Unspoilt ... the view southward along the Tweed Cosat to Kingscliff. Photo: Alamy
The beach towns straddling Queensland's border have many winning attractions besides Elvis, writes Debbie Neilson-Hunter.
The slick jet-black hair, sideburns and the snug-fitting jumpsuit are unmistakeable. Just as convincing are the screaming fans, their ages wildly swaying like the singer's hips from twentysomethings to grandmothers with hair the same shade as their eye shadow.
The 1970s have returned briefly and The King lives - at least in the shape of Elvis impersonator Max Pellicano, direct from the US.
The clear waters of Cudgen Creek at Kingscliff. Photo: Alamy
Mimicking the rock'n'roll legend to a tee, Max curls his lip, wipes the sweat from his brow with his scarf and then wraps it around the neck of a tall, curvaceous blonde who appears to swoon at his touch. I don't know whether to laugh or cry - at her, him or the whole concept of the show. Suddenly, "I'm caught in a trap, I can't walk out" because now I'm mouthing the lyrics to Suspicious Minds and dancing in my seat alongside the rest of the audience in the Twin Towns Showroom.
Although it's far from the bright lights of the Nevada desert, Twin Towns Services Club, straddling the border of Queensland and NSW on the southern end of the Gold Coast, has a definitive Las Vegas vibe. The club originates from the period between the 1950s and the mid-1990s, when northern punters were encouraged to hop just south of the border to party and gamble where it was legal (although Queensland's first legal casino, Jupiters, opened on the Gold Coast in 1985, gaming machines weren't legalised in Queensland-registered clubs until the early 1990s).
But this is just a small (flashy) part of what the coastline has to offer. From the twin border towns of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads heading south is the Tweed Coast, boasting 37 kilometres of uncrowded, unspoilt beaches and sun-drenched, vibrant arts communities, an award-winning dining scene, fertile green valleys and peaceful World Heritage-listed rainforests amid an ancient caldera. Whatever your mood - green or gold - there's a holiday with your name on it here.
A whale breaches off the Tweed Coast. Photo: Getty Images
Our two-day escape, however, takes on a retro seaside holiday vibe.
On a morning walk from Coolangatta's newly revitalised Jack Evans Boat Harbour, which features parkland with boardwalks and rocky spots for fishing, we spot local surfing legend Mark Occhilupo heading back from one of his favourite surf breaks at Duranbah - fondly known as D-Bah.
Another favourite of his is Cafe Dbar, situated opposite the lighthouse on the hill overlooking the waves, and that's where we head for one of its legendary breakfasts. The former surf shack had many lives before owner Steve Archdeacon and his wife Donna bought it. These days it serves up some of the coast's best casual food and coffee (enjoyed in the garden, on the footpath or upstairs with Pacific Ocean views), as well as the region's top artistic talent, whose works are displayed for sale in the adjoining gallery.
Inside Babalou, Kingscliff Beach Hotel.
More fun-filled 1960s surf memorabilia lines the walls of the Watersports Guru shop. A 15-minute drive from our accommodation at the Outrigger Twin Towns Resort, it has everything to get a family holiday off to a winning start - bikes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, surfboards, wetsuits, fishing equipment (including bait and tackle), snorkelling gear and beach and park games.
Eager to work off our protein-fuelled breakfast, we grab bikes, helmet and a map. Cycleways here stretch from Fingal to Cabarita - an 80-minute journey on two wheels. It might be early spring but it's hot, so from Kingscliff we follow the beachside trails south as far as Salt Village (encompassing retail outlets, two major resorts and luxury homes) 15 minutes away, taking time out to cool down from the heat and sample some of Piccolo Gelato's exotic flavours before heading back.
Kingscliff has all the trademarks of a sleepy coastal village but along the main thoroughfare of Marine Parade is a surprisingly sophisticated shopping and dining scene, so our efforts on the bikes is lost again on a delicious tapas-style lunch at Babalou.
Views here also stretch across the Pacific Ocean and as we dine we keep an eye out for whales. We know they're out there. In April-May and October-November, the waters along the Gold and Tweed coasts become a migratory highway for humpbacks.
Not chancing our luck spotting one from shore, the day before we'd hopped on Tony and Carol Hunt's 15-metre catamaran, Whale Watcher. Banking on their money-back guarantee, our gamble on Coolangatta Whale Watch pays off and we see at least a dozen over the three-hour cruise (the first within 30 minutes of leaving shore). This is made even more impressive against the backdrop of the towering Gold Coast skyline. Not to be outdone by their giant marine cousins, a friendly pod of dolphins forms a surprise welcome party as we return to the private jetty behind the Coolangatta & Tweed Heads Golf Club.
This prompts me to lean over the rails and politely whisper (in my best Memphis, Tennessee, accent), "Thank you very much".
The writer was a guest of Outrigger Hotels and Resorts.
Fly direct to Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta. goldcoastairport.com.au.
Outrigger Twin Towns Resort is a 4½-star hotel, conveniently linked to the Twin Towns Services Club in Coolangatta and just metres from the beach. There are 360 modern and self-contained one-, two- and three-bedroom suites. Resort facilities include a restaurant, bar, two pools, spa, tennis courts, mini golf course, gym with steam room, outdoor barbecue areas, business centre and conference rooms. Rates from $159 a night, including buffet breakfast. outrigger.com.au.
Breakfast Cafe Dbar, 275 Boundary Street, Coolangatta. Open from 7am. The art gallery opens 9am-4pm daily. cafedbar.com.au.
Lunch Babalou, Level 1, 102 Marine Parade, Kingscliff. babalou.net.au.
Dinner Bellakai Restaurant, 82 Marine Parade, Coolangatta. A funky venue with a modern Australian menu on the beachfront. (07) 5599 5116.
See + do
Twin Towns' Showroom hosts top national and international acts year round. twintowns.com.au.
Whale-watching season runs from June to early November. coolangattawhalewatch.com.au.
Learn to surf or simply hire a bike to ride along the coast with Watersports Guru Tim Jack Adams and his team at their Kingscliff shop, 76 Marine Parade. watersportsguru.com.