If you have a week in Brisbane & Surrounds i would suggest spending two or three days in Brisbane itself and the rest in either the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast, this means you will see two places but will not be too rushed.
Overall i would say the Gold Coast is busier, better for kids with the theme parks, never ending high rises etc but the Sunshine Coast is alot quieter, better for relaxing, and spending time at the beaches etc and its more spread out than the Gold Coast, no where near as many high rises etc
Are you intending to stay in Brisbane and make day trips out or stay at either of the coasts. Sunshine and North Coast or Gold Coast. You may be able to do both with a few nights at the Gold Coast and then drive about 3>4 hours to the Sunshine Coast. Stay a few nights there.
Caloundra is not far north of the Airport by about an hour or so. It is on the Sunshine Coast and was considered the family beach of times past, but is developing in leaps and bounds. Just on the highway north from the airport and around the Caloundra turn off is Australia Zoo made famous by Steven Irwin and now Bindi Irwin. It is a great day out and where you will see the crocs and many of our animals and has a souvenir shop cafe etc.
Caloundra itself is right at the corner of the shipping lanes and many large cargo ships etc cut the corner here and head into the Port of Brisbane area.It is also on Pumistone Passage which runs down to Bribie Island and is great for kids to paddle around in or fishing.
Across the highway from Caloundra you can head up to Maleny, which in the back street, there is a wonderful view over our Glass House Mountains (sighted by Capt Cook) and then head up to Montville with it's arts & crafts, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and views, down through Kenilworth (cheese tasting) a small contry town in the valley and then up to Eumundi ( very hot in January) where there are markets Wed and Sat and on Sat there usually is jazz in the old queenslander pub across the road. From there head back across to Noosa a popular beach spot with a nice walk out around the point and with it's Hasting's St shops, cafes and then down the coast via Coolum, Maroochydore, Alexandra headland and Mooloolaba to Caloundra.
You could stay in Noosa and reverse this drive.
See my review of Caloundra
North along the M1 to Brisbane there are theme parks, Waterworld, Dreamworld and Movie world.
Also from the northern end you can get up to Tamborine Mountain from Ormeau on the M1. This has nice views north and also over the highrises of the Gold Coast. Arts & Crafts, cafes, restaurants, wine tastings and picnic areas.
Of course you can drive right down the Gold Coast into New South Wales with beaches all the way. Kingscliff is a nice quiet contrified type of beach with no highrises to speak of and some outdoor eateries. The Bowls Club has cheap meals and view over the surf.
You could drive to the northern beaches for a day trip or even to the Gold Coast as we do from Brisbane on another day trip but being there gives you less time to do other day trips.
Enjoy our Queensland...hot, hot, hot in summer
Slip on a cover, slop on the sunscreen and slap on the hat!
(I am copying and pasting this info!)
Thankyou so much for your reply and so much detail, that's great. We are a couple in our early 50's travelling without kids but are very young at heart!
Do you recommend we hire a car or are there tourist buses that would be better for us to use?
Also I have heard there are some lovely islands to visit in that area could you recommend?
Just to say that we are in the Brisbane area in July for a couple of days and have hired a car from netflights.com based in Preston. Excellent rates. We do this every two years before flying up to family in Townsville.
Driving is no problem in Australia and it will give you the freedom to see much more - just be sensible in terms of avoiding rush hour, just as you would at home & you will be fine. Fuel is much cheaper too than in the UK! You will love it!
As you are around my age bracket with no kids in tow, look up my review on Gold Coast Brisbane Cruises "A nice relaxing and slow day Cruise" This leaves from Brisbane albeit an inner suburb which you may have to get to unless they pick up from your hotel. We went from the Gold Coast, and even though I have been fishing around this area over many years of my life, I enjoyed the day out. It is a day out though and winds it's way around the many islands of the Moreton Bay National Park. We did not alight between Brisbane and the Gold Coast though.
The morn tea, lunch and arvo tea were very basic and basically muffin and coffee/tea and bbq on board. The boat was an old slow lady but it gave us time to breathe the air take in the views and believe me there would be plenty in January and get those photos!
As for the islands, Stradbroke Island is seen from the boat, but if you want to get there you can catch a Stradbroke car and passenger ferry. The island is not well inhabitated but is quieter than the Gold Coast and has great beaches on surfside. There is not much in the way of restaurants, shops and has rental properties and a couple of resorts. January would see many campers and kids on school hols.
Moreton Island is quieter but has Tangalooma which you could get to by a boat cruise.
Bribie Island which is just south of Caloundra is mainly residential but is assessible by a bridge over Pumistone Passage which is shown in my Caloundra Review.
Marina Mirage is the place where the boat trip in my review either leaves from or arrives to from Brisbane. Marina Mirage is along from Main Beach in Southport area which is the northern end of the Gold Coast and closest area to Brisbane, by about an hour or so on the M1 freeway.
The day we arrived to go on the boat trip, there were touts at the Marina selling tickets on other boat trips, so this is something to keep in mind if you stay there. January may be very popular though. Perhaps check TA to see if any reviews on other boat trips to areas I have mentioned. As for Stradbroke, best to take the car over ( more expense) as I think there may only be a bus to pick you up at the ferry terminal. Limited.
Hope this all helps you to have a very enjoyable stay in sunny Queensland.
The M1 which goes all the way from Brisbane city area down to the Gold Coast is mainly a four lane highway each way and so it is usually a good run. I'd still leave early though or come back late in January if staying in Brisbane.
Once you get off the highways as in the drives I mentioned to the north or south coast hinterland or Tamborine Mountain the traffic is not bad. January is our peak beach and holiday travelling time though and therefore consider accommodation, boat cruises and tours etc well beforehand as we do get many tourists then.
Also if you want to pull up at a beach for a swim at the coast be aware that parking along the road becomes very limited as the day wears on.
I'd say stay somewhere across the road from the beach with parking and take those boat cruises or day trips in the car.
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