From whale watching to luxury shopping, the activities are as varied as the scenery along Queensland's Great Sunshine Way.
By Alissa Jenkins
Drive from the Gold Coast to Bundaberg along Queensland's subtropical Great Sunshine Way. See some of the state's most beautiful scenery, enjoy some sophisticated beach lifestyle, and get close to wildlife including turtles and whales.
The Sunshine Way begins in Queensland's buzzing beach mecca, the Gold Coast, renowned for its long stretches of sand and party atmosphere. Start the day with an early morning stand-up paddleboard lesson in Surfers Paradise. Then visit one of the Gold Coast's world-class theme parks. See stunt shows and try adrenaline-pumping rides at Warner Bros Movie World. Jump on exciting rides and visit the new Lego Store at Dreamworld. Or cool off at the ultimate water sports hub, Wet'n'Wild.
While the drive north to Brisbane, the state’s capital city, typically only takes an hour, enjoy a detour inland into the Gold Coast hinterland and explore the rainforest hikes and waterfalls scattered throughout Tamborine, Lamington and Springbrook national parks. Among the more popular trails is the Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk, made up of several shorter day walks that span 54 kilometres (34 miles) in total. O'Reilly's Tree Top Walk encompasses nine suspension bridges and allows you to walk through a canopy of flowering trees, vines, ferns and native birds. Finish the day at Brisbane's Tryp Fortitude Valley Hotel – the city's first and only street art hotel, with a swanky rooftop bar.
Wake early to climb Brisbane’s famous Story Bridge and see the sun rise over the city. From the top you'll be rewarded with panoramic views over the snaking river, out to Moreton Bay in the east and the undulating green hills of the Scenic Rim to the west. There's also the option to abseil down the bridge. Celebrate this bucket-list experience with brunch in Fortitude Valley, the beating heart of the city's arts and cafe scene. Gerard's Bistro promises an exotic menu with a Middle Eastern and North African twist — try the Baghdad eggs and house-spiced granola. Alfred and Constance is popular for its salmon tortillas and gingerbread pancakes by day; expect expert cocktails and a lively dance floor by night.
Drive 144 kilometres (90 miles) north to Noosa, where you'll be greeted by ever-buzzing Hastings Street, thick with designer boutiques and impressive restaurants, just steps from the beach. After some retail therapy, explore one of the many walking trails that weave through Noosa National Park, right by the town centre. The three hour Coastal Track is a popular family-friendly option. It follows the headland through gorgeous scenery, overlooking the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Keep a look out for pods of dolphins and whales between May and November. Then spend the night in the heart of the action at Tingirana Noosa's beautiful beachfront apartments. For something more boutique, 10 Hastings Motel & Cafe is a charming and surprisingly affordable alternative.
Continue 185 kilometres (115 miles) north, through the gold rush towns of Gympie and Maryborough to the whale watching capital of the world, Hervey Bay. In calm waters protected by Fraser Island, about 10,000 humpback whales visit every year on their annual migration to Antarctic waters, making it the best place to see the ocean giants up close. Between July and November, spend the morning on one of nine whale watching cruises. They include high-speed adventure on Spirit of Hervey Bay's Yahoo tour, and a family-friendly cruise with Blue Dolphin Marine Tours.
From River Heads (just south of Hervey Bay), catch a 50 minute ferry to the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island, where you can spend the rest of the day four-wheel driving over sand dunes, swimming at Lake McKenzie and hiking to the Cathedral cliffs before camping on the beach. Alternatively, continue 110 kilometres (68 miles) north through vibrant sugarcane fields to Australia’s favourite rum-producing town, Bundaberg. After a tour around the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery, travel just east of the city to Mon Repos Beach in time for sunset. Here you'll find the largest loggerhead turtle rookery in the South Pacific. Evening tours will take you to protected parts of the beach to see turtles lay their eggs (November to February), or turtle hatchlings make their way to sea (January to March).