Under 90 minutes north from Brisbane, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast has so much to offer. We’ve put together just 10 top things to do here, but as soon as you arrive, you realise this is the tip of whatever the subtropics’ version of an iceberg is.
From pristine beaches to rare subtropical rainforests and waterfalls, from craft breweries, distilleries and wineries to little towns packed with creativity—and let’s not forget about the food—the Sunny Coast is a traveller’s paradise.
Because it spans both a huge coastal area as well as the stunning forested hinterland, this region has a really diverse set of experiences to offer.
And while the beach often gets expectedly warm, especially in the summer, the hinterland, because of its elevation, is usually a fair bit cooler. In winter, you might even need the fire on in the evening.
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It’s obviously impossible to tell you about all the things you can do in this region that stretches for over 1600km², but here are 10 of our favourites.
1. Sunshine Coast’s ocean drive
Get a lay of the land and take the coastal drive from Sunrise Beach just south of Noosa all the way down to Mooloolaba. The 40km drive lets you see the cliffs roll down to where the road is at sea level.
Driving south means you can easily stop to take in the view, but it also means you’re closer to the water with no vehicles on the other side of the road getting in the way. This is a bit like one of our tips for driving Highway 1 on America’s west coast.
If you are driving south, one of the first towns you’ll come to that’s at sea level is Peregian Beach, and it’s well worth getting out to stretch your legs, enjoy a stroll on the enormous beach and put your toes in the water.
And take the opportunity of coffee here—this little town has plenty of cafes worth a visit.
2. Saltwater Eco Tours Cultural Cruise
Sailing from Penny Lane Jetty in Mooloolaba, Saltwater Eco Tours is the perfect combo of being out on the Maroochy River and its canals on a century-old sailing boat and learning about the ancient culture and history of the area at the same time.
On the cruise, you’re joined by Bridgette ‘Auntie’ Chilli, a proud Mooloola Kabi Kabi woman, who talks about the history of her people who have lived in the area for thousands of years.
Owner Simon Thornalley, an Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, has restored this beautiful timber boat himself, understanding the importance of heritage and legacy, and it really adds to the atmosphere of the experience.
3. Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve and Rainforest Centre
Named after the woman and her three daughters who, from the late 1800s, began the fight to preserve this area from logging.
The Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve is a multifaceted view of one of the last remaining sub-tropical rainforests in the country.
The centre is an educational hub with displays on wildlife found in the 55-hectare area as well as information on its traditional custodians the Jinibara People.
Upstairs provides amazing views out to the Glasshouse Mountains and there are several walks through the dense rainforest. Even the short Pond Walk around the centre, which we were restricted to because of recent storms, has unbelievable animal and birdlife to experience.
4. Flame Hill Vineyard, Montville
Usually, wine and the subtropics don’t go together, but like we said, the elevated hinterland has a cooler climate.
The wine here might not be a match for the best of the Barossa or Hunter Valley, but it’s still very drinkable. Flame Hill Vineyard’s Fiano, Montville Chardonnay and Rousanne Marsanne, and the Barbera and Traprock Shiraz are all standouts.
The cellar door, which is set high on the hill above pretty Montville, looks out over the hinterland and over grape vines, and it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a drop of Queensland wine and a delicious lunch.
5. Visit the three Ms of the Hinterland
These three towns of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland are some of the prettiest but also show three very different sides of the region.
Montville, which was established in 1887, is a creative hub featuring both emerging and celebrated artists. Shopping here is fun with its ‘olde-worlde’ ambience and turning waterwheel.
Maleny is famed for its food and local produce (as well as its own art scene and beautiful landscape), in particular its dairy products. It’s also worth checking out The Tamarind restaurant here, part of Spicers Tamarind Retreat, for a meal you’ll not likely forget.
Mapleton is known for its proximity to nature and the incredible walks you can do in the area through forests and waterfalls.
6. Spa treatment at Spa Anise, Maleny
While you’re in Maleny, make sure you set aside at least two hours—preferably three—to enjoy a pampering at Spa Anise day spa.
Set overlooking Maleny’s rolling countryside and forests, and within earshot of Gardner’s Falls, this spa is the most heavenly slice of the whole Sunshine Coast.
7. Mapleton Falls and Rainforest Walk
Just outside the town of Mapleton, the lookout into the deep vertical tree-covered ravine and sparkling roar of Mapleton Falls beckons you to explore further.
A fairly easy walk takes you down the escarpment where the waters from Pencil Creek cascade 120m to the bottom. But the sounds of the waterfall are quickly drowned by the birdcalls amongst the canopy of this beautiful forest.
There are quite a few stairs on this walk, but the path is well-tended.
8. Eumundi Markets
Held every single Wednesday and Saturday—no matter what—since 1979, Eumundi Markets is the biggest and finest arts and crafts market in the country.
Bringing hundreds of people from all over to its expanse of stalls, the market transforms the quiet town of Eumundi.
Look out for the Make It, Bake It, Sew It, Grow It badges on stalls. These are the sellers that craft everything you see completely by themselves. And make sure you arrive hungry—the food offerings at the market are outstanding!
But if you’re in Eumundi for one of the five days of the week when the markets aren’t running, here are some of the other excellent things you can do in this fun, creative town.
9. Yandina—heritage pubs, Nutworks, Buderim Ginger Factory and live bee tour
Only 10 minutes down the road from Eumundi, Yandina is one of the oldest towns in the Sunshine Coast. The pub has been here since 1887 and there are lots of other beautiful heritage buildings in town.
But on Yandina’s northern outskirts is the Ginger Factory—a fun kind of amusement park all based around the world’s finest ginger from Buderim just down the road. At first it sounds a bit bizarre, but it’s actually very cute and a lot of fun. It’s also indoors, so the perfect rainy day activity.
But even better than the ginger rides, exhibits and stalls is the live bee tour.
We were genuinely surprised at how good this was. First you hear from a bee expert about bees’ life cycles and their behaviours. You then get to watch them close up in their hives through glass inspection windows. Finally you get to taste the different honey they produce.
Did you know a single bee—in her entire lifetime—will produce less than a teaspoon of honey?
And if you’re after a snack or souvenir, just across the road is Nutworks. Ostensibly a shop selling all kinds of nuts, this is also a roasting and processing factory. You can also score a few free tastings of the different nuts they sell here before you buy.
10. Sailing, kayaking and SUPing at Twin Waters Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort
On the grounds of the impressive Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort in Twin Waters just north of Maroochydore and just seven minutes from the airport, you’ll find a man-made lake.
Here you can hire kayaks, SUP boards and Hobie 2-person sailing catamarans to get out on the water and play safely. If you’re staying as guests of the resort, the sailing and kayaks are free.
The hotel is great for families and groups of friends, and is close to the beach, other Sunshine Coast towns. It even has its own golf course that’s internationally recognised as one of the top six resort courses in Australia.