Bright, brash and breezy, Australia’s Gold Coast is the country’s playground. Its epicentre is the aptly named Surfers Paradise, with its golden, sandy beaches flanked by high-rise apartments, clubs, pubs, boutiques and, just a throw of the dice down the road, Jupiter’s Casino with its gaming tables and spectacular cabaret shows. Venture a little further south and you get to Broadbeach and Broadwater, also full of high-rise hotels and apartments but with an altogether different atmosphere and quite a few pleasant surprises.
I am bound for the more tranquil Broadwater, also known as Gold Coast Harbour. And instead of anonymous high-rises, my destination is the ornate and luxurious Palazzo Versace. The Italian design group’s unmistakeable style is evident even before I set foot inside the hotel. Italian workmen were brought to Australia to create the mosaic, using local stone from their villages, which makes up the circular forecourt. Inside, the design melds features from opulent European palaces and classical architecture of Roman times. I gaze up at the huge and elaborate chandelier in the foyer, note the marble and gold finishes — and the omnipresent Medusa logos, emblematic of the Versace brand — and realise that this hotel is a destination in itself.
My suite is all orange-gold, black and cream, very Italianate and very lovely, and overlooks the lagoon-style pool. In no time at all, I am beside said pool, lounging in my own private cabana shaded by gauzy curtains and lunching on freshly prepared seafood by my side. My only dilemmas concern timetabling: whether to go first to the newly revamped Aurora Spa Retreat for a facial or a massage; to indulge in some retail therapy (the hotels has its own Versace boutique, of course, but nearby is the Marina Mirage, full of Australian and international designer shops); meander down to the beach; or book in for one of the cooking master classes that the hotel has just introduced. (Palazzo Versace’s executive chef Geoff Haviland oversees these monthly events, whereby guests start the day in the nearby farmers’ market, selecting seasonal produce to bring back to the hotel kitchens and turn into exquisite dishes, under Geoff’s masterly tuition).
In the opulent surrounds of the Palazzo Versace, there’s time for a relaxing aromatherapeutic massage in the spa before dinner (although you could, if you wish, arrange for a rose-scented bath in the comfort of your own room, complete with tea lights and aromatic body lotions). Pre-dinner, our chef invites us to try a selection of his inventive hors d’oeuvres. These include goat’s cheese lollipops in apple jelly; little cubes of Wagyu beef presented with chilli jam and small parmesan cornets filled with caponata and olive crumbs. He assures us they are easy to make. But, really, it is so much easier to just enjoy them and the atmosphere of Palazzo Versace’s elegant restaurant in this very sophisticated corner of the Gold Coast.
THEN, THERE IS THE HINTERLAND
Many visitors to the Gold Coast come and go without realising that, just an hour’s drive away, a totally different natural beauty can be found on Mt Tamborine. The next day, I find myself 30 metres above ground level, peering down into a lush rainforest canopy. I am on an elevated steel walkway, 40 metres long, exploring a verdant, forested habitat that is home to ancient species of plant and insect life, including rare, emerald-green Regent Birdwing butterflies, rock pools and tumbling creeks. The air is cool and fresh and tiny birds are singing in the foliage. The Mt Tamborine Skywalk is a family-run business and our guide, son of the owners, answers all our questions about this fragile eco-system that he is helping to preserve. A cantilevered section of the Skywalk gives one the exhilarating impression of standing in the sky.
Of all the fantastical natural exhibits, I’m particularly taken with twisted tree trunks, which look as though they have been expertly carved into a classical shape. It turns out they have acquired this form courtesy of parasitic vines that have climbed around them and strangled them into their changed form.
Our drive into the hinterland takes us past various smaller establishments offering everything from homemade honey and a range of local arts and crafts to overnight stays. It’s a world away from the glitter and gold dust of Surfers Paradise.
— Carrie Kablean is an Australia-based freelance writer