The best national parks and seaside escapes in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast

By Shirley Sinclair

The best national parks and seaside escapes in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast
The essence of the Sunshine Coast is perhaps never clearer than from the bow of a yacht in full sail off Mudjimba, with a glass of bubbles in hand and some freshly peeled Mooloolaba king prawns.

Gliding through the midnight-blue waters of the Coral Sea, Old Woman Island (aka Mudjimba) looms closer to the left, and the building waves near the shoreline turn from azure to turquoise, to curling white water pounding kilometres of deserted golden sands.

Inland to the right is unmistakeable Mt Coolum — a 26-million-year-old, dome-shaped rock that rises 208m and lays claim to being Australia’s second-largest monolith after world-famous Uluru. Further afield, a 15km virtually straight stretch of heavenly coastline ends at the Devil’s Kitchen and Hell’s Gates, jutting out like a set of horns across Alexandria Bay in the sanctuary of Noosa National Park.

Paradise found.

View to Mudjima Island from Mudjima Beach, Sunshine Coast.

But that’s just the beginning of the magical mystery tour of natural wonders. The Sunshine Coast has seven national parks (more than any other region in the state of Queensland) and bragging rights for other ecologically significant state forest, marine and scenic reserves.

Those include the craggy peaks, walking tracks and panoramic lookouts that have earnt the Glass House Mountains their listing as a landscape of national significance.

View of the Glass House Mountains from One Tree Hill, Maleny.

The region is best known for world-class surf beaches (including Noosa Heads, which has been declared among the historically significant National Surfing Reserves in Australia), where swimming is all-year round and the water temperature rarely drops below 20°C.

Bodysurf, stand-up paddleboard, surf, float, fish, snorkel, cruise, jet-ski, dive, sail, skydive, hike, dive, wakeboard, kayak, kitesurf or simply loll on waterways from Rainbow Beach, Double Island Point and Noosa Main Beach on spectacular Laguna Bay in the north, through rocky headlands, little coves and open stretches to the calm waters of Bulcock Beach on Pumicestone Passage in the south.

And if you’ve always wanted to learn to surf, this is the place. You’ll also learn how to understand how waves break, how to spot a sweep or rip, and what to do if you are ever in trouble in the ocean.

Snorkel Mudjima Island, Sunshine Coast.

The Sunshine Coast as a holiday destination is like nowhere else … and nothing proves that more than its rare or unique gems within. The Noosa Everglades wilderness area with its majestic mirror reflections is one of only two everglade systems in the world (and the only one without alligators).

This pristine area — full of banksias, tea trees, melaleucas, reeds and water lilies and home to more than 40 per cent of Australia’s birdlife — is best viewed on an eco-cruise or in a kayak. Try Kanu Kapers or Everglades Eco Safaris.

Rainbow Beach, Sunshine Coast.

The Coloured Sands of Rainbow Beach have formed a unique natural art gallery. Mother Nature and erosion have created 72 differently coloured sands within the enormous sandy cliffs rising as high as 200m by the shore. The coloured layers have developed as a result of iron oxide and vegetable dyes leaching into the sand, probably since the last Ice Age.

The Coloured Sands are on the Great Beach Drive that connects the Sunshine Coast and the Gympie region with Fraser Island (K’gari) in part via the “great sand highway”. As well as the opportunity to spot whales, dolphins, turtles and rare birds, the tourist drive takes in two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, a World Heritage Area, national parks and the largest sand island in the world.

Operator Epic Ocean Adventures is your chauffeur on the Great Beach Drive and can also tell stories of the area’s Indigenous and pioneering history.

Each quaint Sunshine Coast village or rural town and every suburban coastal area varies greatly from the next, with its own charm and history. In just over a 30-minute drive from the surf, visitors could be on top of the world on the Blackall Range — hugging an Australian red cedar tree reaching hundreds of metres into the sky, checking in to their romantic, cosy cottage by Lake Baroon at Montville or marvelling at Mapleton Falls where Pencil Creek plunges 120m into the valley below.

Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve in Maleny.

Hidden Gems

Buderim Falls

A long-time favourite for wedding photo backdrops, Buderim Falls — also known as Serenity Falls—is a subtropical oasis within Buderim Forest Park. A 45ha haven for nature lovers and photographers.

Maroochy Wetland Sanctuary

The Bli Bli sanctuary is home to 200+ species of birds, as well as crabs, butterflies and other creatures. A 900m long boardwalk meanders through rainforest, mangroves and woodland.

Gardners Falls

The shallow rock pools and grassy verge backed by native forest are ideal for a post-swim snooze or picnic. Park on the banks of Obi Obi Creek — it’s just a short walk down to the cascades and pools.

Botanic Gardens

Discover the native flora of the Sunshine Coast and enjoy a picnic in the Maroochy Bushland Botanic Garden in Tanawha or Noosa Botanic Gardens on the shores of Lake Macdonald near Cooroy.

Chambers Island

Accessed by boat or from the Maroochy River shoreline by a pedestrian bridge, Chambers Island is a top spot to kayak, try stand-up paddle boarding or just chill out and enjoy the beautiful view.

Where to stay

Spicers Tamarind Retreat

Awaken to the songs of the rainforest in the secluded luxury of Spicers Tamarind Retreat in Maleny. The 14 self-contained villas and Spa Studio boast floor-to- ceiling glass sliding and bifold doors, private patios and all-weather decks. And if youre not completely rejuvenated after making the most of the luxe day beds and white freestanding stone bath, try Spa Anise’s massages and treatments.

Narrows Escape Rainforest Retreat

At the edge of Kondalilla National Park, the six secluded villas within this award-winning retreat deliver instant peace and tranquillity. Narrows Escape is in Montville, just by the entrance to the 58km Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk. Choose a short, half-day or full-day hike within the Great Walk or the surrounding national parks or explore Montville’s village’s charming Main Street.

Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort

This resort’s luxury apartments and penthouses all feature spa baths and balconies with panoramas of Rainbow Beach and out towards Fraser Island. The relaxed coastal vibe of Rainbow Beach village, gentle surf of the patrolled white sands, walks at the nearby Carlo Sand Blow, and nearby four-wheel-driving opportunities mean you can be as active — or as relaxed — as you wish.

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