Parks and recreation
To discover the real Gold Coast, put on your walking shoes
1. Centaur Memorial and Remembrance Walk: Straddling the border between Queensland and NSW at Point Danger is the imposing Centaur Memorial, also the starting point for a short walk. Few tourists know of this windbattered edifice, occupying a rugged headland named by Captain Cook when his ship Endeavour almost ran aground on reefs near here in 1770.
These waters are familiar with tragedy. In 1943, north of this point, 268 people perished when a Japanese submarine torpedoed a hospital ship, AHS Centaur. Loss of life off the Australian coast was surprisingly common in World War II. Plaques erected on the headland’s fence commemorate 41 navy or merchant ships sunk near our shores by marauding Japanese and German vessels.
This uncomfortable fact was a wartime secret, withheld from the public to protect morale. A booklet available from the Point Danger Volunteer Marine Rescue kiosk proves informative for anyone viewing the plaques.
It’s so sobering that a scenic walk feels in order. Step down to Duranbah Beach, where carefree surfers seem to symbolise hardwon freedom. Near here, the Tweed River surges boisterously through breakwaters but achieves its characteristic calm by Jack Evans Boat Harbour. This is a good point to turn and head for arty Cafe D’Bar opposite Point Danger. Judging by the lunchtime invasion, this restaurant is definitely no secret. More: bigvolcano. com.au; cafedbar.com.au. 2. Tweed River Art Gallery: Built in 2004 on elevated land donated by former politician Doug Anthony and his wife Margot, this contemporary gallery is tucked away in Murwillumbah, 30km south of Tweed Heads. Though off the track for many Gold Coast tourists, its collection and setting make the short drive worthwhile.
The building — a light-filled space of corrugated iron, glass and timber — sits easily in its bucolic setting, the huge caldera of a longextinct volcano.
Panoramic vistas embracing the Tweed River and Mt Warning can be enjoyed from a veranda or viewed as art from inside, each segment of landscape framed by strategically placed windows.
The walls host a large collection of photographs and paintings in which portraits predominate, representing Australians from all walks of life. Traditional works by Tom Roberts catch the eye but more moving is Robert Hannaford’s eloquent rendering of Bill, an ordinary bushman, which won the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 1990.
The Gallery Shop tempts some visitors with its classy range of affordable gifts, while others linger on, discussing art over a glass of wine at the al fresco cafe, which offers stylish meals on a shady veranda with views that go on forever. More: tweed.nsw.gov.au/artgallery. 3. Royal Queensland Art Society Gallery: Not many tourists know of this gallery snuggled up against the Broadbeach Surf Lifesaving Club. It is manned by volunteers and displays an eclectic range of art for sale.
Artists must belong to the society in order to have their works hung, and on the day I pop in there is a broad selection of contemporary paintings. Art in the Park is held on the second Sunday of each month, providing an opportunity to watch artists at work and possibly snare a bargain.
Upstairs is a large studio where inexpensive classes teaching a variety of mediums are conducted several times a week. Participants must also pay a $70 fee to join the society before the Warhol or Whiteley lurking within can be liberated; this could be great fun, tacked on to a Gold Coast holiday. More: rqasgoldcoast.com. 4. Macintosh Island Park: Over the road from Main Beach is a large park that scarcely qualifies as a secret because the Gold Coast Highway defines one boundary. Yet this peaceful haven is underutilised. Straddling the Nerang River, its shady lawns and wide paths provide soothing respite from the unrelenting fun of family holidays on the Gold Coast.
When the beach has lost its novelty and theme park exhaustion grips you, bring the children here for a change of rhythm. Ibises, peacocks, plovers and purple hens call this place home, strutting about nonchalantly, often with offspring in tow. In a huge pond are ducks, geese, tortoises and eels, wishing for tourists bearing slices of bread to gladden their day.
After duck feeding, an enormous covered playground will keep the kids occupied indefinitely. Exciting their imagination even further is a stony cave occupied by a large model of Bigfoot, a slightly scary, bearded creature, sleeping peacefully.
If you have no youngsters to entertain, just join the walkers who visit this tranquil retreat each day. Casuarinas, figs, palms, pandanus and paperbark trees provide shade for the paths that follow the river. Electric barbecues and covered tables are provided for picnickers. More: goldcoast.qld.gov.au. 5. Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Museum: In the backblocks of Surfers Paradise, surrounded by residential and commercial buildings, is a charming half hectare that has escaped the bulldozers. Originally the site of middens created by local Aborigines, it later became the burial ground for workers from the 19thcentury Bundall Sugar Mill.
Three graves are evident, a fact that reserved this land for use by the historical society. The gates to the museum and its surprising native garden open on the first Sunday of each month. Further viewing is possible in August under Australia’s Open Garden Scheme. Visitors can expect to find plants indigenous to this locality lining cool gravel paths shaded by mature trees.
Historic displays include a steam engine and a replica settlers’ cottage in addition to the somewhat homespun museum, which houses donated treasures including vintage cameras, proj ectors and pieces of wrecked ships. Nostalgic photos of a Gold Coast long vanished reveal that this city of tall towers has a narrative reaching back to timbercutters and farmers.
Tourism changed everything. Black-and-white images capture Gold Coast beaches with bigger crowds in the 1920s than now. Perhaps that’s what people did before visiting theme parks, hanging out in malls or getting a souvenir piercing. More: goldcoast.qld.gov.au. 6. Burleigh Head National Park: In the middle of the glittering Gold Coast is a 27ha green haven that motorists tend to ignore. Maybe that is because this jutting headland overlooks Tallebudgera Creek, so pretty where it meets the ocean that it eclipses everything else. But Burleigh Head National Park is equally captivating, so stop the car and go walking.
Set out from the information centre car park just off the Gold Coast Highway, before the bridge at Tallebudgera. There are two short trails, one following the rocky coastline and one elevated circuit passing through rainforest. For such a small area, the variety of vegetation is staggering, encompassing littoral rainforest, mangroves and eucalypts.
Take the flat coastal track first. The view of a spiky Surfers Paradise skyline framed by spikier pandanus is worth a photo. Whales are frequently spotted in these waters in winter. Brush turkeys, sea eagles and osprey are common at all times and so, too, is another Gold Coast species: the newlyweds. Always in pairs and heavily plumaged, they characteristically follow a flitting photographer into lush locations.
Complete your walk via the medium-grade high trail, which has a few steps. Then reward yourself with lunch at George’s Paragon restaurant, shaded by trees, near the information centre. More: goldcoast.com.au. 7. The Stinson Crash Site: In 1937, a Stinson aircraft carrying seven people crashed en route to Sydney in the McPherson Range. Its location could have remained the jungle’s secret forever, but local farmer Bernard O’Reilly, acting on scant evidence, guessed the whereabouts of the lost plane.
He ventured alone into almost impenetrable rainforest a week after its disappearance, creating one of Australia’s most inspiring search-and-rescue stories.
The wreckage site is protected by thick vegetation and so far removed from civilisation that only intrepid trekkers can reach it. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, occupying the Lamington National Park clearing where Bernard’s family once farmed, offers its guests several walks to the Stinson crash site between July and September. Many are led by Tim O’Reilly, Bernard’s great-nephew.
Not for the faint-hearted, this one-day, 35km trek over mountainous terrain requires aboveaverage fitness levels. Participants set off at 5am and return by early evening.
The gradual loss of the wreckage to climate, vegetation and souvenir seekers was inevitable but the graves of four victims of the crash remain at the site.
If not for Bernard’s selfless heroism the toll would have been higher. Even after 74 years, a palpable sense of triumph and tragedy prevails at the Gold Coast hinterland’s most poignant location. More: oreillys.com.au.
queenslandholidays.com.au Next week in our Secret Seven series: the Queensland Sunshine Coast.
Visitors on a boardwalk in the treetops at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park
Burleigh Head National Park near Surfers Paradise
The Tweed River Art Gallery at Murwillumbah