A trip along the Australian east coast does not have to be taken during the warm summer seasons, we found that out on a recent escapade from the Sunshine Coast down to Byron Bay. The six day roady has revealed the many benefits and beauties of hitting the north east coast during the cooler months. We teamed up with Camplify, Sunshine Coast Tourism and Destination NSW to explore the very best of the coastal vibes and the thriving culinary and culture scene in the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay regions.
Camplify, the peer-to-peer Caravan hire and RV sharing community set us up with the ultimate ‘glampervan’ from Cosy Campers. We lived and cruised down the coast in Juanita, a stylish and rather luxurious motorhome decked out in wooden timber interiors, solar panels, USB ports, a stocked fridge and spacious lounge and table area that transforms into a comfy queen size bed.
One of the great things that remained a constant grace for the duration of the trip was the sense that the region’s true authentic colours were blossoming. The towns we visited shone through in a different way compared to the times visited in the summertime. It was not just the fact that there were (somewhat) less crowds, but there was that genuine small town vibe with friendly people, great hospitality and pristine shorelines.
Divided into two parts across six days, we get to know the very best of the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay and share it with you in this account of an epic road trip. Let’s jump right in as we travel down from the Sunshine Coast to Byron across the first three days…
SUNSHINE COAST to BYRON BAY, Day 1 – 3
DAY 1: Arrive in Maroochydore
Day one was spent flying from Sydney to Brisbane to collect Juanita – the glampervan from the awesome guys behind Cosy Campers – just one of 1500 amazing vans you can hire through Camplify at their official website.
From Brisbane, we took the easy drive up to Maroochydore in the Sunshine Coast. Arriving in the resort town, we were welcomed with the coastal beauty and laid back vibes as families and friends hung in cafes and strolled along the esplanade.
Our accomodation was at the lovely beachfront spot of CottageTree Holiday Park that backed on to the sweeping sandbanks fringing the river and ocean bay. At sunset, people were chilling out along the shores, drinking, eating and enjoying the relaxing serenity as the warm winter sun laid to rest. The park facilities were clean and modern as well as run by friendly staff.
The 4 kilometre strip from to Maroochydore, Mooloolaba is a vibrant coastal stretch of white sandy beaches, rolling cobalt waves and laid back cafes. Whether its a leisurely stroll or a proper workout, the walk or run along the coastal front makes for a great afternoon activity.
There are some spectacular lookouts near Maroochydore and Mooloolaba. About a fifteen minutes drive away is Low’s Lookout. It may seem rather underwhelming as you drive to down the road to it as it is hidden at the end of a hillside residential street. At the lookout you reach an open car park, which offer spectacular views over the nearby mountain ranges to one side, and the stunning coast to the other.
As the sun began to set we headed back to Cottage Tree to set the van up for the evening. Thanks to Cosy Campers, we had a fridge stocked with delicious snacks like chocolate, strawberries, crackers and cheese, and the best surprise was the sparkling wine. We set the camp chairs and table up to watch the sun set over the bay.
Perched on the edge of the river bay in Maroochydore, The Boat Shed boasts beautiful serenity, delicious seafood and a charming ambience. A short stroll from Cottage Tree, the restaurant is perched right on the bay, and combines an indoor and alfresco dining environment. We sampled the negronis and rose, enjoying the warm winter weather on the verandah. For dinner we had the zingy tuna poke and Atlantic crispy salmon, medium rare, with potato salad and pea puree.
DAY 2 – The Sunshine Coast Hinterlands
Start the day nice and early to make the most of your only full day in the Sunshine Coast. Start the drive through the Glasshouse Mountains. The lookout there offers an amazing panoramic view over the domes. They are quite peculiar looking and vary in shape – some stand really high, some thin, while some short. While they are clustered together, they are spaced rather far apart, which makes them very interesting phenomena.
About a twenty minute drive away is Mary Cairncross rainforest. Located opposite a panoramic view of the Glasshouse Mountains, the reserve has 55 hectares of dense lush rainforest, easily accessible walking through on the one kilometre loop.
You enter through the Rainforest Discovery Centre and can explore the interactive gallery to learn more about the reserve and its habitats. After, you can embark through the majestic rainforest tracks; listen out for unusual sounds and breath in the crisp fresh air. If you look upwards you may be able to spot the dozens of bats occupying the giant trees.
Maleny is located about a fifteen minute drive from the Cairnscross reserve, but on the way make sure to stop by Gardner’s Falls, a beautiful running river that descends into a small waterfall. Pristine waters gush down a small rocky embankment and further down the river there is swing rope for some fun. Once you arrive at Maleny, wander down the main street, and explore the many cafes, boutique shops, natural spas and clothes racks.
Head to the Brouhaha Brewery in Maleny for lunch and have a short tour of how they make their delicious beer. The interiors rock a modern rustic vibe, while the hanging green vines breath a hint of freshness. Lunch is pub grub with a sophisticated twist, serving everything from burgers, fries, salads and fish. We sampled the Raspberry Saison which had a fruity tart taste, and the New Zealand Pale Ale infused with crispy citrus tones.
Drive up Montville Road towards Mapleton Falls, just past the quaint town of Mapleton. The view of the falls is incredible as you peer beneath the lookout and witness surge of water gushing down the gigantic drop of a vertical mountain edge. The lookout also provides a picturesque view over the green valley and rainforest beneath.
On the way back towards the coast from Mapleton you can take a short pit stop at The Big Pineapple on Nambour Connection road. The Big Pineapple is a heritage-listed attraction with a café and the opportunity to climb it – offering spectacular views over the Sunshine Coast.
Take some down time at your campsite. At Cottage Tree it was great to wind down and chill to the backdrop of the sand and calm ocean waters. The van comes with deck chairs and table so we set up some late afternoon snacks with wine (complimentary with the van) and watched the sunset.
Spice Bar in Mooloolaba is a modern Japanese restaurant serving up delicious and fresh cuisine like sashimi with ginger and smoked soy sauce, caramelised spicy mushrooms, kimchi and vegetable yakitori (veggies and tofu skewers). The interiors provide an intimate and dimmed atmosphere, with glowing lights around the bar. On the ceiling bamboo steamer baskets hang down, while the back wall near the bar is lined with wine, next to the open kitchen.
Day 3 – Drive Down to Byron Bay
Fuel up on breakfast before embarking on the 3-hour drive to Byron Bay. We stopped at CK Wholefoods and feasted on a delicious pink pataya bowl, loaded with fruit and healthy granola, as well as the Mushroom Stack – which was very generous with the shroom serving, and accompanied with smashed avo, pistachio goats cheese and poached eggs. The coffee was smooth and the perfect temperature. You can even load up on healthy snacks for the drive from the front counter that stretches along the eastern wall.
Start the drive down to Byron bay. If you feel like you need a pit stop, stop by Brisbane or the Gold Coast and get your caffeine fix at the many local coffee shops. The drive from Sunshine Coast to Byron takes about three and a half hours, so it is good to break it up with a stop in the middle.
We headed straight to Three Blue Ducks at The Farm. It offers the perfect balance between a family friendly destination inviting guests for long lunches and afternoon hang outs. While producing a sophisticated rustic hangout space with upbeat funky music, it retains that classic farm feel and laid back vibes. It is no wonder Three Blue Ducks has become such a foundation in Byron’s restaurant scene because guests are immerse in the farming dynamics and become connected to how their food is produced.
It is not just the children that will enjoy wandering along the grassy fields, animal paddocks and the lines of vegetable patches. Between two people, we shared the charred Farm broccoli, sweet potato, almond cream, pickled currants, jalapenos, kumara leaf, grape dressing, nuts & seeds (vegan and gluten free), with the crispy-skinned fish of the day and a side of delicious wok-fried farm greens, garlic, chilli & lemon.
After checking into Clarkes Beach, North Coast Holiday Park, located at the quiet north end of Byron Bay, we hit the waters for an afternoon of sea kayaking. Whether you are lucky enough to spot dolphins or whales, exploring the waters beyond the shoreline is a magical experience that not only gets your arms moving, but gives your whole body a proper workout. Alternatively grab a surf board (you can hire one from the main part of town ) and join the locals in hitting the late arvo winter waves.
At the modern Australian restaurant in Ewingsdale, Fig Tree, you are taken on a unique culinary degustation experience. Residing in a beautiful quaint farm house with the dining area occupying what appears like a former open living room, guests sit down to a set table and a complimentary sparkling wine. The service is exceptional and highly personal. Within a few minutes the chef comes to the table and talk to you about what you can expect from your tasting degustation – a set menu where the choice of dishes is completely out of your control.
The starter was freshly baked bread with beurre noisette – apricot with whipped butter gives nutty taste, and accompanied with Wafer thin potato chips from the garden. The most adventurous dish was the crab coated in pickles and served in a glass. The different flavours and textures complimented each other with the mackerel juicy ,powder rye and zingy pickle fennel.
Stay tuned for part 2 as we explore the Byron Hinterlands.
To find out more about Camplify, and find out how you can hire a Caravan, Motorhome or Campervan from just $40pn, head to camplify.com.au. Renters must be 25 years or older.
For more on the places I visited during my travels:
The Boat Shed – LOT 2 Cotton Tree Parade, Maroochydore QLD 4558 – Official Website
Brouhaha Brewery – 6/39 Coral Street, Maleny QLD – Official Website
Spice Bar – 123 Mooloolaba Esplanade, Mooloolaba QLD – Official Website
CK Coffee Bar & Wholefoods – 17 Brisbane Road, Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast QLD – Official Website
Three Blue Ducks – The Farm 11 Ewingsdale Road, Ewingsdale, Byron Bay NSW – Official Website
Fig Tree Restaurant And Rooms – 4 Sunrise Lane, Ewingsdale, Byron Bay NSW
Go Sea Kayaks Byron Bay – On the Park, opposite 56 Lawson Street, Byron Bay, NSW 2481 – Official Website
This trip was made possible with the support of Camplify, Destination NSW and Sunshine Coast Tourism.