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Hidden Gems

Hidden Gems of Brisbane & Australia’s Gold Coast

When you think of visiting Australia, Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef often come to mind. But if you’re going to Australia, you won’t want to miss the city of Brisbane and the Gold Coast. In this segment from season four of The Travel Detective, Peter Greenberg shares his hidden gems of Australia’s Gold Coast and Brisbane.

Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, is located in the southeastern part of the state on the Brisbane River. The city was established in 1824 as Australia’s second penal colony, and was later opened to free settlers in 1842. During World War II, it became the main Allied headquarters in the South Pacific, and dramatically grew due to the combination of industry and an influx of Australian and American servicemen.


One of the best ways to see Brisbane is at sea level on the Brisbane River. It is 214 miles long and splits the city in two: skyline on one side and mangroves and the river walk on another. You can rent a kayak here for an hour and a half for about $28. Or you can paddle out with one of their guides, for an insider’s view of Brisbane from the water.

Another great way to see Brisbane, which is also totally free, is with Brisbane Greeters. This program will pair you with one of 200 local greeters—volunteers to show you the city through the eyes of someone who lives there.

Most people have heard of the Sydney Bridge Climb. But what many people don’t know is that Brisbane has a bridge climb of its own. The Story Bridge opened in 1940 and is Australia’s longest cantilever bridge. For one of the best views in Brisbane, you’ll want to suit up and climb up.

Gold Coast

About an hour south of Brisbane, you’ll find another hidden gem. Unsurprisingly, this is a favorite holiday destination for Australians for a good reason. With 35 miles of white sand beaches, as well as ancient rain forests, it should be on your radar. Most first-time visitors end up at Surfers Paradise, the unofficial capital of the Gold Coast. But smart travelers get to see it in a different way: by hopping on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, with one of the riders from Wildfire Tours. It’s a great introduction to Australia’s sixth largest city.

For a wild adventure of another kind, check out the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. It was originally established as a bird sanctuary in 1947 by local farmer and beekeeper Alex Griffiths. Griffiths would feed the local lorikeet population a special food mixture to keep the birds from destroying his flowers. To this day, huge flocks of rainbow lorikeets arrive twice a day to eat, attracting huge crowds who take part in feeding the birds.

In 1995, the bird refuge was renamed the “Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary,” and today it’s home not just to birds, but crocodiles, Tasmanian devils, as well as some of the most popular residents—koalas and kangaroos! You can cuddle with koalas and feed some very friendly kangaroos. The best part is that you not only get to spend time with some of Australia’s most iconic animals, but you’re also doing good! The proceeds from the sanctuary go to the neighboring animal hospital, which treats sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife animals.

If you’re looking to escape the crowds at Surfers Paradise, there’s a hidden gem that— believe it or not—is less than a five-minute walk away. It’s Budd’s Beach, and when you get here, you’ll likely have the beach all to yourself. The water is calm and warm, making it the perfect place to try something new, like paddleboarding.

If you’re looking for something a little less active but a lot more social, you should try your hand at Lawn Bowls. Played in Australia since the mid 1800s, bowls is a competitive game performed on a bowling green with a weighted ball and players dressed in traditional all-white clothing. But there are many social clubs where you can come dressed as you are, even if you aren’t wearing shoes.

Tamborine Mountain

Travel west from the Gold Coast, and you’ll find mountains, subtropical rainforests, and waterfalls in the hinterlands. You’re only an hour from the beach in the place known as “the Green Behind the Gold” or Tamborine Mountain. It’s the remnant of an ancient volcano. It will take you only about 45 minutes to walk along the bridges and through the subtropical rainforest. So it’s something you can easily do, as long as you’re not afraid of heights.

Before you leave Tamborine Mountain, check out the antique shops, wineries, and galleries in nearby Witches Falls. But if you’d rather just take it easy, how about a relaxing massage at Witches Falls Cottages? However, this spa treatment may not be so relaxing, because it celebrates all things coffee: from massage oil, to the body scrub, and even a face mask—all infused with Australia’s favorite caffeinated beverage.

Lamington National Park

In the southern part of the hinterlands, you’ll find Lamington National Park. It’s a part of a World Heritage Area that includes the most extensive section of subtropical rainforest in the world. While you’re there, consider spending the night in the Australian bush. Sure, you can camp if you want to, but if you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, try glamping. At Nightfall Wilderness Camp, you can spend the night in a luxury safari tent in the Lost World at the edge of Lamington Park. You may be in the woods, but you won’t be roughing it. You’ll enjoy organic creekside meals after a long day on the hiking trails, and you can soak in one of the vintage French bathtubs to relax your sore muscles. In fact, you might actually need it because visiting Brisbane and the Gold Coast isn’t just a vacation, it’s an adventure!

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By the Peter Greenberg Worldwide team for