A journey through coast and hinterland
Sydney writer Tatyana Leonov heads to the Sunshine Coast for a long weekend.
When my husband and I decided to take a road trip from Maroochydore to Rainbow Beach, we figured we’d cruise along a coastal road, stopping to play in the sand and surf, to eat fish and chips on park benches, and to take lazy afternoon strolls along pretty beaches. Then, after a quick check of a map, we realised there was no coast-hugging road joining the two centres.
At first this seemed a tiny bit irksome (Sydney-siders holidaying in Queensland generally want to get as much beach time as possible in), but we quickly realised that our newfound route – one that heads inland before turning back to the coast – was actually a blessing in disguise. We’d still get plenty of sand and surf, but also have the chance to experience the Sunshine Coast’s lush hinterland – a patch of paradise full of natural wonders, amazing food, and locals keen to share their beautiful region with any passer-by.
There are a number of routes from Maroochydore to Rainbow Beach, all zigzagging their way through the beautiful Mary Valley – a nature lover’s delight with plenty of forest trails, perfect for hiking, biking, 4WDing and horse riding. The valley is also home to the Mary River, where you can canoe, kayak and fish to your heart’s content… or simply chill out with a picnic taking in the views.
Leaving Novotel Twin Waters Resort behind (our coast-side accommodation where we vegged out for a few days prior to the road trip), our plan is to head to Kenilworth first, a charming town just under an hour’s drive renowned for its cheese factory.
To reach Kenilworth there are a couple of options, and we opt for the slower and somewhat testing route to see how our Golf Alltrack can tackle the curves and swerves of the road. We first attack the Bli Bli link to Nambour, then head up into the into Obi Obi before reaching Kenilworth – a crossing from the coast and over the ridge into the Mary Valley.
Kenilworth’s main street is peppered with buildings that date back to the 1930s and we cruise through slowly, admiring the architecture and cutesy shops, before pulling into Kenilworth Country Foods for a feast of all things dairy. We’ve stopped to stock up on cheese for a picnic, but somehow end up devouring a whole cheese platter… followed by yoghurt, mouse and finally ice-cream (which is churned onsite).
Kenilworth Country Foods has recently been taken over by the Cochranes – an established dairy-farming family – and the produce is too fantastic to simply ogle. The handmade cheeses are predominantly cheddar varieties, with the odd fetta too. We agree on a few choices and hit the road again, heading north on route 51 up and over the Kenilworth bluff towards Imbil.
“Head to the Amamoor Creek camping area for a chance to see one of the most elusive of our natives,” we’re told.
With no set route for the afternoon beyond getting to our accommodation for the night – Amamoor Lodge, located 15 minutes’ drive from Imbil – we set off to explore in the Alltrack. Our afternoon adventure starts with a tip from a local. “Head to the Amamoor Creek camping area for a chance to see one of the most elusive of our natives,” we’re told. Not 30 seconds after leaving the car we spot a platypus tranquilly floating atop the still water, then diving under before reappearing a couple of seconds later. We watch the ritual repeat itself for at least five minutes before my eager husband ventures a little too close and scares the cute critter away.
By the time we arrive to Amamoor Lodge it’s late afternoon and hosts Malcolm and Christine show us around their property (which comprises of three bed-and-breakfast rooms in a quintessential Queenslander home as well as five self-contained studios nestled on 50 acres), before treating us to the most divine dinner. Having spent a good few years in the hospitality industry, Malcolm knows his way around a kitchen and we are spoilt with a three-course feast fit for a king.
We’re keen to feel the sand between our toes, to feel the sea air on our faces, and most of all the see the different coloured shades of sand the beach is named after.
The next day, as we head towards the coast after a quick coffee sojourn in Gympie, we fit in one more foodie stop. Cooloola Berries is where you go for the lushest and juiciest strawberries in Queensland (from June to November) and that’s enough to take the short detour to visit the farm gate. Guests can pick their own berries (they grow seven varieties of strawberries) or just relax at the cafe. It feels like the cheese factory stop all over again… we eat (the fresh strawberry ice-cream is delicious) and we stock up on quite a few punnets before our drive to Rainbow Beach.
The journey to Rainbow Beach zips by quickly – an easy drive through plantation pine forest. We’re keen to feel the sand between our toes, to feel the sea air on our faces, and most of all the see the different coloured shades of sand the beach is named after. This coastal hamlet is also the southern gateway to world heritage-listed Fraser Island, but even though our trusty Golf is all-wheel drive, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service urges guests to use 4WD vehicles only, so we leave Fraser Island for another time.
There is plenty to see and do at Rainbow Beach and when we finish exploring each day we unwind at Rainbow Sea Resort. Our apartment looks out onto the ocean with Fraser Island just visible in the distance, and it’s truly magical to perch yourself on the balcony with a cold drink and watch the last rays of the day skip across the water.
There are plenty of spots for spectacular sunrises and sunsets beyond our balcony, so on our last day in paradise we ask around for recommendations. Sunrise at Carlo Sand Blow is spectacular as the puffy white morning clouds skate over the horizon to reveal the blazing sun. Sunset (after a big day of bushwalking) at Carlo Point is just as impressive – a beautiful spectacle of fiery oranges and brilliant pinks to culminate our journey.
We know it’s our last sunset in Queensland for now, but we’re not down because we’ve already started planning a return holiday – the 4WD Great Beach Drive from Noosa to Fraser Island via Rainbow Beach. Perhaps we’ll get an Amarok for the drive.
Tatyana Leonov can't keep away from an adventure and spends a lot of time on the road searching for that exceptional travel story. She writes for a diverse range of magazines, newspapers and websites, both in Australia and overseas. When she's not on the road she's in Sydney typing away at her desk... or planning her next adventure.