This piece was contributed by Amy Mills of www.thetravellingtribe.co.

Queensland’s Gold Coast was once known for its high-rise buildings, sprawling resorts and theme parks, however in recent years, the surf city has transformed from a tourist mecca into an entrepreneurial and creative hub with a host of new restaurants, galleries and boutiques popping up what seems like every week. There are also a slew of hip boutique markets, secret waterfalls and hidden gems to explore – if you know where to look. If you’re visiting the GC this summer, here are some under-the-radar points of interest to add to your hit list.

Echo Beach

Echo Beach in Gold Coast Australia

Yes, there are 57 kilometres of picture-perfect beaches on the Gold Coast, but don’t leave town without taking a dip at the lesser-known Echo Beach, one of the city’s most beautiful swimming spots. Located within the Burleigh Heads National Park at the northern side of Tallebudgera Creek, this sheltered spot is an ideal place for swimming, stand-up paddle boarding – or SUPing, as the locals call it – and people watching. There’s a flagged swimming area across the creek on the Palm Beach side of the bridge for those who prefer a patrolled beach, but this seriously picturesque cove is flat, protected and ideal for basking in the glorious Queensland sunshine. Be sure to get there early, as this Instagrammable beach gets busy due to its natural beauty.

Where: The Burleigh Heads National Park side of Tallebudgera Creek.

The Village Markets

The Village Markets in Gold Coast Australia

When local marketing executives Marissa Bowden and Sarah Schoeller were made redundant from their jobs during the GFC (aka the global financial crisis), it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them – and the Gold Coast’s cultural scene. Avid travellers and long-time fans of bazaars such as London’s Portobello Road Market, the fashion savvy colleagues were determined to inject some much-needed culture and community into the tourist town and give emerging talent on the Coast a platform to showcase their designs.

A decade later, The Village Markets, which celebrated its milestone 10th birthday on October 7, has become one of the most loved boutique designer markets in Australia and a launchpad for local brands-turned-international success stories like Peony swimwear, Kivari, Children of the Tribe and Grace Bijoux.

The market is held on the first and third Sunday of each month at Burleigh Heads State School, so you can take a morning dip in the ocean at beautiful Burleigh and walk across the road to TVM. Grab a coffee and some food from the range of food trucks, chill on a blanket and listen to some tunes by local musicians – Ziggy Alberts started off at TVM – and shop a carefully edited selection of 100-plus fashion, homewares, ceramics, swimwear, active wear and children’s wear stalls. ‘Good Vibes Only’ is the ethos of TVM, and you will certainly find it in spades.

Where: Burleigh Heads State School, Burleigh Heads, 8.30am–1pm.

Currumbin Beach

Currumbin Beach in Gold Coast Australia

It’s easy to miss this idyllic enclave while driving along the Gold Coast Highway to or from Gold Coast Airport. However, turn off at the iconic Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, which has attracted the likes of Eva Longoria and Pink in recent weeks, follow the road towards the beach and you’ll find one of the region’s most beautiful seaside villages. Currumbin, located 25km south of Surfers, has long had a fierce greens movement who have fought hard to keep the area free from high-rises, so it has a completely different vibe to action-packed spots like Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise, but is what many locals consider to be the ‘real Gold Coast.’

Grab an Acai bowl – try the coconut and cacao – and a strong flat white from the friendly crew at hole-in-the-wall The Salt Mill and chill on the grass, browse the selection of boutiques or paddle out for a wave at iconic surf spot The Alley. The estuary where Currumbin Creek meets the Pacific Ocean is the perfect place to take a dip or try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding. For a late lunch and cold beer, the Currumbin Surf Life Saving Club, built against Elephant Rock, is as close as you’ll get to the water without getting wet.

From September 14 to 23, the area turns into an open-air gallery for the family-friendly Swell Sculpture Festival, which showcases the work of local, national and international artists. After a long day in the sun, Balter Brewing Company, the beer brand designed by pro surfers Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, is just a five-minute drive away and is open from Wednesday through Sunday.

Natural Bridge Waterfall

The Natural Bridge Waterfall in Gold Coast Australia

The Coast’s coastline might draw tourists to the city in droves, but its natural beauty extends far beyond the world-renowned white sand beaches. With its sub-tropical rainforest, ancient trees and cascading waterfalls, the hinterland is home to a host of natural attractions, including Springbrook National Park, which is a Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. The jewel in the national park is Natural Bridge, a sunlit waterfall pouring across and down through a hole in an arched cave-like formation.

The natural bridge can be accessed via the Natural Bridge Circuit, an easy 30-minute walking trail which weaves through towering hoop pines, stranger figs, lush palm trees and running streams and into the cave. The cave is home to thousands of glow-worms, micro bats, luminous fungi and fireflies, so the view is just as spectacular at night. You can bring a picnic or head to the Natural Arch Café, a few kilometres down the road.

Where: Springbrook National Park, Natural Bridge Road, Springbrook.

Greenhouse Bath House

The Greenhouse Bath House in Gold Coast Autralia

Like the rest of the world, plant-based living is more popular than ever before on the Gold Coast with a host of vegan restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, spas and beauty salons popping up around the city. Sisters Natalie and Charlie Evans took veganism from a sub-culture to the mainstream with their popular plant-based eatery Greenhouse Canteen at Miami a few years ago, and have expanded into the wellness landscape with their unisex communal rejuvenation space.

Tucked away behind some shops at the mouth of the Tallebudgera Valley, this Moroccan-inspired oasis is the perfect place to relax and recharge. There are a few packages to choose from, but a favourite is the Luxe Soak [$75pp], which includes use of the two heated hydrotherapy spas, wet steam room, red cedar sauna, magnesium plunge pool and a plant-based lunch with champagne or kombucha. For extra cruelty-free pampering, you can add a full body massage to your package. Bliss.

Where: 7/37a Tallebudgera Creek Road, Burleigh Heads.

Foodie’s Paradise

Hellenika restaurant in Nobby Beach Australia

Like the cultural scene, the culinary landscape on the Coast has evolved in recent years with some exceptional dining venues attracting foodies to the region. For world-class, modern Greek fare and a buzzing rooftop bar, try Hellenika at Nobby Beach. The hatted Kiyomi at the recently redeveloped The Star Gold Coast offers a flawless Japanese dining experience, while the Moreton Bay bug rolls and cocktails at beachfront Pan-Asian gem Rick Shores, recently voted Queensland’s Best Restaurant in the Delicious 100, are worth visiting the Gold Coast for alone.

Hailed as the new Byron Bay, Burleigh is also home to Sydney chef Alex Munoz Labart and his wife Karla’s new upscale bistro Restaurant Labart and the $9.1 million Burleigh Pavilion. The brainchild of the owners of Sydney and Bali’s Mrs Sippy, the beachfront bar and restaurant is set to open in early December with 2 Michelin starred-chef Guillaume Zika at the helm. For a more casual bite and some live music, permanent night food markets Burleigh’s Barbecue Bazaar and Miami Marketta make for a fun night out.

Miami Marketta in Gold Coast Australia

Cougal Cascades

The lush Currumbin Valley at the southern end of the coast is home to the Currumbin Rock Pools, which, sadly, have become a little overpopulated in recent years. However, drive a little further along Currumbin Creek Road to its end and you’ll come to the car park for Mount Cougal, Springbrook National Park. A sealed walking track will take you to Cougal Cascades, a series of beautiful mountain rock pools, small waterfalls and a natural rockslide surrounded by lush sub-tropical rainforest. There are plenty of shady spots for a dip and a picnic, or you can take a 1km walk along the bitumen path to the restored remains of a 1940s heritage saw mill. On the way home, pop into Freeman’s Organic Farm for a coffee from the farm café and some fresh produce.

Cougal Cascades in Gold Coast Australia

Where: Currumbin Creek Road, Currumbin Valley.