Romantic escape: 48 hours in Caloundra for couples
Trust me when I say I know Caloundra – or at least the old part of this pretty beach town on the Sunshine Coast. I was there in the 1970s when the first set of traffic lights made headline news and the school learn-to-swim classes were held in a miserable motel pool.
And if you lived at Kings Beach, I was the chubby kid who delivered your free weekly newspaper (Ahem… I may have dumped a few to avoid riding around those odious hills). I also lost my best pair of shoes at Happy Valley in the 1980s after sneaking off to pash my brother’s best friend.
So when someone asks me how best to spend 48 hours in Caloundra – especially if it’s a date weekend – I reckon I’ve got it down pat. This is from my heart and it is going to be long. So stick with me… with or without shoes.
Friday evening: Feast by the beach
I know. I know. You’ve just spent two hours driving 45km/hr along the 110km/hr highway as part of the weekend mass exodus from Brisbane. Next time, try to leave before 2pm or better yet, travel midweek, and you’ll get here faster.
Still, you’ve made it and it’s time to unpack and wind (or wine!) down. Bulcock Beach is my choice for two reasons: You wake up to the most arresting views over Pumicestone Passage, and this is the start of my magic walk (more on that tomorrow).
There’s a handful of great places around here to stay like Centrepoint or Aspect (incidentally Aspect is the site of a fabulous Italian restaurant called Amici) but for this weekend, book into Rumba Beach Resort. It has front-row seats to the beach and is possibly the best place to watch the sun melt behind the Glass House Mountains.
It’s also home to a row of eateries including Tides Waterfront Dining (pictured above). The one chef-hatted Modern Australian restaurant is where I definitely recommend you dine tonight. Chink chink!
7am Caloundra Coastal Walk (aka The Magic Walk)
I have magic walks in every country I’ve lived. In France it’s a beachfront path that follows the fancy-schmancy mansions around the French Riviera; in Hong Kong, it’s a secret trail through the island’s green lung to the tip of The Peak; and in Singapore it’s the Botanic Gardens at dawn walking past wise old ladies practicing the ancient ritual of Qi-Gong.
None, and I repeat, none are as mythical as my magic walk in Caloundra. I discovered it as a teenager when I would run it in a striped maillot, my scoop shorts and a scrunchy for my side ponytail (no shoes – there’s a theme emerging here), two and a half kilometres from Bulcock Beach along the rocky headland to Shelley Beach, back to Kings for a 10-minute body surf and then home.
Today, the magic is still there – it’s just at a slower, more romantic pace. Factor in 90 minutes return with no stops, or three hours if you want to take advantage of the cafes and a dip in the ocean.
Start at the southern end of Bulcock beach with a caffeine hit at La Promenade Café and pause to watch the world as it wakes. Head left past the free BBQs and along the crunchy stretch of sand where you’ll find dozens of kids floating from one end of the beach to the other along a fierce current. If you’ve got little ones, this has got to be the cheapest family activity around and will keep the kids occupied for at least an hour.
Happy Valley is around the corner and it’s teeming with tots. The rusty old steam train plonked there in the 1970s has been replaced with a WHS-approved mega playground, barbecue sites and a makeshift cricket pitch filled with families. Anyone up for it can try a morning learn-to-surf class at the beach, just before the headland outcrop.
Soon the path becomes a boardwalk and circles ’round to Kings Beach.
Now, Kings is ‘my’ beach. If I were a dog, I would have lifted my leg here and claimed my territory. This is where I grew up. I surfed, sunbaked, played volleyball and just ‘hung’.
Clearly from the polaroid snaps above, I also helped the beach inspector in his tight little shorty shorts save lives. These days I tend to stop at Kings Beach for breakfast and a quick swim. Try Coffee Kat for your fried eggs by the ocean, sunny side up.
Keep walking past the open-air saltwater pool until you get to the picturesque rocky headland and a concrete path lined with tiny plaques commemorating the 268 lives lost when the Centaur, a hospital ship, was bombed in World War II.
At the most eastern point of the cliff, there’s a memorial with a grassy knoll framed by Pandanus trees. This is my favourite spot to stop, listen to the crashing waves below and watch huge tankers sail past en route to Brisbane.
Continue following the path to Shelly Beach, a rough non-swimming beach with nothing more than a handful of houses and a handful of leash-free dogs chasing seagulls.
Now turn around and head all the way back, stopping at Kings if you want a swim.
9am Head for the Sunshine Coast hinterland
Look up from any point in Caloundra and you will spot a green spine along the horizon. That is the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and more specifically, the former dairy villages of Maleny and Montville.
In the last 20 years, these tiny farming towns have reinvented themselves. Hippies from the 1980s have converted their rustic cottages into quaint hillside B&Bs and free-spirited artists have carved out a reputable arts trail selling quality hand-made crafts, kooky gifts and epic oil paintings from their main street shop fronts.
The cool kids have also moved in, building some of the nation’s most awarded restaurants that sit side by side with the hearty cafe fare and the obligatory Devonshire Tea.
10am – 3pm Couples cooking class at The Long Apron
There’s a gentle giant lording over the kitchens of Spicers Clovelly Estate who reminds me of Pinocchio’s kindly father, Mr Geppetto. Cameron Matthews is a two hatted chef* and like our fabled wood carver, he is a master craftsman who can turn a few grapes into an edible zen garden and a piece of steak into THE number one wish dish for your last supper.
Today, he’s also the teacher at the Long Apron Cooking School, five hours of kitchen magic where you learn to prepare, cook and present French or Italian dishes and then sit (sometimes under the purple Jacaranda tree) and eat your efforts.
At $165 inclusive of lunch, this is just about the most grown-up activity you can do on the coast and great for culinary couples.
Tip: if you can’t make the weekly cooking school, please do yourself a favour and book a degustation dinner. It’s art on a plate. Need I say more?
3pm Stroll the stops or go for a rainforest ramble
There’s enough time to saunter down the main street of Montville, poke around the craft shops and order a coffee or beer at one of the cafes with views back to the beach.
For some gentle exercise, you could factor in a 45-minute rainforest walk through Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, located at the edge of town and be rewarded with an incredible sunset over farmland and the Glass House Mountains.
7pm Fish and chips on the beach
Do you really want anything after an afternoon of eating? Really? Okay, then drive a couple of minutes from Rumba to Seaview Street at Moffat Beach and kick back for casual banter and views over the ocean.
Alternatively, grab some fish and chips around the corner and find a spot by the landscaped foreshore.
8am Shop at the Caloundra Street Fair
Bulcock Street transforms itself into a friendly carnival each Sunday with dozens of stalls selling homemade wares from cute kids’ clothes to designer swimsuits, homewares and framed art. There’s also locally roasted coffee, freshly squeezed ginger beer (using locally-grown ginger) and my favourite, Japanese Okonomiyaki pancakes cooked fresh under the massive fig tree that dominates the middle of the street.
Buskers add a festive vibe to the markets and prices are pretty reasonable. You can easily spend a couple of hours walking these markets and picking up some gifts.
11am Cruise the Pumicestone Passage
Before all the swanky canal estates were built around Pelican Waters, Pumicestone Passage was our go-to spot for yabbie pumping and sand worms. Not to eat. This was fish bait.
A half-hour scrounge on the foreshore (right where those million dollar homes now preside) would land us enough feed to fish for hours.
You’ll still find a few fisher’ folk around today, but a better way to explore the passage – incidentally named for the chunks of pumice that spewed out of the Glass House Mountains millions of years ago – is with Blue Water Kayak Tours, Ferryman Cruises or Caloundra Jet-Ski. All three take tours take in the peaceful waterway and stop to admire the birdlife that lives here.
Note: Extreme adrenalin junkies would have already booked a tandem jump with Sunshine Coast Skydivers and landed on Bulcock Beach or tried their hand at kite surfing.
2pm Go trackside
If nature’s not your thing, frock up for an afternoon of horse racing at the Sunshine Coast Turf Club. The races are pretty laid back here and the venue is en route to Brisbane so if the highway looks choked, kick back trackside and wait for it to thin out.
- If you’re feeling the pocket pinch, Caloundra is pensioner’s heaven and you can get cheap beers and hearty meals at any of the friendly Bowls Clubs or Surf Clubs.
- For the best coffee hands down check out Pocket Espresso at Seaview Street, Moffat Beach.
- International visitors should walk along Bulcock Beach at sunset. Thousands of colourful lorikeets noisily chirp in the trees above.
- If you’re leaving for Brisbane on a Sunday, avoid the traffic and go before 1pm or after 5:30pm.
*Australia embraces a chef hat system to rate restaurants which is our own version of Michelin stars. In a nutshell, if you walk into a restaurant with a single chef hat, it’s sure to be really good. Two chef hats and it’s magic. Three and you’ve just entered rarified air that’s more an experience than a meal. For more explanation, click here.