Surfers Paradise and Southend: UK and Australian Commercial Seaside Towns Compared

The search for Australia’s most commercial beach

Last week in my post Heading North of Perth into Midwest Australia I put up a stunning time-lapse video, it may even be the best video on this website.

As at the time of writing, not a single comment on it. Undeterred, I have another timelapse video coming up today. Before that though, let’s talk about my old home town.


Southend seafrontAnybody who has read my About me page will know that I was born and raised in Southend. Southend is a seaside town and it has what is known as The Golden Mile. It’s not really a mile long, but it is very commercial.

On one side of the road is the beach, on the other side, wall to wall entertainment. Pubs, cafes, amusement arcades, discos, souvenir shops, more pubs and more amusement arcades.

The pride of Southend though, back in the day when I was a kid, was a huge amusement and theme park with rollercoasters, rides and the ‘Wall of Death’. It was called the Kursaal.

As a 12-year-old I used to, and I think it’s okay to admit it now, bunk in to the Kursaal through the back fence from Woodgrange Drive. One summer I even managed to get a part-time job working on the hammer, you know, hit the metal plate, ring the bell, win a prize.

The Kursaal, unfortunately, closed down some time in the 70s and much of the land was sold off to developers. It did reopen again in 1998, but it was a much smaller venue with no outdoor rides.

The Golden Mile remains though and we can check it out with this wonderful video posted on YouTube by Bruce and Twiggy.

As they drive along the seafront in their car, the sea is to the left and on the right you will see the Golden Mile. As I said above, it’s wall-to-wall entertainment. In this video you will see:

  • The Forrester (pub)
  • The Seashell Shop
  • Hyperdrome Amusement Arcade
  • Subway
  • Spar General Store
  • Southend Rock and Gift Shop
  • Fish and Chip Shop
  • Falcon (pub)
  • Las Vegas Amusement Arcade
  • Neptunes (café, I think)
  • Coral Bookmakers
  • Stardust (gift shop)
  • The Hope Hotel (pub)
  • Monty Carlo Amusement Arcade
  • New York Amusement Arcade
  • Chinnery’s (pub)
  • Electric Avenue Amusement Arcade
  • The Rose Restaurant

And more and more and more.

All the above is within about 5 or 6 minutes walk. I also know there are one or two more pubs in that area and all that is before they turn a slight right up Pier Hill in the video I’m about to show you.

Talking of the pier, Southend Pier used to be the longest in the world and have a bowling alley at the start of it and more amusement arcades and pubs at the end of its 2 1/4 miles. Underneath, either side of the pier, is an outdoor theme park called Adventure Island, although in my day it was called Peter Pan’s Playground.

Here’s the video:

So, why am I telling you all of this?

I just wanted to show you how commercialised Southend seafront is, and it’s not the only seaside town in the UK that has wall-to-wall amusement arcades and theme parks around it. I think Blackpool and Skegness are even bigger.

Australian seaside towns

I have been to lots and lots of Australian seaside towns and so far I’ve not seen anything that comes anywhere near as close to the commercialism of those UK resorts. I’ve still got a few more beaches to go to though, so maybe I’ll find something similar, but I’m not so sure.

So far I’ve been to beaches in all of the major cities and I’ve not seen any chockablock with amusement arcades in the same way that Southend seafront is. In Australia, the actual seafront itself is usually very quiet and understated. I think that’s great, but of course, I’m no longer 12 years old.

Australia’s most commercial beach

I haven’t been to Bondi Beach since my very first holiday in Australia back in 2002. I’ve heard it’s a little more commercial now, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Australia’s most commercial beach.

Glenelg Beach in Adelaide was reasonably commercial, as is the beach at Mooloolaba, but I don’t think it’s either of these. St Kilda Beach in Melbourne has Luna Park nearby, but again, it’s not Australia’s most commercial beach.

I’ve heard Cairns is quite commercial, and I’m sure Airlie Beach has plenty going on, but I’ve never been. So for my money, Australia’s most commercial beach is Surfers Paradise.

Surfers Paradise

Even Surfers though doesn’t have wall to wall amusement arcades, or very much happening along The Esplanade on the seafront itself. But there’s plenty to do when you go walkabout and, of course, the Gold Coast has many of theme parks in the area.

It also has the benefit of a stunning hinterland known as The Green Behind the Gold. Southend doesn’t have one of those; it has Rochford.

Here’s that timelapse video:

If anybody knows of a more commercial beach in Australia than Surfers Paradise, I’d love to hear about it, please let me know in the comments below.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Ryan August 27, 2016, 6:58 pm | Link

    I’ve lived all my life in Australia but regularly travel to the UK and actually enjoy the UK seaside town (especially Blackpool) much more than any Australian seaside town and I believe the main reason is the comradery and group activities that exist.

    I love the B&B experience, going to breakfast with the same people, hanging out in the B&B pub with them. Going to the various shows on the piers and wintergardens, playing bingo and making new friends.

    The closest Australians experience it would be on a cruise ship or a larger self-contained resort facility (ie. Tangalooma, Club Med).

    Last couple of trips I started going to Butlins music weekends and they are great and amplify the things I spoke about above.

    In Australia its all about doing things yourself, driving yourself around, going to theme parks and attractions etc. But there are no bond between the participants.

    • BobinOz August 29, 2016, 5:19 pm | Link

      Well, I’m not going to disagree with you, I’ve not come cross anything in Australia that is remotely like Butlins or Pontins, which was another big holiday camp set up in the UK, although I don’t know if that one is still going.

      I think the nearest we have here in Australia is probably Big 4.

      Personally I prefer the driving myself around bit to the communal gatherings of cruise ships and clubs, but each to his own. People prefer different things and there’s nothing wrong with that. For sure though, seasides like Blackpool and Southend are uniquely different from anything we have here in Australia.

  • djmcbell March 29, 2016, 8:42 pm | Link

    I grew up in a small seaside town on the west coast of England, and I think it’s really soured my view of the seaside in general. I always remember how built up it was (the Victorians loved to flock to the seaside, and as a consequence the front was made up of old high Victorian homes), with in our case the homes, then a road, then the strip of grass which made up the town green, followed by the sea itself – which was almost perpetually grey. An endless grey ocean meeting an endless grey cloud-scudded sky.

    And people used to like it! I could never understand why, and it all seemed enforced. I really couldn’t – I hated it. Nothing to do for youngsters either in a town where most were retired, and there was nearly nothing other than cafes and charity shops (other than a mostly religious bookshop and a Woolworths the size of two double-garages end-to-end). Even though I left to one of the most deprived cities in the UK, at least they had some interesting shops and a cinema (and fast food places – the residents of my home town protested a KFC opening there as it didn’t suit the town’s image).

    But now, soon to be leaving for Australia (hopefully – quick update, the house is on the market and, after just a week, we’ve already got an offer – and I’ve been applying for a few jobs too), chances are we will be living near the seaside – in as much as there are homes near it, and a few nice shops, and cafes. But it’s just not on the same scale as the UK, which I’m quite thankful for. And I don’t think I’ll be visiting the beach and remarking on its drabness quite as much.

    • BobinOz March 30, 2016, 5:32 pm | Link

      It was only while writing this article that I think I realised why UK beaches are so commercialised and why Australian ones are not. When I had this thought, it seems so obvious I wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me before.

      As I looked at that video of Southend seafront, the town I was born in, seeing all those amusement arcades was like a walk down memory lane. The fact that I couldn’t see the beach or the sea didn’t bother me at all.

      And there you have it, as a child going to Southend seafront was all about the fun of the Golden Mile. On the rare occasions the weather was good enough for us to sit on the sand and look at the sea, that is to say it wasn’t raining and the temperature was above 20°C, it still wasn’t really quite good enough. As you say, grey oceans meeting grey skies.

      It’s no surprise then that the bright lights of the amusements were more fun and I think is easy to see why many UK beaches have this kind of thing along with the kiss me quick hats and sticks of rock.

      We don’t need them so much here in Australia, we’ve got sunshine, blue skies and blue sea.

      Well, that’s my theory anyway, but like yourself, I’m also glad Australian beaches are not as commercial.

      And great to hear you’ve had an offer on the house already, that sounds promising.

  • Michael March 24, 2016, 2:23 pm | Link

    Commercialising beaches is an awful trend! In places like Goldcoast’s Surfers Paradise beach you might sit on the beach in the shade of those high-rise buildings they built right next to the beach. I’m glad that most Australian cities try to avoid that.

    • BobinOz March 24, 2016, 9:29 pm | Link

      I love that Australia’s beaches are not commercialised, other than Surfers. And you are right, shadows on Surfers start to creep up on beachgoers early afternoon, and who needs that?

      Surfers Paradise is great if you like that sort of thing, but I suspect most of us prefer our beaches quiet, and I’m sure for the most part they will stay that way.

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