Beach and Beyond: a Sunshine Coast to Noosa road trip

Aerial view of Noosa, showing the town, beach and headlands, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

In these parts, you don’t have to spend hours on the highway to get the best of both worlds: the sun, surf and sand of Noosa and the lush tropical vibes of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

There’s no place quite like the beautiful Sunshine Coast to catch some rays, get in a surf and generally just relax and recharge for a few days. Chris and I are massive fans of Noosa and come here regularly, but this year we’ve decided to hire a vehicle from Apex Car Rentals at Sunshine Coast Airport and venture further afield to see what else we can find in this part of the world.

Start Off Big: Sunshine Coast Airport to Noosa

An Asian-style building set in lush jungle surrounds is the restaurant called Spirit House, Yandina, Queensland

When I was a kid, we had friends who lived north of the Sunshine Coast, and whenever we’d visit them my brother and I would hound Dad to make a stop along the way. No, not at the beach, but at The Big Pineapple. We’d catch the train, take photos in front of the fruity giant and gorge ourselves on sundaes. Chris has never been there, so I’ve taken the wheel and am going to surprise him.

His exact words – word, actually – as I pull into the car park: “Really?” Yep, buddy, this was my childhood and now you’re taking part. The Big Pineapple has changed a lot since I was 10. The train’s on hiatus for repairs when we visit, but there’s now a high ropes and zipline course and a zoo. We even snag a spot to feed the marmosets. There’s also work going on across the site to give the old girl new life, so we might have to come back.

My other big surprise for Chris is a late lunch at Spirit House. This Thai-style restaurant and cooking school is set within a lush garden just off the highway. Rather than learn how to cook ourselves though, we’re going to let someone else do all the work. There is lots of local seafood on the menu, and four courses of delicately spiced, contemporary, pan-Asian dishes are presented to us. Sitting at a table overlooking a pond topped with water lilies while feasting makes for a magical start to a long weekend.

Mountain Views: Noosa to Maleny

Houses and ocean viewed through trees on a hiking trail on Mount Coolum, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

We get up before dawn – look, sometimes you have to – and drive to the base of Mount Coolum, a giant chunk of rock sticking out of the landscape like a sore thumb. We traipse through the bush, scaring a couple of wallabies, and start on the climb. It’s steep and rocky, but we finally make it to the top. From here, about 200 metres up, you can see across the hinterland and out to the ocean.

For the rest of the day, we’re heading inland. What we find is a series of beautiful small towns. Most of them are here because of logging or farming, but now attract residents who are into art or wellbeing or eco causes. We stop for brekkie and house-roasted coffee at Homegrown Cafe in Palmwoods, check out the art galleries in Montville, and take a dip at the base of Gardners Falls. Finally, there’s just one final stop to make: Flame Hill Vineyard. Here, on the terrace overlooking the vineyard, we try the local chardonnay and a charcuterie board. Cheers to that.

North Star: Noosa to Tin Can Bay

A man standing in shallow water feeds two dolphins at Tin Can Bay, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

Even after yesterday’s early start, we can’t resist the call of the waves. Chris has borrowed a board and we head down Noosa’s Main Beach to the national park. He’s heard about a couple of good spots here, and he paddles out and waits for waves at Granite Bay while I swim its breadth.

Today we’re heading north. We stop at Kin Kin and grab some tasty takeaway, created using sustainable, local produce, at Black Ant Gourmet then go on to Tin Can Bay, where we’re staying overnight. This is an important habitat for birds and marine life, so we stroll along the foreshore walkway. Oystercatchers dart across the sand, a cormorant dries its wings on a rock, and herons pick through the shallows.

The next morning sees the beginning of another perfect Queensland day as we head down to Snapper Creek at 7am to meet the volunteers from Barnacles Dolphin Centre. Every day wild humpback dolphins arrive here to be fed. Of course, I’m happy to pay $10 for a bucket of fish that gives you the chance to wade in yourself. The whole exercise is closely monitored and the dolphins are only allowed three kilograms of fish each. Four have arrived today, and the volunteers know each of them by name. We’re told they’ve visited for more than half a century after an injured dolphin came to shore and locals nursed it back to health. I’m almost lost for words after the experience of them taking fish from my hands and Chris tells me my smile covers most of my face. It’s not often you get to interact with wild animals, especially not ones as wonderful as Tin Can Bay’s dolphins.