A road trip along Australia's Sunshine Coast

Always wanted to take a road trip along Australia's world-famous Sunshine Coast? Our local experts let you in on the best way to do it
Beautiful Queensland Beach. Photo: Shutterstock
Beautiful Queensland Beach. Photo: Shutterstock

Distance: 170km (102 miles)
Time: A full day (or stretch it out over a few to enjoy the stops for longer)
Start: Brisbane
End: Noosa National Park
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Points to note: You will need a car for this full-day adventure. If you start by 8am, you will be able to fit everything in with plenty of stops, but there is so much worth doing on the Sunshine Coast that, if time permits, stretching this route out into a two- or even three-day excursion. If you time your trip so you pass through Eumundi on a Wednesday or Saturday, try to catch the popular Eumundi Markets.  

The Sunshine Coast is a glorious stretch of Queensland coastline extending about 120km (75 miles) from Bribie Island in the south to Rainbow Beach, near Fraser Island, in the north. Compared to the Gold Coast, commercial development is more restrained; though there are still high-rise towers and shopping malls, you are never too far away from a peaceful expanse of golden beach. Noosa is the jewel in the coastal crown, an unlikely encapsulation of luxury, hedonism and natural beauty that rarely fails to charm. Back from the beach, the rolling green hills of the hinterland are peppered with quaint villages and mysterious volcanic mountains. The red-cedar loggers are long gone (as are the red cedars), replaced by craftspeople, alternative lifestylers and bakers and baristas servicing the tourism boom.

Glass House Mountains

Head north from Brisbane on the Bruce Highway approximately 56km (35 miles) and turn left at The Glasshouse Mountains Tourist Drive, also known as the Steve Irwin Way since the death of The Crocodile Hunter. This is where you will catch your first good glimpses of the Glass House Mountains. These unusual volcanic plugs are the remains of lava-belching volcanoes that issued from the earth some 20 million years ago. The craggy, eroded peaks in the National Park offer impressive walking tracks to panoramic lookouts, while the well-drained slopes of rich volcanic soil around the mountains are ideal for growing pineapples, which are sold at roadside stalls, along with avocados, macadamia nuts and other produce.

Australia Zoo

About 2km (1¼ miles) past Beerwah, signs direct you to Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin Way, Beerwah; daily 9am–5pm; charge). With natural Australian and recreated Asian habitats, there are numerous mammals, birds and reptiles on display, as well as daily shows. You could easily spend half a day or more here, so note that bus tours from Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast are also available.

At Landsborough turn left, up the hill, following the signs and the winding road towards Maleny. As you climb, splendid views of patchwork farms and the coastline far to the east are revealed. There are many designated spots to stop the car, whip out the camera and admire the country.

Surfing is a must while you're travelling along the Sunshine Coast. Surfing is a must while you're travelling along the Sunshine Coast. Photo: Shutterstock

Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve

After 9km (5½ miles), turn left at Cairncross Corner off the main Maleny road, to Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve (tel: 5429 6122). The reserve protects a remnant of the magnificent subtropical rainforest that once covered these ranges. There are easy trails, including ones that are wheelchair-accessible, through the rainforest and unobstructed views of the cultivated valleys, rugged Glass House Mountains and distant coastline. And if you are after a late breakfast or early lunch, head to the delightful café.


Continue on the same road for 9km (5½ miles), following the signposted tourist drive, which loops north to the hill township of Maleny, a picturesque country town of quaint colonial architecture occupied by new-age shops, galleries and craft outlets. Many talented artists and craftspeople have made this their home, and you may just find that something special here that is genuinely Australian and original.


Head east on the Maleny–Landsborough Road for 4km (2½ miles) before taking a left turn to Montville, around 10km (6 miles) further north. Again you will enjoy spectacular ridge-top vistas, plus a few glimpses of scenic Lake Baroon. Montville, which visually is even more of a chocolate-box town than Maleny, is ornamented with determinedly quaint shops offering all manner of arts and crafts. The main street is well worth a wander, with numerous options for eating and drinking, such as The Edge Restaurant.


Head east 15km (9 miles) to the Bruce Highway, then turn left towards Nambour to reach Eumundi after 26km (16 miles). Another charming hinterland town, Eumundi is decorated with contemporary artwork and sculptures by local artists, and mingling with the historic buildings are shops selling new-age paraphernalia and jewellery, along with plenty of cafés. But it is the renowned markets that have put Eumundi on the map. From Eumundi, it is 21km (13 miles) east via Route 12 to the coast at Noosa.


What is Noosa? The area includes Noosaville, set back on the Noosa River; Noosa Junction; and Sunshine Beach, but for most people the name means the compact area called Noosa Heads.

Located on the sandy shore of Laguna Bay at the mouth of the river and overlooked by a ruggedly natural headland, its ‘strip’ is Hastings Street, where the chintziest shops, finest restaurants and beautiful people all come together epitomising the Noosa fairytale. Among the great choice of restaurants is the perfectly positioned Bistro C, while all your information and booking needs are met by the Noosa Visitor Centre (Hastings Street; daily 9am–5pm). Directly in front of Hastings Street is Noosa Main Beach, where you can learn to surf or just enjoy the golden sand and gentle waves.

Around Noosa Heads

Other places to explore locally include Noosa National Park on the headland east of town, and Noosa North Shore, across the river. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Information Centre (daily 9am–3pm) in Noosa National Park is just minutes’ walk from Hastings Street, and from there you can access trails where you might spot koalas and admire spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and Sunshine Coast. Noosa North Shore is the start of the remote Cooloola Coast, which stretches up to Rainbow Beach. It is accessed by a ferry near Tewantin and is best explored by 4WD, but even without a 4WD, activities such as horse and camel riding can be organised; ask at the Noosa Visitor Centre.

Glass House Mountains.Glass House Mountains should be the first stop on your road trip. Photo: Shutterstock


Places to eat along the route

1. Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve café

148 Mountain View Road, Maleny
Daily 8.30–4.30pm

If you skipped breakfast, this is your chance to refuel on organic muesli or eggs and bacon (at least until 11.30am). Lunch consists of variations of BLTs, burgers and salads. The coffee is organic and fairtrade, as befits the natural setting and panoramic views.

2. The Edge Restaurant

The Mayfield Centre, 127–133 Main Street, Montville

If you can take your eyes off the spectacular hinterland views that stretch away to the Pacific Ocean, you will find a light and seasonal modern Australian menu of pasta dishes, salads, steaks and seafood such as salt and pepper prawns.

3. Bistro C

49 Hastings Street, Noosa Heads
Daily 7.30am–10pm

This chic beachside restaurant epitomises the modern Australian dining scene, with an imaginative menu fusing the tastes of the Mediterranean and Asia with Australia’s bounty of fresh ingredients. There are five separate, regularly changing menus throughout the day, with a wide-ranging selection from coconut chicken salad to caramelised pork belly.

How to take your own trip:

Now you know what to see and do along Australia's Sunshine Coast, you need an easy way to book a trip yourself. Get in touch with our local experts Down Under today: they can assist with planning, organising and booking your entire trip for you, from where to stay to what to drive. 

This article was originally published on October 31st, 2013.