Gold but was presented with an opportunity to see the Sunshine.
So I decided to compare the two.
The Sunshine Coast
- Population: Approx 300,000 (2015) (Different sources claim a bit more or less)
- Location: 100 km (62 mi) North of Brisbane
- Average Temperatures: Average High (25.4ºC / 78ºF) Average Low (15.8ºC / 60ºF)
- Areas of Interest: Australia Zoo, Noosa National Park, Kings Beach, Mooloolaba Beach, Underwater World Sealife, Koondalilla Falls
My new friend Dorelle invited me to stay at her place in Kawana Island to experience the Sunshine Coast. Kawana Island looks like a suburb you’ll find on the shores of Laguna Beach, California; totally relaxed filled with exquisite homes. Just the name of it alone sounds like a place I wanted to be. I took a train ride to Landsborough where she was able to scoop me up.
A little background on Dorelle; she isn’t originally from the Sunshine Coast but was actually born straight up in the middle of the Outback bush! A true Aussie if I’ve ever met one.
Her place was situated in a central location: relatively close to the beaches and the main city areas, but just far enough away from all the hustle and bustle. Immediately after getting settled into my room, we drove to her sister and her soon-to-be surfer brother in-laws house near Coolum Beach. They lived in a hilly, oceanside area in a lofty abode that resembled a luxury Colorado ski lodge. We drove just a few minutes out to the nearest beaches in Wilkinson Park.
Now, the beaches in this particular area weren’t at all your typical beaches. Imagine an ordinary beach but add some of Mother Nature’s pizzaz to it. A few cliffs overlooking the bounds, smooth stones of all different sizes laid upon plots of the sands, perfect surf size waves, and tropical floral along the scape. There was no one else in sight! Maybe because it was October which is technically still spring in the southern hemisphere. We even accidentally wandered upon a nude beach or two but thankfully no one was around.
Soon we drove back to her sisters home where we had rotisserie chicken and chips (fries) with chicken salt on them. Chicken salt is exactly what it sounds like. Salt that tastes like chicken and it was glorious. Why have I not heard of this before?
Accompanied by wine and a fresh salad bowl they spruced up in the kitchen, it was a perfect first meal in the Sunshine Coast.
The next morning, Dorelle took me further north to see the Sunshine Coasts most famous beach, the Noosa Heads. Along the beach were a few stone stacks, works of art, that beachgoers created creating an art scene perfect for pictures, especially during sunrise or sunset. Just like the beach before, this one looked amazing.
I began to realize that the Sunshine Coast wasn’t filled with as many backpackers as I imagined. More so locals and older travelers.
We took her bikes out later in the day and rode into town during the sunsetting hours.
The ride took us through Double Bay Beach Park, the Wyuna Canal, the Parrearra Channel, La Balsa Park, and to various lighthouses near the Beacon Lighthouse Reserve.
We even rode past Steve Irwin’s old house he used to live in ages ago. We visited Mooloolaba Beach shortly afterwards.
It was during this bike ride when I felt that I could move here and be perfectly happy. The weather was always great (at least this time of year), the people were pleasant, the beaches were superb, limited crazy drunk backpackers, and a variety of choices for food and leisure activities. Oh and chicken salt!
The amazing Dorelle prepared a to-go bag of snacks for my train/bus journey to the Gold Coast the following days, including these Anzac biscuits her mom made.
They call them biscuits, I call them cookies. Regardless, they were mighty tasty, even for being the sugar-free version. By the way, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
In the short time I was in the Sunshine Coast, she showed me quite a lot! Thanks for that.
The Gold Coast
- Population: Approx 507,000 (2015) (Different sources claim a bit more or less)
- Location: 66 km (41 mi) Southeast of Brisbane
- Average Temperatures: Average High (21ºC / 77ºF) Average Low (17.2ºC / 63ºF)
- Areas of Interest: Surfer’s Paradise Beach, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Dreamworld, Wet N’ Wild Water World, Warner Bros. Movie World, Burleigh Heads Beach
I had two friends I wanted to visit here; Jess and then Daniel. But before I get to them, I spent one night in a backpacker’s hostel in an area of the Gold Coast called Surfer’s Paradise. Already I could tell a difference. This was a major backpacker’s destination. There were backpackers everywhere, along the city to the beaches and a majority of them were from Germany. I didn’t get to mingle much with them though. I did meet an English backpacker who had a car planning a drive to Byron Bay the next day. I would have tagged along but I had friends here in the Gold Coast I planned to see, starting with Jess. I met her in Nepal in October 2014. She volunteered in Pokhara when I did. She picked me up from the hostel and went straight to one of the beaches.
But first, what the heck is this?
I spotted this in Johns Laws Park. It’s called a Ute (yoot). Like a miniature version of a pickup truck we have in the States. I saw these unusual looking cars back in Brisbane as well.
Burleigh Beach was wide open and had clear waters.
Jess and I waded in the water for about ten minutes until she spotted a jellyfish just a couple meters away. That’s when my time in that beach was suddenly over. Bye.
I mentioned to Jess that at some point in Australia, I wanted to find a way to hang out with kangaroos. Upon hearing this, she knew the perfect place in the Gold Coast where I could do such a thing, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
It had your typical zoo stuff along with a few animals native to Australia including, koalas, dingos, echidnas, wallabys, and the most iconic Australian animal, the kangaroo. However, at this wildlife sanctuary you don’t get to just look at the kangaroos, you get to hang out and get silly with them as long as you want. No extra charge!
This was task #26 I needed to accomplish on my personal ATLAS.
Jess took me to Burleigh Head National Park, where we climbed the top of a small footing that looked upon Surfer’s Paradise.
Thanks Jess! I look forward to reuniting in Nepal.
Later that evening, my friend Daniel picked me up from one of the outdoor malls in the city. I met him during my first days in Fiji recently while scuba diving with bull sharks. I thought he was from England, but realized my mistake just in time to contact him. We went back to his place in Southport where he and his dad welcomed me to red wine with cheese, grapes, and crackers. How did they know I loved red wine so much? Must have read my mind. It was a perfect welcoming to such a calming place that felt more like a private resort mainly because of this stunning view from their wholesome back deck.
Daniel has a big bushy dog named Pebbles that he takes out almost every morning to nearby beaches or parks. One of the beaches we went to was Main Beach, one of the only dog-friendly beaches in the Gold Coast. And yes there were dogs everywhere and they were lovin’ life!
The Nerang River was also a cool spot to see the line of water that bled into the main city.
As far as Daniel goes, I think I enjoyed the most just relaxing at his place. It was the most opportune place to unwind, catch up on blogging, and I was perfectly content because we drank wine every night and also because they had ice cream, my biggest guilty pleasure. Man, I could live here in the Gold Coast too!
I wasn’t able to go to Dreamworld Theme Park because at the time of my arrival, one of the water attractions malfunctioned killing four people. It was an unfortunate event that crippled any idea of me attending one of the other parks. It wouldn’t have felt right.
Later on, Daniel graciously drove me to the Coolangatta Airport where I would eventually board a flight to Sydney. Thanks to him, his dad, and of course Pebbles. Everything was perfect.
So which is better? The Sunshine or the Gold? I can’t give a totally unbiased opinion of either because I didn’t experience the whole scope of the coasts and was only presented with a snapshot of each. I also had the luxury of local friends to show me around. If I were on my own completely, it would have been a different story.
Sunshine Coast Pros
- More “natural” beaches
- Less touristy
- Tons of outdoor areas of interest
- Major Surf Destination
- Excellent year-round weather
- I found it to be very clean
Sunshine Coast Cons
- I don’t have a single con.
Gold Coast Pros
- More backpacker friendly
- Easier access to Brisbane, Byron Bay, and usually cheaper flights to Sydney.
- Major Surf Destination
- A Better Variety in the Nightlife/Social Scene
- Cool Theme Parks
Gold Coast Cons
- A lot more touristy resulting in sometimes annoying backpackers and loads more schoolies*, but thats just being nit picky. Sometimes those annoying backpackers end up being good friends of mine.
*Schoolies are the Australian equivalent to the crazed up Spring Breakers we have in the US, but instead of having spring breaks every year, schoolies only party hard once when their 12th year of school is complete, thank goodness.
I enjoyed both coasts immensely but the slight edge, and I mean VERY slight edge goes to the Sunshine Coast only because it felt a little more natural as far as the beaches and the people there. Not as many tourists who usually get in my way were around. However, as far as backpacking purposes, I would choose the Gold Coast to meet more people along the way. It’s also a bit closer to Brisbane and Byron Bay which is always a plus.
Australia, you haven’t struck out yet. Onwards to Sydney!