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The Gold Coast has a reputation for thrills: theme parks, glitzy nightlife, big surf and meter maids, but there is a lot more to this family-friendly city than meets the eye – or your wallet. The green and gold of our coastline city is bustling with family friendly parklands, cafes and a lot of totally free fun that can fill our long sunny Queensland days.

Our no.1 family destination? The Broadwater Parklands, Southport

If you want to wear out the kids (but not your bank balance) it is the perfect place for you!The Broadwater Parklands are a family-friendly gem loved by Gold Coast residents, and a destination to consider if you are on a short holiday to our city – or on a budget! There is no shortage of free things to do and the kids will fall asleep on the way home – guaranteed!

The Parklands sprawl across three kilometers of waterfront land and include the aquatic centre which will soon host the city’s Commonwealth games swimming events, stretching south to the Sundale Bridge – gateway to Surfers Paradise. Fully landscaped and kept meticulously clean, the Parklands are host to events including holiday celebrations and weekend markets, as well as having some of the best family-friendly playgrounds and amenities, making it the perfect place for kids of all ages to let off some steam!

The jewel of the playgrounds is the Rockpool Water Playground – it’s not for swimming though – this is pure ‘waterplay’ – no floaties required! It is a sculptured ‘creek bed’ full of splash-tastic water fountains and rock pools, filled with cute water creatures, that children will love to play in for hours. The fountains change according to set timings, so children are kept on their toes, or rather being splashed in the eye with a bubbling fountain! Open 7 am- 7 pm during summer, a lifeguard is on duty during opening hours. With plenty of shade, benches, and picnic areas on astro turf surrounds, this is the perfect water play area for even the youngest toddler. One of the best things about this play area? No sand to fill up shoes, swimmers, or the car!

The nearby Fish Shak cafe pours a lovely coffee and makes a mean fish and chips, which at $12.50 is more affordable than a work-day lunch. The cafe has amenities including baby-change area and sits on one of the many pathways overlooking the Great Lawn, the location of our city’s Christmas Carols and regular free family Movies Under the Stars. Check the wall alongside the cafe for upcoming events, or check online here (link: http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/thegoldcoast/broadwater-parklands-events-29755.html)

Follow the wide paths south (the kids can bring their scooters, bikes, roller skates – we’ve even seen a miniature Mercedes convertible cruising the park) to the main playground, which is a combination of ride-on ‘trains’, a pirate ship for the little ones,  a flying fox, swings and a big highlight – a giant inflatable jumping pillow which you won’t be able to drag the kids away from. It’s probably best for kids 5 and up, although the younger kids will still have a try. Just beware that children are literally catapulting in all directions! Fully fenced and with benches around the perimeter, including some in the shade, be prepared to sit here while the kids burn some serious energy.

There is also a bike/scooter ‘obstacle course’,  and equipment for children confined to a wheelchair. On the weekends and school holidays,  free children’s activities fill the park, including craft and sports activities.

Small coffee and ice-cream kiosks set up under the shady trees, and you can also bring a picnic lunch and make use of the many BBQs and picnic tables all over the Parklands (admittedly $12.50 fish and chips is expensive when you have more than a few mouths to feed!).

Grab an ice-cream and venture out on the pier for a spectacular view across the Broadwater. To the east, you can see SeaWorld and watch the helicopters take off on joyrides (kids young and old love to watch this), see the sails of Marina Mirage and the boats anchored in the marina at the Southport Yacht Club. South you can see the Surfers Paradise skyline, breathe in the salt air and feel the love for our gorgeous city. This view is spectacular by day or by night. If you feel inclined you can even drop a line in (there is a bait and tackle shop north of the aquatic centre) or learn about the pier’s history.

Of course, being waterfront land there are lots of swimming options including the swimming lagoon on the Broadwater which is a netted swimming area (the Broadwater and Gold Coast canals are known to be home to bull sharks – best be safe!). Older children will be able to race each other to the pontoon. An inflatable water playground, AquaSplash, is south of the lagoon, although it is not free, it is reasonably priced at about $13 per person. In the afternoons, dolphins sometimes come to feed at the water’s edge. Magic!

The Broadwater Parklands are a fabulous day out where the kids will be entertained all day, you can take a picnic, have a swim, play on the fun equipment and take in the view, all for free. You may even struggle to get the kids to stop for lunch, they will be having a ball!