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Enjoying a fantastic family getaway is child’s play with these great kids activities on the Gold Coast. Think fun for them, a little luxury for you and loads of activities to keep everyone entertained. With plenty of great things to see and do, you’ll find adventures to suit every age and budget up and down the Gold Coast.

Getting around the Gold Coast

If you’re flying into Gold Coast International Airport, you can catch a public bus, shuttle bus, taxi, or an Uber to your hotel. Driving from Brisbane takes around an hour. Trains from Brisbane to the Gold Coast run every half hour or so and stop at Helensvale station. From here, the G:link tram takes you as far south as Broadbeach. Surfside Buslines travel throughout the Gold Coast. A ‘Gold Coast go explore’ pass costs A$10 a day for adults and A$5 for children for unlimited bus and tram travel, including Theme Park Express buses and travel to and from Gold Coast airport to your hotel.

Where to stay with kids on the Gold Coast

There’s a lot more to the Gold Coast than the glitz and glamour of Surfers Paradise, although this holiday hotspot is ideal if you’re travelling with older kids. Where you should stay all comes down to what kind of holiday you’re after and how old your children are. The southern end of the coast near the New South Wales border has a low-key barefoot beach vibe, kid-friendly beaches and pram-friendly walks. Broadbeach has a thriving dining scene and plenty of self-contained accommodation. Or you could head for the hills and explore the lush landscape, waterfalls and wilderness of Lamington National Park.

Surfers Paradise Beach
Surfers Paradise Beach

Gold Coast with a baby

If you’re flying direct you’ll arrive at the southern end of the Gold Coast, making this the perfect spot for a getaway with little ones minus the long transit to and from the airport. You can even base yourself at the airport at the shiny new Rydges Gold Coast Airport Hotel which is just a few steps from the terminal and a five minute walk to the beach. Rooms are contemporary and appealing and the hotel hits the mark for quality and bang for buck. With international visitor numbers still low, there are some amazing deals to be had. If you would prefer self-contained accommodation, there are plenty of apartments along Marine Parade at Coolangatta or you could stay in one of the affordable cabins at the Kirra Beach Tourist Park.

Kick off your day with coffee at a beachside café and a stroll along the paved walkway which runs alongside the beach. Start at the end of Coolangatta Beach at Greenmount Hill, a 30 metre high headland covered with pine trees and lush, green foliage, which forms a picturesque border between Coolangatta and sleepy Rainbow Bay. The pram-friendly path winds around the headland towards Snapper Rocks where you can watch the surfers, and continues to Froggy’s Beach where a large rock has been painted to look like a frog. Froggy has been there for at least 30 years. Boogie boarders come to Froggy’s for the tight, curling waves which they often share with a pod of playful dolphins.

Walk from Coolangatta to Rainbow Bay

If you want to stock up on supplies, The Strand shopping complex at Coolangatta has everything you need including cinemas, day spas, dining options galore, and several supermarkets. Coolangatta also has two patrolled swimming spots, a great kid’s playground, and a shady stretch of sand at the southern end of the beach where kids can play in the paddling pools which form at low tide. For a fun day out, head to nearby Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary which has been operating for more than 70 years and still has the world’s largest collection of Australian native wildlife. Feeding the colourful lorikeets is as popular now as it was back in the 50s but the sanctuary has since added many new attractions. Get up close to kangaroos and koalas, watch the entertaining WildSkies bird show and see rare animals like lemurs, cotton-top tamarins, red pandas, and iguanas. Established in 1947, this is one of the Gold Coast’s oldest attractions and considered so important that it’s owned by the National Trust.

Feeding lorikeets
Feeding the lorikeets

O’Reilly’s during the school holidays

Lamington National Park’s rugged appeal encourages people to step out of their comfort zone, something that is a great confidence builder for kids. The national park has two sections — Green Mountains (also known as O’Reilly’s) and Binna Burra — filled with beautiful bushwalks, native animals and fun activities during the school holidays. The best way to experience this historic World Heritage area is to stay overnight, either at one of the campgrounds, in a safari tent which sleeps up to six or at the historic O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. Many families skip the traditional guesthouse at O’Reilly’s in favour of a self-contained villa with valley views and a balcony hot tub that is the perfect spot to relax after the kids have gone to bed.

Nearby there is a children’s wading area and infinity pool or the grown-ups can lose themselves at the Lost World Spa for an hour or two while the kids learn how to be Eco Rangers. This popular school holiday program for children aged 5-12 runs from 9am to 12pm and 5.30pm to 8pm and includes fun activities such as creating rainforest artworks and a campfire cookout. The surrounding bushland is filled with the jewel-bright colours of crimson rosellas and magnificent green and red king-parrots which fly down to be hand fed or you could walk through the rainforest one night to spot glow worms. It’s free to bounce along the treetop canopy walk and – if you’re game – climb to the top of the 30 metre high observation deck where you can gaze across green valleys and treetops which seem to stretch on forever. 

O'Reilly's Treetop walk
Treetop walk at O’Reilly’s

However, nothing beats the excitement of flying through the air on a ziplining tour surrounded by national park. Once everyone has climbed into their safety harness, it’s a race to the top of Happy Hill, so called because of all the excited screams that echo around it during the tour. Depending on how busy the tour is (and how fast you can get to the top of Happy Hill), it is possible to squeeze in up to five zips during this tour which combines epic views of Moran Creek with a rush of adrenalin. Finish your day with a hearty dinner at O’Reilly’s. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a table near the outdoor ‘possum perch’ where nocturnal marsupials of every shape and size clamber down the branches to feast on cut up fruit.

Surfers Paradise with teens

The old saying ‘don’t knock it until you’ve tried it’ has never been so true when you visit Surfers Paradise with teens. While you might not be as excited as your kids about visiting the world’s largest Timezone filled with 5,000 sqm of games, rides, and things that go ‘bing’, you will probably be surprised by just much fun you have. For something more peaceful, soaring over the hinterland in a Gold Coast hot air balloon at sunrise is a memorable experience (so is getting a teen up at 4am). If you aren’t keen on such an early start, the Gold Coast whale watching season runs from June to November. Whales in Paradise tours depart from a jetty in the heart of Surfers Paradise and offer complimentary coffee and cake and a whale sighting guarantee. If you don’t see whales, you can do another cruise for free.

Boy hot air ballooning
Our teenage son loved hot air ballooning

Go indoor skydiving at iFLY Gold Coast, snap super selfies at ArtVo Illusions or swap the beach for the clouds on Australia’s highest external building walk, the SkyPoint Climb, atop the Gold Coast skyscraper Q1. If you aren’t feeling quite that daring, the much tamer glass-enclosed viewing area is a great spot to watch the sunset. Surfers Paradise is home to one of Queensland’s most famous beaches where you can swim, learn to surf or take a family photo under the Surfers Paradise sign. Plenty of non-beach-related action can be found around Cavill Avenue and the Cavill Mall, a pedestrian-only precinct lined with restaurants, fast food outlets, shops, and entertainment options. Whether you’re on a budget or not, enjoying takeaway at a picnic table overlooking the beach is hard to beat. The Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets take place along the beachfront on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights from 4pm. Live entertainment and the market’s central location create an upbeat vibe and great people watching opportunities.

SkyPoint Climb Suites and Harnesses

With a dazzling array of accommodation available at Surfers Paradise, you’ll find the perfect spot for your family to lay their heads. The Oaks Gold Coast Hotel is located between Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise and offers spacious refurbished apartments that will impress budget-conscious parents and their teens. Two bedroom ocean view apartments have a sweeping view of the sparkling lights of Surfers Paradise and not one, but three, balconies. Two have ocean views while the third overlooks the Gold Coast Broadwater. If you’re looking for an upmarket resort-style stay, JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa has a waterfall tumbling into the pool, multiple spas, a regular swimming pool and its own saltwater lagoon where you can snorkel with tropical fish and soak up the sun.

JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa
JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa

Gold Coast theme park survival guide

The Gold Coast is Australia’s theme park capital with four different ‘worlds’ to explore – Dreamworld, WhiteWater World, Sea World, and Warner Bros. Movie World – plus Wet’n’Wild which is Australia’s biggest waterpark. Before you choose which theme park to visit, check out the maps, rides and show times online and ask everyone in the family what they would like to do. Get your measuring tape out too. Now is the best time to break it to younger (or shorter) kids that they won’t be able to go on some rides. Bring your swimmers even if you’re visiting in winter but leave any with rivets, studs, or zips which can damage waterslides at home or you might not be allowed to ride. Buying tickets online in advance saves money and visiting mid-week avoids the crowds, especially during the school holidays. We’ve more tips for your Gold Coast theme park visit as well.

Disclosure: The writer loves visiting the Gold Coast with her son. It doesn’t matter how old (or young) your kids are, it’s easy to have a great holiday here.

Looking for some Gold Coast accommodation? Read our reviews of the Hilton Surfers Paradise, Oaks Calypso Plaza, The Darling, Surfers Paradise Marriott, Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, The Star Grand, voco Gold Coast, Wyndham Hotel Surfers Paradise, AVANI Broadbeach Gold Coast Residences, Rydges Gold Coast Airport, Oaks Gold Coast Hotel, JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa, and the retro La Costa Motel. If you’re visiting the Gold Coast, don’t miss our Ultimate Guide to the Gold Coast.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.