From a dynamic Blues festival to heavenly ballooning in the hinterland, a trip to the Gold Coast is much more than golden shores, writes Diana Plater.
The hot air balloon lifts silently above mist rising from the dams and the farms and outhouses below, which begin to look like Legoland. It’s freezing cold and I’m grateful for my gloves and cap, but as we watch the sun come up, the balloon rises higher and higher, and so does the temperature. We are inside Queensland’s stunning Scenic Rim near the town of Beaudesert. To the south are the Border Ranges, the north Brisbane, the west the Great Dividing Range and to the east is the Gold Coast.
Festive fun on the Gold Coast
A day earlier I was in a crowded pub pumping with the sounds of blues guitarist Simon Kinny-Lewis at Blues on Broadbeach, the annual free music festival held all around the parks, streets and venues of Broadbeach. I went straight to guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel’s masterclass where he talked about his musical influences including Chet Atkins, and how his mum taught him the guitar at age four before taking the whole family on the road. Later, Major Events Gold Coast Director of Festival and Events and self-confessed music nerd, Mark Duckworth, walked me past some of the 16 stages and venues from the Broadbeach Mall piano bar to the main stage at Kurrawa Park, all within a four-block square, towered over by ultra-modern, high-rise buildings and fringed by that famous surf beach.
Duckworth explains the festival first began in 2002 when local businesses wanted to fill accommodation in the winter months and now has more than 60 musicians playing blues, funk, rhythm, soul, folk and more. One of the festival’s support partners is Memphis Tourism, but the city of soul might lose headliner Marcus Scott & The Bo-Keys. Scott tells the late-night crowd he’s been talking to local real estate agents as he’s “gonna move here”. Other big names over the years have included Canned Heat, Eric Burdon and the Animals and Don Walker.
8 Ball Aitken, a Queensland musician, who lived in Nashville for nine years, and has toured all over the world for “22 years, doing 220 gigs a year in 20 different countries” says the “really strong” Blues scene keeps getting reinvented and attracting a new audience, something the festival has encouraged. “So many cities and places would love to have a festival this big and this good… arm in arm with friends rocking out… the sun’s hitting you, you’re smelling the salty ocean air and enjoying the camaraderie of the music that glues you together for life.”
Into the Gold Coast hinterland
After the festival, I view the exhibitions and the rooftop vista at the nearby HOTA, Home of the Arts, and then drive an hour to the hinterland – Tamborine Mountain, which encompasses Mount Tamborine, Eagle Heights and North Tamborine.
Easily done as a day tour, it’s even better to overnight or take a few days to chill out via a melting pot of national park bushwalks and picnicking, waterfalls, locally-made arts and crafts stores, wineries and unique restaurants. After lunch and a bushwalk, by late afternoon. I’m ready for a relaxed wine tasting beneath sprawling avocado trees at Witches Falls Winery. That evening under the stars I’m mesmerised by the sound of the creek as I soak in a spa at my glamping tent at Cedar Creek Lodges. My idea of Heaven.
The next morning we help pack the balloon into the biggest ‘sleeping bag’ I’ve seen and then head to O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards for a champagne brunch. It’s the adventure of his job that appeals most, Hot Air Balloon Gold Coast chief pilot Jay Schesser tells me. “You have to be able to make quick decisions because as the wind changes you have to adapt,” he says. He also gets a kick out of the expressions on the faces of people who have never experienced ballooning before. It’s a bit like Blues music. As 8 Ball Aitken told me earlier: “The Blues turns a lot of hardship into a lot of joy.”
Blues on Broadbeach is back
Blues on Broadbeach returns to the Gold Coast in 2024 from 16 to 19 May. Featuring strong female guitar heroes, international heavy hitters and much-loved homegrown faves, the electrifying lineup will transform the Gold Coast into a rhythm and blues mecca for four days.
The first lineup has dropped, and attendees can expect to find blues-rock genre benders Melissa Etheridge (USA), Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton (USA), Ana Popovic (USA), fiery bluesman Eric Bibb (USA), and returning favourite Lloyd Speigel Trio headline the festival.
Twelve Bar Society
Twelve Bar Society is also back for Blues on Broadbeach 2024. Now in its third year, this exclusive membership club presents blues lovers the chance to forge and even deeper connection with the festival and the artists they love.
Twelve Bar Society members will have the chance to hear from internationally renowned guitarist and vocalist, Ana Popovic, and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, Eric Bibb, as part of the club’s In Conversation sessions. Plus, they’ll receive an exclusive invite to the 2024 secret show, get access to the VIP bar, limited-edition merchandise and more.
Available only through Oztix, an exclusive pre-sale will be available to 2023 Twelve Bar Society members at 9am AEST Thursday 7 December with a general sale opening from 9am AEST Friday 8 December.
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