9 of the best day trips from the Sunshine Coast
Not that you’d ever tire of having so many beautiful beaches at your doorstep, but if you’re on the Sunshine Coast and looking to mix up your daily activities list, you’ve come to the right place.
A lot can be seen and done in 24 hours, friends, from horseback rides beneath rainbow-coloured sand cliffs to coming within mere metres of gentle giants in the whale watching capital of Australia.
Fill up the tank and hit the road with this list of the best day trips from the Sunshine Coast.
If you’re a first-timer, hit the country roads with this handy little day trip itinerary, starting in the small village of Eudlo for brekkie before getting zen at a Buddist retreat and stuffing your faces with candy and homegrown delights.
Veteran hinterland-trippers who can’t get enough of the fresh country air and lush surroundings, rest assured there’s still plenty to see and do once you’ve worn out the main locales.
Start by testing out the half and full-day walking trails of the Hinterland Great Walk; ogle Mother Nature in all her glory while exploring the many national parks and forest reserves; swap the salty seas for freshwater chasing the coast’s best waterfalls, or fuel your creativity with this art gallery crawl.
If you’d prefer to let your taste buds lead the day, sort out your sober driver and get well acquainted with the hoppin’ (get it) craft beer scene that’s exploded here over the last few years.
More of a vino fan? Sample the local drops at Maleny Mountain Wines and Montville’s Flame Hill Vineyard, with a nibbles break at Maleny Cheese in between.
The ‘Other’ Hinterland
Oh yes, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland fun keeps on rolling, because this nature-loving beast of a destination is, in fact, HUGE, stretching way further than the main hot spots (ie. above) that usually come to mind.
Just a short zip up the motorway you’ll find the lesser-known green behind Noosa brimming with delights of its own. Quaint country villages like Pomona, Cooroy and Kenilworth have been hitting our adventure-radar of late with new cafes, quirky local sights, and natural trails worthy of your Insta-snapping love.
If it’s a Wednesday or Saturday morning, start your day with a squiz of the Eumundi Markets before hitting up Fox and Hound Espresso in Cooroy for their liquid gold (with a pastry delight from Richard’s Bakery next door, of course).
Tip: Bookworms, don’t miss trawling through the stacks of literary goodness at Berkelouw Book Barn in Eumundi before taking off.
From here, let your mood lead the day: Active explorers can burn off those brekkie calories hiking to the summits of Mt Cooroora or Mt Tinbeerwah; go old school on a movie date (like, early 19th-century old school) with a silent film at the heritage-listed Majestic Theatre in Pomona, or stock up on local produce at Yandina’s Ginger Factory and Nutworks.
If you’re after a more carefree, let-the-wind-take-us-where-it-may kind of road trip, follow the Mary Valley Scenic Drive winding through the small villages of Kenilworth, Imbil, and Amamoor, stopping to peruse the historical townships and picnic by local swimming holes.
While most day-trippers tend to gravitate towards Noosa Heads and the National Park (and who could blame them when you’ve got stunner beaches, boutique shopping and Betty’s Burgers all in the one spot), hiding just 30 minutes north in the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park is one of the Sunshine Coast’s – nay, Queensland’s – best-kept secrets.
The Noosa Everglades is a 60km stretch of river and lake system that lives a complicated and unique existence as one of only two Everglade environments identified on the planet.
Basically, it’s pure, undisturbed wilderness at its finest, thanks to 65% of its catchment being protected by the Great Sandy National Park, its inclusion in the Noosa Biosphere and its proximity to the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island.
The best way to explore is a la paddle, so if you’ve got your own kayak or canoe, what are you waiting for?!
If not, the lovely folk at Kanu Kapers can help you tick off this bucket list wonder with their guided or self-guided day tours (and if that’s not enough time to soak it all in, you can always come back for a camp ‘n’ kayak safari).
If you’re not keen on paddling yourself, join a cruise with the guys from Noosa Everglades Discovery.
Chances are if you grew up/live on the Sunshine Coast you probably haven’t been back to visit Bindi and the Irwin family since you were a wee one/fresh on the coast.
But lemme tell you, Australia Zoo still is AWESOME, and whether you’ve now got kids of your own or it’s been years too long since you’ve let your inner child run free, it’s about time you got reacquainted with the beloved home of the Crocodile Hunter, stat.
From the classics like koala cuddles and hand-feeding the roos, to leaping lemurs and the African Safari Park, there’s a helluva lot of animal action to keep die-hard wildlife fans on their toes. But if you want to squeeze in as much as possible in the one day trip, we suggest you keep this itinerary handy.
If you’ve ever stood on Bulcock Beach in Caloundra and wondered what that island was across the passage… ta da! Bribie is the only island in Queensland connected to the mainland by bridge and serves as an easy day trip if you’re looking for a sea change.
Although it appears close enough to swim to, you’ll still need to hop in the car and drive an hour’s south if you want to take advantage of its compact island assets, which range in experiences for all ages.
Got the kids in tow? Head to the western side of the island where the sheltered waters of the Pumicestone Passage allow for safe swimming all along the foreshore, with picnic and BBQ facilities, playgrounds and easy shore fishing to boot.
Speaking of the Pumicestone Passage, you’re on the cusp on one of the most ecologically significant waterways in Queensland, home to dugongs, turtles, dolphins, and an extensive network of mangrove swamps. If you don’t have your own tinnie or waters toys to explore, you can hop on a family-friendly eco-tour with Ferryman Cruises, hire a SUP or kayak from the Bribie Island Hire Hut, or zip your way on a high-speed or leisure jet ski ride.
Over on the ocean-facing side, the patrolled beach of Woorim is ‘surfing’ up ideal conditions for those keen to learn, with small rolling waves and sand-bottomed beach breaks perfect for honing the fundamental basics (if you need a hand getting the technique down, hit up the Bribie Island Surf School.)
On land, stroll through the national park’s eucalyptus forests and paperbark wetlands along the bicentennial bushwalks – starting near the community arts centre on Sunderland Drive – or jump in the 4WD and run tracks on the beach to find your perfect (and private) patch of sand for the day.
(Psst, don’t want to leave your fur babies at home? Bribie has a great off-leash dog beach pawfect for four-legged adventurers).
Double Island Point
Frequented by locals for its beach camping splendour, Double Island Point (sitting between Rainbow Beach and Noosa North Shore in the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park) is still worthy of a nod even if you’ve only got 24 hours up your sleeve.
Purchase a vehicle access permit and pack the 4WD with rods, surfboards and kayaks, before jumping aboard the Noosa North Shore Ferry at Tewantin to cross the river (departing every 10 minutes).
On the other side, choose your adventure: head to Lake Cooroibah for a spot of fishing and paddling; keen 4WDers can tackle the remote Kings Bore circuit, or make your way up the coastline for some beach driving before setting up for the day at the point (don’t forget to check out the lighthouse while you’re here!).
DI (as it’s affectionately known) and the Great Sandy National Park can also be accessed from the north, which brings me to my next day trip destination…
Rainbow by name, rainbow by nature. Literally.
Located just under two hours from the Sunshine Coast (via the Bruce Highway), this laid-back beach town is home to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Queensland, known for its Coloured Sands sprinkled with a palette of over 72 different hues.
As I mentioned in the previous section, Rainbow Beach is also the northern 4WD entrance to the Great Sandy National Park, and if you time your visit with low tide you can cruise by this rainbow phenomena on your way to and from DI.
But for those who’d rather focus solely on this pretty coastal pocket, you can ditch the wheels and walk south from the main beach to gaze up at the mass of sandy cliffs – which reach up to 200 metres high – or join Rainbow Beach Horse Rides for a truly unforgettable experience in the saddle.
If you think the natural goods stop there, wait ’til you see the Carlo Sand Blow – a unique ‘moonscape’ sand mass covering over 15 hectares overlooking the towers of Coloured Sands, with 360-degree views stretching out to Double Island Point and Tin Can Bay.
Best to leave this last one for sunset, because in the words of Usher, OMG.
Famed for its unbeatable encounters with humpback whales and ‘laxed coastal vibes, Hervey Bay (184km north of Noosa) is a thalassophile’s dream boat with more aquatic glory than you can poke a paddle at.
Onwards to the bay, stop into School House Espresso for coffee and a sweet treat, using this down time to plan the day ahead.
When you want to up the tempo, the lads at Aquavue have got the waters toys sorted with catamarans, kayaks and jet skis for hire.
Prefer to stick to land-based exploration? Rent one of their hella cute Surrey Bikes instead and cruise down the esplanade, stopping for a stroll along the historic Urangan Pier (a hot spot to cast a line just FYI).
Speaking of history, if you’re day tripping with the whole family, pop into the award-winning Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum, where the kids can get a feel of life
before technology in the golden days (they can even treadle the 100-year-old wood lathe to make their very own wooden goblet souvenir!).
Over at the Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere, you can school-up on the incredible world of the humpback whale before putting your new-found knowledge to practise on a half-day whale watching tour (available during the season from June to November each year).
(Fallin’ in love with the
bae bay and want more time? Try this 48-hour itinerary on for size).
Set amongst a 30-million-year-old landscape of lush rainforests and woodlands, the Bunya Mountains is the crème de la crème for green nomads, combining nature’s finest – i.e. rolling mountains, rainforest, rock pools, and waterfalls – into one easy day trip.
Set your alarm for the crack of dawn as it’s roughly a three-hour drive from the Sunshine Coast; a little longer if you take the scenic route along the Great Bunya Drive starting in Gympie.
Your reward for the early start? Having the second-oldest national park in Queensland and Australia’s largest collection of Bunya pines as your playground.
Lace up those walking boots because the best way to get amongst it is by foot. From the popular Barker Creek and Scenic Circuit tracks to the challenging hikes on the western cliffs, you’ll find strolls to suit all ages and abilities.
If the kids aren’t too keen on the cardio burn, Bunya Mountains Horse Drawn Tours run a variety of joy rides to cater to their attention spans, ranging from 10 minutes to a two-hour adventure down an old logging track before enjoying billy tea and damper around a campfire.
Budding ornithologists keen to tick off some of the 120 species of birds found in the national park can also have an up-close-and-personal experience feeding wild Australia king parrots and crimson rosellas, with bookings arranged at the General Store.
(PS. If it’s the last Sunday of the month, drop into the community markets on Bunya Avenue to score some handmade local goodies and a bag of the famous Bunya nuts).
Don’t want to leave? Escape reality for a little while longer overnighting at one of three national park camping grounds. If tent-city ain’t your style, hole up in a cosy cottage or chalet instead.