Layovers and Life in Limbo: The Gold Coast, Queensland

It’s been over three years since I moved overseas to Western Australia. At the end of this year, it will likely be time to move elsewhere. But where? This is the golden question that keeps me up late at night, when my mind fantasizes about living somewhere new, staying put, or going home to California in a flurry of anxiety and excitement. For the past few months, I’ve had an impossible time living in the present without wondering about the future.

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If I buy this lamp, will I have to worry about selling it in three months?

If I make this friend, will we keep in touch if I move away?

If I eat this piece of chocolate, will my roommate notice that his stash has been wiped out?

When I landed in Gold Coast for a few days on my way from Perth to California, I physically lived all that’d I’d been internalizing. In a state of neither here nor there, but aiming to enjoy the present anyways, I figured that layovers are to travel as big transitions are to life.

I always get two trips out of a long-haul flight. Not just because I hate flying — though being encapsulated in a human-odor chamber plays a part — but because I love getting a chance to explore a city that’s not on my radar. (You can read about taking advantage of your layovers in a guide I wrote for Skyscanner.)

Luckily, two friends living in Gold Coast generously let me stay with them during my three-day layover.

Gold Coast, affectionately dubbed “The Goldie” is a mix of laid-back beach culture meets big city vibes. Think shiny high-rise apartments intermixed with your typical suburb, lush mini-jungles along the coastline, trendy restaurants with coconut frozen yogurt, national parks, and a vibrant social scene. On paper, the Gold coast meets most of my relocation criteria (sunny, not too crowded, outdoor and surf lifestyle) missing the mark on just two (low cost of living, closer to family). Could I see myself living here once the calendar flips to 2017?

Surfing in Gold Coast

“If you want to come with us for a surf, we’re going before sunrise.”

I couldn’t sleep the night I landed, but didn’t want to miss out on my first chance to surf in Australia’s Pacific Ocean. I hate to admit it, but I rarely wake up early enough to welcome the day as soon as it starts.

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We stayed out in small but dumpy waves at Palm Beach just long enough to see the sky turn from pink to blue. My arms ached from the paddle-out and I wondered if my lack of strength stemmed from being sleepy, or just plain wimpy. Unfortunately, a glance at my biceps pointed to the latter. A few hefty wipeouts combined with sore arms didn’t help with my surfing anxiety, something that often triggers (embarrassing) panic attacks when I’m tired in the water. After the session I texted Mo, “You’ll be fine, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.” followed by a pic of me fake crying as a summary of the session.

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We went for round two at Greenmount, a mellow break left of Snapper Rocks that churns out factory perfect barrels on big days and friendly, peeling waves when it’s small. I borrowed a blue foamie and had the best time catching a handful of gentle waves that rolled through — despite the crowd of logs, kayaks, and shredding grommets. The aquarium-clear water, sunshine, and fun rides ended up being the antidote to the anxiety that flared up during our previous session.

Biking from Burleigh to Surfers Paradise: The Ride That Humbled Me

My friend warned me that she thought something was wrong with her bike because it seemed to take more peddle-power than your average ride. I waved it off. It’ll be fine for the fifteen kilometer ride from Burleigh Head to Surfers Paradise.

I scrolled through my podcast playlist and picked a title about a man, Jesse, who discovered that his female lover/penpal was actually another man — a sad story about old-school catfishing in the 1980s. The problem with solo travel is that you often have memories of places that are tinted with, “Ah yes, that’s where I saw the dolphins… And learned that Jesse was in love!” when you listen to podcasts in lieu of travel companion’s voices.
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Two kilometers into my ride, my legs started burning with the fury of a thousand fire ants tap-dancing with hot plates as shoes onto my skin. Five kilometers in, I arrived at a small hill. One path veered inland while the other path steeply went straight over the top. Weighing my options, I peddled sloth speed full-throttle straight ahead.

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Of course, I was rewarded with not one, not two, but three flights of stairs for my efforts. A group of people stood behind me, and I stifled any heavy breathing to make it seem like I specifically chose the staircase route over the obvious bike path. Mid-way down, I rested at one of the platforms and looked out at the ocean. An optimist wrote the words “Happy Vibes” in the sand. Two girls stood next to me, waiting for me to leave so that they could take selfies. I wanted them to leave because I didn’t want them watching me pant like a pig in a mud race. Eventually, they ceded and I lifted the bike over my shoulder. A long line of joggers awaited at the bottom and stared as I made my bumbling descent.

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My mood tanked when I discovered that Jesse had been donating money — money that he didn’t have — to his fake penpal lover.

My arms ached from the bike hoisting.

My heart ached for Jesse.
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Almost an hour later, I cycled past Mermaid Beach and Broadbeach, a half hour behind Google Maps’ predicted arrival time. The coastline was lined with suburban homes, apartment complexes, lifesaving clubs, clean beaches, and the odd park here and there. Trendy cafes are spread few and far between, making the overall ride a bit residential but beautiful nonetheless.

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The Gold Coast should have ran their names by a few more copyeditors before going ahead and labeling everything as kitschy as possible. There’s Mermaid Beach, Palm Beach (of course in the neighborhood of Miami),  and most cringeworthy of all, “Surfers Paradise.” Eight-year-old Hungarians could think of more creative terms in their third grade English class.

How did the town get named? Well, imagine a fresh, young, business man rolling up his cufflinked sleeves and firing up a Powerpoint presentation at his urban planning meeting. He dims the lights.

“It’s going to be so good. It’s going to be so great. It’s going to be a paradise for surfers. We’ll name it… ‘Surfers Paradise'” He waves his arms across the screen with ‘SURFERS PARADISE’ typed with the shadow effect on WordArt.

Cue gasps from the crowd. Crowd starts slow clapping. Man smiles — always knowing he’d make it this far.

Seaside Ave. is adjacent to Seabeach Ave., just a few streets up from Seashell Ave. The neighborhood with weaving waterways is called Venice is laden with pizza references. Here, you can find Amalfi Dr. across from the local Hooters. Come autentico!

The naming debacle makes me want to grab Gold Coast by the shoulders, shake it, slap it in the face, and give it a pep talk.

You be you, Gold Coast. Don’t let anyone turn you into a knock-off of anything else. 

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I wandered through Surfers Paradise, feeling like I’d been stuck in a movie set. The shops and restaurants were uncrowded, with just a few sunbathers dotting the beach. Every shopkeeper and food server I talked to was a backpacker taking advantage of their working holiday visa. I wondered what Jesse, who just discovered that his penpal lover was fake, would think of the place.

I think to make the most of Surfers Paradise, I have to see it on the weekend or on a weeknight to judge it fairly.

Then, I did the long slog back on the malfunctioning bicycle (and made the mistake of taking the stairs again).

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Enjoying Burleigh Heads

After each workday, the grassy knolls around Burleigh Heads are carpeted with picnic blankets and overrun by families, couples, and groups of friends spending time together as the sun goes down. Surfers climb in and out of the water. Kayakers paddle to the inlet. Joggers head down the path into the micro-jungle of Burleigh Heads. Every public space is used to its full capacity.
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I walked into Burleigh Heads after watching surfers catch waves at the point. Though the forest is not large by any means, it feels miles away from any semblance of a big city or suburb like a miniature oasis. Here, I could see the allure of living on the Gold Coast. Beautiful nature combined with a lively social scene, isn’t that what I want?
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Birds sang overhead and the sky turned from blue to soft pink to moody purple.
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Later that night, I met up with a fellow USC alumna and we talked about what we do, where we’ve been, and what we’re up to next. She just moved to the Gold Coast from the U.S. and is living with her Australian boyfriend. Her down-under adventure was just beginning, an sweet reminder of how exciting new starts can be.
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Three days is not enough time to know if I’m willing exchange my Western Australian residency for a Queensland one. But, the Gold Coast just didn’t feel like my next new home. Maybe it was my mindset or something about the Gold Coast itself.

Or maybe, when you’re living in limbo, nothing ever really feels quite right anyways.

Good to Know

What to do in Gold Coast: Take advantage of Goldie’s amazing beaches like Coolangatta, Broadbeach, Burleigh, or Kirra. Take surfing lessons or go surfing. Bike from Burleigh to Surfers Paradise. Hike in the Springbrook National Park. Head out on a boat tour.
Where to grab a drink: Head to Oskars at sunset for a perfect view of Surfers Paradise in the distance and surfers close by.
Where to stay in Gold Coast: I recommend staying away from Surfers Paradise if you’re not into overly developed/too touristy scenes and opting for somewhere more laid-back like Burleigh or Broadbeach. The Gold Coast also seems like it’d be a great place to try Couchsurfing, if you’re up for that.

What to do for a short stay in Gold Coast, Queensland? Surfing, bike riding, Surfers Paradise, and more!

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59 Responses

  1. Pete says:

    This is hilarious! Hope you’ll figure out your next moves soon.

  2. Indrani says:

    Whew! What a journey! I can’t imagine myself hoisting the bike up my shoulders and go on… Great captures… makes up for all the hardships.

  3. blair villanueva says:

    What a beautiful place! Each time I travel I make sure I could make friends with at least one person (mostly I make friends with locals) and it is such a wonderful feeling, which make more exciting to visit again coz I know they are just there. 🙂

  4. Paola says:

    This is the real paradise!! I have never been to Australia, but I would love to take the proper time to go there and visit it long and wide.

  5. Sona Sethi says:

    I love the idea of cycling to explore any destination. This is the first thing I eye for when I am out on travel. like the red bike. 🙂
    Sona Sethi recently posted…Things to Do in Gili TrawanganMy Profile

  6. Nice pictures you were able to take here, I have always enjoyed moving. You meet new people and leave behind some old friends. Some friends will be in your life forever while some you may never see again but will always be part of your memories. The shots of the clouds are so beautiful. Good Luck in any choice you make.

  7. Evanne says:

    Well you sure worked for that view. What happened to Jesse, though??

  8. Alberto C. says:

    I loved your story! At least you got nice views at the end.
    Hopefully you’ll do better than me trying to figure out how to move next, I’ve been trying to decide that myself for months now! 🙂

  9. Jenn says:

    When I moved to my current location three years ago I knew that it will be for only 4-5 years. And then you get an apartment and think, yes, I will get this and that and that. And life goes on so fast that you don’t realize that it has been one year and you have not yet bought that sofa you were thinking of. But then, if you were able to live without a sofa for a year, what’s the point on buying one when you’ll have to sell it in three more? Two years later, I still don’t own a sofa and all the furniture in my place can be described as a bed, a table and a sleepnight =). My point? Don’t worry and keep on moving, at some point you will move to a place that will feel like “the right one” and then you’ll start buying lamps only because you like them (or at least that what I hope happens to myself!).
    In any case, the Golden Coast looks beautiful, and a very nice place to spend a few years. I specially loved one of the sunset pics!
    And one last thing, about the names, c’mon, Queensland? New York? Precisely over the centuries people naming cities were not the most brilliant or imaginative ones out there =) =)

    • Chantae says:

      I relate to this so much! I totally know what you mean with furniture and being wrapped up not knowing what to do. Interesting that you don’t need to sofa 🙂 I love the insight. Thanks Jenn 🙂

  10. This is a funny recount of your stay in the Gold Coast. Nice photos and I hope you enjoyed the many things you did there. And good luck deciding where you’ll eventually be moving to.

  11. Joanna says:

    I do know what you mean, I always travel alone and experience different things by myself. I never listened to an audio book while cycling before through. I am intrigued by those 15 kilometers though, I am used to cycling every day to work and back and I’d like a challenge like that. Who knows, I might visit Gold Coast soon and do it myself. 🙂
    Joanna recently posted…8 things to do in GlastonburyMy Profile

  12. Veronica says:

    Chantae, you are such a talented author!!!! I think I could even feel what you felt. Next time if you choose to make a new friend or not to make one, please choose to do so. No one ever knows how long the friendship will last. Sometimes we meet some people for just a few hours and the moments spent together will stay in our hearts forever.
    Your photographs … I wonder if everyone else also feels that they are traveling with you? They are so amazing, I want to jump in!

  13. Anne says:

    How could you even think about leaving Perth!!! If you had to go I guess the Gold Coast wouldn’t be too bad!

  14. Ana says:

    Whoa! Loved reading about your adventure! I do travel solo sometimes and really enjoy it. I try to make friends on my trip and engage with locals to know the place better. Your pictures are beautiful!
    Ana recently posted…A Visit To Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers, FLMy Profile

  15. Shounak says:

    Nice piece of writing. Really like your analogies. You should try driving along the Great Ocean Road.

  16. What a beautiful place! Leaving a loved place is a very difficult decision to make, but the world is a big and wonderful place worthy of your time. If it is time to go, it is time to go! I wish you luck in making your decision!
    Judson L Moore recently posted…Three Ways Travel Changed My Life When I Was YoungMy Profile

  17. I have not been to Australia but have friends in Queensland. It is a beautiful place. I would love to go there someday.
    Subhadrika Sen recently posted…The South American BackPacking DiariesMy Profile

  18. Christina says:

    The Gold Coast sounds like a must visit area of Australia. Kudos for you for biking part of it. I definitely could not have done that!

  19. Inka says:

    I totally understand you how hard it is to find a new HOME there are so many too choose from, even though I am pretty sure you made the best of it in your three days there. Sometimes it is also about the people that you meet or the ones you love (much like you US friend) that makes you stay a place and makes you love it even more. You’ll find you home.
    Inka recently posted…Photo of the Day : August 13, 2016My Profile

  20. Tom says:

    Part travelogue, part naval gazing, part introspective, and part just trying to get it together. I think you hit all the stops with this story.

  21. Chelsea says:

    That looks like such a fun trip! And I really relate to you about the deliberating over every decision I make haha!

  22. Ami says:

    Beautiful pictures and very useful tips at the end. Seems like you had fun after all…

  23. The Layovers always intrigues us. We find it interesting and full of surprises when you have to make to a destination before your actual destination. But looks like that drained you through exhaustion which is definitely a challenge but then when rewarded with such amazing views and moments its worth it 🙂
    Rashmi & Chalukya recently posted…Antwerp – For the love of Diamonds, Art and Fashion!My Profile

  24. I think I would love to try surfing sometime. It looks like a really fun sport to try. Your pictures of the area are breathtaking. It is like I am right there with you.
    Jennifer Sikora recently posted…I Am Headed to Negril Jamaica for Social Media on the SandMy Profile

  25. I was really amused by reading this post because one of my best friends is from Gold Coast. But she always tells me not to visit because she doesn’t like it! So it was funny to read that you weren’t in love with it too.
    Stella the Travelerette recently posted…A Perfect Copenhagen Travel ItineraryMy Profile

  26. Loved this piece! How did it end for Jesse, though? I mean, such a heart break! I would have totally cried at that point btw, especially if I were that exhausted. And the rant about naming? Priceless! Although it made Gold Coast strangely feel like home. Here in Ploiesti, we are super apt with naming. I live near a school and the streets around it are called School Alley, Teachers’ Alley and Pupils’ Alley…

    • Chantae says:

      Hahahaha, the names of your school streets are awesome! I actually like those 😛 Thanks a lot Alina 🙂 Jesse… welllll…. I don’t want to give it away but I don’t think he ever found true love 🙁

  27. Star Lengas says:

    You are officially my hero, I would have been quite tempted to leave the bike lol … As a military family, we move every 2-3 years, sometimes in the USA or abroad. So I’ve definitely had to incorporate minimalism into my lifestyle.. so I can definitely relate to debating items when I know I’ll have to give them up. Your photos are absolutely beautiful, I hope to make it to Australia soon.

    • Chantae says:

      Thanks Star 🙂 I can’t imagine moving every few years, you must have quite the adventures with your family! Minimalism is so key but sometimes you just need creature comforts, haha

  28. Tamshuk says:

    What a life it would be in Gold Coast – beautiful!! Nice post about your experience in the surfers paradise
    Tamshuk recently posted…Interview with Liana CohenMy Profile

  29. Sabine says:

    Now that was an adventure…but it’s ok that it didn’t feel like home…some people just have to search a while longer until they find that very special place..and for travelers it seems to be even harder. Tell me when you find a place that feels like home, because maybe then there is hope for me too 😉

    I loved the story and thanks for the information about the Gold Coast =)

  1. September 15, 2016

    […] Like I said in my mini freakout post, at the end of the year, there’s an equal parts chance of staying put, going home to the U.S., or moving elsewhere. Living as an expat so far has been an experience I’ve mostly loved, and would be willing to repeat again somewhere new. But whether this will be the case forever? I have no clue. […]

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