"We're in the noisiest part, the flashiest part and the busiest part of Surfers," says front office receptionist (and professional MC) Dene Harris. This 1970s high-rise was the first resort constructed in Surfers Paradise – unashamedly the entertainment precinct of the Gold Coast – and until recently was the flamingo-pink Islander Resort.
The building still stands 12 storeys high and a block-and-a-half from the beach, and has been through some changes since its former owner, the Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate, sold it to honour an election promise. After a year of renovations by its new owners, the Katarzyna Group, The Island opened in 2017. "It used to be the schoolies hotel," says a security guard I meet in the lift. "Now it's on a different path."
Certain elements have been retained, including staff, others have been repurposed and everything else is brand new. The 24-hour reception, with its mishmash of chesterfields and retro easy-chairs, is now on the first floor. Ninety-eight rooms and suites are structurally paired to share tiny vestibules so adjoining rooms can be locked off from the hallway and treated as a larger unit.
Gaming formerly dominated the front of the hotel and has not just taken a back seat but a back room. In its place is bright breezy Goldie's, with an open kitchen, long bar, timber floors, wicker light shades, plants and raised tables with bar stools. When I arrive early on a Friday evening its atmosphere is relaxed and an acoustic guitar performance is under way.
Above the gaming room is the 18+ Island Rooftop bar – an expansive open-air space with comfy furniture, more plants, sun, shade and cocktails. Thursday gin-and-jazz nights draw all kinds of locals while Sundays bring in "a bit more Gold Coast glitz and glamour", says Harris. Downstairs is the all-ages pool deck. Sections of both spaces can be hired out as can the penthouse – where Tate's parents used to live – which has been transformed into a bar and two function rooms with wood-panelled walls, chandeliers and amazing views.
I'm in a king suite on the 11th floor – a large, functional room with Scandinavian-inspired styling. There's a kitchenette and a modest-sized bathroom with small white butcher-shop tiles on the walls, a touch mirror and a huge shower head. The hotel is still a bit of a work in progress: there's a crack in the kitchen bench, bare nails awaiting pictures, a roughly glued side table. My long private balcony overlooks the Rooftop bar while Surfers' first apartment block divides water views.
The king-sized bed is very comfortable and the pillows are plump and abundant. There's a flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi with no password required. Sliding doors won't completely block out the noise of loud drunk people on the street so take earplugs if you plan to swim against the current of Surfers' weekend social scene.
A buffet breakfast is always included when you book directly with The Island. The Goldie's lunch and dinner menu, catering for various dietary requirements, offers everything from beetroot salad and hoisin-glazed mushrooms to wood-fired pizza and a Southern fried chicken burger. There are $10 weekday lunch options (with a drink purchase) and no extra charges for room service.
Look down on Surfers from 230 metres at Q1's SkyPoint Observation Deck (skypoint.com.au) or put your body on the line at iFLY indoor skydiving (iflyworld.com). Wander south along the beach towards Coolangatta and see how far you get or drive into the hinterland for bushwalks and wineries.
With its freshly applied make-up, the longstanding The Island is a real character worth getting to know and one that embodies, or perhaps it created, Gold Coast charm. For travellers without expectations of polished perfection, this centrally located hotel is good value for money and a great place to hang out.
The Island Gold Coast, 3128 Surfers Paradise Boulevard. Rooms from $150 a night for a double ($40 for each extra person). See theislandgoldcoast.com.au
The penthouse function spaces are almost worth getting married for, especially the women's bathroom.
The Island's public areas (except for the pool) are designed to be accessible for everyone but none of the rooms or suites seem to have been modified to be fully wheelchair accessible.
Elspeth Callender was a guest of The Island Gold Coast.