Gold Coast goes far deeper than its glitzy image
For a landlubber more accustomed to fishing and swimming in the Nerang River than traversing it, being at the wheel of an actual vessel initially brings to mind visions of the SS Minnow's ill-fated three-hour tour.
Luckily it turns out the hire boat requires absolutely no previous experience to pilot, and while myself and the first, second and third mates, all on a weekend family break from Brisbane, might be fish out of water, at least we stay that way.
A boat trip through the waterways and canals on a glorious blue sky Gold Coast autumn day can offer a different view of the beachside strip to the stereotypical kilometres of golden sands and surfing breaks as well as the feeling of having tried something different.
With Easter school holidays looming, a Gold Coast getaway would seem just the tonic for pandemic-weary Queenslanders.
When it comes to accommodation, do you go north or south, or somewhere in between?
The Goldy's "Glitter Strip" tag is inspired by the bright lights and always-on vibe of Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach.
But while they're no less sophisticated than their northern neighbours - with their fair share of cafes, craft breweries and deluxe accommodation - residents of the southern Gold Coast will tell you their pace of life is slower, and they offer a chillaxed alternative to the hustle and bustle, along with world-famous surfing hot spots of their own.
As the gateway to the south, Burleigh Heads has lately been feeling the tug between the two sides as development creeps inexorably down the coast.
While the area still boasts a lush headland and laid-back vibe, more trendy cafes and restaurants have sprung up alongside the longstanding op shops and book exchanges.
These include Maman Bar & Kitchen, an upscale laneway eatery specialising in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare, and Tarte Bakery & Cafe, from the proprietors who brought you Paddock.
New apartment buildings are proliferating, and there are supercar (McLaren and Lamborghini) and superstar (Hollywood director Ron Howard) sightings that were previously the preserve of the trendy Broadbeach precinct.
A "Trams outta Burleigh" sticker on a James St ATM is one of the few outward signs of conflict, as locals wrestle with the implications of the light rail network extending into their part of the world.
But the area retains its lifestyle, and family-friendly accommodation such as Swell Resort offers well-appointed digs a couple of streets back from - but within view of - famous Burleigh Beach.
While the kids enjoy the requisite pool and tennis court, grown-ups can take advantage of Club Burleigh's handy location on the ground floor.
Not far up the road, near the established hipster haven of Nobby Beach, you'll find Miami Marketta, an indoor-outdoor night market offering the obligatory array of international cuisine along with craft brews and entertainment on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The kids make a play for the pizza and noodles while we adults tuck into the brisket.
From Burleigh it's easy to explore both the northern and southern reaches of the tourist enclave.
While the Gold Coast is famous for its kilometres of world-class surfing beaches, on the flip side is the Broadwater, Nerang River and its associated network of canals.
In addition to day cruises and powerboat rides, a recently introduced ferry service has made the river accessible to more. Then there are innumerable jet ski and boat hire options.
We visit Duffy Down Under, which offers low-powered but highly manoeuvrable whisper-quiet electric vessels catering for up to 12 people, that can be piloted by anyone, even the kids (under-16s must be supervised), with no licence required - or skippered, if you prefer.
This offers an adventure as well as a unique perspective on some of the city's most opulent mansions, as well as local landmarks from The Southport School and Southport Golf Club to the newish Home of the Arts.
For a shopping or dining sojourn consider stopping off at Capri on via Roma on the Isle of Capri, which boasts free mooring as well as retail and dining including the high-class Edgewater restaurant.
For the artistically inclined, there's no shortage of cultural activities on offer on the Goldy, from music festivals to the recent Beyond the Sands arts festival showcasing sand sculpture among other media, along with performance art.
The Gold Coast is also the theme park capital of Australia, with longstanding attractions such as Sea World, Dreamworld and Movie World joined by newcomers like Top Golf. But one of the longest-running such attractions is also one of the most eco-friendly.
Since 1947 Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary has been home to a veritable menagerie of birdlife, mammals and reptiles. It now covers nearly 30ha of bushland and is well suited to younger and older visitors, with walking tracks and an abundance of shade in its lush green setting.
While it provides a vital service to wildlife, to stay relevant to tourists it must continually reinvent itself, and the park recently added the Lost Valley attraction, a 2ha rainforest habitat that transports you back into prehistory and the Gondwana super continent. You can even play the Lost Valley interactive game on the park's smartphone app.
In Lost Valley you'll meet an array of specimens, from the cassowary to the capybara, a giant guinea pig with webbed feet native to South America. Jerry, Elaine and George are the resident trio, and their friendly temperament is a hit with the kids for the obligatory feeding and photo "encounter".
Another new animal encounter is the even more recently introduced koala breakfast, in which you can chow down on your choice of fare while a fuzzy marsupial munches leaves nearby. Of course there are also petting, feeding and photo opportunities with the Aussie icon.
The writer was a guest of Destination Gold Coast
BOOK IT NOW
Swell Resort, from $280pn
Miami Marketta, free entry
Duffy Down Under from $165
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, $39.95pp or annual pass from $65
Originally published as Coast with the most is right on our doorstep