The Sunshine Coast is the Gold Coast’s laid-back northern counterpart; it’s only the sprawl of Brisbane that separates the two. The Sunny Coast, as it’s affectionately called, stretches for about 60 kilometers from Caloundra to Noosa.
We chose Mudjimba as our base for a week – it was quieter, but with the requisite amenities within walking distance: the beach, a bakery, an Italian restaurant, Coles Supermarket. The beach was a big selling point, because the Sunshine Coast was the last chance we had to find some surf. (There are tales of surf as far north as Agnes Water or Yeppoon, but for us those spots were dead flat.)
Old Woman Island
Mudjimba’s main coastal feature is Mudjimba Island, colloquially known as ‘Old Woman Island.’ It lies one kilometer offshore, keeping one of the best reef breaks in the area just out of easy reach. One afternoon I was wrapping up my work for the day when Jared arrived, dripping wet with a surfboard under his arm.
“The surf wasn’t that great so I paddled to the island,” he said.
“You PADDLED to the ISLAND?” I said. “What about SHARKS?”
“It got a bit hairy in the middle but I didn’t see any. I was too focused on getting there.”
So if anyone wants to know if you can paddle out to the island, the answer is apparently yes. And as for the surf? “Small but quality,” according to Jared.
The Big Pineapple
Long story short, Australia has a bunch of Big Things scattered around the country. On the Sunny Coast, it’s the Big Pineapple. At a push I would probably rank the pineapple as my favorite fruit (it’s a tight race with blueberries and cherries) so seeing it in Big form was a non-negotiable for me.
This heritage-listed icon is about a 20-minute drive inland from Mudjimba, alongside a pineapple plantation and small zoo. The multi-tasking Pineapple hosts a Saturday market, annual music fest, AND has a function centre (somebody please have a pineapple-themed wedding and invite me).
The Pineapple itself is 16 meters high, but the best part is that it’s hollow – you can climb to the top through an informative pineapple museum and take in the views atop its pineappley crown.
To me, Noosa has always represented the Sunshine Coast. This is based on a brief two-day experience from 2005, when I had the most claustrophobic sleep of my life in the Noosa YHA. Despite feeling like I spent my nights under the humid cloak of a wet woolen blanket, I loved the town.
Noosa’s Main Beach is a wide, beautiful bay perfect for surfing or lazing on the sand. On one side there’s a gorgeous national park; on the other, shops and restaurants. Spend hours hiking one day and hours shopping the next, with a mix of ice cream and cocktails in between. Yep, that’s a win.
Fun fact: Noosa is where I tried my very first oyster. I was 23.
Why didn’t we stay in Noosa? Well, parking’s a bitch and it’s crawling with tourists like myself most of the year. Don’t let that deter you from visiting, though – it’s a pretty stellar place to spend a few days.
One day we drove down to Caloundra just to check out the area, and I noticed a series of dramatic peaks in the background.
“What are those?!?” I shouted. “How did I not notice them before?”
“I believe they call those ‘mountains,'” Jared said, helpfully.
Specifically, they’re the 11 hills that make up the Glasshouse Mountains in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. I’m hesitant to refer to them as the ‘Glasshouse Mountains,’ because that’s the name given to them by Captain Cook, who seems to have just assigned names willy-nilly to every single thing he laid eyes on, without regard for the names they already had. In this case, the mountains reminded him of the glass furnaces in Yorkshire, hence the new name.
Top tip: Stop for lunch or a coffee at the Lookout Cafe for sweet views and hearty eats.
My mountain-spotting game is clearly strong, because I identified another one from the shores of Mudjimba Beach. It was the dome of the 208-meter-high Mt. Coolum, a monolith only a few kilometers from Mudjimba. You can hike up to the top, which you should do in the morning and while wearing tennis shoes. It only takes about 20 minutes to get up there, but you’ll break a sweat.
Sunshine Castle of Bli Bli
We drove out of Mudjimba on a rainy day with zero expectations, so it was extra-surprising to stumble upon a castle in the equally-surprisingly-named town of Bli Bli. Apparently it’s a thing that people know about, but Sunshine Castle was news to me.
“Hey look at that,” Jared said. “It looks like a castle.”
“It’s probably a school,” I said, dismissive. “One of those fancy ones with turrets and stuff.”
Well, it wasn’t. It was a castle. I don’t really understand its history, but it has a resident “knight” and was originally opened in the 70s by a Scotsman, allegedly for his wife’s dolls and fairytales. My favorite part is how the website claims that it is a Norman-style castle with medieval additions that are “totally unique in Australia.”
Hmm, I wonder why.
Much like my summary of the Gold Coast, there are heaps of things to do on the Sunny Coast that weren’t covered here, but if you’re into beaches, sunshine, food, and well, giant pineapples, you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained.