Go 4WDing on spectacular island beaches, cuddle a koala, dive a shipwreck and finish up in the bright lights of Queensland’s capital, Brisbane.
By Lucy Jones
What to expect
- Swim with humpback whales in Hervey Bay
- Discover Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island
- Cuddle a koala at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo
- Time: 8 days
- Distance: 360 kilometres (224 miles)
- Transport: Car and ferry
- Nearest major city: Brisbane
- Price: $
This eight-day journey takes you through the spectacular Sunshine Coast, from golden beaches to lush green hinterland and vast sandy islands. It’s the place for up-close encounters with native animals (expect whales, dolphins and koalas), oceanside camping, spectacular mountaintop sunrises and underwater exploration. Challenge yourself with adventurous activities, learn new skills and swap stories with your fellow travellers.
Day 1: Hervey Bay
Welcome to the whale-watching capital of the world! Between July and November each year, up to 25,000 humpback whales cruise along the Queensland coast and many visit the calm waters around Hervey Bay. Join one of the whale-watching boats that depart from the marina each day to view these gentle giants in their natural habitat. Feeling brave? Pull on a wetsuit, strap on a snorkel and jump into the water with them. Hervey Bay Dive Centre runs tours daily from July to October. If you’re there outside of whale season, join a snorkelling tour with Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours to see coral reefs, fish, turtles and dolphins in the Great Sandy Marine Park. Spend the night at the Woolshed Backpackers, a laid-back, family-owned property set in lush gardens dotted with hammocks. Head down to the common area for a barbecue and the chance to meet other travellers.
Day 2: Hervey Bay to Fraser Island
It’s time to explore the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island, 15 kilometres (nine miles) off the coast. Hire a 4WD from Fraser Magic 4WD Hire in Hervey Bay, then make the 20-minute drive to River Heads where the barge to the island departs. Touring the beaches of Fraser Island in a 4WD is an exhilarating experience, though it’s very different to driving on the highway. This is your chance to go home with a new skill and increased confidence in your own abilities. Cruise along the great sand highway that is 75 Mile Beach on the east of the island, then spend a few hours exploring the Central Lakes. Fraser Island is one of the few places in Australia where you can see dingoes in the wild. There are up to 30 packs here – you’ll see them walking along the roads or lazing on the beach. Always remember that these are wild animals, so keep your distance and don’t try to feed or pet them. Pitch your tent at one of the island’s 45 campsites; just be sure to buy a permit and you can hire gear if you don’t have your own.
Day 3: Fraser Island
Start your day bobbing around in the crystal-clear waters of Lake McKenzie. It’s a “perched” lake, which means it is fed only by rainwater (not groundwater or streams) and the sand is pure white silica. The water is particularly beautiful in the soft light of dawn, so this could be a good excuse to make an early start. You’ll also want to have a dip in the Champagne Pools on 75 Mile Beach. These rock pools are on the edge of the ocean and each wave brings water in, creating a fizzy, bubbly natural jacuzzi. The Fraser Island Great Walk is a 90-kilometre (55-mile) trail that winds through the centre of the island. The whole thing takes six to eight days, but there are a number of smaller sections that you can tackle in an afternoon. If you’re interested in history, try the walk from Kingfisher Bay Resort to McKenzies Jetty. It takes you past the Fraser Commando School, a World War II training camp that prepared men for missions in the South West Pacific.
Day 4: Fraser Island to Noosa
Take the ferry back to the mainland and drive just over two hours south to the stylish town of Noosa. Flop on a gorgeous beach, take a surfing lesson with Learn to Surf Noosa, kayak along the Noosa River or stroll along the coastal track to the small village of Sunshine Beach. Walk down Hastings Street and you’ll see why Noosa is known as the most glamorous address on the Sunshine Coast. It’s lined with great restaurants, lively bars and chic boutiques. Break the budget and sit down for a fancy meal, or grab some fish and chips from Nosh Express and eat with your toes in the sand. Halse Lodge is in a heritage-listed Queenslander house, just off the main strip and close to the beach. You can borrow a surfboard, play pool in the common room and grab a drink in the friendly bar.
Day 5: Noosa to Glass House Mountains
You’re heading inland today, to the spectacular Glass House Mountains in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Challenge yourself and join an abseiling tour with WorthWild. The expert instructors build up your confidence on some smaller cliffs before you go over the edge of the 50-metre (165-foot) drop at the top of Mount Ngungun. You’ll need a climbing buddy and you’re responsible for their safety, so it’s a good lesson in thinking about other people and developing trust. Once you’re back at ground level, make your way to Beerwah for Australia Zoo, established by the late local wildlife legend Steve Irwin. Queensland is one of only three Australian states (along with South Australia and Western Australia) where you can cuddle a koala, so now is your chance to wrap your arms around this furry national icon. Spend the night at the Glass House Mountains Ecolodge, an environmentally friendly property surrounded by lush bushland and with great views of Mount Tibrogargan.
Day 6: Glass House Mountains to Moreton Island
Make an early start this morning and climb to the top of Mount Ngungun to watch the sunrise. The walk takes 20-30 minutes and you’ll need a torch, but the spectacular views over the Glass House Mountains will be worth it. Then it’s back in the car for the one-hour drive to Brisbane’s Holt Street Wharf to take the ferry to Moreton Island. Spend the day swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, surfing or just working on your tan. Splash out and stay at Tangalooma Island Resort, a beachfront property on the western side of the island. Every day at sunset, a pod of wild bottlenose dolphins comes into the bay in front of the resort where you can wade out into the water and hand-feed them. After dark, take the illuminated glass-bottom boat tour that cruises above the famous Tangalooma wrecks.
Day 7: Moreton Island
Today, try a scuba dive to see those wrecks up close. Between 1963 and 1984, 15 vessels were scuttled just off Moreton Island to provide a safe anchorage. Over the years they have formed a thriving coral reef, home to more than 100 species of fish and the occasional dolphin, wobbegong or dugong. It’s a shore dive, so you’ll enter the water straight from the beach, and the diving is suitable for everyone from beginners to experts. Head for the huge sand dunes in the centre of the island. The dunes stand up to 280 metres (919 feet) high with steep sides – perfect for sand tobogganing. Sit or lie on a thin, waxed board and zip down the dunes at speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour (25 miles per hour). You’ll scream, you’ll laugh, you’ll be brushing sand out of your hair for weeks.
Day 8: Moreton Island to Brisbane
After a quick morning swim, jump on the 8.30am ferry back to Brisbane. Today, you’ll be exploring the vibrant Queensland capital. It’s a hub of creativity, with world-class galleries like GOMA, innovative architecture and an emerging local arts scene that pushes the boundaries. There are great restaurants, plenty of live music, a buzzing late-night scene and a thriving cafe culture that rivals Melbourne. One of the best ways to see the city is from the water, so hire a kayak from Riverlife and take a leisurely paddle along the Brisbane River. Or you can see the city from above with Story Bridge Adventure Climb. You can even abseil more than 30 metres (about 100 feet) down from the bridge.
Fortitude Valley is Australia’s first dedicated entertainment precinct, so that’s where you’re going to want to stay. Check in to Bunk Brisbane (a hostel with private and dorm rooms) and you’ll be just a short walk from the city’s best nightlife. Grab dinner at Jonny’s Pizzeria, a disco-themed Italian restaurant in a laneway, serving up cheap pizzas until midnight. There might even be some dancing.
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