By Kate Shannon
With its white sandy beaches, freshwater lakes, lush subtropical forests and cute hinterland villages (not to mention the eponymous climate), Australia’s laidback Sunshine Coast is one of the country’s easiest and most enjoyable family holiday destinations. This gorgeous strip of coast ticks all the boxes for travel with littlies and can deliver a range of holidays from a high energy, activity-based trip to a quieter, more restorative break.
Extending along the Queensland coastline from Caloundra in the south, 170km (105 miles) up to Noosa and Fraser Island, the area is only a short car or train trip from the state’s capital Brisbane. You can’t really go wrong in choosing a base for your trip. Most of the beaches and activities below are an easy drive from the main towns along the coast, and wherever you decide to stay, you’ll find holiday accommodation abundant; from modern waterfront apartments to quaint beach shacks and atmospheric vernacular homes known as Queenslanders up in the hinterland.
While most people come for a summer beach holiday (Dec/Jan), locals reckon the Sunshine Coast is at its best in winter (June-Aug), with clear-blue skies, temperatures in the low to mid-20s and no crowds. If you are planning a visit during the summer or over Easter be sure to book well in advance.
Hit the beach
Did someone say beach holiday? One of the obvious highlights of the Sunshine Coast are the superb beaches. Calm, kid-friendly beaches are dotted all the way up the coast, and many are perfect for endless sandcastle-making, shell-foraging or rock pool paddling. Sunshine Coast beaches are clean and generally uncrowded with easy access to picnic areas, public toilets, parking and playgrounds. The red and yellow flags signal where you can safely swim.
Heading north, Kings Beach at Caloundra has a patrolled break and a lovely oceanfront saltwater swimming pool, but it’s the water park, flying fox playground and the interactive fountains that will excite the kids no end. The north-facing curve of golden sand at Mooloolaba is known as one of the safest swimming beaches on the Sunshine Coast, providing protection from the southerly and southeasterly winds, ensuring near-perfect conditions all year round. The Esplanade along the foreshore is dotted with some great, relaxed cafés perfect for barefoot eating.
The beaches in and around Coolum are also worth a look. The surf at Coolum Main Beach is sometimes a bit rough but there are little nooks around the headland with quieter spots to swim, which are protected from the winds and big waves.
The supremely attractive, north-facing Noosa Main Beach is a good go-to beach with its gentle waves, long stretch of sand and proximity to the gelato shops and cafés of Hastings Street.
Take a hike in a national park
Noosa is known for its natural beauty and its crowning glory is its glorious national park. Noosa National Park offers secluded beaches, an abundance of wildlife and over 15 kilometres of bush walking tracks suitable for the serious and not-so-serious hiker. Laguna Bay is a good entry point to the park, and is well-equipped with plenty of parks and a toilet block. From here, the first bay is only 500 metres away so is a relatively easy walk with little ones. The kids are likely to catch sight of some local residents along the way, including pods of dolphins, whales, frill-neck lizards and koalas. You can also access the national park from Sunshine Beach. A walk from McAnaly Drive takes you to Alexandria Bay, a picture perfect stretch of beach, although be warned: it does attract naturalists, in case that’s not what you’re into!
Unfortunately the beaches surrounding Noosa National Park are not patrolled by surf lifesavers, so swimming is not advised.
If you or the kids are intrigued by the dramatic volcanic rock formations of the Glass House Mountains you might want to make a pit stop at the tranquil Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve at Maleny, which offers 55 hectares of subtropical rainforest, overlooking this incredible landscape. There are a variety of stroller-friendly walking trails, a playground and a cafe with fabulous views.
Alternatively there’s the Look Out Circuit a gentle 25 minute walk (easy enough for a 3 or 4 year old to manage), which is a great spot for a picnic lunch. There’s views of Mount Beerwah, Mount Coonowrin and Mount Ngungun, and you’ll likely spot some wallabies and other animals along the way. Access the Look Out Circuit from Glass House-Woodford Road.
Discover local wares and produce at markets
Local weekend markets are in abundance on the Sunshine Coast. The most famous are the colourful Eumundi Markets, located about half an hour’s drive from Noosa. They’re sprawling and well-established with rows and rows of stalls selling local produce, crafty items, flowers and clothing. There is plenty of action to entertain the kids, plus tasty market food, face painting and musical performances. The Eumundi markets are open from 7am to 2pm every Saturday and 8am to 1.30pm on Wednesdays.
Other excellent markets include the Noosa Farmers Market (Sundays 7am-12pm), Peregian Beach Market (1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month), Cotton Tree Markets (Sundays 7am-12pm) and the Caloundra Street Fair (Sundays 8am-1pm).
Climb a Queensland Icon
A visit to the heritage-listed Big Pineapple is the stuff of childhood memories for most Queensland kids – with its ice cream parfaits, train rides and roaming peacocks. Once a thriving tourist attraction in the town of Nambour, The Big Pineapple experience has been pared back a little, but still delights little ones (and grown ups!) with its fruity kitsch. The main attraction is of course the 16-metre-high pineapple which you can climb inside, learn about the history of pineapple growing in Queensland and marvel at the view from the top. A train ride through the pineapple plantation runs intermittently, and there are growers and craft markets every Saturday. If you have time, pop in to the Queensland Zoo which is located right next door.
Visit a Working Farm
The Sunshine Coast hinterland is perfect cow-rearing country, so dairies abound among its lush, green hills. If your city kids have a hard time believing milk doesn’t come from a supermarket, then take them on a guided tour of a working dairy farm where you can meet baby calves, see how hand milking is done, and learn how the milk is processed in the factory.
Get up close with Aussie animals
While we don’t all have kangaroos living in our backyards, Australia is known for its weird and wonderful creatures, and the Sunshine Coast is the place to see lots of them. Just north of Beerwah is the internationally-famous Australia Zoo, home to mini wildlife warriors Bindi and Bob Irwin (children of legend crocodile hunter, Steve). Kids will be enchanted with the menagerie of critters – which range from koalas to Sumatran tigers – and the highly interactive experience will also educate them on the importance of wildlife conservation. Courtesy buses are available from throughout the Sunshine Coast to the zoo, if you don’t want to drive.
Under the Sea
If sea creatures are more your kids’ scene, Underwater World in Mooloolaba will definitely appeal. This expansive aquarium houses thousands of marine animals including seals and tropical fish, and has 16 themed areas including Jellyfish Kingdom and Seahorse Sanctuary. There are opportunities for feeding the seals and swimming face-to-fin with sharks, giant groupers and rays, whilst at the popular Tidal Touchpool kids can roll up their sleeves and touch sea animals in their natural habitat.
Keep Little Hands Busy
It turns out that strawberry bushes are the perfect height for littlies who delight in spying and gathering these yummy red fruits, so make sure to indulge in some strawberry picking during your stay. With 600 hectares of strawberry farmland on the Sunshine Coast, there’s a lot of fruit to enjoy! Between June and November the strawberry farms throw open their gates to the public, allowing groups to pick punnets of berries to their heart’s content. You pay for what you pick – at Strawberry Fields at Palmview the going rate is A$16 per kilo. Strawberry Fields also has a café, playground and shop which sells all types of strawberry deliciousness including strawberries on sticks dipped in chocolate – are a favourite of our little ones.
Eating Out with Kids – Sunshine Coast Style
When it comes to eating out with kids on the coast, you often can’t surpass the simplicity of a local surf lifesaving club. There are clubs in most towns, of varying quality, but generally they’re well set up for families. Most of them offer a good, affordable feed (with a focus on fresh seafood) for kids and parents, with high chairs and a kids’ play room. They’re easy to find too – most of them are located right on the beach. Our favourites are Sunshine Beach SLC with its fabulous deck, and the buckets of prawns and live music at Noosa Surf Club.
Retail Therapy on the Coast
At one end of Hastings Street in Noosa is the charming store named Lamington, a perfect collection of vintage and handmade miscellany, beauty products and kitsch goodness. It has lots for kids including bedding, locally made toys, cute handmade dresses and baby bibs. Look for the tea towels displayed out the front.
Noosaville is also a great destination for shopping on the coast. Make a day of it by heading to The River Read bookstore with its cosy kids’ section including new and secondhand books and craft ideas; then head across the road to Amo Gelato (with the best coffee in Noosaville according to our sources) and exquisite handmade ice cream; then check out new kids’ boutique Tiny Style which stocks irresistible kids’ brands like Mini Rodini, Saltwater Sandals and Bobo Choses.
About the Author
Kate Shannon is a Brisbane-based freelance writer and mum to Lola, aged two and a half, and Beatrice, 12 months. When she is not working she spends her days playing in the garden with the kids, writing at her dining room table and exploring as much of the city and the Sunshine State as she can.