By John Pedler
Published: Friday, September 1, 2023
The Sunshine Coast, only an hour from Brisbane, is world famous for its lush rainforests, seemingly endless sandy beaches, and striking remnants from a distant volcanic past.
Blessed with mild to warm weather year-round, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is one of Australia’s favourite seaside holiday spots. For much of the year the water temperature hovers around the mid-20s, so it’s easy to understand why the beaches are a major drawcard.
If you can tear yourself away from the sand and surf, there are plenty of other attractions and activities to keep you busy.
Hikes and bikes
Standing like sentinels guarding the riches of the Sunshine Coast, the Glass House Mountains are soaring peaks formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. They were given their odd moniker by a rising star of the Royal Navy, Lieutenant James Cook, who thought they looked like the glass making furnaces in his birthplace, Yorkshire.
The local Jinibara and Kabi Kabi people have asked visitors not to climb Mount Beerwah and Mount Tibrogargan, due to their cultural significance. Keep in mind that both mountains have challenging sections that aren’t for the fainthearted.
Mount Ngungun (pronounced Noo Noo) offers an easier ascent, and if you make it to the top, be prepared for stunning views of the surrounding bushland, farms and villages.
Non-climbing hikers can take the well-formed Tibrogargan Circuit – a 4.1km round trip that encircles the base of the mountain. Passing through native forest and ferns, it’s a relatively easy walk with only a few minor ups and downs. Look forward to close-up views of Mount Tibrogargan’s mighty bluffs, and don’t be surprised to hear the twangy call of the whipbird.
The 5.7km Trachyte Circuit passes by Jack Ferris Lookout, which provides superb views of the other Glass House Mountains.
If you prefer to tackle a volcanic hill closer to your beachside hotel, caravan park or favourite coffee shop, the 1.9km-return trek to the top of Mount Coolum should do the trick. Starting from the car park in Yaroomba, allow about two hours to complete the trail. It’s a steep climb but rock stairs help make the going a little easier. The view from the summit will make the effort worthwhile.
Cycling families have plenty of routes to choose from. The Coastal Pathway runs for 73km from Coolum to Bells Creek, and much of it is dedicated shared walking and cycling path. The 5km Cotton Tree to Mooloolaba section is ideal for a family ride. Travel the whole journey or pick a beach en route, tether your steeds and hit the surf.
Younger riders will easily handle the Lake Doonella bushland ride. Starting at St Teresa’s College, Noosaville, this short, flat trail launches straight into sub-tropical rainforest before skirting the waterbird haven of Lake Doonella – home to pelicans, black swans and a variety of other birds.
Golden sands and stunning headlands
From world-class surf breaks to sheltered coves ideal for family fun in the sun, there’s a beach for every occasion. Just a short stroll from bustling Hastings Street, Noosa Main Beach is one of the best. Cloaked in sub-tropical vegetation, the nearby headland not only provides a beautiful backdrop, it also sets up one of the finest point breaks on the Sunshine Coast.
Combine a north-east Pacific swell with an offshore breeze, and stand by for long clean lines and the odd barrel. Further around, at the base of the headland, Little Cove Beach is a delightful patch of sand that’s relatively sheltered from the waves. There’s limited parking, so take the short walk from town to save you the hassle.
Bookended by rocky outcrops, First Bay is a tiny, picture-perfect beach at the base of low cliffs, about a kilometre south of Coolum Beach.
Nestled beneath low dunes, Marcoola Beach is part of a long stretch of sand that extends all the way to the Maroochy River. It’s not as busy as some of the better-known locations, and there are nearby parks and playgrounds for a family picnic.
For an elevated lookout over the beach and a unique view of volcanic Mount Coolum’s sheer rocky bluffs, take a stroll through dense coastal bushland along the 250m-long Mount Coolum Boardwalk. A longer, 1.4km trail passes through Marcoola-Yaroomba Foreshore Bushland Conservation Reserve, with several beach access points en route.
Cotton Tree Beach in Maroochydore is arguably the most sheltered beach along this stretch of coast, making it ideal for families, particularly those with young kids. Adjacent to Cotton Tree Holiday Park, the beach’s sparkling white sands face the Maroochy River rather than the ocean – though it’s only a short walk around the corner to the Pacific. The calm waters of the river mouth make it a great spot for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and digging in the sand with a tiny bucket and spade.
Kings Beach is a deserved favourite of Caloundra locals and visitors alike. Broad and sandy, it’s backed by lawned picnic areas, playgrounds, cafes and plenty of accommodation options. There’s even a seaside saltwater pool for those with an aversion to sand.
A short distance away, Moffat Beach is a less-frequented local gem. Offering another of the Sunshine Coast’s cracking point breaks, it’s popular with surfers. For a family-friendly dip, head towards calmer seas near the mouth of Tooway Creek.
Crocs, macaws and more
Famous for crocodile wrangling, koala cuddling, Bindi’s Island and ‘crikey,’ Australia Zoo at Beerwah is among the country’s most iconic attractions. Run by the Irwin family, it’s home to Aussie favourites such as dingos, echidnas, cassowaries and, of course, crocodiles. The zoo also hosts international stars like lemurs, elephants, cheetahs and a frighteningly long anaconda.
Educational conservation shows are held each day, featuring many of the furry, feathery and scaly zoo residents. Close-up animal experiences are also available.
Deep in the hinterland on the outskirts of its namesake rural township, Maleny Botanic Gardens and Bird World is a mix of well-manicured lawns, vibrant plant displays and colourful birds that might land on your head. Spread out across seven hectares, the terraced gardens are dotted with ponds and waterfalls, with superb views of the distant Glass House Mountains.
There are four walk-through aviaries populated with more than 700 local and exotic birds. See macaws and cockatoos, and orchids, azaleas, roses and cycads all in one delightful location.
Far from the airboats and alligators of Florida, the Noosa Everglades comprises 60km of pristine waterways meandering through a wetland wilderness. Reaching down to the shores of Lake Cootharaba, this vast area is a hangout for more than 40 per cent of Australia’s bird species, which either live locally or drop in for a visit.
Take a cruise or paddle a kayak among palms, lilies and an impenetrable forest, keeping an eye out for black cockatoos, ospreys, eagles and the black-necked stork which is also known as the jabiru. On a hot day, enjoy a refreshing dip – the everglades are crocodile (and alligator) free.
As well as spectacular beaches washed by warm Pacific waters, the Sunshine Coast offers visitors relaxation, adventure and a range of immersive, back-to-nature experiences.