Airtrain transfers Brisbane to Gold Coast, Queensland: The easiest way to travel Brisbane and the Gold Coast

Here's a question for you. What's the distance between Australia's third and sixth biggest cities? 

Answer? Just 90 kilometres.

Between them, the two neighbouring cities attract millions of domestic and international visitors each year, boasting some of the nation's finest tourist drawcards – from art galleries and museums to theme parks and world-famous beaches.

So surely any holidaymaker who has booked a week in one would automatically consider a day out exploring the vastly different experiences on offer in the other? Especially when there is a regular, fast and inexpensive railway service between them?

Except Aussie tourists tend not to combine the two in the one trip. 

Which is why a group of Australian and New Zealand travel writers are speeding on a Saturday morning between Brisbane (population 3.3 million) and the Gold Coast (614,000 – which makes it larger than Canberra, Hobart or Darwin). 

We're on Airtrain, the privately-owned railway that, since it opened in 2001, has carried more than 21 million passengers between Brisbane Airport, Brisbane itself and the Gold Coast. 

Soon the connections will be even smoother: in 2015 the Turnbull government committed $95 million to extend the Gold Coast light railway in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games so it dovetails seamlessly with the heavier rail line.

Airtrain staff are very proud of their railway, assuring us it easily competes with other great airport railways of Europe, Asia and North America. But, they admit, this one suffers a bit of an image problem.


Most Australian visitors who fly into Brisbane Airport know the Airtrain is the quickest and cheapest way of getting into Brisbane Central (the journey takes around 23 minutes). Some realise it's a relaxing way of arriving at their Gold Coast hotel if they choose not to fly direct via Coolangatta.

Sadly, though, we interstate Aussies haven't cottoned on to what Queensland locals have known for years. Airtrain allows you to get from Brisbane to Surfers Paradise, or vice versa, for a day out, stress-free.

To prove it, the Airtrain team have put together what is undoubtedly the most bizarre media trip I've been on. 

In less than 48 hours, our party of eight is being given a whirlwind tour of some of the lesser-known tourism drawcards of both Brisbane and the Gold Coast – all with one thing in common: they're each accessible by Airtrain.

Our itinerary includes a visit to one of Australia's finest art galleries, a guided walk through Brisbane's fascinating history, a twilight Segway-for-beginners tour along the city's vibrant Southbank precinct and a daring Bridgeclimb-like ascent up the tallest building in Queensland. 

Let's be honest. Only diehard travel journalists would sign on for this breakneck itinerary. And yet each experience is worth considering if you are heading for Brisbane or the Gold Coast, and are tempted to spend a day in the other destination.


After catching the Airtrain to Brisbane Central, we check into our hotel for the night – the Sofitel Central Brisbane (, a high-towered extension which rises above the station. This makes it a particularly convenient base for anyone spending just one sightseeing day in the city.

Fifteen minutes after check-in, we're in taxis heading to the Gallery of Modern Art or GOMA (, the highly regarded contemporary gallery. It's the most recent addition to Brisbane's Cultural District which also houses the Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Museum, the Performing Arts Centre and the Theatre Company. 

Every three years it hosts the APT Asia Pacific Triennial. Some 80 artists from 36 countries are represented at this year's event which ends on April 10.

We lunch at the two-hatted GOMA Restaurant, presided over by head chef Joshua Lopez who was 2015 Queensland Chef of the Year. It's essentially a lunchtime venue with the emphasis on produce from south-east Queensland (pippies, baby prawns, black squid and blowtorched pilchards featured on the "plate of bait" on the menu). 


Lunch finished, we're met by Blair Allsop, one of 200 volunteers who lead visitors on free walks organised by Brisbane Greeters ( Canadian-born, Blair tells us about 12,000 people a year join a pre-arranged Brisbane Greeters tour, which take between two and four hours. 

Each greeter has his or her speciality. Blair's favourite subjects include architecture, colonial history and Brisbane's rich World War heritage, and he peppers his highly engaging commentary with a bit of each as he leads us across the river and back to our hotel. The beauty of these tours is that you explore the city with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable local.


As the sun starts to set we head back over the river to the Riverlife activities centre ( near Kangaroo Point. The company offers kayaking and rock climbing, but we're here for our Segway tour. We're all beginners, but after a 20-minute induction course, which proves surprisingly easy, we set off in line behind our leader along the riverside terrace.

It's Friday night and the entertainment part of Southbank is vibrant, with its fancy restaurants, bars and famous man-made beach. Turning round at the Wheel of Brisbane, we're all proud of our Segway mastery – and wish we had a bit more time to enjoy the Southbank atmosphere. But we have to be back the Sofitel for a sumptuous dinner ...


Saturday morning finds us at the Gold Coast after the 90-minute trip on Airtrain. Most of us have signed on to do the Skypoint Climb (, little realising what we have let ourselves in for.

The Q1 Resort in Surfer's Paradise is Queensland's tallest building. The Skypoint Observation Deck, on levels 77 and 78, offers unsurpassed 360 degrees of the beaches, canals and hinterland of the Gold Coast from a height of 230 metres. 

But we're donning fetching grey safety suits and heading outside to negotiate the extra 40 metres up the exposed metal stairs to complete the highest building climb in Australia. 

The whole experience takes about 90 minutes. Is it scary? Yes, especially when the guide challenges you to lean the full length of your safety harness over the side. But 35,000 people a year have done the climb since it opened in 2012. No-one has been lost yet.


Our Surfers Paradise hotel, QT Gold Coast (, describes itself as where "nostalgic surfer chic meets Miami catwalk cool", and for once the advertising Mad Men have got it right. This is a temple of hip styling, epitomised by the playful, oversized 1950s images that greet you in the lift.

Even if you don't stay here, try the QTea High Tea where the inventive Irish pastry chef conjures up unforgettable treats such as bikini-shaped biscuits and tomato macarons. Better still, book a dinner at Bazaar but don't call it an upmarket buffet. "Traditional marketplace with a 21st-century twist" is the official description. Either way, the freshly made international dishes (including plenty of local seafood) are mouthwateringly delicious.



Airtrain operates 100 services a day during the week and 60 per day at weekends. Tickets can be booked online. Airtrain Connect provides door-to-door services between Brisbane Airport and Gold Coast holiday accommodation with chauffeur-driven cars meeting passengers at the relevant Gold Coast station. See

Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Airtrain.

See also: Six of the best new Gold Coast attractions

See also: Australian trains vs planes: Three capital cities, no flights