Man holding a surfboard with a backdrop of the Gold Coast

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Enjoy a Retro Ride down Memory Lane

Christine Retschlag

A poster in Currumbin's Surf World Museum proclaims: “Happiness is a journey, not a destination, enjoy the ride.” And how fitting it is. This journey is a retro ride through the Gold Coast, reminiscent of summer childhood holidays and Coppertone tans. It's as ancient as sand castle making competitions on Coolangatta Beach, and Al the Suntan Man who spent years spraying bikini-clad tourists with sunscreen. It's the scent of vegemite toast through caravan parks, snags on the barbecue and cool watermelon slices on the beach. It's an old-fashioned sand-in-the-sheets story and it starts at La Costa Motel at Bilinga Beach.

Built in 1955, this Gold Coast doyenne is one of the original highway hotels which serviced the throngs in thongs who flocked to the southern Gold Coast on sultry summer days. While this grand dame still stands in the same spot - with the Gold Coast Airport on one side and Bilinga Beach on the other - she's undergone a revival in recent years and these days you'll find a mint-coloured building flanked by rainbow beach umbrellas, which embraces its past.

There's 12 motel units here, 11 rooms downstairs where the walls are adorned with old Women's Weeklies, Women's Days and local newspaper cuttings which used to line the ceiling. Upstairs, a large unit boasts bunk beds redolent of your childhood summers, two double bedrooms and a timber deck overlooking the ocean. There's even Coco Pops in the mini-bar, which hark back to the days when mum would buy a Kellogg's breakfast pack and the kids would fight over the pick of the pack.

This is an establishment which embraces retro with gusto from its pink flamingo statues, to its colourful lawn furniture and vibrant retro bikes which are perfect for pedaling along memory lane and towards Kirra Beach. If you squint hard enough as you pass Gilltraps Park, you might remember the old Gilltraps Museum near Kirra bend with its ancient vehicle displays. Indeed, many clients who stay at La Costa Motel are former guests who relish the idea of bringing their families back to a bit of rolled gold old and to dig up those sandy memories like the time grandpa lost his false teeth in the surf.

A highlight of a stay here is the 50s style Vintage Vanity make-overs where for $210 you can have your hair, makeup, props, refreshments and two hi-res edited images to remind you of the past. Even the service is old-fashioned here, with free airport transfers for guests.

You'll find smatterings of old-fashioned service right along the coast such as the Caltex Service Station on the road to the Currumbin Rock Pools where attendants still pump your petrol, to the local corner stores which stock the likes of Whizz Fizz among a plethora of the kinds of sweet treats you'd crave after a salty swim.

Up at O'Reillys Rainforest Retreat at Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland, they embrace an old-fashioned Irish work ethic.  When any members of the family are on school or university holidays, they are not only encouraged to work at the resort, but uphold an age-old tradition where they make their guests toasts in the dining room at breakfast time. Come dinner time, you could find yourself dining in the old slaughterhouse which, as the name suggests, was this dairy farming family's original slaughterhouse.

Bernard O'Reilly and guests at Lamington 1937

Back on the coast, Burleigh Brewing pays homage to the past with its distinctively retro beer labels while at Coolangatta, a walk down Griffith Street will reveal shades of the past from the Original Pie Shop, to second-hand book stores and 20th Century Antiques and Collectables which is home to everything from surfboards to stickers. There's even a retro clothing store next door.

For a truly retro Gold Coast experience, with the entry prices to match, head to Surf World at Currumbin where the $10 fee for adults and $20 for families grants you entry into a museum of surfing through the ages.

Surf the past as you admire more than 150 boards including Okanauii Boards dating back to the 1950s and hollow timber rides. You'll find Stephanie Gilmore's World Championship trophys, the world-title winning boards of Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, Gidget posters, Paula Stafford swim suits and ukuleles galore among these walls. Memorabilia from Rabbit Bartholomew and Layne Beachley are among the exhibitions here.

There's also pre-loved surfing mags, black and white post cards which cost just 20 cents a pop, old board shorts, singlets and skate boards and even scratchy swimsuits made from wool which date back to the 20s, 30s and 40s.

Run by friendly volunteers, which is an old-fashioned notion in itself, you can become lost for hours here as you body surf the past. While the Gold Coast may be the destination, as the poster reminds you, it's the journey that really matters, and what a retro ride it's been.

Christine Retschlag


Christine Retschlag is an award-winning Australian journalist who has worked in newspapers, magazines and online for the past 25 years in Australia, Hong Kong, London and Singapore. In 2006, she won the Australian Travel Writer of the Year award for Best Trade Story as well as the Jack Butters Memorial Award for Travel Writing Excellence. In 2007 she won Best Australian Story over 1000 words and in 2014 won Best Food Travel Story. She is also the author and architect of the successful travel blog: The Global Goddess.

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