A place of flawless beaches, coveted surf and laid-back, sun-kissed locals, the Sunshine Coast spreads a golden 100km from the tip of Bribie Island to the Cooloola Coast. Resort towns dot the coast, each with its own appeal and vibe, from chic, cosmopolitan Noosa to easy, hip Caloundra. For tens of thousands of years, these coastal plains have belonged to the Kabi Kabi (Gubbi Gubbi) people, known as the mwoirnewar (the saltwater people) to the Jinibara people of the neighbouring hinterland.
Lush and cool, the Sunshine Coast hinterland is where you'll find the ethereal Glass House Mountains, dramatic volcanic plugs shrouded in ancient mythology. The spirit of modern Australian icon Steve Irwin lives on at nearby Australia Zoo, while further north, the Blackall Range serves up thick forests, lush pastures and quaint villages alive with artisanal food shops and crafty boutiques.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Sunshine Coast.
Extending from Lake Cootharaba north to Rainbow Beach, this 54,000 hectare section of national park offers wide ocean beaches, soaring cliffs of richly coloured sands, pristine bushland, heathland, mangroves and rainforest, all of which are rich in bird life, including rarities such as the red goshawk and the grass owl. One of the most extraordinary experiences here is driving along the beach from Noosa North Shore to Double Island Point, around 50km to the north.
Noosa's unmissable national park delivers spectacular coastal views (expect to see dolphins) and ambrosial beaches like Tea Tree Bay. The most scenic way to reach it is on the accoya-tree boardwalk along the coast from town. At the entrance, the Noosa National Park Information Centre has free walking maps and information on the day's koala sightings; the adjoining kiosk brews great coffee. The most popular trail is the Coastal Walk; allow at least 1½ hours for the return trip.
Just north of Beerwah is one of Queensland’s most famous tourist attractions. Australia Zoo is a fitting homage to its founder, wildlife enthusiast Steve Irwin. The park has an amazing menagerie, with a Cambodian-style Tiger Temple, the famous Crocoseum and a dizzying array of critters, including native dingoes, Tasmanian devils and hairy-nosed wombats. Various companies offer tours from Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. The zoo operates a free bus to/from the Beerwah train station.
This is one of Australia's most atmospheric artisan markets, attracting over 1.6-million visitors a year to its 600-plus stalls. Dive into a leafy, bohemian wonderland of hand-crafted furniture, jewellery, clothing and accessories, art, fresh local produce, gourmet provisions and more. Get your muscles pummelled, your tarot cards read or simply tuck into a world's worth of street food, from gözleme (Turkish stuffed flatbread), empanadas and gyoza to local artisan pastries.
The ethereal, 55-hectare Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve wraps visitors in a remnant of the subtropical rainforests that once blanketed the Blackall Range. Its state-of-the-art Rainforest Discovery Centre leads visitors through interactive exhibitions and out onto easy walking tracks that snake through the rainforest. Boasting over 120 species of birds the forest is rarely silent. The cool, shaded forest floor is also home to a healthy number of unbearably cute red-legged pademelons.
The passage of the Noosa River that cuts into the Great Sandy National Park north of Lake Cootharaba is poetically known as the ‘river of mirrors’ or the Everglades. Hosting almost half of the bird species found in Australia, the river's entire upper catchment is protected, making this one of the most pristine wetlands in the world. It's a perfect place to launch a kayak and camp in one of the many national park camping grounds along the riverbank.
Some 2.3km north of hilltop hamlet Montville lies Kondalilla National Park, home to swimmable rock pools, spectacular views, and a 90m waterfall. If you're relatively fit, hit the beautiful Kondalilla Falls Circuit, a 4.7km walk that leads down to cool, subtropical rainforest towards the base of the waterfall. Allow around two hours to complete the circuit, which involves over 300 thigh-toning steps. The park includes a picnic area with BBQ facilities and toilets.
Looming 4km south of Coolum Beach is Mt Coolum (208m), an ancient volcanic dome whose peak offers spectacular views of the Sunshine Coast and its hinterland. Mt Coolum is a favourite early-morning hiking spot for locals and visitors alike and responsible for many a toned calf muscle. From the car park, the walking trail (1.6km return) leads through open eucalypt forest, shrub and montane heath. There's a drinking fountain in the car park.
Framed by spiky pandanus, Tea Tree Bay is one of Noosa's most idyllic beaches, with wild bushland emerging onto a broad sweep of sand and pellucid waves. Unlike Noosa's Main Beach, Tea Tree Bay is not patrolled, so consider swimming at the former if you are not a strong swimmer. Public toilets are available within easy walking distance. To reach the bay, follow the coastal walking track from the entrance to Noosa National Park.