Tranquil seaside holiday versus bustling city break? Queensland's Sunshine Coast marries the best of both.
And at the heart of the region is Mooloolaba, small but with spunk and on a spit jutting out into the Coral Sea. If it's sedate pace you want, it has it. If it's more fun-filled-family-getaway you're chasing, it's got that in spades full too.
Our top picks:
This aquarium is a fantastic day out for the kids, if only for the hilarious and entertaining seal show, complete with ex-pat Kiwi stars in the shape of New Zealand fur seals. The shark tunnel is a spectacle and there's also the chance to swim with the locals if you're so inclined (looking at the size and teeth of some of them, I can't imagine why...). One big benefit of Underwater World is its proximity to Mooloolaba Esplanade; it's only a stone's throw from most of the hotels and resorts so if you're without a rental car or don't want the hassle of public transport, it's the perfect answer to cabin fever on the odd rainy day.
Probably the biggest drawcard to the Sunshine Coast, Australia Zoo is huge, both in popularity and in size. The size of the complex is almost overwhelming, with a myriad paths and walkways leading to all sorts of amazing animals. The Birds of Prey show is brilliant and, of course, it was also home of the late and legendary Steve Urwin, so the massive crocs aren't to be missed either. Because of the ground you're going to cover, take plenty of water. And take snacks too; the food on offer is pretty average yet steeply priced. On the back of a high admission price, the cost of lunch can make this your most expensive day out on the Sunshine Coast.
Think of the neighbouring Gold Coast and you think of theme parks; death-defying high-velocity thrill rides. But this is the Sunshine Coast; the Gold Coast's more sedate yet sophisticated cousin. What you get here is Aussie World; old-school charm with fair ground rides, a Ferris wheel and a smaller dose of the frightening rides for those who can't do without them. A cheap day out, without the in-your-face thrills, this was the kids' overall and clear top pick for Sunshine Coast activities. And unlike Australia Zoo, the meals are great value ... and huge.
The largest operating ginger factory in the Southern Hemisphere, the Ginger Factory manages to exceed expectations. Who'd have thought a lecture on ginger (with some pretty yummy samples) could prove interesting for both adults and kids alike. The factory is at Yandina, a leisurely and picturesque drive from Mooloolaba, and also features an eclectic mix of boutique shops, a train tour, a bee/honey display and, bizarrely, a fun Disneyland-style around-the-world boat trip that has tenuous (at best) links to ginger.
The Sunshine Coast doesn't compete with its glitzier neighbours of Brisbane and Gold Coast for shopping but the Sunshine Plaza in Maroochydore (a few minutes drive north of Mooloolaba) still has well over 200 stores, including Myer, and a good food court. There is little you'd need and not be able to find there. And if your companion wants to keep shopping while you desperately need to take a break, the mall runs alongside Cornmeal Creek and there's an enjoyable riverwalk.
The cheapest, yet potentially most enjoyable, Sunshine Coast experience: Fish and chips at Mooloolaba Fish Market. There's an adjoining park and picnic area for families who get dolled out a buzzer that alerts them when their order's cooked. For those who don't want the bustle of the park, there's The Deck on Parkyn upstairs where you can grab a table and enjoy your takeaways or buy a drink and order off the menu. Sounds simple but it's the perfect relaxing end to a day at the beach.
A sprinkling of boutique stores is complimented by an array of stunning cafes and restaurants along Mooloolaba Esplanade. In your first few holiday days, when you're still on New Zealand time, you can stroll down the esplanade from very early and still be greeted by scores of joggers and swimmers. You'll be jockeying for space with the crowd of amateur photographers at the Alexandra Head end of the esplanade who are trying to capture that perfect sunrise snap. You can also get a good coffee too at the early-opening cafes from about 5.30am. The Esplanade also features the main patrolled beach in Mooloolaba and it doesn't seem to matter what time of the day or night you're there, there's always the buffed and tanned Mooloolaba Surf Lifesaving Club members out training. The Mooloolaba Surf Club is a great, affordable and welcoming place to eat for breakfast, lunch and/or tea.
- Fairfax Media