Despite it’s name there’s much more to the Sunny Coast than beaches and sunshine. Nestled not too far away is a beautiful oasis of rainforest, freshwater swimming holes, waterfalls and much more. This is what you’ll find when you go exploring the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. And with this guide you’ll be able to easily navigate your way through this spectacular area of the Sunshine Coast.
What is the Sunshine Coast Hinterland?
The Sunshine Coast Hinterland is a stunning strip of cute little towns nestled amongst the picturesque Blackall Ranges. With rolling hills and lots of beautiful land you’ll find a lot of farms around here. The towns are also rich in history and culture. And provide any local or holidaymaker with a wide range of activities to escape the busyness of day to day life.
There’s many towns that make up this gorgeous pocket of the coast. But the main ones I’ll be talking about are Montville and Maleny.
Getting to the Sunshine Coast Hinterland
The easiest way to reach the Sunshine Coast Hinterland is via the Bruce Highway and taking the Landsborough exit. It’s only a 30 minute drive from where I’m based in Caloundra so I love to make a day of exploring the magical hinterland.
You’ll know when you hit the hinterland because the roads instantly change. It’s a steep climb along windy roads. But the lush scenery and rolling hills help to take your mind off the somewhat scary ascent.
If you’re coming from Brisbane it’s about 1.5 hours. And there’s so much to do while there so you’d probably want to make the most of the trip and stay a few nights. From what I’ve seen when driving through, there’s a lot of beautiful bed and breakfasts and rainforest retreats. So it shouldn’t be too hard to find a place to stay.
You could catch a train from Brisbane to Landsborough which is also about 1.5 hours. But transport on the Sunshine Coast doesn’t come too regularly. Uusually buses are 1 hour apart so you’d really have to plan out your day if you’re planning to get around the hinterland by public transport. I’d recommend hiring a car so you can truly make the most of your experience.
Exploring the Sunshine Coast Hinterland
So once you’ve made it to the hinterland, what should you actually do? The best way to share how much there is to do in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, would be to break it down by town.
Montville and Maleny are the two main towns that spring to mind when I think about visiting the hinterland. But there’s so much more than just those two.
So before I get into them I’ll do a quick rundown of a few others.
First there’s Beerwah
I haven’t really stopped in this town long enough to see what it’s all about. But it is home to the Australia Zoo. So if that’s something you’re interested in then this is where you’d need to go. I’m not the biggest fan of zoos. But since it’s Steve Irwin’s and such an iconic place Freddie and I did take his mum to check it out when she visited us a few months back.
And it is worth a visit. It’s on a beautiful (huge) plot of land with lots of stunning scenery. The Africa enclosure was my favourite. But I also loved all the measures they take to educate people around animal and wildlife conservation.
This is another town I haven’t really seen a lot of, but we went with one particular goal in mind. Checking out the famous Rick’s Garage – an old school diner that transports you back to the 1950’s (think Grease). With retro decor and a menu to match, it’s definitely worth checking out.
And the Glasshouse Country
There’s plenty of areas throughout your drive around the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where you’ll see glimpses and silhouettes of the huge mountains. There’s 11 mountains in total and they make up the Glasshouse Mountains. The actual township of Glasshouse, sits amidst these mountains.
Take the Glasshouse Mountain scenic drive. You’ll see signs as you approach the hinterland and see what I mean about the views. I’d save exploring the actual mountains for a day in itself as there’s plenty of hikes and climbs you can do.
For a full list of towns and what to do there this site is a great resource. Ok, now let’s talk about my favourite towns!
What to do in Montville
When I visit Montville it feels like I’ve stepped into a scene from a Disney film. It has such a charming little village vibe with it’s Tudor, Irish and English cottages, Swiss and Bavarian chalets, an old mill water-wheel, colonial and old Queenslanders. And of course, one of the most spectacular and panoramic views over the coastal plain.
Take a walk down the main strip and you’ll find plenty of cute shops, an art gallery, and plenty of cafes. If you pop into Venus Calling be sure to say hi, it’s where mum bought me the first crystal in my growing collection so it holds special meaning to me now.
When you’re done wandering the streets it’s only right to treat yourself to some morning or afternoon tea. If you want a quick snack Waffle-On is hidden in a little alley and is home to many delicious Dutch treats including my favourite, stroopwafels. Or, if you’d prefer to sit somewhere a little more pleasant and take in the gorgeous views, I’d highly recommend the Poets Cafe. It actually does have the feel of a place where poets would go to write, with it’s huge glass windows, sweeping views, and yummy food, it’s a winner in my book.
Between Montville and Maleny you’ll find some beautiful spots to immerse yourself in nature. There’s Lake Baroon which is linked to a dam. It also has a gorgeous rainforest retreat (Secrets on the Lake). This overlooks the lake and visitors are allowed to go there to enjoy a spot of tea if you’re so inclined. Here’s everything you need to know about dining on the deck.
Kondalilla National Park
If you’re up for a bit of adventure then Kondalilla National Park is where you need to go. There’s many walking circuits and it’s also linked to the Great Walk if you really want a challenge.
Be mindful that there’s a few different entrances to the park so it helps to decide what you want to see before putting it into your GPS. If you want to see the huge waterfall which plummets 90m into the gorge below, then you’ll want the Kondalilla Falls circuit. Be prepared, it contains 300 steps and you start off going downhill so after you’re already tired, you have to do the climb back up. The views and sounds when the falls are flowing definitely makes it worth it though.
Alternatively, if you would like a more peaceful walk and might even want to brave the water. Then follow the signs near Lake Baroon and you’ll end up at a different entrance to the park and end up near the Obi Obi Creek circuit. You won’t see the huge waterfall on this route but it still has stunning scenery. Depending on the weather the rocks are usually pretty dried up and you can climb across them and end up at a deep freshwater swimming spot. Be mindful of snakes and eels!
Or, after a lot of rain the rocks will be submerged under the rapid flowing whitewater. Whilst it’s a bit dangerous for swimming it’s pretty awesome to see the rushing water when it’s like this. And if you walk further along the proper trail you’ll still arrive at some pretty epic viewpoints.
Depending how you’re going for time, you could head to Maleny in the same day or save it for another day. There’s a bunch of other waterfalls and forests in Maleny so I’d suggest saving it for a separate day. But if you’re not so keen on long hikes, you could skip Kondalilla Falls and head straight to Maleny where the forest trails are much shorter.
What to do in Maleny
This unique community is perched high above the coast with amazing views from lots of areas. And when you’re ready to take your head out of the clouds there’s plenty of places to unwind. In town there’s plenty of shops. Or if you’re looking for a bite to eat then you’ve got to check out Maleny Food co. Stocked with all local produce there’s so many delicious treats. Even the IGA in Maleny is super cool and filled with so many gourmet snacks.
If you happen to be in Maleny on a weekend then you have to check out Maleny Lane. It wasn’t open when we went on a Monday afternoon but you could just tell it would have a pretty awesome vibe. With live music plus food from all over the world it looked like a pretty cool place to be.
Once you’re done soaking in the eclectic Maleny vibes, a perfect way to finish off the day is to head back into nature.
Next stop: Gardners Falls
This is a peaceful park and waterfall area with lush green scenery. It’s only a short walk along the cascades to get to the main waterfall which falls into a deep, wide pool below which you can swim in. Just be careful as getting out is a little slippery because you have to climb back up the mossy rocks.
Heads up, if you like to keep the peace going during school holidays probably isn’t the best time to go. That’s when I visited with mum and we could barely find a spot to sit. If you don’t mind icy water then pay the spot a visit in June for a truly peaceful experience.
Final destination: Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve
Once you’ve had enough of swimming, the perfect place to end the day is at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve. It’s only a small donation to go into the park and walk along the loop of trails. The longest trail takes about 30 minutes so it’s not too extenuating.
Along the way there’s plenty of giant trees and you’ll even be able to spot some cool wildlife if you’re lucky. Listen out for all the different bird calls to see if you can identify them… if you can’t, don’t worry. Once you’re done walking you can go to the interactive centre and learn more about all the wildlife.
Another highlight of this reserve is it’s unobstructed views of the Glasshouse Mountains. When you come out of the main centre there’s a cafe and then a small staircase to climb. At the top you’ll be rewarded with the views.
And there you have it, everything you need to know about exploring the Sunshine Coast hinterland. If you end up visiting I’d love to hear about your experience. Or maybe you’ve been and have some other spots to recommend, please do let me know.
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