VA526 to Sydney, economy class
Here's a clue: up until 1999 this airport was known as Coolangatta Airport, because it's actually far closer to that border-straddling beach town than it is to its new namesake, the Gold Coast. The drive from Gold Coast Airport to Coolie is about three kilometres. To central Surfers Paradise, meanwhile, it's 22 kilometres, a commute that can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the traffic. Options for accessing the airport are either self-drive, taxi or Uber, or take a public bus or dedicated airport Skybus.
OOL is a small airport, with no claims to greatness. It has the sort of garish colour scheme you'd expect from a beachy hub (seriously, you're about 500 metres from the ocean when you land), and though it's officially now an international airport, this is nothing like the major port you might be picturing. The whole terminal is spread across one level, with a spacious check-in area leading to a small security zone, which in turn leads to a fairly cramped airside departure lounge. There's an extra security check for those flying internationally.
I've checked in for my flight to Sydney online and I don't have any baggage, so I walk past the check-in counters, which have quite long queues for the predominantly budget carriers that operate out of OOL, and head for security.
There's a bit of a queue here, but the staff are always friendly on the Gold Coast, in that laconic Queensland way, and it's not long before I'm shot out into the departure lounge.
FOOD AND DRINK
Don't arrive at OOL expecting anything gourmet. This is, after all, a glorified provincial airport, and unless you're hanging out for Hungry Jack's, Red Rooster or a Sumo Salad, you'll probably be disappointed. There are a few options for dining and coffee land-side, though most outlets seem to be in the departure lounge, which is small enough that you won't miss anything.
Most shops here have a charmingly Gold Coast feel to them. There's Surf Dive 'n Ski, in case you forgot to pick up a pair of boardies in Surfers, a Sunglass Hut for all your mirrored Oakley needs, and, curiously, a Victoria's Secret. Again, there's nothing here that's amazing, but it is a solid line-up for those after some budget-friendly last-minute shopping, or who just want to pick up a paperback and some snacks.
Both Qantas and Virgin have lounges at OOL, though these are for eligible members only – you can't pay for one-off access. There's free Wi-Fi throughout the airport, and live music once a week in the departures lounge. Still, you won't want to be hanging around OOL for any long period of time. Fortunately, Kirra beach is just across the Gold Coast Highway, meaning if you have a few hours to spare it's entirely possible to leave your luggage in the airport lockers and head across for a swim and a bite to eat at one of the local cafes.
ONE MORE THING
One fortunate benefit of Gold Coast Airport's southern location is that it's actually quite handy to some of the emerging and established hotspots in northern NSW, such as Cabarita, Kingscliff, Brunswick Heads and Byron Bay. The latter beachy paradise is less than an hour away from the airport, and costs $28 to get to on the Skybus. It's also only 20 minutes from OOL to Burleigh Heads, one of the Gold Coast's best southern beaches, and up-and-coming Kirra is straight across the highway. With options like those, why would you bother with Surfers Paradise?
OOL is a basic, functional airport. The entire terminal is laid out over one level. It has no air bridges – each flight is boarded via a wander across the apron and a climb up some stairs. The food and drink options are limited, and the spaces are frequently cramped, as more and more passengers use the hub to access not just the GC, but the northern NSW coast. Still, Gold Coast Airport does its job, with few major headaches.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE