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A tour around Coolangatta with cherrypicked must-do activities

Coolangatta beach surfer with Gold Coast in the backdrop
Photo Credit: Tahlia Doyle

Located on the East coast of the country just south of the major city of Brisbane, Australia’s Gold Coast is a legendary destination for a beach holiday.

Along with crystal-clear waters and beautiful scenery, the town offers lively nightlife, exceptional restaurants, great hotels, and all the fantastic experiences you’d expect from a place that is recognized as one of Australia’s top destinations to have fun.

But along with all the glitz and glamour of Gold Coast, this part of the country offers a more laid-back way to experience the beauty of the coastline.

Coolangatta and its adjoining town Tweed Heads lie right on the border where Queensland meets New South Wales.

This coastal town offers the same access to beaches, mountains, and forests that you’ll find in Gold Coast. But it also offers more laid-back charm for those looking to take a break and recharge their batteries without the chaos you’ll find in the city.

Although it’s not exactly a backwater, Coolangatta doesn’t get the tourist numbers of nearby Gold Coast, and that’s a good thing. That means you’ll have a more relaxed vibe and much more space to explore all the town has to offer.

Leave your bags behind at a convenient Bounce luggage storage, where your things will be safely looked after while you explore. Bounce can help you store any size of bags for as long as you need, at more affordable prices than traditional luggage lockers, so you can travel light and soak up the laid-back atmosphere of this beautiful coastal town.

Start off at Fingal Head

Coolangatta is home to Gold Coast Airport, and it is also connected to Gold Coast and Brisbane by the M1 motorway. Whether you arrive in town by plane, car, or bus, the first thing you’re going to want to do is shake off some of the dust of travel and get a sense of the lay of the land.

Although you’ll be spoiled for choice in Coolangatta when it comes to scenic environments, you can’t do much better than Fingal Head and its iconic lighthouse.

Sandwiched between the Tweed River and the ocean, Fingal is the perfect place to get away from it all. Take a stroll along the coastal path that leads to the lighthouse, and you’ll be able to see waves of the bright blue ocean crashing against the rocky shore and may even glimpse local marine wildlife such as dolphins.

From the lighthouse itself, you’ll have a magnificent view of Cook Island and much of this majestic and quintessentially Australian coastline. While it may be close to the bustling city of Gold Coast, this place feels a long way away. And as scenic as it is, it’s usually not that crowded, so you can easily find some space for yourself to enjoy some fresh air and scenery after your trip.

Walk on Water

If that’s not enough nature for you, head in to Tweed Heads to explore this unique walking track.

Although it only covers a one kilometer loop, this walking track packs a lot into a short distance. As it winds through the mangrove forest, you’ll learn more about local plants and wildlife and have plenty of opportunities to spot dozens of species of birds.

Keep an eye out for the Bora Ring, a sacred site to aboriginal Australians that was once used for men’s initiation ceremonies.

To learn more about this fascinating culture, don’t miss the Minjungbal Aboriginal Cultural Center, where you can learn more about how life was for native people before the first Europeans ever arrived in Australia.

While it may only be a short walk, this park allows you to encounter both the natural side of the region and learn more about its ancient history. You can’t ask for much more than that in a short stroll.

Art and Craft Market

After learning about the region’s ancient history, head back over the border from New South Wales into Queensland to explore Coolangatta itself.

And if you time your visit right (i.e., the second Sunday of the month), you can take the beating pulse of the city at the Sunday Art and Craft Market.

These markets are held in various beach towns along the coast. In Coolangatta, the market takes place in Queen Elizabeth Park next to The Strand shopping center. With the famous Surfer’s Strip right in front of the market, it’s a great way to appreciate both the natural splendor and the lively urban culture of this beach town.

As you’d expect, the shopping is great too. This market is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs that you won’t find anywhere else, often handmade by local artisans.

It’s a good feeling to know you’re supporting the local economy while you shop.

Plus, the market is a haven for local street food vendors. You’ll find some of the most exciting food trucks and stands in the region serving up delicious dishes at this lively market.

The market runs from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon, but if you want the best items, it’s a good idea to get there early. Do some shopping in the morning, then enjoy a leisurely lunch with an incredible view of the coast, and you’ll be enjoying the best of Coolangatta the way the locals do.

Go surfing

Aeriel view of Surfers and Sailboats on Snapper Rocks beach Coolangatta
Pic Credit: Carles Rabada

Surfing wasn’t invented in Australia, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was by the way this vast country has taken the sport to its heart. And Coolangatta, with miles of beautiful beach and rolling waves, is a perfect place to surf, whether you’re an experienced veteran or a complete novice.

Coolangatta has some wonderful surf spots, like Greenmount Point with its sheltered beach, Kirra with legendary breaks, or the world-class waves of Snapper Rocks. That means there’s something to challenge you no matter what your level of expertise.

If you’re just starting out in the sport, there are lots of surf shops and surfing schools that can teach you the basics of the sport and take you on a guided tour to visit some of the best waves in the area.

Alternatively, if you’re a practiced veteran, you can rent a board and head out on your own to enjoy the waves like a local.

Either way, you’ll have a fantastic time playing in the crystal-clear waters of this part of Australia.

Meet marine wildlife

The waters off the coast of Coolangatta are exceptionally rich in marine life. So if you’re a nature lover, there are almost too many options for ways to encounter beautiful sea creatures.

One popular way to get out there is to go snorkeling with turtles. Cook Island Aquatic Reserve is a great place to meet these gentle sea creatures, and many tour companies are so confident that you will see turtles that they allow you to come back free on another tour if you don’t encounter these oceangoing reptiles the first time.

Don’t worry if you’re not an experienced snorkeler, as an experienced guide will provide you with all the equipment and training you need to master this easy way to get out on the water.

If you’d like to take your marine exploration further, consider taking a diving tour with a local diving school.

Coolangatta has lots of places where you can get dive certified and explore deep underwater to meet some of the incredible creatures that call the ocean here home.

On the other hand, if you prefer to stay dry, consider taking a whale and dolphin watching tour on board a boat from Coolangatta.

These majestic marine animals are frequent visitors to the fertile waters off the Gold Coast, and your chances of seeing marine mammals are excellent. Plus, the guide can help you understand more about the lifecycle and habits of these incredible animals.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Next, take a walk on the wild side as you encounter more of Australia’s charismatic wildlife.

Australia is known around the world for having unique animals, and while there are no guarantees of spotting kangaroos, koalas, and emus in the wild, you can meet them all at this educational wildlife sanctuary.

Just a seven-minute drive from Coolangatta, the sanctuary is one of the most popular activities in the area, especially for families with children.

You’ll be able to see famous Australian wildlife, hear educational talks by the people who care for them, and even take part in feeding creatures like lorikeets, pelicans, and eels.

Currumbin wildlife sanctuary map

Map of Currumbin wildlife sanctuary

Barbecue at Kirra Hill

Outdoor dining is a huge part of Australian culture, so if you want to enjoy dinner in spectacular surroundings, head to Kirra Hill to take part in this great Aussie tradition.

This public park offers gas barbecues and a sheltered picnic area where you can enjoy magnificent views of the coast.

Bring your own food and drink and a few friends, and grill up something delicious while you watch the sunset over this gorgeous part of coastal Australia.

Enjoying a burger, steak, or some fresh seafood while sipping a cold one is about as quintessentially Australian as it gets.

Go skydiving

If you really want to get your heart pounding, consider going on a skydiving adventure with Gold Coast Skydiving, based in Coolangatta.

Located near the airport, this company will take you up in a small plane so you can enjoy incredible views over Coolangatta, the Gold Coast, all the way to Brisbane, and beyond.

Then, with an experienced instructor attached to you, you’ll jump out of the plane and feel the unparalleled adrenaline rush of soaring through the air before deploying your parachute and landing safely back on the ground.

While it may not be for everyone, there are few better ways to enjoy the Gold Coast and make memories of your vacation that will last a lifetime.

Spend some time on the beach

As you can see from this list, there’s lots to do here. But don’t neglect one of the popular activities in this area: spending time on the beach.

Coolangatta Beach is actually made up of several different beaches, but they all offer the same incredible views of the turquoise water.

You may spot creatures like dolphins and whales even from the beach, and you’ll have a great time swimming in the water and sunbathing on the sand.

Coolangatta is blessed with great weather, making the beach a great destination at almost any time of year.

The beach is also an excellent place to fish, with the nearby Tweed River providing freshwater species as well as marine fish.

The beach in Coolangatta functions almost as an extended communal living room of the city, so hanging out here is more than just a tourist activity.

Instead, it’s the ideal way to soak up the culture and laid-back atmosphere of this town and get some rest and relaxation on your Australian trip.

Visiting Coolangatta

Gold Coast and the big city of Brisbane tend to get most of the attention from holidaymakers in this area.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Coolangatta is still popular, but it provides a more authentic experience of Australian life.

Coolangatta may be smaller, but as you can see from this list, there is plenty to do here. Coolangatta and the neighboring city of Tweed Heads offers everything you need for a great holiday, from encounters with Australian wildlife to adrenaline-pumping sports activities to lazy days on the beach enjoying beautiful scenery.

Leave your bags behind at a convenient luggage storage and check out some of these incredible things to do in Coolangatta.

Before you know it, you’ll be planning your next trip to this underrated coastal Australian gem.