Wallet-friendly Southern Queensland Drive and Great Barrier Reef Vacation

There are many reasons why Sunshine Coast is every travellers’ favourite destination – spectacular beaches, world-class attractions, natural wonders, exciting events, friendly locals, lip-smacking cuisine and much more. Sunshine Coast and it’s hinterland certainly have all the right ingredients for an action-packed holiday or quiet escape all year round. 

Come join us on one of the best planned 7D6N self-drive vacation that you will find without breaking the bank.

OUR SUNSHINE COAST SELF-DRIVE ROAD MAP

DAY 1: BRISBANE – SUNSHINE COAST 

Upon arrival at Brisbane International Airport, we collect our car from the conveniently located Hertz Car Rental counter. Then we kickstart our adventure by visiting the fabulous Australian Zoo after an hour easy drive along highway M1. This visit to the zoo was at our own expense.

Australia Zoo

This is home of the passionate late Steve Irwin – the “Crocodile Hunter”, it’s still run by the Irwin family and features a range of animals like tigers and plenty of crocodiles, of course.

Have a chat with the talkative Parrot.

There’s plenty of opportunities get hands-on with many of the zoo residents like touching a dingo, feeding a kangaroo or feeling a giant python in the daily Wildlife Show. Wow!..Crikey mate !

Crocodile showtime

Come up close and enjoy the reptilian or birds of prey experience while having fun at the same time. The staff certainly how to build in humour in whatever they do.

See a Condor performs up close.

After all that fun and excitement,  we proceeded to check-in our first hotel of the trip – Novotel Twin Waters Resort Sunshine Coast after a 35min drive to recharge and get ready for our big adventure coming up on day two.

DAY 2: SUNSHINE COAST – THE GREAT BEACH DRIVE

After a superb night sleep, we woke up before the alarm rang as we were going on the highly anticipated “The Great Beach Drive” which displays nature seen nowhere else in the world. This is the part where we get to enjoy not one UNESCO Biosphere reserves but two adjoining ones side by side -The Great Sandy and Noosa Biosphere Reserves. We were treated to beautiful landscapes, observed local aboriginal culture while immersing in a uniquely rich and diverse natural experience. It was a fun and eye-opening event as our experienced 4WD guide whisked us along the sandy ride with salty air coursing through our hair.

Rainbow Beach, Sunshine Coast

This region is like an open-air zoo to wildlife such as kangaroos, whales, dolphins, manta rays, dugongs and a mind-boggling variety of bird species. You will especially love the pristine stretch of white sand beaches with stunning headland views all the way from Noosa to Double Island Point Red Canyon.

Teewah Beach

Here, red and yellow sands form a unique canyon in the sand dunes where you will enjoy unforgettable views over Teewah Beach. We practically have the entire beach to ourselves. This is the moment we could truly set ourselves free from our hand phone and simply enjoy life’s real pleasures.

Rainbow Beach, Sunshine Coast

We also stop at Freshwater- a scenic and relaxing picnic ground in the Great Sandy National Park where we had a chance to spot Lace Monitors or Double Island Point Lighthouse which offers breathtaking 360º views across the Pacific Ocean and scenic vistas of the Great Sandy National Park. Marine-life lovers will be thrilled as there is chance to see pods of dolphins, turtles, sharks, manta rays and the majestic Humpback Whales (season is July-November). Great Beach 4WD Tours are the sole operator with access to the Lighthouse which you would otherwise missed.

Coloured Sands

We also particularly enjoyed the Colored Sands – a world renown attraction which has over 40 different shades of colour. This is the place where our guide demonstrated how the colours are used by aboriginals for artwork and decoration of boomerangs. For couples on honeymoon, they should stop by Honeymoon Bay which boasts a saltwater lagoon that is one most scenic landscapes in Australia, perfect for a refreshing break where you can swim in the sheltered waters of the bay or body surf on the longest right-hand breaks in Australia all year round. Our trip also included the Rainforest- a unique rainforest drive-through sand dunes.

DAY 3: SUNSHINE COAST – HERVEY BAY 

Eumundi Market

Day 3 see us checking out of our resort early morning to drive 30min to The Eumundi Market Australia’s biggest and best art, craft and produce market in the historic town of Eumundi. Established in 1979, this world-renowned market is like an outdoor gallery, with heritage-listed fig trees sheltering the 500 plus stalls.

Farmer at Eumundi Market

The market’s policy of ‘make it, bake it, sew it or grow it’ ensures any products or locally produced goods to be of the best qualities. There is also a line-up of world-class musicians and talented street performers, as well as face painters and therapists offering massages, palm readings and more. The market opens only on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Hervey Bay

From Eumundi Market, we drove 2-hours northward to Hervey Bay, a  sheltered bay which is safe year round for swimming, diving, sailing, water sports and fishing. If getting wet is not part of the plan, bicycle rental is available for ride along the picturesque foreshore to visit places such as the Orchid House within the beautiful Botanical Gardens, the Marina area or one of the many eateries and cafes situated along the Esplanade. The resort we stayed here was the Mantra Hervey Bay.

DAY 4: HERVEY BAY – SOUTHERN GREAT BARRIER REEF (LADY ELLIOT ISLAND WITH 2-WAY SCENIC FLIGHTS) 

Day 4 marked another highlight of our trip as we took a scenic coastal flight from Fraser Coast Airport to Lady Elliot Island, the southernmost coral cay on the southern Great Barrier Reef, overflying Fraser Island on the way.

Our pilot getting ready to fly us to Lady Elliot Island
Landing soon at Lady Elliot Island.

It was definitely thrilling to feel close to the action as our Cessna Caravan throttles down to land at Lady Elliot island, with its own landing strip named simply as “Lady Elliot Island Airstrip”.

Glass bottom boat trip at Lady Elliot Island

This is certainly a beautiful island where we get to enjoy guided reef tour on one of the glass bottom boats, snorkel among the amazing coral formations and marine creatures or hand-feed fish in the lagoon.

Coral reef at Lady Elliot Island
Guided reef walk at Lady Elliot Island

In the picture above, you see one of our travel mates feeling tickled holding a live sea cucumber during the guided walk. The only sea cucumber we cityfolks get see in our everyday life are those preserved ones in groceries mart or cooked ones in restaurants.

A huge turtle on the reef, one of many we saw.

But the guided reef walk with one of the knowledgeable guides will enhance the experience. We can even see turtles, colourful corals and schools of reef fish. Snorkelers are required to be proficient in the water as no life jackets except swim noodles, are provided during the swim. Snorkel lesson can be conducted in the resort pool (if required).

Coral cay at Lady Elliot Island

The coral gardens surrounding the island are also a breeding and feeding area for Manta Rays, the giant “kites of the reef”. Certainly an enlightening day as we learned about the island and its wildlife by knowledgeable guides. This session needs about 6.5 hours to explore the island. A delicious buffet lunch on the island resort was provided with the tour concluding after a return flight.

Optional side trip – Whale watching. Every year, between July and November, Hervey Bay’s reputation as the whale watch capital of the world gets refreshed as thousands of humpback whales make their way into the calm, protected waters on the western side of Fraser Island known as Platypus Bay.

Hervey Bay Fraser Coast

This is where the whales stay and play on their way back to Antarctica, after spending the winter months up north to mate or give birth to their calves. This will be one of the most amazing wildlife encounter in your life.

Hervey Bay

For cityfolks like me, it’s an adrenaline rush each and every time I see them breaking the surface or blow their snort. It’s  truly  a magical experience and one that keeps me and probably plenty of others to visit again. Definitely a must-do optional event during the whale migration season (not part of this trip itinerary).

DAY 5: HERVEY BAY – HINTERLAND  

This morning, we check out early from our resort to embark on a 23min drive land our next destination as we explore the streetscapes of Maryborough’s original wharf district.

Maryborough Post Office Hotel

Maryborough’s Portside is like a “history textbook” as it remains relatively unchanged from its days as a thriving river port, when it was one of Australia’s largest and busiest destinations for immigrants in the 1800’s. We commenced on the Portside experience with a Portside Heritage Gateway Pass (at our own expense), which includes entry into Customs House Interpretive Centre and the variety of museums on offer.

The Bond Store

One of the interesting must-visit is the The Bond Store. Feel the history as you walk on the same earthen floors of this former store for her Majesty’s Customs Service and relive a time when opium was a legal import together with a flourishing rum trade. The main structure of the building dates back to 1864 where the original floors, handmade bricks and barrel rails are still being kept. It functioned as a guarded storage for taxed goods like cigars, tobacco, rum, wine, spirits and opium. Today the Bond Store has been revived as a store for regional produce and archives displays and artefacts documenting Marlborough’s Portside history.

Maleny Cheese . (Photo credit : Tourism and Events Queensland)

From the Bond Store, we drove 2hr 15min to the Maleny Cheese. This is a food education attraction which showcase and sells products made on site.  We can also sample the delicious range of products before deciding what to buy.

Maleny Cheese . (Photo credit: Tourism and Events Queensland)

On weekdays, when the staff is working, we were able to observe how the cheeses are made by looking through the cafe viewing windows, which overlooked the factory floor.

Maleny Dairies Farm Tour

Another option to experience the dairy industry was the Maleny Dairies,  a family-owned dairy farm in the Hinterland. Go on the the farm tours which run from Monday to Saturday which include meeting Millie, the tour cow, for a hand milking demonstration and a chance to taste the milk straight from the udder! From here it’s into the baby pen to bottle-feed their calves! The tour finishes with a look inside their dairy and a sampling of their award winning products. You can enjoy Tractor Rides which run after the first three tours of the day, which takes visitors through the beautiful back paddocks to watch the calves being fed and also have a chance to feed their emus!

Our accommodation at the Hinterland warrants a special mention. The Glass House Mountain Ecolodge is an eco-friendly lodge founded by owner Keith Murray who spent over 1200 painstaking hours restoring the four train carriages and a wooden church at the back of a truck, which he transported to the site. The wood paneling has been hand-polished, the ceiling height raised and the train windows restored with stained glass panels. Over the past 30 years Keith and his family members also planted hundreds of trees to replace the pineapples plantation which was cleared for the building the lodge.

Glasshouse Mountain Ecolodge

Glasshouse Mountain Ecolodge

As a guest, the real attraction here are the tranquility of the ambience and nature’s playground that awaits just outside the property’s gates. This is one unique lodge you will remember for the rest of your life.

One Tree Hill, Maleny

About a 25min drive from the Glasshouse Mountain Lodge, you might like to check out the famous Maleny’s One Tree Hill. The site has unofficially been named as the most photographed paddock on the Sunshine Coast, especially when it comes to weddings in Maleny ! Truly an instagrammable picture opportunity. However, this tree is on private land and you need book in advance and make a donation of AUD50 which goes to the local organisation.

DAY 6: HINTERLAND – BRISBANE 

This morning we check out of the lovely lodge and drive north (approx 30mins) for Montville. It would be hard to find a town on the Sunshine Coast that is as charming as Montville.

Montville

Perched on the Blackall Range, this quaint little village is home to art galleries, cosy coffee shops and boutique stores where we can bring home handmade beanies to one-off sculptures made by local artists. There are a wide range of accommodation options around town including rainforest cabins, luxury resorts and cute hinterland cottages. After lunch, we headed for Brisbane, where we check into the Grand Chancellor Brisbane after a 1.5hrs drive and  quickly indulge in some last minute shopping. Do note that all hotels in the city charge for overnight car parking.

DAY 7: BRISBANE – BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT 

Day 7 marked the final hours of our Sunshine Coast adventure as we check out of the hotel and drove just about 20min to Brisbane International Airport where we return our rental car( factoring in at least 2 hours prior for all international departures). It was definitely a lovely self-drive vacation and one that we will not forget for a long time, probably never.

Travel Itinerary – Sunshine Coast & Fraser Island

Recently, I had opportunity to travel to Sunshine Coast & Fraser Island for 5 days during spring (early October). This was a perfect choice to relax and cruise conveniently where crowded beaches and buildings were unheard of in Queensland’s naturally refreshing Sunshine Coast

Understanding how tricky it can be to plan your trip in Sunshine Coast, get inspired by reading Sunshine Coast & Fraser Island experience trip Continue reading “Travel Itinerary – Sunshine Coast & Fraser Island”