From farmland to high rises: A brief history of Surfers Paradise

Sightseeing and Dining

1952 Surfers Paradise

Our luxury sightseeing vessel, Spirit of Elston, is named in recognition of Surfers Paradise’s history. But what even is Elston?

Elston was the first official name of the town of what we now know and love as Surfers Paradise. Long before the hustle and bustle and the striking city skylines we are used to, the city was a quiet agricultural region. Over the years as its potential and popularity grew, the dull farmlands turned into the glitzy, must-see tourist destination in South-East Queensland.

As you cruise through the Gold Coast waterways, you’re drifting past one hundred years of history.

Cavill Avenue

The early days

The Yugambeh People first occupied the Gold Coast and South-East Queensland region before the arrival of European settlement. They hunted for fish in the waters hosted ceremonial invitations where Coomera is located.

The region was settled by James Beattie in 1869 and used for farmland. Timber cutters relished the rich cedar and tallowwood forests in the hinterlands and the area along the rivers were used to grow crops and sugarcane. In 1889, the Gold Coast region was officially called Elston, named after the Southport Postmaster’s wife’s home village in England.

When Jim Cavill acquired five acres of Elston’s land in 1917, it was the beginning of the rise of the town of Elston. The city began to grow in popularity in 1925 after opening the Jubilee Bridge, connecting Southport to Main Beach. Before installing the South Coast Road, the area was only reached by Meyer’s Ferry at the Nerang River. Now easily accessible, investors began purchasing land in the area.

Elston becomes Surfers Paradise

In 1925, Cavill built the town’s first landmark, Surfers Paradise Hotel (now the site of the Surfers Paradise Centre). As more visitors flocked to the town, more establishments and shops were built. After years of lobbying from Cavill, Elston’s less than glamorous name was rebranded to Surfers Paradise in 1933.

A city of high rises

Over the decades, Surfers Paradise grew rapidly into the must-see holiday destination. Attracted to the sunshine and unspoilt beaches, tourists flocked to the city, encouraging the development of holiday apartments and shopping arcades. High-rise buildings began to grow after the construction of the Kinkabool, a 10-storey apartment now protected by the Queensland State Heritage Register. The Surfers Paradise skyline has grown a lot since Kinkabool, with various towering high-rises that have become an iconic landmark of themselves. Keep an eye out on your cruise for the Q1 skyscraper, the sixth tallest residential building in the world.

What will I see on my cruise?

There are still landmarks from Elston and early Surfers Paradise that you can see on your Sea World Cruises sightseeing cruise.

Seaquarium AKA Sea World

Sea World was once known as Seaquarium in 1965. The theme parks oldest ride, Vikings Revenge Flume Ride was built in 1978 and was closed to the public in 2016. You will pass by the Sea World Marine park on your cruise.

Traffic at Jubilee Bridge

Jubilee Bridge AKA Sundale Bridge

Sea World was once known as Seaquarium in 1965. The theme parks oldest ride, Vikings Revenge Flume Ride was built in 1978 and was closed to the public in 2016. You will pass by the Sea World Marine park on your cruise.

Goat Island AKA Chevron Island

The canal estate of Chevron Island was one of the first major land developments in Surfers Paradise in the 1950s. Before it was home to luxury homes, it was farmland home to a large population of goats, earning the title of Goat Island.

Tug of war at Southport Broadwater Parklands

Southport Broadwater Parklands

The much-loved Broadwater Parklands in Southport was declared a public space in 1928. Over 90 years later, it’s grown into a popular hub of activity.

Book one of our Sea World Cruises sightseeing cruises and witness the rich history for in person.


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