Lee Atkinson tests out the ultimate beach holiday on the Sunshine Coast.
Mooloolaba on the Queensland Sunshine Coast offers sun, sand, surf and plenty of family-friendly things to see and do, without all the frenetic razzle-dazzle of the Gold Coast.
What it's known for
The tourist office will tell you that Mooloolaba is "world famous" for its "Loo with a View", which is really a viewing platform with public toilets underneath (and a popular place to get married), and yes, the view is good, but it's really the magnificent beach that is the town's claim to fame. One of the few north-facing beaches on this part of the coast, the sheltered waters of Mooloolaba beach make it ideal for swimming and families.
What you didn't know ...
No one's quite sure what the original meaning of Mooloolaba was: it could have derived either from "mullu", the Aboriginal word for red-bellied black snake, or "mulu", snapper fish. These days, you won't see many black snakes around the high-rises, but locals like to boast that more seafood is caught by boats operating out of Mooloolaba than any other port on the eastern seaboard of Australia and that more game fish are tagged and released by boats based in Mooloolaba than in Cairns.
Bathing in salty seawater has always been good natural therapy, but the new Salt Caves in Mooloolaba mean you can get all the health benefits of salt without getting wet or sunburnt. The salt cave is a warmed room lined with several inches of mineral-rich Himalayan salt covering the walls, floor and ceiling and apparently it works wonders for your health, helping alleviate everything from ear infections and tonsillitis to eczema and asthma. Sessions last an hour, and all you have to do is relax in a lounger and let the salt work its magic! There are also meditation and yoga sessions in the "cave". Sessions start at $50. saltcaves.com.au.
Kids love getting kissed by seals and handling sea stars and sea cucumbers at Underwater World, which has a variety of shows and presentations during the day as well as a walk-through tunnel with more than eight species of shark. You can dive with the sharks, as well as swim with seals or become a seal trainer for the day. A brand new tour takes you behind the scenes to see the turtle hospital and learn about rescuing, caring for and feeding marine creatures. Underwater World is at the southern end of the Mooloolaba Esplanade and is open daily, 9am-5pm. Tickets cost $35 for adults, $23 for kids ($96 family), although you can get up to 25 per cent off if you buy your tickets online. The Behind-the-Scenes Tour costs $15 for adults and $12 for kids. underwaterworld.com.au.
Where to eat
If you'd rather your fish on a plate than in a tank, Fish on Parkyn does great seafood, including the local Mooloolaba prawns. It's open for lunch daily and dinner Monday to Saturday. 25 Parkyn Parade, (07) 5444 4711. For takeaway fish and chips, take a 10-minute drive down to the Point Cartwright Seafood Market at Warana where you can buy fresh prawns, reef fish and oysters straight from the trawlers; or dine in at the seafood restaurant there. Open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9.30am. ptcartwrightseafood.com.au. Spice Bar does excellent Asian-style food; the degustation menus are great value, starting at $55 for a selection of small tastings plates or a seven-course $75 option if you're hungry. You'll find it at 4/19 First Avenue and it's open for lunch Friday to Sunday and dinner Wednesday to Sunday. (07) 5444 2022. The Surf Club serves up cheap and cheerful bistro food daily (lunch and dinner), although there's nothing cheap about the beachfront view from the deck. It's on the Esplanade and it doesn't take reservations.
Where to stay
Oceans Mooloolaba has luxury two- and three-bedroom suites and is in the middle of the Esplanade opposite the beach, so most rooms have great views. Suites start at about $420 and sleep five. oceansmooloolaba.com.au. Mantra Mooloolaba Beach resort is also on the beachfront and has a range of accommodation options, from one-bedroom suites with kitchenettes to fully equipped two- and three-bedroom apartments. Rates start at about $200 a night, but check online for specials that often include a third or fourth night free. mantra.com.au.
How to get there
Mooloolaba is 110 kilometres north of Brisbane, a little more than an hour's drive. Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com) and Jetstar (jetstar.com) fly direct to the Sunshine Coast Airport daily, from both Sydney and Melbourne.