A Goldie break brings welcome surprises
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