Travel writers Dennis and Rosamund Knill offer up their top tips on exploring one of Australia’s most prized winter escapes – the Sunshine Coast.
For many Kiwis, winter means one thing – thoughts of a winter escape. As the climate cools in New Zealand, thousands travel abroad in search of some winter sun.
Escape to the Sunshine Coast
The Sunshine Coast stretches along the Coral Sea in Australia's Queensland. During the winter, temperatures rarely fall below 20 degrees. Boasting over 300 days of sunshine a year, with an average of seven hours of sun every day, it’s no wonder why this region is so popular. It offers breath-taking seascapes, 150kms of white sandy beaches, rolling surf, the natural beauty of the hinterland, heritage rainforests and natural parks – the perfect winter getaway.
The Sunshine Coast is made-up of five shires, each with its own character: Caloundra, Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Coolum and Noosa.
Visiting the Mooloolaba region
Mooloolaba is the hub of the Sunshine Coast. The very word has the instant power to conjure up visions of an unspoiled sub-tropical paradise.
We first visited Mooloolaba forty years ago, back when it was a sleepy little fishing village dominated by the surf club, weekend cottages and hamburger joints. Now the place is thriving, with the original dwellings making way for luxury apartments, boutiques and al fresco dining.
On the coach journey to Mooloolaba, we whizzed past sugar cane fields, bush-lands, and ever encroaching residential estates with glimpses of the Glasshouse Mountains, heralding the beginning of the Sunshine Coast.
Our arrival was met with a warm tropical breeze drifting across the beach and onto the Esplanade. The vibes were almost hypnotic. We fell for the place all over again. It’s not just the lure of the sun, sea and sand, there’s an irresistibility laid-back atmosphere here, matched only by its free-spirited lifestyle.
Most mornings we would head down to the Coffee Club on the promenade for our daily caffeine fix and to watch the Pacific Ocean pounding the shore. Early morning joggers run along the boardwalk and swimmers bob around blissfully in the surf.
Six top attractions on the Sunshine Coast
1. Catch an air charter
One of our favourite moments happened on the last day when Air Fraser Island offered us a couple of spare seats for an aerial tour of the coast and the Glass House Mountains.
Our faces hard pressed against the glass and jaws clenched, the pine plantations dropped away as the deep green vegetation clinging to the sheer ridges of the volcanic peaks unfolded. As the plane weaved between the ancient ridges we gazed in awe as the dramatic scenery stretched out below. It was a remarkable experience that we would do again.
2. Shake hands with a seal
In Mooloolaba, Underwater World has just completed a $6 million upgrade as it takes you face-to-face with over 25,000 aquatic creatures. Larger and more educational than Kelly Tarlton’s, Underwater World has lots to see and experience, including seal encounters, a seahorse sanctuary, jellyfish kingdom and a tidal touchpool.
3. Take a river cruise
A cruise on MV Mudjimba, a fully restored classic timber ferry, is a must do. Mudjimba cruises the Mooloolaba River and adjoining canals housing some of the most expensive real estate in Queensland.
4. Steve Irwin’s Zoo
There is no other zoo like Australia Zoo! One of Australia’s most popular attractions, set on 100 acres, the zoo is home to over a thousand animals. Visitors can see a wide variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles, as well as viewing the crocodile feedings, and hand-feeding the elephants.
5. Explore the mountains
Explore the winding roads and attractions of the hippie hinterland that make up the Blackall Ranges. The surrounding area is created by volcanoes and sculpted by water over millions of years. As the road rises and twists through the hinterland you can catch glances of green pastoral landscapes, vineyards and enchanting B&B cottages. You could say restoration has been an obsession by the residents who have transformed the cottages, many with Tudor, Irish and Bavarian influences, into a stunning picture-postcard village. It’s worth spending a few hours wandering around the antique shops and boutiques stocked with arts, crafts, homemade preserves and delicious confectionary.
6. Hit the beach
An afternoon swim at Noosa beach is one of the more relaxing pastimes on a warm winter’s day. It’s a world famous surfing destination and has been voted as one of the top three beaches in the South Pacific. It’s also a great option for families as it has gentle waves and it’s patrolled by surf lifesavers 365 days a year. Nearby Hastings Street has lots of shopping, accommodation, restaurants and bars.
Our holiday essentials
Getting there: Qantas, Emirates and Air New Zealand fly daily to Brisbane from Auckland, Air New Zealand and Virgin fly daily from Christchurch, except Tuesdays.
Transfers: Sun-air shuttle bus services will pick you up at the airport and drop you off at your accommodation (www.sunair.com.au).
Travel insurance: Make sure you arrange adequate travel insurance to ensure you are covered if anything does goes wrong. We always use Southern Cross Travel Insurance who has the most realistic premiums.
Where we stayed: Peninsular Beachfront Resort (www.peninsular.com.au).
Best eats: Caloundra: Tides; Mooloolaba: Cherry Blossom Tree, Fish-on-Parkin, Spice Bar; Maroochydore: Boatshed; Coolum: Coolum Surf Club; Noosa: Maisies.
Tours: Eumundi Markets Shuttle $25 - half day, Tastes of Sunshine Coast $55 - full day, Montville-Maleny Day Tour $55 - full day (www.sunair.com.au).
Nearby places of interest: Fraser Island, Noosa Glades, Aussie World, Ettamogah Pub, Big Pineapple, and Bli Bli Castle.