1 The Beach
Life on the Gold Coast really is a beach. The local culture revolves around surf, sand and sunshine. And with 70km of coastline, more than 40 patrolled beaches and 300-plus sunny days a year, it's easy to understand why. The tricky bit is figuring out which beach is best. Surfers Paradise was nominated as the World's Best Beach by The Travel Channel, but it really depends on what you've got in mind. If romantic walks are your thing, avoid the crowds and sink your toes into the powdery white sand of Nobby's Beach, five minutes' drive south of Surfers, and famous for its sunsets. If you've got kids, you may prefer the calm waters of Rainbow Bay, on the Queensland-New South Wales state border, voted the region's cleanest beach in 2002. Prefer peace and privacy? Then jump on a ferry from Runaway Bay Marina for the 20-minute trip to nearby South Stradbroke Island. And if surfing is your passion, take your board to Kirra Point, just north of Coolangatta, to catch the breakers.
2 Gold Coast Hinterland
Known as 'the green behind the gold', the mountainous hinterland offers 100,000 hectares of World Heritage-listed nature reserves just 30 minutes' drive from the beaches. With the greatest biodiversity in Australia, it's the perfect place to unwind and do a little communing with friendly rainforest creatures. Rent a car in Surfers Paradise or join a tour operator, such as CB Tours (tel: 61 410 611 589, www.cbtours.com), and let a local show you around. Either way, don't miss Natural Bridge, with its brilliant glow-worm colony. After being awed by the country's largest preserved stand of subtropical rainforest, including 4,000-year-old Antarctic beach trees, in Lamington National Park, stop for lunch at O'Reilly's Rainforest Guesthouse (tel: 61 7 5544 0644, ww.oreillys.com.au). Then get your boots on and hike some of the 260km of graded walking tracks, ranging from the easy 2km Treetop Walk in Lamington to full-fledged treks to Mount Merino, Coomera Gorge and Elabana Fall, which can take several days.
Each year from June to November, the Gold Coast's balmy waters are host to some of Mother Nature's most graceful and playful creatures. There's always plenty of tail-slapping, fin-waving and breaching as humpbacks, orcas, minkes and southern right whales pass by on their annual migration from the Antarctic to their breeding grounds off the east coast of Australia. Get close enough to count the barnacles on the belly of a 45-tonne humpback with a Spirit of the Bay cruise (tel: 61 7 5527 6400, www.spiritofthebay.com.au). Or grab a pair of binoculars and head to Burleigh Headland or Point Danger at the southern end of the Gold Coast and watch the whales from dry land.
4 The Fun Parks
The Gold Coast boasts four world-class theme parks to get the adrenalin pumping. At Dreamworld (www.dreamworld.com.au) you can cuddle a koala or a kangaroo then freefall backwards from the 38-storey Tower of Terror thrill ride. It is one of the tallest, fastest rides in the world, reaching a top speed of 161km/h in just seven seconds as you plunge from a 115m tower. Movie World (www.movieworld.com.au) guarantees an action-packed dollop of Gollywood - Hollywood on the Gold Coast. Its latest attraction is the Scooby-Doo Spooky Coaster indoor rollercoaster. At Sea World (www.seaworld.com.au) you can swim with dolphins or chill with a family of polar bears. At the Wet'n'Wild Water World (www.wetnwild.com.au) you can slide down the Double Screamer, plunge in a giant inner tube over Mammoth Falls, and catch a movie at the 'dive-in', a cinema in a pool. Yes, it's all unabashedly touristy, but it's fun.
(Dreamworld, Pacific Motorway, Coomera; adults A$56 [HK$280], children A$36 [HK$180]. Movie World, Pacific Motorway, Oxenford, adults A$56, children A$36. Sea World, Sea World Drive, The Spit, Main Beach, adults A$56, children A$36. Wet'n'Wild Water World, Pacific Motorway, Oxenford, adults A$35, children A$22).
5 The Indy Carnival
Every October the Gold Coast enjoys a full-blown bout of Indy fever. From October 23-26, the city will go into non-stop party mode as 50 social and entertainment events lead up to the Indy 300 Champ Car Race (www.indy.com.au), 65 laps of the 4.47km track through the streets of Surfers Paradise. While motor-sports enthusiasts will lap it up, there are plenty of side attractions: lavish street parades, beach parties, gala balls, stunt shows, air shows and more. If you prefer your horse power to be of the equine variety, the Magic Millions Carnival (www.magicmillions.com.au) at the Gold Coast Turf Club is one of Australia's richest and most exciting horse-racing events. Next year it will be held from January 3-12. (Racecourse Drive, Bundall.)
6 Conrad Jupiters
When the sun goes down and you're up for a night on the town, I've got two words for you: Conrad Jupiters. Sample contemporary Queensland cuisine at the award-winning Charters Towers Restaurant, then boogie into Jupiters Theatre and feast your eyes on Storm, a gratifyingly over-the-top, Las Vegas-style stage show featuring enough glitz to power a small Pacific nation. Pop into the ever-popular Atrium Bar for a cocktail or three, then, if you're game, venture into Jupiters Casino for a spot of craps and mini baccarat. Later, gather up your winnings (if you've been lucky) and shout yourself a luxurious suite in the on-site Jupiters Hotel. (Broadbeach Island, Broadbeach, tel: 61-7-5592 8100, www.conrad.com.au)
7 Tedder Avenue
Tedder Avenue at Main Beach is where the beautiful people come to sip lattes and eat brunch alfresco at swanky restaurants. It manages to be both chic and laid-back, making time spent on the avenue preposterously pleasurable. The cuisine is avant-garde Australian, Asian or Mediterranean, the dress code smart-casual. Batteries recharged, take a peek at nearby ritzy hotel Palazzo Versace, all Medusa heads and glitz, embodying the over-the-top fashion aesthetic of Gianni himself. (Sea World Drive, Main Beach, tel: 61 7 5509 8000, www.palazzoversace.com.au).
8 Pacific Fair
The Gold Coast has 3,500 shops - that's one for every 105 residents. It also has the greatest concentration of duty-free stores in Australia. Give your credit card a workout at Pacific Fair (Hooker Boulevard, Broadbeach, tel: 61 7 5539 8766, www.pacificfair.com.au), Queensland's largest shopping centre. There you'll find enormous department stores, speciality shops, lakeside cafes and dazed-looking husbands. If bargain-hunting puts pep in your step, try the nearby Carrara Weekend Markets (Nerang-Broadbeach Road, Carrara, tel: 61 7 5579 9388, www.carrara-markets.com.au). Brave crowds of more than 25,000 people cluster around the 500 stalls selling everything from handmade craftwork and leather goods to clothes, plants and fresh produce.
9 Four Winds Revolving Restaurant
Seafood blow-outs have been a staple of the Gold Coast for millennia. Aborigines once gathered on local beaches for inter-tribal feasts of twitchingly fresh shellfish. Relive the experience, 21st-century-style, at the Four Winds Revolving Restaurant, high atop the Crowne Plaza Hotel (2807 Gold Coast Highway, Surfers Paradise, tel: 61-7-5592 9900, www.surfersparadise.crowneplaza.com). There you'll discover a sumptuous, all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of local seafood, Asian cuisine and award-winning wines while feasting the eyes on multi-million-dollar views. One complete revolution (which takes about 70 minutes) parades a bewitching backdrop of deep-blue sea, verdant mountains and silvery skyscrapers.
10 Tiger Moth Joy Rides
Take to the skies for a scenic joy ride in a vintage Tiger Moth. For an even bigger thrill, opt for the aerobatic flight, barrel rolls, loop-the-loops, and flying upside-down above Surfers Paradise. For a more leisurely approach, take a one-hour early morning hot-air balloon flight with Balloon Aloft, followed by a champagne breakfast. (Tiger Moth, tel: 61 7 5502 7855, www.tigermothjoyrides.com.au; A$140 for 30 minutes; Aerobatic Thrill Seekers Ride A$215 for 35 minutes. Balloon Aloft, tel: 61 7 5593 3291, www.balloonaloft.com: adults A$245, children A$175).