For the Love of Travel
For the Love of Travel

Mooloolaba eat, stay and play

Awakening on the Sunshine Coast to the sweeping curve of Mooloolaba beach and the satin blue sea, is just the start of the holiday seduction, writes Mike Yardley.

 Mooloolaba’s dawn horizon was as thick and orange as egg yolk. In the early morning calm, it looked life after of the local population was up early to embrace the new day, surfing in the crystal-tipped waves, dabbling on the shoreline, milling about the surf club ordering up espressos, and strolling the coastal pathway. And it was only 630am! Mooloolaba embraces its beachy lifestyle with zest, around the clock. Fringing the beach and festooned in fairy-lights, The Esplanade’s eye-catching swank boasts a swag of colourful cafes, juice bars, alfresco restaurants and fashion boutiques.  The Esplanade also boasts the legendary public toilet with in-built views across the Pacific surf – the loo with a view!

Mooloolaba Beach

Mooloolaba Beach consistently ranks as one of Australia’s best beaches. Through a fortuitous quirk of nature, it’s one of the few East Coast beaches that actually faces north, amplifying its appeal with calm, warm ocean water, all-year round. Itching to explore the sun-drenched environs with a solid dose of expert insight, I definitely recommend taking a ride with Stuart from Ecotekk Sunshine Coast. Stuart and his crew operate a variety of guided e-bike tours, both on the coast and in the hinterland, but my assignment was the three hour long River to River, Land & Sea E-Bike Tour. It’s a two-wheeled safari of sights. From the gleaming waters of the Mooloola River canals to the pristine Maroochy River, the kaleidoscope of sights and insights is superb.

Mooloolaba Beach at Sunshine Coast.
Mooloolaba Beach at Sunshine Coast. Photo: Supplied

Stuart’s background as a marine biologist and his commanding environmental knowledge accentuated the experience immeasurably. I was fascinated to learn about Bunya Pine trees, that gracefully shade the beachfront. Their pleasingly symmetrical dome shape is striking and Bunyas are emblematic of the region, previously logged to the point of oblivion given their prized status as a highly valued timber.  Today they only grown in a few pockets of Queensland, including the Bunya Mountains, to the west of Mooloolaba. The mountain range marks the remains of an old shield volcano – about 30 million years old, with peaks rising to more than 1,100 metres.

Bunya Pines at Mooloolaba Beach.
Bunya Pines at Mooloolaba Beach. Photo: Mike Yardley

E-biking in Mooloolaba

After zipping down the Mooloolaba Spit break wall, where the river empties into the ocean, we struck out on the sublime new coastal pathway and boardwalk that wends its way along the foreshore, studded with a sequence of playgrounds and rocky nooks, then up and over Alexandra Headland. Thank god my bike was prefixed with an “e.” Bearded dragons sunned themselves imperviously on the path as we breezed by our bikes. Gracing this towering promontory, check out the tribute to HMAS Brisbane. The warship was decommissioned and sunk in 2005 and its funnels lurk just below the surface of the water, 15km off-shore, close to Mudjimba island.

River to River, Land & Sea E-Bike Tour. Photo: Mike Yardley

After purring through bustling Maroochydore the coastal path whisked us down to Cotton Tree Park, another serene spot for basking in the easy-tempo Sunshine Coast lifestyle, fringed by the sand banks of the Maroochy River. Finally we traversed the bridge spanning the mighty river, before heading for home. A ride with Stuart doesn’t just thread together a medley of picture-postcard perspectives, but you’ll be enriched with some great anecdotes on the history, geology and ecology of the Sunny Coast and how those two rivers were pivotal to the region’s development.

Listen more on Sunshine Coast with Kiwi Tripsters Travel Podcast
Listen more on Sunshine Coast with Kiwi Tripsters Travel Podcast

Culinary delights of Mooloolaba

Mooloolaba’s culinary script is being exuberantly rewritten at The Wharf, which underwent a tip to toe facelift two years ago. One of the heroes to join the parade is Spero, the brainchild of Sunshine Coast restaurateur Tony Kelly, who has produced of highly decorated eateries restaurants over the years. Unmistakably Greek, Spero feels like it’s been scooped up direct from the Aegean, with a salivating menu of calamari, lamb moussaka, gyros, pork belly baklava and spanakopita. Then there’s more elaborate offerings like confit lamb shoulder with a pomegranate glaze, tzatziki, lemon potatoes and olive oil.

Group enjoying cocktails next to the marina in Mooloolaba. Photo: Sunshine Coast

Also in Tony Kelly’s stable at The Wharf, the fiendishly popular Rice Boi. Projecting the essence of a Japanese izakaya dive bar, Rice Boi is a lusty celebration of Asian street-style food. Bao fans go ga-ga over their duck, pork and chicken sumo loaded buns, alongside their delicious dumplings and incredible curries. Eager for something more substantial?  I highly recommend the Sticky Char Siu Pork with Thai chilli jam, snowpea salad, duck fat pancakes, pickled cucumber and fried garlic shallots. It’s a Pan-Asian party in your mouth. In deference to the heaving demand, Rice Boi is continuing expand its sprawl across The Wharf, with a second-storey addition, while they’ve taken over adjoining dining spaces in The Wharf, too. It’s a runaway success story, always pulling a crowd.

Sticky Char Siu Pork at Rice Boi. Photo: Mike Yardley

Mooloolaba’s King Prawns

Another dining destination at The Wharf is the iconic Prawn Star restaurant. The dining landmark was first established in Cairns, but Prawn Star has branched out to Mooloolaba last year, with two restored fishing trawlers permanently moored at The Wharf, serving wild-caught, sustainably-sourced seafood, cooked onboard. On the menu are large platters that can be shared by one to six people and offerings include prawns, bugs, crayfish, oysters and salmon sashimi. But nothing can beat tucking into a platter of Mooloolaba Prawns, a mix of the King Prawns and Tiger Prawns, accompanied with a secret sauce. It’s a plate of pure joy.  Prawn Star Mooloolaba is helmed by the highly engaging Mark Edgely and his wife Tanya. Just like his famous impresario father, Michael Edgley, Mark’s hands-on theatrical finesse is sure to add some X-factor to your dining experience. (Mark still takes care of the family’s entertainment enterprise, like the Moscow Circus, as a side hustle.) Prawn Star is a do not miss!

Mooloolaba tiger prawns with secret sauce
Mooloolaba tiger prawns with secret sauce. Photo: Mike Yardley

After binging on so many of these divine critters, complete the sea-to-plate narrative by taking to the water with Saltwater Eco Tours. Led by Simon Thornalley and his partner Jenna, this indigenous owned and operated cruise is a sparkling experience, blending an enlightening, languid ride on the Mooloolaba waterways with a delectable procession of bush-tucker canapes, showcasing seasonal ingredients and ocean-fresh seafood. I tucked into freshly shucked oysters, more magnificent prawns and kangaroo meat tacos while quaffing sparkling wine and some great craft beers.

Canapes on Saltwater Eco Tours. Photo: Visit Sunshine Coast

We were cruising aboard the “Spray of the Coral Coast”, a classic 58ft gaff-rigged Huon-pine ketch with an enchanting history. This gloriously restored traditional sailing vessel was launched in 1925 after being built to the same plan as the “Spray”, the boat used by Joshua Slocum to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe, in the late 19th century.

Enjoy a cruise with Saltwater Eco Tours. Photo: Visit Sunshine Coast

She is now thought to be the oldest Spray sailing in Australia and possibly the world. Alongside skippering this grand old ketch, Simon, who is of Torres Strait Island descent, is a dab hand with the didgeridoo. You’ll love his performance. Alongside the bling-bling trophy homes, edging the canals like an architectural beauty contest, (most of which seemed like ghost trophy homes) you’ll pass by the Irwin family’s famous research vessel, Croc One, and marvel over the sheer size of the Mooloolaba fishing boat fleet – the largest such fleet on Australia’s east coast. This two hour native bushfood and seafood cruise is a multi-sensory stunner.

Newport Mooloolaba interior. Photo: Supplied

Kick winter’s chill to the kerb and skip across the Tasman to the Sunshine Coast. Grab your golden fill of sunshine moments. World-beating beaches, lush hinterland villages, ancient peaks, wild encounters and succulent seafood are all part of the package.

Fly to Queensland with Qantas, who operate an extensive network of Tasman services from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.