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Where to explore the Gold Coast’s best-kept secrets with friends

The glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast often overshadows the quieter experiences on offer at this Queensland beach location. Yet, behind the glow, there’s a permanently evolving food and culture scene to explore with friends or family, writes Cathy Finch. 

In an increasingly automated world, my 24-year-old daughter, Bobbie, and I decide on a mother/daughter weekend. We’re hoping to experience the best of the Gold Coast with serendipitous moments served alongside a flutter of sophistication and large portions of impossibly decadent gastronomic delights.

Eat at a bakery with heart

Starting with breakfast, Paddock Bakery in Burleigh Heads has a beautiful back story that follows the owner’s dream of transforming a broken-down Queenslander home into an open-air bakery with heart and soul.

“We want to share that passion with our customers who come from far and wide to enjoy our food,” says Maya Scholz, owner of Paddock Bakery. At the centre of it all is the wood-fired oven, making “the best wood-fired sourdough bread around”. The oven was made with antique red bricks collected from all around Australia and the doors were salvaged from the first bakery in Tasmania.

Through large glass windows, I watch as the baker kneads the dough, and then I order a wicked Biscoff cheesecake doughnut and an espresso. Coastal kaftan flowing, I’m ready to head straight for the ocean.

Cronuts from Paddock Bakery in Burleigh Heads
© Cathy Finch

Rediscover the coast on a private catamaran

They say there’s a side effect to sailing – that it instils a sense of tranquillity and helps maintain a rhythm of calm. Naturally, it makes perfect sense to throw off the bowlines and set sail on our private catamaran, Oceans, for a morning out seeing the Gold Coast Broadwater.

Slipping off our shoes and daring to bare our painted toenails, Captain Steve and Maddie from Sailing in Paradise meet us at their berth in Marina Mirage. There’s something about wandering a marina that infuses a dreamy scene, even before breathing in the salty air and feeling an ocean breeze tousle my hair.

“So, what’s in store for you today, ladies?” Steve asks as we pull away under a clear blue sky and calm sea. We discuss what we would like to do on our private three-hour sail. This is Steve’s backyard, and I can tell he wants us to love it as much as he does.

We’re happy just to see where the wind blows us and experience the best of the Gold Coast from a different angle. Maddie pops the champagne and delivers a delicious grazing board, while we settle in like superstars to be rocked by the ocean and music, passing closely by many little islands and hidden beaches. At Wave Break Island we take a blissful swim in the shallows and saunter along the shoreline before climbing back onboard our luxury catamaran (pretending it’s ours, of course).

Oceans is the largest and most luxurious vessel of the Sailing in Paradise fleet. It can take up to 30 passengers, giving you the choice of indulging on your own, like our mother/daughter combination, or inviting friends along to enjoy the decadence of luxury sailing. Of course, we never want to leave, but Steve and Maddie wave us off with some lovely images as memories of our morning. Then, it’s time to check in to our accommodation at the Dorsett Hotel, Broadbeach.

catamaran on the water
© Cathy Finch
catamaran floating by the shore
© Destination Gold Coast

Reconnect over dinner

Lots of things have changed since my last visit to the Gold Coast. In my day, The Star Casino was called Jupiters and it was just one building. Today, The Star Casino encompasses many new and elegant styles of accommodation across the brand, including The Star Grand, The Darling, The Star Residences, and the Dorsett Hotel where we stay. The Dorsett offers contemporary elegance with a dash of Gold Coast personality, its 313 rooms have sweeping coastline or hinterland views and the resort-style pool is sensational. The hotel is situated amid high-energy entertainment to enhance our evenings, adjacent to Queensland’s largest regional shopping centre, Pacific Fair and only 700 metres from the beach.

Across the road on the 19th floor of The Darling is a chic rooftop bar and restaurant named Nineteen at The Star, an acclaimed venue for cocktails and five-star dining. We missed their famous Bellini Saturdays but indulge in a succulent, sophisticated dinner of Wollemi duck breast and Mar Gra lamb backstrap, laid on beds of braised cabbage, pickled grapes, honey carrot and sauteed kale. Combined with a wine sommelier who expertly knows his grapes, we delight in the meticulous service and atmosphere of the evening.

On our second evening we chose KIN, a relaxed asian kitchen and bar at Burleigh Heads. The name KIN means ‘representation of family’, so it fits nicely with our weekend theme. As we drift through small tastings of everything from robata, gyoza, tempura and signature KIN samplings, the menu states “We believe family is universal – we are all one”.

rooftop pool bar and circular seating area
Nineteen at the Star © Destination Gold Coast
aerial view of the exterior of the star
© Destination Gold Coast

Wild Flower Gin Distillery

We make ample time to visit the Wild Flower Gin Distillery at Varsity Lakes, just 15 minutes’ drive inland from Burleigh Heads. Located in a slightly odd location, it’s frequently these hidden pockets that pack a serendipitous punch. Although this family-owned boutique distillery offers well-known gin making masterclasses, I suspect locals want to keep the quaintness of this little out-of-the-way bar all to themselves.

“Tell me about how I can make my own gin here,” I ask Eve, our bartender, who stands in front of what appears to be a beautifully restored bookcase. “Absolutely,” she says, stepping to one side to pull it open.

It’s like something out of a James Bond movie. Behind the bookcase is a huge secret room set up with chairs, long benches and a long line of alembic pots still used by gin creators to blend their own botanicals. Eve looks at me and laughs. “I always get that reaction,” she says. Proceeding to mix us the best chilli margaritas we’ve ever tasted, we vow to return again soon to continue our foray of the Gold Coast, and surrender to her warm embrace.

Gin cocktails at Wild Flower Gin Distillery
© Cathy Finch

There’s no place like to Gold Coast to reconnect with friends. If you are looking for ways to experience the Gold Coast, here is the best way to awaken your wild side and where to enrich your mind, body and soul or visit for more holiday inspiration.

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This article was created in partnership with Destination Gold Coast and is a Signature Luxury Travel & Style digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter.