Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens, 2020-2022

Summary: Lovely compact gardens good for getting up close to water birds

Dates of visits: Aug 5 2020, Feb 19 2022, Nov 20 2022

The Gold Coast Botanic Gardens sits roughly in the middle of the city of the Gold Coast, and like many botanic gardens, is worth your time if you like high-quality, often fairly close bird encounters (albeit of mostly common species) in an easy pleasant setting with plenty of facilities.

The gardens are 31 hectares in size and are open from 5am to 7pm all year round and entry is free. The main car access is via Ashmore Road and the gardens are well sign-posted as you approach by road; there are also a couple of pedestrian side entrances. Inside, there is a loop road with parking along its southern edge, and more parking at the loop’s western spur (see map). The main walking paths are paved with a few other trails to explore, and even if you get off-track it is flat and easy going and the only likely difficulty you might have is keeping your shoes dry if you venture into dewy grass.

The more formal entry areas are worth having a quick poke around as there is a variety of flowering bushes and trees dotted around here (there is a “display garden”, “rose garden” and “sensory garden” according to the official map).

If you can see past the Noisy Miners and Torresian Crows (not to mention Crested Pigeons), you might find some lorikeets or honeyeaters. It is a lot easier to see and photograph them in lower bushes like grevillea rather than high up in the crown of some flowering gum tree.

The taller trees, especially gums, sometimes host Corellas and similar species like Cockatoos and Galahs.

The “Feature Lake” is gorgeous on a sunny day and super-easy to admire from the sweeping surrounding walkways. There is a variety of fringing vegetation including some taller trees, and as of late 2022 there was a small bat colony in a thick stand of trees on the northern side.

When you have a few large lagoons supporting various vegetation (like lilypads), you’re going to get water birds, and these gardens have plenty. There’s always been at least one Eurasian Coot in my checklists.

Dusky Moorhens can be present in numbers; my high count is 27 but the all-time eBird high count here is 118. Swamphens are pretty much always here, and the eBird high count is a whopping 38. eBird also reports the site as reliable for Hardheads, though I’ve only seen them there once, on my first visit in Aug 2020.

There are usually plenty of ducks, especially Pacific Black and Wood Ducks. When the water is covered in algae you can readily observe the Pacific Blacks’ filter-feeding technique. Like many formal gardens in suburban areas, most of the birds here aren’t too worried about human presence and the lagoons are fairly compact so there’s not much space for them to escape to 🙂

The gardens are ultra-reliable for the diminutive Australasian Grebe, an attractive-looking species that many birders crave good images of, but the size of the bird and its constantly moving nature (and skittishness) sometimes makes for a moderate photography challenge.

Cormorants are well-represented here and Little Pieds and Little Blacks are common. The lagoons are not really big enough to reliably host Pied or Great Cormorants. On my Nov 2022 visit I had a great time photographing a grumpy-looking Little Pied Cormorant (is there any other kind?) just on the other side of the wire fence at Feature Lake, barely 3 or 4 metres from me. The cormorant was doing a good deal of cleaning and preening. It’s not often you can get so close to these birds – Oxenford Weir is another notable location (on the edge of the Gold Coast) for such close-up encounters that comes to mind.

Comb-Crested Jacanas, with their amazingly huge feet, aren’t a given here but you’ll likely get very good views if they are around. Possibly this depends on whether there is enough surface vegetation for them to walk on! In Nov 2022 I parked myself on the side of the walkway and followed one with my camera lens as it tracked methodically all over the western side of Feature Lake. A bit of patience was required as for some reason Canon eye-detection seems to struggle with Jacanas.

In the west of the gardens there is a large double-lagoon, and around here is the best place to spot Buff-Banded Rails, which are likely resident. This is possibly surprising given the number of people and dogs that pass through this area. On my Nov 2022 visit I had one briefly emerge from the thick grass edging the water, which let me get some nice shots.

Soon after I was videoing one that was foraging along the other side of the lagoon, when it met up with another Rail and they indulged in a little mating!

On that same visit I became quite entranced with a Black Swan family of two adults and three youngsters. The mint green background of surface algae gave the scene an interesting feel.

The younger birds were definitely copying their parents and learning feeding habits. Eventually they approached where I was sitting on the edge of the lagoon, and actually came directly towards me to clamber up onto land, and I had to get out of their way! Swans have a reputation for aggression so I was not one to argue.

The westernmost section of the gardens sports a lot of grass – it adjoins a golf course – and I was amused that day to see nearly a dozen Masked Lapwings standing spaced out quietly with the requisite 3 or 4 metres between each one. Generally speaking, however, there is less of interest in this western area for birders. There is a lot of flat grass (it is a dog off-leash area), a mini-beach next to Lake Rosser (with the Surfers Paradise skyline as a photogenic backdrop), and a little frontage to the Nerang River.

Occasionally Egrets appear in the gardens, such as this Little Egret on I saw on the eastern edge of Feature Lake.

Being a botanic gardens and surrounded by an abundance of variety in plant and animal life, you may find yourself getting on an inspired roll with your photography and taking shots of all sorts of natural objects, like blooming flowers, spiders with their webs or water dragons. There should be a name for this; “Botanic Garden Photographer’s Syndrome (BGPS)” perhaps.


The Gold Coast Botanic Gardens possesses a dusting of that magical quality that I’ve found in my birding explorations of other botanic gardens across Australia (as long-time readers of this website will attest). Although this site isn’t huge (it’s about 700 metres from one end to the other), it’s easy to access, the paths are all flat and it’s easy to get around, it has plenty of seating, and you can have a modestly good time with a camera here. The water birds and Buff-Banded Rails are probably the biggest drawcards.

Hotspot: Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens (132 species)
Checklists for these visits: Aug 5 2020 (14 species), Feb 19 2022 (20 species), Nov 20 2022 (24 species)
BirdSpots videos from this site: Black Swans, Buff-Banded Rails, Pacific Black Ducks, Australasian Grebes, Little Pied Cormorant, Comb-Crested Jacana

Pluses and minuses:
+ Good for getting up close to water birds
+ Centrally located on the Gold Coast with plenty of facilities
+ Opens early and entry is free
– Not a huge site
– Mostly suburban/common birds


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