Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is a complete indulgence of the senses. With a postcard-perfect coastline and a hinterland of rolling rainforests, this region is awash with vibrant colour. The fresh seafood scene will have you drooling every time you reminisce about your first taste of a Moreton Bay Bug – as scrumptious as they are hideous-looking – while the sun-kissed stretches of land are accompanied by soundtracks of crashing waves and the droning of cicadas.
Travellers can’t go wrong in this laidback wonderland, whether it’s diving the depths to discover shipwrecks, hitting the beach on horseback, trekking into the tropics or sampling the best of the coast’s cuisine.
Mellow out in Mooloolaba
This mellow seaside town is an idyllic place to base yourself while exploring all that the Sunshine Coast has to offer. As well as being within 40 minutes of most must-see attractions, Mooloolaba itself is a dreamy place to spend some time with its abundance of brunch spots, friendly locals and a stretch of the most pristine beach you could ever park your bum on.
A plethora of seaside accommodation – such as Breeze, Oceans and Kyamba Court Motel – means minimum effort in getting from bed to beach. Stop by the famous Mooloolaba Surf Club on your way, where you’ll find a slap-up breakfast buffet to be enjoyed while checking out the incredible collection of retro lifesaving and surfing memorabilia. Mooloolaba promenade buzzes from dawn to dusk with sun-visor-sporting power walkers, lycra-clad joggers and gym buffs using the free equipment dotted along the coast. You could easily while away the hours people watching, but if you want a piece of the action, this stretch of coast is, unsurprisingly, overloaded with water-based activities. Check out Robbie Sherwell’s XL Surfing Academy if you want to hang ten; dive to the famous sunken shipwreck, HMAS Brisbane, with Scuba World; or head to the calmer waters of Cotton Tree Beach to try some paddle boarding.
Brisbane Road is the place to be in the evening. Try local’s favourite Gainsbourg for good eats and friendly vibes or head to Your Place to refuel with the perfect stone-oven pizza and an espresso martini.
Get in touch with nature at Great Sandy National Park
The Cooloola section of Great Sandy National Park is an incredible amalgamation of diverse landscapes, colours and textures. If you’re short on time, the best way to experience this magnificent stretch of land in a day is on a guided 4WD tour, or you could cover less ground – while wearing your best cowboy outfit – on horseback.
Topographical highlights in the park include Rainbow Beach (aptly named for its colourful sand cliffs), where you can safely swim in sheltered seawater pools, and Double Island Point, where you can hike up to the lighthouse for panoramic views of the park. If you’re visiting between June and October, keep an eye out for breaching humpback whales who travel to the warmer waters to give birth.
If you’ve rented a 4WD to explore the park and are not used to driving on sand, visit the Rainbow Beach Hotel to get some first-hand advice and witness their wall of shame, displaying the many ways people have managed to get into trouble driving on the beach. To avoid ending up on the wall, make sure you do thorough research before heading out on one of the most surreal and beautiful drives this earth has to offer. The hotel is also a lovely spot to grab a bite to eat and meet some real salt-of-the-earth locals.
Feast your eyes on the hinterland
The Sunshine Coast is surrounded by undulating hills with patches of subtropical rainforests teeming with wildlife and flora that will have city-slickers and Steve Irwin wannabes enthralled alike. At Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, which has a breath-taking vantage point of the arresting Glass House Mountains, you can book a guided tour around the 55 hectares filled with 299 plant species, fungi, feathered friends, reptiles and more creepy-crawlies than anyone needs to count. The visitor centre on the reserve is both beautiful and fully stocked with literature, interactive displays and extremely knowledgeable staff. If you’re a twitcher, Tropical Treks knows how, where and when to get your kicks and can create bespoke tours to accommodate a range of birdwatching wishes.
Tour the Sunshine Coast’s townships
There are a handful of townships on the Sunshine Coast that each have something distinctly worth discovering. Be prepared for your ears to pop making the journey up to miniature Maleny, swamped by the surrounding, tremendous green hills. Make cool Brouhaha microbrewery your first port of call here – their tasting paddle is seriously impressive, considering the brewery itself is pint-sized. Frosty beers, coupled with tasty bar snacks and rainforest views is a recipe for a good time. The town’s musical and artistic offerings belies its size; there are a handful of soothingly air-conditioned galleries where you can pick up something unique, and the Maleny Village Artisan Market is worth seeking out for live music, welcoming locals and quirky food stalls.
Another hinterland hidden gem, the town of Montville is set amongst jaw-dropping natural beauty – visit Fudgyboombahs to get your sugar fix for the week – while Caloundra is the Sunshine Coast’s most southerly town, delivering stunning coastal paths and foodie hotspots that make for a very worthwhile road trip.
Trips for your tastebuds
Mooloolaba is known for its incredible seafood, especially sashimi grade tuna. Head to The Spit – a short walk from the Surf Club – for lots of fresh fish options with a view, and don’t miss Sakana Sushi Bar’s extensive, mouth-watering menu.
Less than a 40-minute drive north of Mooloolaba, you will find yourself in ‘the relaxation capital of Australia’, otherwise known as Noosa. This town certainly knows how to unwind in style, and days here are best spent revolving around food. Strolling along Hastings Street, you’ll soon notice that all eateries’ seating face unashamedly out on to the street – this is very much a town for keeping up appearances. Start off at the bespoke omelette bar in Noosa Beach House before making your way to open-plan Aromas where you are welcome to park yourself and watch the world go by over a smoothie and some avocado toast. Set yourself up at Season for the evening to enjoy some sundowners, listening to the motion of the ocean, over a plate of something delicious. Into gin? Ask for ‘a bloody good gin and tonic’, and you won’t be disappointed.
If you have a special occasion to celebrate while you’re on the coast, and are feeling flush, get in touch with Deep Love Picnics, who will set up a lavish spread in front of one of the Sunshine Coast’s many stunning natural backdrops.
Niamh O'Brien travelled to the Sunshine Coast with support from Tourism Queensland. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.