Sunshine Coast

Bit of housekeeping – if you would like to hire a wheelchair for a week, Walk on Wheels in Noosa can assist. The cost is $40 per week for a manual collapsible. It is lightweight (under 12kg), can go in normal car boots and has puncture-proof tyres. There is a refundable deposit of $40. Phone 61 7 5473 0706 or email noosa@walkonwheels.com.au.  The Sunshine Coast is very disabled-friendly with most resorts having rooms specially rigged and many activities and attractions are also disabled friendly. Just email or phone us with your needs and budget and we will find accommodation to suit.

MS Queensland recently found access to a beach chair available at Noosa. It is available for hire at Tingirana Noosa by calling 1800 089 642 (free call) or 07 5474 7400.

There is no time limit to the hire and it is not motorised, you will need someone to push it. The charge is a gold coin donation. Bookings essential.

And did you know that there is an Australian Disabled Surfers Association? Here’s a link – http://surfershelpingsurfers.com/index.html

Right. Let’s head up the coast!

While there are great beaches and hinterland both north and south of Brisbane, if it comes to a choice between the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, think Miami and theme parks for the Gold Coast and relaxed, family fun or a romantic break for the Sunshine Coast. On the Sunshine Coast you’ll find the Glasshouse Mountains, delightful hinterland villages full of arts and crafts, pristine beaches, national parks, surfing, boating, fishing, cosmopolitan dining, boutique and resort accommodation and a number of family-friendly man-made attractions.

A good way to explore both coast and hinterland from Brisbane is to take the coast road up and the inland way back. The coast road is a little longer and a lot slower than the motorway, but it’s a lot more interesting and has great views.

The world famous Australia Zoo, home of the Crocodile Hunter is located on over 70 acres of natural bush and tropical gardens, with over 1000 different animals. Australia Zoo offers a full day of wildlife action and adventure. There are always plenty of exciting wildlife shows to see, friendly and knowledgeable zoo keepers to chat with and heaps of drop-dead gorgeous animals that can’t wait to get up close and personal with you!

The Steve Irwin legacy lives on. Crikey, you’ll love it! You can watch slithery snakes, free flight birds and saltwater crocodiles in the 5000 seat Crocoseum. Explore the exotic, including tigers, cheetahs, macaws, and you can even hand feed an Asian Elephant for free.

Cuddle a koala, get wrapped up in a giant python or wrangle a baby alligator in the photo studio – you can waddle with a wombat, feed a kangaroo and receive kisses from a dingo. It’s open 9:00am to 4:30pm daily.

Australia Zoo has disabled facilities (lift, toilets, wheelchair friendly paths etc) including access to wheelchair and motorised scooter hire.

Wheelchairs are $12 or motorised scooters are $25 a day. Best to call before arrival to book (07) 5436 2025.

The southern gateway to the Sunshine Coast is Caloundra (Aboriginal for ‘the beautiful place’). It’s set near a headland with four top surfing beaches on one side and Golden Beach at the northern entrance to the Pumicestone Channel on the other. The channel separates Caloundra from the northern tip of Bribie Island, creating a sheltered swimming, fishing and sailboarding spot. It’s a big town with plenty of cafés and restaurants, without the sophistication of other towns on the coast or variety of things to do.

You can, however, hire an outboard boat and go fishing in the Channel, rent a sailboard, hire a surfboard, or just take it easy. It’s a laid-back place where body image is of no importance, where there’s no real dress code and where an alluring bit of plumber’s smile (male bum cleavage) in a pair of low-slung shorts will go unnoticed.

The Queensland Air Museum, (near Caloundra Aerodrome), is a real buzz for plane lovers. This collection of mostly military aircraft and memorabilia is about the best of its kind in the country. The museum is a community organisation run by volunteers.

Some of the Coast’s attractions are definitely kitsch but are enjoyable, memorable and, in some ways, say a lot about Australia and how Australians see themselves.

The Ettamogah Pub, just before the turnoff to Mooloolaba, is part of Australia’s folklore.

The pub forms part of Aussie World which is set in beautiful native Australian gardens and reminiscent of the old Australian fairgrounds. Aussie World provides over thirty rides and games and is guaranteed to please everyone of all ages. There’s also a great selection of specialty shops catering to the most discerning buyer and includes locally grown and Australian made products.

Underwater World in Mooloolaba hasn’t a hint of kitsch. It is an outstanding oceanarium with 80 metres of transparent underwater tunnels to take you to tropical and sub tropical fish from tiny kaleidoscopic reef dwellers in their brightly coloured coral homes to huge, lazy gropers. There are sharks, stingrays and turtles.

The largest and best oceanarium in Queensland, it’s a great introduction to Australia’s many marine species. The touch pool is popular with children and a seal show is held every 90 minutes. The entry price is valid all day, so you can leave to grab a snack outside and return later. Entry also allows a free ride on the nearby Sunsonic simulated underwater rollercoaster, which my son loved, and I didn’t – the joys of parenthood.

Mooloolaba (pronounced ma-loo-la-ba) sits on a spit of land between a pretty boat harbour and beautiful ocean beaches. This is a fun town that enjoys the best of both watery worlds, and it’s one of my favourite spots on the coast. Wander around the Wharf complex on the river with its holiday boutiques and cafés, relax over a drink, take in the view or take a cruise.

Stroll the long esplanade that skirts the surf beach. Get wet or try one of the very good al fresco restaurants and cafés. The beach, being long, is not particularly sheltered and can occasionally be a bit windy – a good time to go fly a kite. Update your resort wardrobe – there are many good boutiques. Mooloolaba has a lot of appeal if you like a beach, a bit of nightlife and good food in a place that is not super-sophisticated or trendy.

A five-minute drive north takes you to Alexandra Headland, and good surf waves off the rocky headland. The headland has a spectacular view north along the long, sweeping beach to the Maroochy River and beyond to Mount Coolum.

A few more minutes on the road and you come to Maroochydore, the largest town and the main commercial centre on the coast. Maroochy (as the locals call the town) is a major family resort with a wide range of accommodation and plenty of places to eat and drink. It too has a fine surf beach and the big draw for people with young children is the wide sandy beach by the shallow, calm water of the river at the north edge of the town. For those looking for serious shopping there is the award-winning Sunshine Plaza complex (200 outlets) at the main beach.

It’s only a short drive from here to the Big Pineapple, one of the most famous of Australia’s BIG tourist icons and, while a bit kitsch at first glimpse, behind it is an excellent, well-run attraction.

As well as pineapple and macadamia-related attractions, the plantation has an animal nursery where kids can feed and pat a piglet, pony, goat and other farm animals, and a wildlife garden with koalas and kangaroos.

Careful though, the llama, like all llamas, spits. There’s probably more than one llama, but that one is lodged in my memory forever!

Weekend markets …

Weekend markets abound on the Sunshine Coast. Most sell local produce as well as handcrafts, foodstuffs, apparel, novelties and bric-a-brac. But plan to get up early. The biggest (and most say the best) are the Eumundi Markets, held every Saturday regardless of the weather from 6am to about 1pm. More than 280 stalls set up in the main street, Memorial Drive. The pub is a good spot for a cold ale or counter lunch after browsing.

Noosa Harbour Market, at Tewantin, is held at a wharf and marina complex on the Noosa River on Sundays. Maleny is the place to head for local craft. Open Sundays from 9am to 2pm in the RSL Hall opposite the pub, the markets are a good way to start a day in the Blackall Range. Other markets start at 7am Sundays at Maroochydore, Mooloolaba, and Caloundra. If you’re a late riser, try the Noosaville Twilight Markets held Fridays from 5.30pm to 9pm. Most markets open for about five hours.

Beaches

Little more than a signpost, Mudjimba is a top surfing and fishing beach. Further north, low, protected scrub shields the beach from view as you drive north past Marcoola Beach, which boasts a surf club and good swimming. Beyond Marcoola, before you get to the town of Coolum Beach, there’s a left turn to the Hyatt Regency Coolum. This is five-star luxury set on a championship 18-hole golf course, which hosts the Coolum Classic in December and the Australian Skins Tournament in February. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr, not that that means much to me. My celebrity golfing knowledge extends to Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, and I judge a good game of golf by how many balls I lose. Or don’t.

Coolum has a fine beach and is a pretty large town. Some see it as the up-and-coming Noosa with its rapidly growing range of four-star apartment-style accommodation. Nearby Mount Coolum juts out of the coastal plain and offers superb ocean views for those willing to take a long, but relatively easy walk. Lawn bowlers flock to Coolum in July and August for its annual Winter Bowls Carnival, which is followed by the Sunshine Coast Wildflower Show. This may be an attraction or a deterrent, depending on your age and point of view.

Perigian Beach is a popular surfing beach and is patrolled by lifesavers every day, all year round. Noosa Heads, to many, is the crown jewel of the coast. The Noosa township has the only major beach on the Queensland coast that faces north, bordering the south side of the broad Laguna Bay. A big, high headland protects the beach and creates ideal conditions for swimming and surfing.

Both sides of sophisticated Hastings Street are crammed with restaurants, cafés, boutiques and luxury holiday apartments. It is the place to be and be seen. With a dash of European style, it rivals Port Douglas as the destination for celebrities and the wealthy. This may be an attraction or a deterrent, depending on your age, sense of ‘style’ and point of view. You won’t see too much plumber’s smile here, unless it is being worn by a plumber.

The Noosa National Park offers a choice of walks, cliffside and hilltop, from one to four kilometres. Birds abound in the area, especially early in the day and at dusk. On the sheltered Noosa River, you can hire sailboards, powered skis, catamarans and runabouts, complete with fishing gear, or take a river cruise into the Noosa Everglades.

Noosa definitely has a certain charm, both natural and created but, Noosa Waters, well, it’s just not my cup of Earl Grey with a twist of lemon. If you’ve ever received a Boys Town lottery booklet, you’ll know what I mean. People who pay outrageous sums for ostentatious homes on a man-made waterway worry me. I hope my friends who live there will forgive me (or even better, don’t hop onto this site!) but, when they took us on a family cruise in their runabout, I felt like I had landed in The Truman Show – mazes of rich-looking real estate built around an artificial waterway where everyone’s backyard is on show to the water traffic, with the residents offering the passing boats artificial smiles and waves. And having a key to your own canal seems to be a bit ‘canal’ with a silent ‘c’.

The Cooloola region, famous for its multi-coloured sands, runs north from Noosa to Rainbow Beach. It includes the Great Sandy National Park, which has rainforest growing in pure sand. Though you can drive to Rainbow Beach in a normal vehicle, most of the area is four-wheel-drive country.

Off-shore north of Rainbow Beach lies Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. It is 124 kilometres long, covers 163, 000 hectares and rises 200 metres in parts.

World Heritage listed in 1993, the northern half the island is part of the Great Sandy National Park. A place of great beauty, Fraser Island is a one-of-a-kind travel experience. It has 200 lakes, most of them perfect for swimming. Lake McKenzie, known as the mirror lake, has the clearest of clear water. Part of the island’s water table, it has never flowed over the ground.

The southern half of Fraser is a recreation area with limited access to four-wheel-drive vehicles only. You can hire one, but it takes skill and experience to drive on sand as many visitors have discovered after an accident. Other accidents have happened in the surf. While it’s tempting to jump in for a swim, the currents are particularly strong and lifeguards do not patrol the beaches.

One other potential danger is the dingo population: there can be up to 100 incidents of dingo attacks per year and in the majority of cases, you can’t blame the dingo. Traditionally dingoes avoid people, but many tourists ignore the part of the warning signs that says don’t feed the animals. These are wild dogs and, if they are fed, they lose their fear of humans but not their need to eat. Small children can look like mobile food. There are also wild horses and goats on the island.

The western shore of the island borders the Hervey Bay Marine Park, which is a haven for whales between August and October. While it’s not officially part of the Sunshine Coast, an overnight stay in Hervey Bay may be worth considering if you’re after a whale-watching tour.

To the hinterland…

Apart from the natural beauty, you will come across many galleries and arts and craft communities. Eumundi is a delightful village and is famous for the Eumundi Brewing Company that made Eumundi Lager at the Imperial Hotel in the main street. The beer is ‘on tap’ at the pub, although it is now brewed on the Gold Coast. The old brewery is an art gallery with a glass-blowing display.

The Ginger Factory in Yandina produces a huge range of ginger products, including superb crystalised ginger for sale. There is an audiovisual explaining the production of ginger, a tour on the miniature Ginger Train, a motor museum, dolls cottage, Koala Kottage, and Macadamia Kitchen. The complex incorporates the Bunya Park Wildlife Sanctuary for Australian animals and birds. Ginger, of course, is a spice, and was also popular in the late 1990s as a Spice Girl. And Ginger Meggs is an iconic cartoon character.

The Blackall Range Drive swings east and rejoins the Bruce Highway at Nambour, a large commercial town that is now the centre of the area’s pineapple and tropical fruit-growing industry. Mapleton is a small town with access to the Mapleton Falls National Park, which has some good short walks and plenty of birdlife. The Mapleton pub, on the main road, has a large verandah with fantastic views to the coast.

If you take the turn at the Mapleton pub and follow the road for a few kilometres to an unsealed section, you’ll find the Linda Garrett Park, 44.5 hectares of hinterland that was donated by Ms Garrett and has an easy 2.2 kilometre rainforest walk. Across the road from the entrance to the park is the tiny Mapleton cemetery, which dates back to 1891. It’s in a delightful setting with a bench to sit on the slope above the graves. One of them belongs to a John Thomson, who died in 1998, aged 71. His epitaph reads, ‘Missed by his friends and little dog Annie’. No family, just friends and a dog – there must be a story there. Anyway, for the residents resting in peace, there couldn’t be too many more peaceful spots.

They can be funny things, place names. Mapleton almost describes itself as green and leafy; even though flax is also a plant, the name Flaxton could sit nicely as a grimy outer London suburb. Flaxton, however, is actually green and leafy and is a tiny artists’ village 5 kilometres north of Montville. It has some fine examples of typical ‘Queenslander’ homes. There are gift shops and galleries and the Flaxton Barn and Model Railway is a treat for model train fanciers and those who like ‘old wares’.

Just outside Flaxton, the road runs close to the edge of an escarpment popular with local hang-gliders. For non-gliders it can be a delightful picnic spot or a place to just sit and watch colour-filled sails soar against a vista of fields and trees stretching out to the sun-dappled, sparkling sea on the Sunshine Coast. Unless, of course, it’s raining. But chances are it won’t be.

The Kondalilla Falls (3 kilometres north of Montville) are spectacular after the aforementioned rare rain, dropping 90 metres into a rainforest valley. The large national park is a great place for picnicking, bushwalking, birdwatching or an extremely refreshing (as in ‘cold’) swim. Visit early morning or late afternoon for a good chance to see native animals.

Montville is a small historic village set high in the centre of the Blackall Range.

This is the ‘capital’ of the art and craft world for the area and has the largest collection of galleries, craft shops, boutiques, cafés and restaurants.

As the road nears Maleny, you will see a marked turnoff left to the Mary Cairncross Park. The park is high on the edge of the Blackall Range and looks south to the Glass House Mountains for a totally different perspective of these strange formations.

Maleny itself is a short drive off the main road. It is a small rural community, which began to grow during the 1970s. Set in tranquil wooded country, close enough to ‘civilisation’ yet far enough away from Brisbane to be out of the rat race, it attracted many of the Flower Power generation. Though it’s a pretty active community with a string of places to stay, Maleny has kept its laid-back atmosphere. Once a place for tuning in, turning on and dropping out, it’s now worth taking the turnoff and dropping in.

Landsborough marks the start of the climb west to the Blackall Range. It has a small historical museum featuring the pioneering and Aboriginal history of the area. The Blackall Range is a natural gem. Rising sharply from the coastal plain less than 50 kilometres inland, it’s a total contrast to the rolling surf and sandy beaches. The 25km long basalt outcrop is heavily timbered with large tracts of rainforest interspersed with lush farming country. The Blackall Range tourist drive leads past the Glass House Mountains, a unique cluster of 13 oddly shaped volcanic plugs rearing out of the coastal plain. A reminder to the old hippies who live in Maleny and own frisbies – people who live near Glasshouses should not throw stoned.

Sunshine Coast & Fraser Island Accommodation

There are lots of choices up the coast. I’ve found excellent accommodation at Maroochydore, Mooloolaba, Coolum, Noosa and in the hinterland. Places like the Zanzibar at Mooloolaba are good value for luxury accommodation – self-contained with swimming pools and just across the road to the beach, handy to cafes and restaurants etc. It is looking a bit mini-Gold Coast these days with high-rise accommodation but that’s what happens when you have good beaches and attractions like Underwater World.

Coolum is more relaxed (although growing markedly) with lots of resorts to choose from. The most recent property I stayed in was Seachange (excellent 2 bedroom self-contained for the family). It’s newish (late 2003) has a good swimming pool, excellent kitchens and some of the apartments have spas. We met up with friends who were staying at the Endless Summer Resort, which is also nice for families – has a pool, BBQs etc and is closer to the restaurants, shops and beach.

At Noosa you’ll find an excellent range of quality places near (or on) Hastings Street and the beach. I like The French Quarter – self-contained luxury at a good price at the end of Hasting Street and Noosa Blue is also lovely.

It’s a nice loop to go up the coast and back through the hinterland – and the hinterland is also a great destination for a romantic getaway.

Final accommodation suggestion – Oasis Resort at Caloundra. It is the closest resort to Australia Zoo – there are lots of room types including rooms with disabled access and facilities, and it is a pet-friendly resort.