A trip up Queensland’s Sunshine Coast
Caption: Noosa National Park is ‘arguably the jewel in the crown’ of the Sunshine Coast
The Gold Coast region to the south of Brisbane might get more tourists, but head north from the Queensland capital and you’ll discover a slightly more laid-back area with a potent mix of great beaches, beautiful national parks and big attractions. This is the Sunshine Coast, and it’s a great option for backpackers who want a chilled take on Australia’s East Coast.
Like Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast is a large metropolitan area that spreads out from a central city, but you’ll find each suburb has an identity all its own – personally, we could happily spend a whole week just kicking back in Noosa.
Sunshine Coast officially begins at Pelican Waters, an unassuming town at the north of Moreton Bay. It’s close to Bribie Island National Park, but don’t get too excited – most of the park is managed forest, with few recreation options. The Beerwah and Beerburrum forests, just inland of Pelican Waters, are more fun, offering 4x4 driving, mountain bike trails, canoeing and more. This area’s also home to the famous Australia Zoo, the huge animal attraction founded by late ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin.
We wouldn’t recommend staying in Pelican Waters – it’s a bit too sleepy – so instead bag a hostel in nearby Caloundra, whose headland is home to three beaches: Kings Beach, Shelly Beach and Moffat Beach. They all have a laid-back, suburban vibe, but there’s more going on here than at the 9km beach that runs from here to Mooloolaba – aside from some leisure facilities around Kawana, this (admittedly beautiful) beach is fringed by long residential streets, so unless you’re driving it isn’t much fun.
Caption: Kings Beach, Caloundra
Mooloolaba itself is a different matter, and we definitely recommend checking out some of our cheap hostels there. It’s a buzzing harbour town, full of winding creeks and canals – a hallmark of Sunshine Coast towns. Take a stroll around Beacon Lighthouse Reserve, to the east of the harbour, relax on the main beach and look out for the town’s colourful street markets, including the popular Twilight Community Markets at The Wharf on Friday evenings. Just to the north is Maroochydore, which has a fine beach at the mouth of the Maroochy River.
Now for something different: head north again to Mount Coolum, whose ‘mountain’ (a high, flat-topped hill) offers fantastic views over an otherwise flat region. To the northeast it looks down over Yaroomba, which boasts – you guessed it – another fine sandy beach.
The view from Mount Coolum
From Coolum a long chain of beaches – Peregian, Marcus, Castaways, Sunrise and Sunshine – stretch away in an almost unbroken line to Noosa Heads. This is the northernmost point of Sunshine Coast, and Noosa National Park, a wonderland of trails, boardwalks and lush forest on a headland just east of town, is arguably the jewel in the whole region’s crown.
The highlight of the town centre is Hastings Street, a line of restaurants, cafes and boutiques that connects the national park to the smaller Noosa Spit Recreation Reserve, and has access to Noosa’s lovely beach to the north. While you’re in town, don’t miss a boat trip to Fraser Island, a huge sand island with a remarkable range of habitats and wildlife, from cute-as-a-button sugar gliders to wild dingoes.