Words: Deborah Dickson-Smith
The allure of the Gold Coast and its theme parks is one that you’re bound to succumb to at some point (or two) of your family life. Much like Disneyland, it’s on most kids’ bucket lists, so even if you’re averse to thrill rides yourself, the pester power will likely get to you at some point.
But it can be expensive! A single ticket to each theme park costs between $70 to $90, which can be pricey for a family of four. Then there’s the accommodation, meals out – and don’t get me started on the cost of soft drinks inside the theme parks – not to mention the cruel temptation of frozen Coke and sugar-loaded churros.
Here are a few tips to enjoying the Gold Coast without breaking the bank.
If you’re spending a week or so on the Gold Coast, it’s definitely worth buying a Season Pass or a 3-Day to 7-Day Pass. Single (adult) entry to Movie World is $79, but a 7-Day Super Pass, which gets you multiple access to all Village Roadshow parks, including Movie World, Wet’n’Wild, Seaworld and Paradise Country for seven days, costs only $149.
Similarly, the Dreamworld 3-Day Ticket costs only $89 and gives you multiple access to Dreamworld, WhiteWater World and SkyPoint Observation Deck. If you need more than three days to pack it all in, pay six dollars more for a 7-Day Ticket which also gives you a 7-Day Photo Pass.
If you’re planning on visiting Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, it’s also worth considering becoming a National Trust member. Annual membership costs $65, and not only will it get you discounted entry to the park, it comes with a heap more benefits, including 15 per cent off food and beverage and Segway Safari tours, as well as free or discounted admission to over 180 properties around Australia. Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction of helping the National Trust protect and conserve our environment.
Obviously it’s cheaper to dine in, but a holiday isn’t really a holiday without a few nights off from cooking, and there are a few Gold Coast dining experiences well worth including.
The Outback Spectacular – walking distance from BIG4 Gold Coast – is a great night out, a three-course meal and a show. Tickets cost $99.99 for adults ($69.99 for kids) and include free beer, wine and soft drinks, as well as a highly entertaining equine performance.
Hard Rock Café Surfers Paradise is a firm favourite with kids. The staff are all extremely entertaining, great with kids, and the portions are enormous so you can save money with share plates.
BMD Northcliffe Surf Life Saving Club has a great (cheap) family-friendly restaurant that serves all your pub food favourites, including chicken parmigiana, burgers, pizza and fish and chips. It’s also a great choice for breakfast, with panoramic views of the ocean and beach activities.
Accommodation is probably the single-most expensive item on the list of holiday expenses, and the Gold Coast certainly has the full range, from campsites to luxury hotels. Holiday parks are a great choice for families, and the BIG4 Gold Coast is not only an affordable accommodation choice, it’s also incredibly convenient, being within walking distance of Movie World and Wet’n’Wild, and only 2km away from Dream World and WhiteWater World.
Whether you choose a campsite or a cabin, you’ll have your own cooking facilities, whether that’s a shared kitchen or inside your cabin, helping you save on dining out costs. The cabins obviously also have a kitchen with a fridge and freezer, so it’s easy to pack lunches and avoid expensive theme park food.
The park is a resort holiday in itself, with a lagoon pool and waterslides, poolside café, obligatory giant jumping pillow, outdoor movies and a BMX track. During school holidays there are organised activities for kids every day as well as a kids' club.
Another great choice is the NRMA Treasure Island Holiday Resort, which is closer to Surfers Paradise in Biggera Waters, and only 15 minutes’ drive from any of the theme parks (and the beach). The park has a large lagoon pool, waterpark, mini-golf and giant bouncy pillow.
5 things to do FOR FREE on the Gold Coast
1. Beach Babies
They don’t call it Surfers Paradise for nothing. There are plenty of patrolled beaches to choose from: Main Beach, Surfers Paradise, Kurrawa Beach, Mermaid Beach, Miami Beach, Burleigh Heads, Palm Beach and Kirra Beach, just to name a few. Good beaches for smaller kids include those inside the Spit, as well as Currumbin and Tallebudgera Creek, where you can enjoy a range of watersports including stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. The Gold Coast Seaway at the end of the Spit is a great spot to snorkel and scuba dive, where you’ll find a range of tropical and sub-tropical fish.
2. Pedal the Coast
The Gold Coast Oceanway is a network of cycle-ways and pathways that stretch 36km from the Gold Coast Seaway in the north to Point Danger Lighthouse, Coolangatta, in the south. If you haven’t brought your own bike you can hire one for around $25.
3. Hit the playgrounds
At almost every beach, or green space, there is a playground with picnic benches and barbecues. Let the kids run wild on the equipment, kick a ball around, or just relax with a picnic. Paradise Point Parklands, one of the most beautiful parks on the coast, overlooks the broadwater; Laguna Park in Palm Beach has a huge adventure playground and Aquasplash, which operates between November to April on Southport Broadwater.
4. Take a hike
The coastal area and hinterland offer plenty of great walking opportunities. At Burleigh Heads National Park is an easy 2.5km coastal walk around the headland to Tallebudgera Creek. Federation Walk is a 3.5km walkway at the northern end of the Gold Coast Oceanway on the Southport Spit. In Springbrook National Park there’s the Purling Brook Falls walking track circuit, the Natural Bridge Rainforest Circuit and Twin Falls walk. In Lamington National Park, O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk is 180m in length and made up of nine suspension bridges. Tamborine Mountain has 12 walking tracks, each one is no longer than 3km.
5. To market, to market
From fashion to farmers' markets, to art and craft, to music to everything in between, the Goldie has plenty of markets to browse. Every Saturday you’ll find wonderful fresh produce at Burleigh Farmers' Markets, Miami Marketta night market on Friday and Saturday nights is great for street food and live music, and every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday night, the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets have over 100 stalls to peruse.