Walking on sunshine

Did you know this is the 50th year of the Sunshine Coast? Before August 1967, the area was called the Near North Coast. But for most of us it was simply Noosa. First it was popular with fishing folk and then surfers discovered the legendary Noosa right hand surf break and they came in droves.

Anniversary celebrations
Today, the Sunshine Coast is not only Queensland’s fastest-growing tourism destination, it’s one of the 10 biggest ‘cities’ in Australia with almost 300,000 people calling it home.

Just over one hour’s drive north of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast encompasses an area stretching from Caloundra and the distinctive Glass House Mountains in the south, to the Hinterland and Mary Valley in the west, to Noosa and Rainbow Beach in the north.

The region has its own university and the Sunshine Coast Airport (Maroochydore) was recently designated an international airport. There’s currently a major extension and upgrade underway to enable the airport to attract a wider range of domestic and international flights.

The Sunshine Coast will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a series of special events over the next five months. These include concerts, the largest ever Horizons Arts Festival, a poetry trail, a sand sculpture festival and a special commemorative exhibition retracing the region’s development.

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The Glass House Mountains form the beautiful natural border for the southern edge of the Sunshine Coast

On the coast
At the top of the Sunshine Coast is remarkable Rainbow Beach, with Fraser Island to the north and the Great Sandy National Park to the south. The multi-coloured sand that’s suitable for 4WD excursions and the Carlo Sand Blow – a wide expanse of sand 120 metres above the beach named by Captain Cook after one of his crew – are both worth visiting. Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort is located close by and offers spectacular views along the coast.

Noosa is Sunshine Coast’s bustling centre and has a range of accommodation choices to suit all budgets along with enough dining opportunities to keep you busy for a week or more.

Heading south, there are the smaller beachside communities of Peregian Beach and Coolum Beach. At the mouth of the Maroochy River stands the Novotel Twin Waters, a large and comfortable resort on its own lagoon. This four-star secluded beachfront resort has 361 rooms – including overwater lagoon suites –  and it’s comprehensive enough that you never need to leave, but a short walk down a sandy track takes you to the surf beach.

The hinterland
But it’s the hinterland that really shines – I’ve been to Maleny for the weekend markets before but I love Montville. It’s a tiny, bustling village offering views off the escarpment to the coast, a crystal chapel and some wonderful walks.

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The village of Montville is as old-school as they come, and is the perfect jumping off point for your hinterland adventure!

There is in fact a 30 kilometre Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk which you can do in stages. We did two of the stages over two days with Steve Grainger, owner of Tropical Treks.

The first stage of the walk took us along the Flaxton Mill Road to Suses Pocket Road section of Kondalilla National Park – a diverse habitat of deep rainforest gullies, blackbutt forest and dry stony slopes of grasstrees and allocasuarina trees, an important habitat for yellow-tailed black-cockatoos.

This park is one of the oldest protected habitats in the region and has very large 300+ year old flooded gums which have escaped the axe. Pencil Creek feeds Mapleton Falls; a stunning feature in itself. If you're lucky, the fastest animal on Earth, the peregrine falcon, may be observed.

Doing the walk with Steve was a blessing in two ways. Firstly, we could see the bush through his eyes and found so many things we would otherwise have missed. Who knew the home of a trapdoor spider could be so perfectly constructed? And, if you don’t open the ‘door’ correctly the first time, the spider will then hold the door shut from the inside so you have very little chance of getting it open after your first attempt.

Some rest and relaxation
Between our walks we stayed at the Narrows Escape Rainforest Retreat, a boutique luxury resort designed for couples nestled in pristine rainforest in a valley below Montville on the edge of Kondalilla National Park. There are just six fully self-contained air-conditioned secluded pavilions with log fireplaces, deep spa baths, coffee machines and free Wi-Fi.

Much of my time was spent watching an acrobatic brushtail possum precariously holding a bird feeder to eat the seeds while swinging from a tree branch. Only a few minutes drive from town, it felt like our own exclusive jungle. The next morning we woke to find fresh, still warm, croissants had been delivered to our balcony, presumably after the possum had gone to bed.

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Kondalilla National Park offers many gorgeous examples of Australian flora and fauna

Dinner (with a free courtesy bus) was at Wild Rocket @ Misty's, within one of the most historic buildings in Montville. Everything is made onsite, from the beef sausages and breads to the stock and sauces. Misty’s is a micro-brewery but there’s a good range of wines, too. The menu was creative and the dishes filling, flavoursome and well presented.

Quintessentially Australian
There was a time when a Queensland holiday was Australia at its most spectacular and simple. The sights and experiences were grand but the food and accommodation lagged behind.

Now the Sunshine Coast is Queensland’s culinary hub and it shows how far we’ve come. The tropical wonders remain but now they can be enjoyed with hospitality to match.

On my way back south, I suspect I’m not the first person from one of the southern capitals who’s found themselves thinking: “I could live on the Sunshine Coast – particularly the Hinterlands with its wonderful vistas and forests.”

When did you last enjoy a trip to Queensland?

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Image credits: © Tourism and Events Queensland / John Bowden, Larissa Denning; Joint TA/TEQ / Jamie MacFadyen.