The best day trips from the Gold Coast

A young family strolling by the headland at Cylinder Beach, North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah)

Nicola Dowse

Posted May 16, 2023

Hop in the car and explore ancient rainforests, island paradises, and a less touristy version of Byron Bay all within a few hours drive of the Gold Coast.  

The Gold Coast is home to glittering beaches, high-octane theme parks and some of the glitziest bars and restaurants around. But as exciting as the Gold Coast is, there’s still more to discover just a short drive from the renowned holiday strip. 

From world heritage-listed national parks to island paradises and culinary hotspots, the Gold Coast makes for a great base camp for exploring South East Queensland. Plus, all these locations can be visited in one day so you’re back in time for a swim at RACV Royal Pines Resort

Need a car for your Gold Coast holiday? RACV Members receive discounts on daily car hire rates from SIXT.

People canoeing in the Brunswick River at Brunswick Heads

Brunswick Heads lies at the intersection of two rivers, giving you plenty of opportunity for leisurely aquatic pursuits. Image: Destination NSW.

Best day trips from the Gold Coast 

Brunswick Heads 

Distance from the Gold Coast: an hour by car

Byron Bay has become an international travel destination for everyone from celebrities through to backpackers. If you want to experience the beauty and tranquillity of Byron Bay before it became famous, visit the neighbouring Brunswick Heads.

The town still has the charm of a seaside hamlet, despite being only a short drive from Byron Bay itself. A day out in Brunswick Heads letssyou explore numerous specialty stores (including vintage shops), dine at any number of cute cafes and restaurants (with vegetarian and gluten-free options available at many venues) and delight in the region’s natural beauty. 

Located at the intersection of the Brunswick River and Simpsons Creek, Brunswick Heads has plenty of beaches for swimming, surfing or just relaxing in the sun. Torakina Beach is popular for its sheltered, pristine waters while Brunswick Heads Main Beach has stronger currents making it a favourite for surfers (it is only patrolled during certain times of the year). The beach also features a dog beach at its southern end. 

Head to the town break wall for the chance to spot a dolphin or visit on the first Saturday of the month to explore the town markets. Brunswick Heads is also a favoured spot among anglers. 

Tamborine Mountain 

Distance from the Gold Coast: 50 minutes by car

Known as the green behind the gold, Tamborine Mountain in the Gold Coast Hinterlands is the day-trip destination for when you want to immerse yourself in nature. Think ancient green rainforest, a cooler climate, an abundance of wildlife and showstopping views - just 50 minutes down the road. 

Choose a walk or hike throughout Tamborine National Park or check out the 11 hectares of lush greenery at the Tamborine Mountain Botanic Gardens. Adults will enjoy the selection of breweries and distilleries on the mountain while kids will be delighted by the glow worm caves and ThunderBird Park; an adventure and nature park where you can enjoy high ropes courses, ziplines, mini golf and bird feeding.

If you can stick around until sunset, Hang Glider Lookout is the prime position to salute the end of the day while taking in the sweeping views of the Scenic Rim and Great Dividing Ranges. During optimal weather conditions (dry, with winds between 8 and 32ph) you might even see hang or paragliders launching from the site!


A young family wading at Southbank's Streets Beach in Brisbane

Brisbane offers a little something for everyone, including a beach in the middle of the city. Image: Sam Lindsay/Tourism and Events Queensland.


Distance from the Gold Coast: an hour by car, 1.5 hours by train (depart Varsity Lakes Station)

Brisbane is where to go for a cultural and culinary day trip from the Gold Coast. A quick hour’s drive up the highway lands you in the thick of rooftop bars, open-air cinemas and one of Australia’s strongest restaurant scenes. 

The laidback West End is a sure bet for weekday markets, organic food cafes and live music venues for those enticed to stay a little longer. If you’re a culture vulture, don’t miss a visit to the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) or the Brisbane Powerhouse – an ex-power station turned performing arts venue. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is always a safe bet with the kids as well.

Be sure to set aside a couple of hours to wander the banks of the Brisbane River (aka the Brown Snake), exploring it using one of the CityCat ferries or popping in for a swim at the impressive man-made Streets Beach in Southbank to cool off. Or see the city from above on the Brisbane Wheel.

Lamington National Park 

Distance from the Gold Coast: an hour by car

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park is well worth a visit if you’re interested in nature, hiking or history. The park is of vital ecological importance as it’s home to part of Queensland’s Gondwana Rainforest, ancient rainforests that existed on the supercontinent Gondwana 250 million years ago. 

These days the park is home to a diverse range of birds, bats and reptiles, including the showy satin and regent bowerbirds, and can be easily explored by foot. There are 160km of walking tracks to explore, including some, like the Centenary Track, which are paved. There’s also the Treetop Walk which features nine suspension bridges strung 16 metres high amongst the rainforest.

Lamington National Park also has plenty to offer those who like waterfalls (there’s roughly 500 throughout the park) with the ecotourism operator O’Reilly’s offering activities within the park such as segway and e-bike tours, yoga, guided walks and tour and wildlife experiences.


A couple relaxing while having a picnic on Mt Tamborine in the Gold Coast Hinterlands

Tamborine Mountain features spectacular views, opportunities to picnic, walks and the chance to even see hang gliders in action. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland.

North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah)

Distance from the Gold Coast: 2.5 hours, including a one-hour ferry ride

Simply ‘Straddie’ to the locals, North Stradbroke Island is easily reached via a 25-minute passenger ferry ride from Cleveland (or take your vehicle on the 45-minute ferry). Take your pick between gallery hopping, whale watching or eating and drinking your way around the extensive list of cafes, restaurants and bars. 

The island is a natural playground for beach-lovers. Stick to the patrolled beaches of Main and Cylinder if you’re keen for a dip. There’s also an enclosed, unpatrolled swimming area at Amity Point (Pulan), which also features a jetty often frequented by dolphins and surrounding bushland home to koalas. 

For those staying on dry land, take the easy 1.2-kilometre track along the North Gorge Walk at Point Lookout. You’ll be treated to a spectacular outlook across a 32-kilometre stretch of white sandy beach. Or explore the island’s waters by hiring a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard. North Stradbroke Island is also a known surf destination with learn-to-surf lessons also available. 


Distance from the Gold Coast: 2.5 hours by car

You’ve experienced the Gold Coast, now experience the Sunshine Coast. Noosa is the shining jewel of the Sunshine Coast, renowned for its stunning postcard-perfect beaches and its Everglades waterways – one of only two in existence around the world. 

Spend all day at the patrolled Noosa Heads Main Beach if you wish, or set aside some time to explore the boutiques, bars and restaurants on nearby Hastings Street. Visiting on a Sunday allow you the chance to peruse the Noosa Farmers Market (featuring artisan foods and crafts) while visiting on a Wednesday or Saturday lets you see the Eumundi Markets in the Noosa Hinterlands.

The adventurous can also take on a hike in Noosa National Park – and if you’re too tired to drive back to the Gold Coast in one day, you can always book a luxurious stay at RACV Noosa Resort.


Experience the best of the Gold Coast at RACV Royal Pines Resort.
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