Queensland’s Gold Coast on a Budget, an Affordable Beach Break
To do the Gold Coast on a budget requires careful planning. Australia is an expensive destination to visit, regardless of the drop in value of the Aussie dollar, and this vibrant Queensland destination is no exception. But relax: the 300 days a year of sunshine come free!
How To Experience the Gold Coast on A Budget
Getting to the Gold Coast on a Budget
Most international visitors arrive in Sydney or Melbourne and it’s little more than a one-hour and two-hour flight respectively to the Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta, right on the border between New South Wales and Queensland. AirAsia has direct flights to the Gold Coast from many popular Southeast Asian destinations, such as Bangkok, Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Ho Chi Min City. Scoot has similar flights and both airlines have a stop-over en route.
Domestically, Jetstar is the only real budget choice, with prices as low as $AU45 one way from Sydney, while Virgin Australia, which offers better service and much friendlier staff, has flights that can go for twice the price or more.
Another alternative for travellers on a budget is to take a Greyhound Australia bus. If you’re doing a long-term round-Australia trip, you will probably want to stop in at Byron Bay (which we wholeheartedly agree is a good idea). You can take the Greyhound from Sydney directly to Byron (best fare around $AU99), and then after a few days of lazing on the beach, take the Greyhound on to the Gold Coast for $AU24. The complication with this is that you can fly Jetstar from Sydney to Ballina Byron Gateway Airport from AU$55 and do a transfer from Ballina to Byron Bay for AU$20.
Once at the Gold Coast Airport, you need to make a decision about how long you’re staying and how much travelling you’ll be doing on the Gold Coast or further afield. If you are in a group of four you could split the cost of a hire car which you can get for as little as AU$75 a day. If you’re only spending a few days or a weekend on the Gold Coast and plan on using public transport, we recommend you take an airport shuttle and not an expensive taxi. We used Con-X-ion which do transfers for around AU$22.
Getting around the Gold Coast on a Budget
If you’re not going to use a hire car (see the list of hire car companies at the airport here), the Gold Coast public transport system is a great option for getting around. From Southport to Broadbeach the G:LINK light rail is excellent and from here you can use the bus to go further south to the border.
The most convenient way to use the system is to buy a Gold Coast go explore card which gives you unlimited transport around the Gold Coast for AU$10 a day, with big discounts compared to the traditional paper ticket.
Where to Stay on the Gold Coast on a Budget
Our preference will always be holidays rentals if we’re going to be by a beach for more than a few days. Serviced apartments are super convenient for a weekend.
In terms of location, if you’re a first-time visitor to the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise is probably what you’re looking for. If you’re a keen surfer, Coolangatta is probably your best bet. Our current favourite destination on the coast, however, is Burleigh Heads. On our recent trip we fell in love with the laidback vibe, great eating and drinking options, and the walks around the headland.
For short stays also consider motels, which are often overlooked by foreign travellers. Australia has a long tradition of motel holidays. Motels are ideal if you’re doing a road trip and want somewhere cheap and convenient as they all have free parking.
Shop the Markets and Supermarket for Affordable Eating
One of the reasons we love renting apartments is so we can shop the local markets and specialty food stores for fresh local produce. Unfortunately most of the kinds of markets we like are only on during the weekend. See this list of markets on the City of Gold Coast website for details. There are some great providores and produce suppliers, but they’re not really tailored for the budget-conscious, so expect to shop mainly in supermarkets.
Eating Affordably on the Gold Coast
Bakeries are the best for affordable breakfasts, lunches, snacks, or dessert. For lunch and dinner, cafes will be more affordable than restaurants, and many turn the lights down low after dark creating an atmosphere that’s more appealing than some of the best Gold Coast restaurants.
Street food markets have become popular on the Gold Coast, displaying Australia’s wide ethnic mix. This site has a great wrap up of the market foods to try.
One of the most Australian ways to eat affordably is to put together a beachside picnic or enjoy a typical Aussie BBQ. The Gold Coast has more than 380 public barbecues in its parks and reserves, maintained by the City of Gold Coast staff.
Kick Back at the Gold Coast Beaches and Parks
It costs nothing to go to the beach, whether it’s to swim, surf or enjoy a sunrise or sunset walk, and the Gold Coast has over 50 kilometres of them! Our favourites are Burleigh Heads and the Coolangatta beaches of Rainbow Bay and Greenmount.
If you’re not a fan of sand, you can simply stroll alongside the beach. Gold Coast beaches have plenty of wooden boardwalks plus the Gold Coast Oceanway Network features a 36-kilometre pathway that begins at Gold Coast Seaway and extends to the Point Danger Lighthouse. Broken into nine segments, the Oceanway provides a coastal guide for each segment that highlights not-to-miss sights along the way.
Take a Hike and Go Bush on the Gold Coast
Kick back in a Gold Coast park, go bushwalking or hiking, or take in the scenery from a tree top walk or lookout. If you only have time for one make it the O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk. While the Gold Coast strip is known for its beaches, the green spaces with their walking trails are just as impressive. Check out this list of natural area bushwalks.
Snack: Aussie Fast Food and Beach Picnics
After a morning surf or swim, meat pies, sausage rolls and burgers used to be the refuelling staples of the locals. While some go for the healthy options these days, when we’re back home in Australia we still love to grab a pie and sausage roll and slather them with tomato sauce, for reasons of nostalgia as much as anything. But Aussie fast food is fantastic if you’re eating your way along the Gold Coast on a budget. Here’s a great link to a list of the Gold Coast’s best pies and sausage rolls. Refuelling after a late morning surf always meant a classic burger for me. Check out this link to the Gold Coast’s best burgers. Late afternoon by the beach is all about fish and chips. Tip: don’t forget the condiments in the little plastic packets. In the old days they gave them away but these days you seem to have to ask for them and pay. We like tartar sauce for seafood, tomato sauce for the chips, and lemon and salt for the fish. Here’s a link to a list for the best fish and chips on the Gold Coast. Just watch out for those pesky seagulls who definitely know what you’re snacking on and will swoop in for a sneak attack!
Get Cultured on the Gold Coast
It’s probably the last thing you’d think of doing on the outdoorsy Gold Coast, however, keep in mind that this is the sub-tropics and it does rain. The Gold Coast has some great art galleries. The best is the Gold City City Gallery, which also hosts plenty of arts and cultural events, as well as theatre, performance, film, concerts, and musicals, some of which are free. More info here.
Hit the Pub for Cheap Beers and a Counter Meal
While at night we love a decent cocktail and microbrewery beers, the appeal of the Aussie beer garden on a sunny afternoon when the wind’s turned onshore and the surf is rubbish is compelling — and the beers are way cheaper than places where the bartenders are called mixologists.
There are so many along the Gold Coast stretch it really depends where you are staying. But whatever you do, don’t end up in a dark, dank Irish pub without a garden — you’re on the Gold Coast, not in Dublin!
Get down to a Surf Life Saving Club
Our best tip for travellers doing the Gold Coast on a budget? Head to one of the surf life saving clubs for a couple of drinks and a meal, and some local colour. They are terrific places for connecting with locals if you’re into beach culture and they’re also great for cheap food and drinks. Located slap bang on the beach, they also offer brilliant sea views. Our favourite is the Rainbow Bay SLSC with AU$10 dinner specials (Mon-Thu), fresh oysters for AU$25 a dozen, and the Rainbow Seafood Basket with battered fish, tempura prawns, salt and pepper calamari, with caper mayo and chips for AU$23.90. Classic Aussie casual dining, which also means last orders at 8pm!
Have you got any tips for experiencing the Gold Coast on a budget for travellers heading to Australia? Feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments below.