A comfortable climate, endless sandy beaches, big-time visitor attractions, stylish resorts, tracts of rainforest and striking mountains: The Sunshine Coast’s strengths are many, and there’s so much more than you could ever fit into a single holiday.
If you’re a fearless adventurer you can scramble down humid rainforest valleys, conquer mountains and make for the deserted Fraser Island.
But most people may be reluctant to leave the Sunshine Coast’s flawless white beaches.
Families will never have a dull moment, at theme parks, world-famous zoos, natural discovery centres and quirky museums.
1. Noosa National Park
The chic but laid-back tourist town of Noosa is the jumping off point for the glorious national park of the same name.
In 4,000 hectares and four different sections, the Noosa National Park packs remote beaches, cliff, rocky headlands and lookouts at Dolphin Point and Boiling Point where you can catch sight of dolphins leaping from the surf.
The unpatrolled Alexandria Bay carries on for more than a kilometre and is open to the full force of the Pacific.
Cut in, and there’s rainforest, heathland and sweet-smelling woodland.
A lot of the tracks at the most popular Headlands section converge at the Noosa Headland day-use area.
Elsewhere, the Peregian section is loved for its spring wildflowers, like Christmas bells and the seldom-seen swamp orchid, while you can survey the coastline for many kilometres from the summit of Emu Mountain.
2. Mooloolaba Beach
There are resort beaches and then there’s Mooloolaba beach, which unfurls along a sandy spit in the shelter of Port Cartwright.
The luxurious white beach is angled away from the Pacific, which means low, manageable waves and many metres of shallow water.
Raised slightly at the west end is the Esplanade, where the footpaths are dark under tropical trees and the unfathomable expanse of the Pacific Ocean glitters in the sunshine.
There’s a gaggle of cosmopolitan restaurants and bars a couple streets in from the waterfront.
Backing that sandy spit are plush residential neighbourhoods on canals at the mouth of the Mooloolah river.
3. Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve
Ecotourists have been flocking to this parcel of remnant rainforest in Maleny since the 1940s.
First off, the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve is a sort of natural time capsule, growing the subtropical rainforest species that used to deck the entire Blackall Range.
The reserve has recently been equipped with a modern, multimillion-dollar Discovery Centre with multisensory hands-on displays introducing you to the delicate rainforest ecosystem.
The boardwalk ushers you past strangler figs and buttress roots, while the reserve’s viewing platform is the piece de resistance, looking southeast to the mysterious outline of Glass House Mountains.
4. Noosa Main Beach
A few things combine to make this beach on Noosa Heads’ Laguna Bay so enticing.
The headline is that it’s one of those rare Australian beaches that faces north.
Noosa Main Beach is turned away from the full brunt of the Pacific Ocean, which gives it gentle waves that will suit anyone put off by the big Pacific beach breaks.
Noosa Main Beach is patrolled by surf lifesavers every single day of the year.
Safe to say that if you’re taking you first steps on a surf board, this is the beach for you.
And for everyone else Noosa Main Beach means lounging on the sand, paddling in the shallow water and frequent trips to Hastings Street for shopping and a drink of something cold.
5. Kondalilla Falls
If things get a bit too hot on the coast you can flee for this piece of mountain paradise deep in the Sunshine Coast’s hinterland.
In the national park of the same name, Kondalilla Falls is on the Skene Creek, which plummets down a series of cascades 90 metres into a lush rainforest valley.
It’s interesting to see how the forest transforms from dry grass trees and casuarinas high on the escarpment to the west, down to Australia’s most easterly stand of bunya pines, and then ferns, piccabeen palms and pink ash in the sheltered valley.
You’ll get the best view of the waterfall from the valley floor, descending and then climbing via the Kondalilla Falls Circuit, which has more than 300 steps.
6. Kings Beach
In the south, the Sunshine Coast ends with a fanfare at the town of Caloundra.
If you had to dream up the perfect tourist beach, Kings Beach in the namesake Caloundra suburb would come close.
There’s a sandy bay that slopes gradually into the ocean and is washed by waves that break a long way out.
Kings Beach has a big spread of soft white sand to park yourself on, and if the ocean looks a bit rough there’s a saltwater swimming pool right on the oceanfront.
When the tide goes out kids will love investigating the rock pools, and on the foreshore there’s a child-friendly fountain with sudden, leaping jets of water.
7. Bulcock Beach
Just along the coast, Bulcock Beach is linked to Kings Beach by a continuous boardwalk.
This will beckon you past the green Happy Valley and Clarke Place Park, for picnics and barbecues.
Fix your eyes to the south and you can make out the slender northern tip of Bribie Island and the long Pumicestone Passage, separating the island from the mainland.
Bulcock Beach really comes into its own when the tide goes out.
The ocean leaves behind small, clear pools, warmed by the sun, and at the beach’s southernmost point there’s a decent surfing break.
Behind the west end of the beach, is a string of bars, ice cream parlours and cafes, and there are companies like East Coast Kitesurfing and Caloundra, Jet Ski, catering to people up for adventure sports.
8. Glass House Mountains
This group of 13 volcanic peaks interrupts the coastal plain along the Sunshine Coast and is inscribed on the National Heritage Register as a landscape of national significance.
The monolithic rocks are the vestiges of volcanic vents that filled with magma and cooled, to be thrown into relief as the surrounding sandstone landscape eroded over millions of years.
Most distinctive is the 364-metre Mount Tibrogargan, which if you squint looks like a face surveying the ocean.
You can walk around the base of this peak, or take on the 253-metre Mount Ngungun.
Hardy bushwalkers can test themselves on the recently opened Yul-yan-man track, a rugged Grade 5 walk winding through the range.
9. Tewantin National Park
The adventure continues at Tewantin National Park, which is an easy 20-minute drive west from Noosa Heads on David Low Way.
A mandatory visit here is the 265-metre Mount Tinbeerwah, forged by volcanic activity tens of millions of years ago.
This peak commands majestic vistas over to the Noosa coast and river system, but also inspires wonder for rare and endangered trees like the swamp stringybark, wallum heath and cabbage-tree palms.
Amphibians like the wallum froglet, green-thighed frog and giant barred frog reside in the park, as do around 70 bird species, like the red-browed treecreeper, which thrives in the mature eucalyptus forests.
The Wooroi day-use area is more suited to families, where you can picnic or have a barbecue under bloodwoods and she-oaks.
10. Maleny Botanic Gardens & Birdworld
In 110 acres, among ponds, cascades and a tapestry of themed spaces, Maleny Botanic Gardens & Birdworld has a staggering location.
You’ll be on a terraced escarpment facing southeast across the coastal plain to the Glass House Mountains.
Trails meander through the landscape, guiding you into idyllic spaces planted with roses, camellias, desert species, orchids, rainforest plants and many more.
There are also four walk-through aviaries inhabited by 700 native and exotic birds, together with a petting zoo keeping tame domestic animals.
Then at the top of the gardens you can take a seat and be wowed by the scenery over a cup of coffee.
11. Australia Zoo
Dubbed “The Home of the Crocodile Hunter”, the Australia Zoo in Beerwah has found an international audience because of Steve Irwin.
His naturalist parents Bob and Lyn opened the park in 1970, and Steve grew up around the zoo’s crocodiles.
The money made from television filming went back into the zoo, turning it into the sprawling, world-class zoological attraction it is today.
The park is owned by Steve’s widow Terri and holds more than 1,200 animals over 1,000 acres.
There are crocodile and bird demonstrations at the 5,000-capactiy “Crocoseum”, a Rainforest Aviary with 150+ birds, Sumatran and Bengal tigers at the Tiger Temple, the 12-acre “Elephantasia” and a whole precinct for South-East Asian species like Komodo dragons and Asian small-clawed otters.
You’ll also have lots of chances to get involved, petting koalas, hand-feeding kangaroos, walking with wombats or touring the zoo’s animal hospital.
12. Queensland Air Museum
For something a little different, Caloundra has the largest heritage aviation museum in the country.
Remarkably this not-for-profit attraction is run almost entirely by volunteers, who keep the museum open every day of the year except Christmas Day.
There are scores of jet and propeller aircraft on show, and the immediate post-war years are a real strong point.
From this time you’ve got a Vickers Viscount, a Lockheed Neptune, two Hawker Hunters, a Gloster Meteor, two de Havilland Caribous, two Sea Vixens and two Sea Venoms, to name a small few.
The museum has a calendar bursting with events, like the Open Cockpit Weekend in July when you can take the controls in a whole range of aircraft.
13. Maleny Dairies
The rambling hills of Maleny, in the Sunshine Coast’s pastoral hinterland are the backdrop for an award-winning and family-owned dairy farm.
Grazing in those hills is a herd of Guernsey cows, and their milk goes into the Maleny Dairies’ range of natural and healthy products, which includes pasteurised milk (naturally), flavoured milk, yoghurt, cream and custard.
You can make a dash for these cooler climes for tours, scheduled Monday to Saturday.
These kick off with a short movie about the farm and then take you down to the factory floor.
You’ll get to meet Millie Maleny Dairies’ “tour cow”, watch a milking demonstration and taste milk right from the udder.
In season you’ll get the chance to bottle-feed calves, and at the end of the tour you can sample the brand’s range.
Three times a day there are also tractor rides, past paddocks with frolicking calves and emus that you can feed by hand.
14. Point Cartwright
This promontory sticks out into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean at the tip of Kawana Beach in Mooloolaba.
Behind is the final reach of the Mooloolah River before it enters the ocean, and there’s an active lighthouse atop the cliffs, 32 metres tall and built in 1978. From the headland you can watch the waves crash against the rocks and look back to Mooloolaba, down Kawana Beach and up to the curious dome of Mount Coolum.
Be here in the evening to watch the sun setting behind Mooloolaba.
At the base of the headland is an unpatrolled beach, big with surfers for its point break.
15. Buderim Forest Park
There’s a 45-hectare oasis of rainforest, with waterfalls, cascades and tangled trees, barely a kilometre outside the village of Buderim.
No shock that Buderim Forest Park is a hit with photographers and Instagrammers, and you can discover it on a trail with two entry points, conveying you between ferns and under eldritch strangler figs, while the calls of rainforest species like catbirds and whipbirds ring out all around.
Buderim Falls (also Serenity Falls) is nothing short of stunning, especially if you pick a day when Martins Creek is swelled by rainfall.
But even in dry spells there will be a gossamer trickle spilling over the rocks.
16. Mount Coolum
This bizarre dome-shaped landform rises just inland from the suburb of the same name, 100 kilometres north of Brisbane.
Protected by a small national park, Mount Coolum is a laccolith, formed some 26 million years ago when magma forced a bulge in the earth’s surface and then cooled without breaking through.
The 208-metre peak stands alone from the Glass House Mountains, which rise to the south, and if you’re up for the climb, will grant you stupendous 360° views of the coastline, the Glass House Mountains and the Blackhall Range in the backcountry to the west.
Mount Coolum is one of only two places on the sunshine coast supporting montane heath, a habitat made up of rare and endangered plant species.
17. Rainbow Beach: Kayaking with Dolphins
Intrepid sprits may be itching to travel into the national parks that lie beyond Noosa Head in the very north of the Sunshine Coast.
The online tour platform GetYourGuide.com has plenty of experiences catering to those who want to go a bit further.
At the top of the Great Sandy National Park is Rainbow Beach, which takes its name from the 72 different shades of sand.
This eye-opening spectrum of hues and tones has been caused by erosion, revealing sands tinted by vegetable dyes and iron oxide.
The Rainbow Beach: Kayaking with Dolphins package entails a 4WD trip along the beach, and then an easy kayaking trip around double island point.
Dolphin pods, sting rays, manta rays and turtles are in these waters all year, and should make an appearance.
But if you make the trip between June and November you also stand a great chance of seeing humpback whales on their migration.
18. Aussie World
The only fully-fledged theme park on the Sunshine Coast is just off the Bruce Highway, 15 minutes from Sunshine Coast Airport.
More than 30 years after Aussie World opened, there are now more than 30 rides and attractions.
Some of these will have you clinging on for dear life, like the rollercoaster Redback, and The Plunge, a log flume, and The Wasp, which is an interactive thrill ride.
But there are also lots of more sedate ways for families to have fun.
These might be a restored carousel from 1927, a ferris wheel from the 1960s, mini-golf, the Leak’n Logs water play area and Sideshow Salley, loaded with carnival games.
Something not to miss if you’re aged 12 and up is the Mayhem Maze, which has a spine-tingling horror theme.
19. Peregian Beach
Pinned against the coast by Noosa National Park, Peregian Beach is a gorgeous seaside village with little local shops and cafes, an unending stretch of sandy beach and big tracts of nature to explore inland.
You can divide your time between the beach, a day spa and cafe table before striking out in search of unblemished natural spots like Lake Weyba.
Couched in mangroves, open forest and saltpans, Lake Weyba is a shallow body of saltwater with a sparse beauty, but also a vital breeding ground for fish.
You can spot birdlife in the bush from a kayak, or take a dip in the clear, warm water.
20. Hastings Street
Set just in from Noosa Main Beach, Hastings Street is a relaxed, upscale hangout with footpaths shielded from the sun by cafe awnings and the thick canopies of poinciana and pandanus trees.
At the foot of the street’s white, low-rise blocks are day spas, boutiques, gift shops, galleries and surf stores.
The terraces are occupied morning ’til night by bon viveurs taking coffee, champagne brunches and evening cocktails.
Then when the sun goes down Hastings Street glows with fair lights and becomes a rakish, smart-casual nightspot.
Noosa Main Beach is never more than a minute away, and at the west end you’ll suddenly leave the resort behind and find yourself in the gum trees of the Noosa Woods.
21. The Ginger Factory
The suburb of Buderim happens to have the ideal conditions for growing ginger, a crop that benefits from the local high rainfall and high humidity.
The industry took hold during the First World War, and there are now many hectares of ginger fields.
One company making ginger confectionery products is Buderim Ginger Limited, which has opened visitor a attraction next to its ginger factory about 15 minutes away in Yandina.
You can ride a century-old sugar cane train, venture through tropical gardens and take a themed boat ride with more than 200 animated puppets.
There are also live beekeeping demonstrations, and at the souvenir shop you can buy ginger spreads, cordial, ginger beers and of course gingerbread.
22. The Original Eumundi Markets
The little town of Eumundi has a nationwide reputation for its bi-weekly markets.
These are praised as the biggest and best arts and crafts markets in all of Australia.
Market days are Saturday and Wednesday, no matter the weather, laying on a cornucopia of locally produced art, ceramics, jewellery, fashion-forward clothing, furniture, homewares and a lot more than we can list.
Bring an appetite too, because some of the delicious bites include loaded baked potatoes, artisan fudge, authentic Turkish gözleme, empanadas and German bratwurst hot off the grill.
There’s entertainment too, by live musicians and street performers, and if you need time-out you could always pause for a massage.
23. Noosa Farmers’ Market
If Noosa seems quiet on Sunday morning, it’s because everyone’s at this farmers’ market under the gum trees by the Australian Football Club.
For holidaymaker’s it’s a chance to find out what the Sunshine Coast’s best producers are up to.
This means organic skincare, olives, nuts, seeds, jams, herbs, marinades, sauces, seafood straight from the ocean, cheeses, tapenades and bread and pastries baked on the spot.
You’re sure to get peckish at some point, and there’s lots of food and drink to go, like crêpes, German sausages, steamed dumplings, smoothies and fair-trade coffee.
24. Mooloolaba: Seafood Lunch Cruise
In the Mooloolah Estuary, on the south side of the Mooloolaba spit there’s a labyrinth of canals where palatial waterfront houses have their own jetties.
Jet-skis zip by, and palm trees and the masts of expensive-looking yachts set the scene.
You can only get fleeting glimpses of Minyama and Mooloolaba’s canals from the little waterside parks on land, so the best way to bask in the opulence is on a cruise.
This 90-minute voyage with GetYourGuide.com includes a satisfying sit-down lunch, which can be freshly caught Mooloolaba prawns, calamari and chips, fish and chips or hamburgers.
25. Fraser Island: 2-Day Grand 4WD Exploration Tour
On the Sunshine Coast you’ll be tantalisingly close to Fraser Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest sand island in the world, at 123 kilometres long and 22 kilometres across.
With a population of less than 200 Fraser Island is a world of rainforests, mangroves, sand dunes, peat swamps, heathland and beaches that disappear into the distance.
You’ll need two whole days to scratch the surface, and this 4WD adventure can be booked with GetYourGuide.com.
There will be scores of unforgettable moments, from whales and dolphins breaching in the ocean, to the vistas from Eli Creek and Indian Head Lookout.
You’ll traverse canyons, drive along the deserted 75-mile beach, paddle in transparent creeks, see a 100-year-old shipwreck and uncover the island’s lost timber industry.