SOME might say the Gold Coast is to Australia what Justin Bieber is to music: brash, vapid, but largely tolerated despite its predictability.
Sure enough, when the Sunshine State was dishing out its quota of fake tans, brassy locks and hair extensions, the sparkling stretch of coastline south of Brisbane got greedy.
But that’s not enough to dissuade the masses. The glitzy Queensland hub is still the go-to for many interstate Aussies and international visitors dreaming of sunshine and waves.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s not that the Gold Coast is a waste of time — but rather that something better lurks beyond it.
About 180km north of Surfer’s Paradise, humming along in the background to a different tune, the Sunshine Coast has long been considered a back-up act.
Once the stomping ground for leathery-skinned retirees and teenage mums, this sleepy stretch is shedding its image as an escape route. Amid the rubble of prams and walking frames, the phoenix has risen.
More relaxed than Sydney and less self-assured than Melbourne, the Sunshine Coast doesn’t stop at Noosa, despite being the only port of call for anyone with a suede fedora.
Sprawling 60km from Caloundra in the south to Tewantin in the north, it’s home to some of the best seafood, beaches and produce in Australia. Just ask the locals.
THE BEACHES ARE BETTER
If you’ve ever been to Broadbeach on a busy day, you’ll know why locals on the Sunny Coast have the last laugh.
Even during summer, the beaches closest to the main hub of Maroochydore are relatively unpopulated.
It may not have the name-dropping potential of Kirra, but what the Sunshine Coast lacks in world-famous surfing breaks, it makes up for in space.
Off the tourist trail, The Spit, a north-facing stretch of sand on the southern end of Mooloolaba Beach, is ideal for a frolic and still a well-kept secret.
Between dips, sandy bodies make their way to the bevy of fish and chip shops opposite for fresh seafood and hot chips served in butcher paper.
When the swell’s up, locals paddle out to Point Cartright north of Buddina, a quiet stretch of beach south of Mooloolaba and Alexandra Headland, a popular right-handing point break, to the north.
More inquisitive mariners can explore the rockpools at Shelly Beach near Caloundra, where blue periwinkles, cowry shells and the highly-venomous blue-ringed octopus all seek to impress.
Raw, rustic and quintessentially Australian. That’s the best way to describe the Sunshine Coast’s emerging culinary scene.
In a country where quality produce is increasingly king, the Sunshine Coast is sitting pretty, and don’t they know it.
From what might be the world’s juiciest mangoes to giant strawberries, green passionfruit and honey-roasted macadamia nuts, everything just tastes better here.
For fresh cooked seafood straight from the trawlers, Fisheries on the Spit in Mooloolaba is the go-to for sweet spanner crabs, prawns, Moreton Bay bugs and Pacific oysters.
Expect a slightly more sophisticated affair next door at Fish On Parkyn, where white tablecloths lay canvas to tricked-up creations such as seafood fettuccine with barramundi, salmon, swordfish, prawns, black mussels and chilli.
Once night falls, ambitious bellies can take on 10 courses at fusion-Asian Spice Bar on Mooloolaba Esplanade. Here, Mooloolaba king prawns with tamarind chilli salsa are served on betel leaves and eggs benedict-style Hervey Bay scallops steal the show.
SOMETHING FOR BEER NERDS
Craft beers and microbreweries are having something of a moment, but few can boast the beachside vibes of Moffat Beach Brewing Co.
Located on the southern end of the Sunshine Coast, the family-owned casual dining and live-music venue is home to some of the best-named hops in the business (previous pours include Iggy Hop IPA, Fu Manchu Amber IPA and Voodoo Lady Chocolate Milk Porter).
Owners Matt and Sharynne Wilson headline this gig, milling the grain and brewing small batches in full public view.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the coast in Noosa’s hinterland, an old rusty shed has given birth to Pomona’s hip new Bonsai Brewhouse, a charming micro brewery full of hanging plants and teal-painted timber. Try the German-style hops infused with local passionfruit.
EXPLORE THE OUTDOORS
The Gold Coast might have all the cheesy thrills up its sleeve (theme parks, we’re looking at you), but the Sunny Coast is home to some far more enticing natural and novelty attractions.
Drive to the Original Eumundi Markets, located inland about half an hour from Maroochydore, to meet thick-accented vendors selling everything from hot jam doughnuts and raw honey to authentic Malaysian roti canai and one-off sculptures and wood works.
The buzzy market takes over the dinky town every Wednesday and Saturday, and with iconic Queensland weatherboard houses as the backdrop, it doesn’t get more true blue than this.
Meanwhile, a photo at the heritage-listed Big Pineapple in Nambour is essential for novelty’s sake, despite it feeling a little dated inside. Skip the tour and explore the eerie subtropical rainforests of Maleny instead.
Hauntingly beautiful, the enchanting Mary Cairncross Scenic reserve is a sight straight out of fairytales.
All twisted trunks and plants with names like “bleeding heart”, strangling fig vines embrace giant Australian Red cedars and the thick canopy overhead keeps it dark and cool.
photo of The Gold Coast is over — this placer is much better
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