Sunshine Coast: 8-day family road trip
Home to some of Australia’s best beaches and a hinterland full of hidden gems, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast offers families the perfect driving escape.
By Craig Tansley
With more than 150 kilometres (93 miles) of beaches, many parents would happily take the family to Queensland's Sunshine Coast for the swimming, surfing and fishing alone. But that’s just the beginning of this region’s great offering. Behind the beach, you’ll find lush hinterland, providing the ideal escape into forests, farms and quaint villages, and a thriving food and wine scene. Here’s how to explore it in eight days.
Day 1: Caloundra
Stretching from Caloundra to Rainbow Beach, the Sunshine Coast includes the coastal towns and cities of Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Coolum and Noosa Heads, as well as the hinterland towns of Gympie, Eumundi and Montville. It’s a 1.5-hour flight from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast Airport, or roughly a 1.5-hour drive from Brisbane. The best way to get around is by car, which can be collected at the airport if you are flying in.
The first stop on your Sunshine Coast itinerary is Caloundra (a 30-minute drive from Sunshine Coast Airport), which has a beach for almost every kind of traveller. Spend the morning swimming in the calm waters of Golden Beach, a good option if you have younger travellers in tow. A 10-minute drive away is Kings Beach, a popular surf spot which teens will prefer. There are cafés, restaurants and shops along the promenade that runs parallel to the beach, making it a good spot to stop for lunch.
Day 2: Caloundra to Mooloolaba
- Drive time: about half an hour
Set off early, travelling north towards Mooloolaba and SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast. Wander through the marine park and wildlife sanctuary’s 11 themed zones, including the 80-metre (262-foot) long Ocean Tunnel where sharks, rays and reef fish swim overhead. Be sure to check out the Finding Dory & Friends display created with Disney Pixar.
Spend the afternoon at Mooloolaba’s glamorous beachfront esplanade, where you’ll find great boutique stores and outdoor cafés. Then drive five minutes to the Mooloolaba Yacht Club for seafood straight from the trawlers next door.
Stay: Opt for convenience and stay in a family apartment at Nautilus Mooloolaba, a two-minute walk from the Esplanade and Mooloolaba Beach.
Days 3 and 4: Mooloolaba to Maleny
- Drive time: about 1 hour
Today you head inland. The Sunshine Coast’s hinterland is a hidden delight, full of national parks and pretty villages. From Mooloolaba, drive 30 minutes to Montville and stroll the main street lined wall-to-wall with cute cafés. Get caffeinated at Montville Coffee – there’s no better brew in Queensland – then choose from over 70 flavours of homemade fudge for the road at Fudgyboombahs.
From here, it’s only 10 minutes to Baroon Pocket Dam, where you can take a dip, kayak the lake, or cast a line, keeping an eye out for resident kangaroos and koalas.
Day 5: Maleny to Noosa
- Drive time: about 1 hour
It’s only 20 minutes from Maleny to the famous Australia Zoo; there’s a range of wildlife experiences to be had across the 400-hectare (988-acre) site, including touring the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. The daily Wildlife Warrior Show inside the Crocoseum, featuring five-metre (16-foot) long saltwater crocs, is a must-see.
From here, drive just under an hour to Noosa and immerse yourself in the bustling beachside action of Hastings Street. Buy an ice cream at Massimo’s Gelateria, but leave room for dinner at one of Noosa’s longest standing family restaurants, Café Le Monde.
Stay: While Noosa has an exciting (and very chic) vibe, families will enjoy staying out of town at Eumarella Shores Lake Retreat in a cottage by Noosa Lake.
Days 6 and 7: Exploring Noosa
Make an early start, walking five minutes from Hastings Street into Noosa National Park. Grab a coffee at the kiosk, then set off on the 10.8-kilometre (6.7-mile) return walking track, tracing the coast through pockets of rainforest, eucalyptus trees and wildflowers.
Plan to have lunch on the sprawling deck at Noosa Surf Club (order the bucket of prawns), and schedule in a family surf lesson with Merrick’s Noosa Learn to Surf in the afternoon. Take in the sunset at Noosa Italian Restaurant and Pizza, which looks out over the sparkling Noosa River.
Day 8: Noosa to Mary Valley
- Drive time: 1 hour
Meander along the Mary Valley Scenic Drive to one of Queensland’s premier food bowls. Browse produce stores and stop for lunch at the heritage Kenilworth Hotel before making your way to Mary River. Spend the afternoon kayaking with Ride on Mary or, if you’d like to increase your chances of seeing the elusive platypus, stay overnight and take a kayak tour at dawn.
From Mary River, the drive back to Sunshine Coast Airport takes about an hour, or it’s just over two hours if you are heading back to Brisbane.