TRAVEL

A Goldie break brings wel­come sur­prises

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - CONTENTS - star.com.au/gold­coast

Dark­ness is fall­ing as we traipse along the Gold Coast High­way, eerily quiet for this time of a Sun­day night, the fi­nal day of the Com­mon­wealth Games. The brightly lit tow­ers of the glit­ter strip wink be­hind us as we en­ter the Goldie of the ’70s – sparse low-rise, fast food joints, an adult shop, tat­too par­lour. My teenager shuf­fles a lit­tle closer and won­ders aloud whether I have the Mer­maid Beach ad­dress down cor­rectly as we stop and dou­ble back. Could this build­ing, fronted by a firmly closed and slightly bat­tered wooden slid­ing door lit with a sin­gle red lantern with Asian sig­nage and an up­per level em­bla­zoned in lights with “Mas­sage”, be the place we’re looking for – or some­thing else en­tirely? Fi­nally, em­bold­ened by hunger, I slide back the heavy door to find a bar and restau­rant qui­etly hum­ming with con­ver­sa­tion, a two-piece band warm­ing up and a wel­com­ing smile on the face of the wait­ress. Who knew the Gold Coast could do un­der­state­ment so well?

The cryptic en­try to Etsu Iza­kaya, its cool den-like in­te­rior, in-the-know crowd and mu­sic by lo­cal duo Free the Ge­nie, with their ro­bot drum­mer, tells me the Gold Coast is still ca­pa­ble of sur­prise. It will al­ways be jus­ti­fi­ably fa­mous for its beaches – is there a more glo­ri­ous stretch of sand in the world? – but the Gold Coast has di­ver­si­fied and a big part of that is around its food scene.

From the stand-out staff at Burleigh’s The Fish House to Broad­beach’s so­phis­ti­cated So­cial Eat­ing House and Bar, the afore­men­tioned Etsu Iza­kaya and a host of bars and cafes, it was a week­end of many hits and few misses – a sen­tence I would have been un­able to write even five years ago, when you had to search far and

wide for some­where spe­cial to dine.

The vibe this week­end is re­laxed and wel­com­ing: the place is thick with po­lice and se­cu­rity to cor­ral Com­mon­wealth Games crowds but it’s all done with a smile and such good hu­mour that you find your­self crack­ing jokes with cops wear­ing the ridicu­lous blue fluffy ears of Borobi the mas­cot.

The theme con­tin­ues at our ho­tel, The Star Grand, where the front-of-house staff seem to ooze joy at just be­ing here. It’s con­ta­gious. Wan­der­ing along the beach, swim­ming in the surf, loung­ing in a cush­ioned ca­bana around the ho­tel pool, en­joy­ing a treat­ment at its Azure Spa and then stag­ger­ing back to our room and div­ing into the most com­fort­able beds, we’re over­come with a sense of well­be­ing.

We head down to the ho­tel’s out­door “cel­e­bra­tion lawn”, a spe­cial precinct with mu­sic, food and drink stalls plus big screens to watch the sport. There’s a casino on these premises but you wouldn’t know it if you weren’t looking for it; the lawn is packed with the beau­ti­ful set and there are fam­i­lies here too, teenagers re­clin­ing in bean­bags, tod­dlers pad­ding about un­der­foot.

Each morn­ing the ris­ing sun beck­ons us down to the beach and on our fi­nal morn­ing we ex­plore fur­ther afield on bikes delivered to the ho­tel by Beach Bikes Gold Coast. This strip is made for cy­cling and our ride is in per­fect blue-sky weather: Broad­beach, Mer­maid Beach, Nobby Beach, Mi­ami Beach to Burleigh – if I could do this every day I’d look as re­laxed and fit as every­one else out here cy­cling and run­ning, swim­ming and surf­ing.

For our fi­nal night it’s up to Nine­teen, sit­ting atop The Star’s new ac­com­mo­da­tion tower, The Dar­ling, to sur­vey things from a height. For any re­gion that has taken on a ma­jor, and ex­pen­sive, event like the Com­mon­wealth Games, the word “legacy” is oft-re­peated by of­fi­cials keen to as­sure tax­pay­ers that their hard­earned hasn’t been sunk into a se­ries of white ele­phants.

This is a place where money talks and Uber driv­ers are keen to point out lo­cal projects, reel­ing off facts and fig­ures that bog­gle the mind: that’s Ruby, a $1 bil­lion re­sort in Surfers Paradise that will even­tu­ally con­sist of four tow­ers; the $1.2 bil­lion, 89-storey Spirit is ris­ing over there; that’s Jewel, a $970 mil­lion five-star ho­tel and res­i­dence. The Star has seen its own $345 mil­lion up­grade and the ad­di­tion of The Dar­ling.

If only a frac­tion of the 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide es­ti­mated to have watched the Com­mon­wealth Games feel mo­ti­vated to visit, the con­fi­dence in­vested in these new fa­cil­i­ties will be richly rewarded. The Gold Coast has had its ups and downs, but right now it seems to be def­i­nitely on the up.

Per­fect for: Cou­ples, fam­i­lies – any­one who likes ev­ery­thing at their fin­ger­tips. There’s the Azure Spa and Fit­ness Cen­tre for a work­out, sauna or treat­ment, 11 restau­rants, cafes and bars, a large pool fa­cil­ity – and for those who like a flut­ter, the gam­bling floor.

Must do: Walk or hire a bike (bike­hire­gold­coast.com.au); the paths and views are un­beat­able. See the coast from a yacht with Crys­tal Blue Yacht Char­ters (crys­tal­bluey­achtchar­ters.com.au).

Dining: Kiy­omi and Cucina Vivo are favourites at The Star; in Broad­beach, So­cial Eat­ing House; in Surfers, try Seas­cape Restau­rant + Bar; in Burleigh, The Fish House.

Get­ting there: The Star is at Casino Drive, Broad­beach, about an hour’s drive from Bris­bane and 30 min­utes from Gold Coast Air­port near Coolan­gatta.

Bottom Line: Su­pe­rior deluxe room from $598 per night.

Cool: clock­wise, Star Grand pool; bik­ing; Etsu Iza­kaya; su­pe­rior deluxe room

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