Gold Coast Scenic Drives
The Gold Coast hinterland has some of the best scenic drives in the country, right up there with the Great Ocean Road, Snowy Mountains Highway, Tasmanian west coast and Adelaide Hills.
If you don't want to drive for that long you can of course leave as many sections out as you like - if you've got the time to do it all then you'll see more of the Coast than a lot of locals and you'll have an absolute ball.
- Route 1: The Ultimate Gold Coast scenic drive in a round trip
- Route 2: O'Reilly's and Lamington National Park via Canungra
9am-12pm Surfers Paradise to Mount Tamborine
Make your way to the Gold Coast Highway, head north and you'll be taken through glamorous Main Beach and along the edge of the magnificent Broadwater through Southport, Labrador and Runaway Bay. Watch the yachts cruise and the seagulls glide, sit back and enjoy the ride. There'll be a bit of traffic if you leave on a Saturday morning, but nothing that would compare to a major city. Once you get past Runaway Bay you'll see signs to Sanctuary Cove - head there and have a look around - it's a prestige Golf Course development and a boutique shopping Village and well worth a look we think.
Once you're done, follow the signs to the Pacific Highway and Brisbane - when you're on the Pacific Highway look out for the left hand exit to Mount Tamborine when you get past Dreamworld and then take it. This will lead you out past an area of acreage properties and then up the mountain to Tamborine Village where you'll probably want to spend some time. Head over to North Tamborine and you'll see signs pointing to various bushwalks and National Parks, there are plenty of short strolls around the mountain into gorgeous rainforests. If you're hungry grab some morning tea at a coffee house and then head over to Eagle Heights and back down the Mountain to Nerang, you should arrive in Nerang at about midday.
12pm-3.30pm Nerang to Murwillumbah via Springbrook and Natural Arch
Once you're in Nerang find the Pacific Highway and head south until you see the turnoff to Mudgeeraba. Head through Mudgeeraba and follow the signs to Springbrook. Apart from the green signs telling you the distance to places, you'll also see a lot of yellow signs with curvy lines on them telling you there are plenty of sharp corners, narrow curved wooden bridges, and hairpins. The road up the mountain to Springbrook is safe, but it's not for the faint-hearted, so if you are uneasy just take it slow. If you are a confident driver and have a bit of horsepower under the bonnet you will think you're in heaven.
Once you get to the top head into Springbrook Village there are plenty of lookouts and little shops to keep you interested. When you've looked out to your heart's content head back the way you came, go through the section where the road splits in two and then take the next left. After another five or ten minutes of curves you'll end up at a T intersection, turn left and head towards Numinbah Valley and Natural Arch. It'll be lunch time by now, and there are a few tea houses scattered through the beautiful Numinbah Valley, so grab something to eat.
Once you've refuelled yourself (and any other people travelling with you) keep heading south through the valley and then take the right hand turn to Natural Arch. There's a short bushwalk here to the arch itself, and it's well worth a look.
When you've finished the walk head back to the road that goes through the valley, turn left and follow the signs to Murwillumbah. You'll cross the NSW/Qld border at a mountain pass about five or ten minutes down the road and the view is fantastic. Keep on the same road all the way to Murwillumbah (a decent sized country town on the banks of the Tweed River) and you'll be treated to some amazing changing scenery which begins in temperate rainforest and heads down through farmland, quaint valleys, cute towns and ends up in the sugar cane fields. Follow the signs to the center of Murwillumbah itself and find a pub, you'll need a cold beverage by now.
3.30pm-5pm Murwillumbah to Coolangatta
When you've downed a drink (ensuring you don't exceed the legal driving limit of 0.05) you've got two options to get back to the Gold Coast, which one you take depends on time and how sick of winding roads you are. If you are out of time follow the signs to the freeway and cruise back to Coolangatta at 110km/h along a new and fairly scenic motorway. If you still have plenty of time on your hands and feel like another exhilarating drive (which we highly recommend), head back out the way you came into Murwillumbah, go across the bridge to where you would have turned right after coming through from the Numinbah Valley and keep going straight ahead, following the signs to Currumbin. The road continues through cane fields for about ten minutes and then heads back up into, and over the mountains on the border through banana plantations and rainforest, with some fantastic views across the Tweed Valley all the way to Mount Warning. Keep following the winding road for about 15-25 mins until you get to Currumbin Creek road, turn right and follow the creek all the way back to the traffic lights at the Pacific Highway, turn right and follow the signs to the airport and Coolangatta.
5pm-6pm Coolangatta to Surfers Paradise
Coolangatta sits on a gorgeous blue bay (Rainbow Bay) and if the conditions are right you can ride the same wave for five minutes as it travels the length of the town. Up on the hill you'll cross the border (again) and see the NSW coastline stretch down to Byron Bay and if it's clear you'll see the entire hi rise metropolis of the Gold Coast stretched out before you. When you've finished looking jump back into the car and follow the signs and the Gold Coast highway back up the Coastline to Surfers Paradise, past the famous beachside suburbs of Currumbin, Burleigh, Miami and Broadbeach, eventually ending up where you started.
Tips and hints
- If you complete the drive as outlined above you'll see about as much as you can of the Gold Coast on one tank of fuel, but you can of course do individual sections of the route if you don't want to drive all day.
- Make sure you take water with you in summer as you might get thirsty - you'll never be more than ten minutes away from a town on any part of the route, but it pays to be prepared in case you break down.
- Mobile phones won't work on parts of the route in the mountains around the NSW border and Mount Tamborine.
- You won't find much traffic on the backroads, but look out for cars and motorbikes speeding around corners, the route is a popular scenic drive.
Starting off in Surfers Paradise, follow the signs to Nerang, and then follow the signs to Hinze Dam. You'll get about 5 minutes out of Nerang before you see a turn-off to Mt Tamborine and Canungra on the right hand side, follow it. The road stretches along to a historic river mill on your right hand side and then the turn-off to Henri Roberts Drive which leads up Mount Tamborine on your right. Don't take this turn (unless you want to go up the mountain, which is kind of nice), just follow the road and the signs to Canungra and you'll keep going southwest.
The road leads you along hills and dales and past a few rivers and wineries, all of which are quite scenic. After a few minutes you'll be driving through a more rugged hilly section which makes up the Canungra Army base military training area. There are big signs everywhere saying don't go bushwalking off the road or you might get shot, they're worth heeding. After about ten minutes you'll go past the Canungra army barracks, which are at an intersection, turn right and keep following the signs to Canungra itself, which is a few kilometres further west. Just before you get to the town you'll see signs for a historic tunnel, which looks like a hole in a hill and isn't really worth getting out of the car (or off the bike) for.
Once you're in town it's worth a look around, there are some cute cafes, a small park and a large tudor style pub which is popular with bikers (that's bikers, the enthusiasts who like the windy roads out this way, not bikies). Don't be scared of the pub (even if there are a few dozen large motorcycles parked outside) it's really quite lovely, especially in winter with the fire going.
When you've had enough of a look around, follow the road that the pub is on (it's a left hand turn off the road into Canungra) — you'll see the signs to O'Reilly's, which is a guesthouse at the top of the mountains in Lamington National Park. After about 15 minutes of heading through a pleasant little valley you'll start driving over cattle grids and you'll quickly find yourself on one of the best drivers' (as in people who go driving for the sake of it) roads in southeast Queensland — it's 50km long, windy, smooth, full of single-lane hairpin bends and blind corners and there's magnificent views over the side. If you're fainthearted you might find the road a little daunting, but there's no real danger unless you drive with your eyes closed.
Once you get to the top you'll be in a totally different climate and landscape to the rest of the Gold Coast, the air is greener, the trees are taller; it's a rainforest. O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat has accommodation and is the epicentre for the dozens of amazing bushwalks that head off into the park (including one in the treetops). You can either stay the night, or just re-trace your way back to the Gold Coast. The whole round trip takes about 3 hours if you don't stop, but you'll want to stop. A map of the route appears below (courtesy of O'Reilly's).
Images courtesy Tourism & Events Queensland, Tourism Australia, Destination Gold Coast & Getty Images