The Gold Coast, Australia is east of Brisbane and full of sun, surf, and sand! It’s known for its sunny subtropical climate, surfing, beaches, a rainforest hinterland, and a wild nightlife. The most famous city in the area is Surfer’s Paradise, a major stop for travelers and backpackers looking to get some sun, surf, and spend time partying. It’s a fun place but my advice is to avoid spending a lot of time there and head to some of the better, less crowded cities like Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta. This travel guide will help you figure out where to go, what to see, and how to save money in this region of Australia.
Hostel prices — Since the region is so popular among travelers, prices here tend to be a lot higher than elsewhere in the country. The average cost for a hostel bed in Surfers Paradise is 32 AUD and in Coolangatta it’s 34 AUD. In Coolangatta, you’ll find rooms as low as 26 AUD (4-6 beds) with privates around 80 AUD. In Surfers Paradise, you’ll find 4-bed dorms around 30 AUD with privates costing between 70-90 AUD. Surf and Sun Hostel in Surfers Paradise is one of my favorite hostels in the country. (It’s a party hostel, though!)
Budget hotel prices — Most of the hotels on the Gold Coast are expensive, but you can find a couple hotels (or motels) that sleep two starting around 95 AUD, but the average price is about 195 AUD for a double room. Alternatively, you can find lots of beautifully furnished apartments and homes to rent. On Airbnb, a shared room in a home starts around 30 AUD. You can find whole apartments for two guests starting at 85 AUD per night.
Average cost of food — Most meals cost 34 AUD or more. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 100 AUD per week for basic groceries like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. An average restaurant meal will run you about 20-28 AUD for no-frills eating. If you are staying in hostels, most offer family style meals each night for around 8 AUD.
Transportation costs — A single bus ticket in one zone costs 2.30 AUD, in two zones, it’s 3.40 AUD. A daily ticket for one zone is 4.60 AUD and for two zones it’s 6.80 AUD. The absolute best option for using public transport is the Go Card. Go Cards are an electronic pre-paid ticket that automatically calculates the cheapest fare for your journey. You’ll end up saving up to 1 AUD per trip with this card. You have to put a minimum of 20 AUD on the card as well as pay a 10 AUD deposit, but you can turn in your card before leaving the city and be refunded any unused credit, as well as your deposit.
Suggested daily budget — $50 AUD / 36 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Free transport – Some hostels provide free transport to and from the airport. If you are going to Surfer’s Paradise, they will also pick you up for free at the bus station.
- Couchsurf — Accommodation in Australia can be quite pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Get a phone plan — The telephone company Telstra has really improved their service and offers great phone packages that have great coverage throughout the country. Their call/text rates aren’t that high either, so the credit will last you awhile. Vodafone has amazing deals (sometimes better) too but they have more limited coverage around the country.
- Drink goon (box wine) — Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. This cheap box of wine is the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time. Four liters typically costs 13 AUD (compared to a six pack of beer for the same price). Drink this before you go out and save on spending money at the bar (where it is about 10 AUD per drink).
- Cook often — The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible. ALDI is the cheapest supermarket in the country, followed by Coles and then Woolworths (though sometimes you don’t get a choice at which place you can shop it! Some small towns only have one!).
- Book tours as a package — This country has a lot of exciting activities and tours that eat into any budget. Booking activities together through a hostel or tour agency will get you a discount and save you hundreds of dollars as a repeat customer.
- Get free internet — The internet in Australia is painfully slow and expensive (just ask any Australian how they feel about this), but libraries and McDonalds have free WiFi that you can use.
- Work for your room — Many hostels offer travelers the chance to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a free bed. Commitments vary but most hostels ask that you stay for at least a week.
- Save money on rideshares — Uber is way cheaper than taxis and is the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where you can share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Top Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast
- Visit the Q1 — The world’s tallest residential tower is also the only observation deck in Australia by the beach. Clearly recognizable among the many high rises, the landmark Q1 lets you gaze at the length of the coastline, which stretches out as far as the eye can see in both directions. It’s best visited during the day, although bad weather can also be a plus—visitors like to lay out on the floor during thunderstorms to watch lightning strike the Q1’s impressive 97.7 meter spire. The SkyPoint Observation Deck opens daily starting at 7:30am and costs 77 AUD.
- Get off the beach — There is more to the Gold Coast than beaches. Head into the “hinterland” for great rivers, swimming holes, hiking, and parks. During the weekend, you can snap up some local produce at a farmer’s market. For the more adventurous, you can tackle one of the many rainforest walks available on Tamborine Mountain.
- Walk the Burleigh Hill — Make like the locals and stretch your legs along Burleigh’s esplanade before heading around the hill. The track is bordered by lush rainforest on one side and stunning views north to Surfers Paradise and south over Tallebudgera Creek.
- Whale watching — Between June and October, humpback whales make their migratory journey from the Antarctic to warmer waters where they mate and give birth. Later in the season, the whales are on their return journey, swimming with their calves beside them. Also spotted on these cruises are bottlenose dolphins, huge loggerhead turtles, and orcas. Tours start at about 100 AUD.
- Hit the beaches — The region has more than 70 km of fantastic beaches, and Surfers Paradise is home to the “best beach in the world” according to some. Other beaches include Southport, Broadbeach, Nobby’s, and Coolongatta. I personally like Coolongatta the best!
- Learn to surf — It’s isn’t called “Surfers Paradise” for no reason. Up and down the coast, whether in Surfers or another town, you’ll find some of the best surfing in Australia. Even if you don’t know how to surf, you’ll be able to find cheap lessons anywhere along the coast. A 90-minute private lesson starts at 120 AUD, a 2-hour group lesson is 60 AUD.
- Party — “The Goldie” is one of the biggest party destinations in Australia. There are countless bars, clubs, and pub crawls here. Surfer’s Paradise has the biggest nightlife (but not really fun unless you want to get reaaaaaalllly drunk), but Coolangatta is just as good and less touristy (and cheaper).
- The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary — Over 260+ square meters in size, this compound is massive and is host to aviaries, open displays, reptiles, and more. Since there is so much to see, including wildlife presentations held throughout the day, a guided train tour is available with purchase of admission ticket (50 AUD). It’s open daily from 8am-5pm.
- The Infinity Maze — If you are looking to do something that you’ve never done before, the Infinity Maze is an intriguing place to start. This winding walk is filled with funky music, sound effects, and illusions—all you need to do is strap on some cotton gloves and socks and feel your way through. Admission is 27 AUD (but you can save 2 AUD by purchasing ahead of time online). It’s open daily from 10am-10pm.