Judging by the tourist propaganda, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Gold Coast as a giant theme park — cleverly designed to lure tourists, then liberate them of every dollar and shred of dignity. Meter Maids by day, neon by night...

But that's only half the story.

The other half of the Gold Coast, the one less publicised, is an outdoor wonderland that's in stark contrast to the artificial alternatives. Yes — while misinformed tourists watch whales sadly circling pools in Seaworld, just a hundred metres away far happier mammals punctuate their migrations with backflips, tail slaps and other expressions of delight.

And it's not just the coast that warrants your attention. Just a half hour west is the Gold Coast hinterland — a thousand hectares of cliffs, waterfalls, rockpools and UNESCO World Heritage listed sub-tropical rainforest. And UNESCO doesn't go listing any old patch of pine trees. If UNESCO says it's worth your time — you-NES-GO.

Sprinbrook. Gold Coast

Where do you get it? Well, three main areas make up the region: Lamington National Park (Binna Burra), Springbrook National Park (Springbrook & Natural Bridge), and Tambourine National Park. Which one you choose is really just a roll of the dice — they're all quite similar. Tambourine is the most commercial, if you're also after shops and cafes. Springbrook is closest, if you're on a tight schedule. 

There's numerous great walks, ranging from 300 metres to 58 kilometres — but it's one of the shortest that offers the best summary. 

The Natural Bridge circuit is a paltry 1 kilometre of paved path, but it manages to pack in everything from gigantic gnarled fig trees, to waterfalls, glow-worms, a cave, and a few little creeks in between. If that doesn't sell you — it's worth noting that the waterfall is inside the cave, and that cave is filled with the glow-worms. Yep.

It's also worth a disclaimer: of all the walks in the region this is probably the most heavily trampled. Weekends can be a bit of a circus, so if you can get out there on a weekday, or before 8am on a weekend, you should have the place almost to yourself.

So, if you find yourself on the Gold Coast and need a little fresh air — well, you know what The Petshop Boys said...

Go west.