Stephanie Holmes is the Herald's Deputy Travel Editor.

Sunshine Coast: Great outdoors

Stephanie Holmes has a whale of a time on the Sunshine Coast.
Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast. Photo / Visit Sunshine Coast
Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast. Photo / Visit Sunshine Coast

The mahogany tan Sean Connery sports in early Bond movies was brought to you courtesy of the Sunshine Coast. With first wife Diane Cilento, a Mooloolaba local, Connery could often be found on these golden sands in the 60s, perfecting that golden glow seen in films like Dr No, Goldfinger, and From Russia With Love.

If it was still safe to do so, I've no doubt it would be pretty easy to get a Connery-esque tan here - I'm visiting in mid-August and temperatures are already 24C. It seems unreal that this sun-baked, blue sky day is just four hours flying time from the damp grey Auckland I left behind. I'm sure there must have been some break in the rain at home over the weeks preceding my visit, but they were few and far between and my skin has been under wraps for what feels like months.

The warmth and light of Mooloolaba is a welcome shock to the system and I waste no time releasing my toes from their canvas prison for a quick dunk in the glistening Pacific Ocean - a chilly yet refreshing 21C.

The beach is within cooee of the Landmark Resort where I'm staying - from the balcony I get a 180-degree view of the horseshoe curve of the beach out to Point Cartwright, and around to the harbour where I am to board the boat that will take me to fulfil a longheld bucket-list dream.

Humpback whale mother and calf. Photo / Whale One Image
Humpback whale mother and calf. Photo / Whale One Image


It's humpback whale season and I'm heading out with local company Whale One on their brand new boat Wild One.

It's a 48-seater boat powered by four 350hp outboards, meaning we quickly zip out of the harbour into the open ocean.

Our skipper Wayne is passionate about what he does and you can tell he is hoping as much as his passengers that we will find whales today. The mighty mammals make their way up Queensland's coast from June to November, heading for warmer waters to birth and raise their young. Wayne tells us that it has already been a successful whale-watching week, with multiple sightings and whales getting incredibly close to the boat for a good look at the lucky punters.

Like an Oscar hopeful who is happy just to be nominated, I'm telling myself it's an honour just to be out on the water on this beautifully warm, sunny, winter's day, and that it doesn't matter if we see whales. But deep down, I'm desperate to spot something.

On the way from the airport, my transfer driver tells me people often spot whales from shore; just that morning in fact a pod had been spotted close to the Mooloolaba headland. I've been straining my eyes ever since, so far to no avail.

But on Wild One, it's less than 10 minutes before Wayne brings the high-speed boat to a stop and the tell-tale spouts of water rise up from the ocean in front of us.

It's a mother and calf - a rare find, Wayne tells us - and a boatful of awestruck onlookers snap happily with their cameras, phones and iPads, hoping to capture the moment they surface. It's a shame really - so busy trying to get the perfect shot, it's easy to miss the experience itself. I put my camera down for a while and just watch, entranced. While the mother stays mostly underwater, giving just small glimpses of sections of her muscular back, the calf is in a playful mood. He breaches and flukes his tail and flaps his pectoral fin, and I'm overwhelmed to see in person something I've only ever witnessed before on natural history documentaries.

The playful mood continues at the daily seal show at Sea Life Mooloolaba, a cousin to Auckland's Kelly Tarlton's. The seals here have all been rescued after being injured or unable to care for themselves out at sea. There's also a successful turtle rehabilitation-and-release programme; in the past year alone Sea Life has rescued more than 400 seals and turtles, and bred more than 5800 creatures, many of which are on display within the informative and entertaining centre.

For the adventurous, Sea Life offers cage-free shark diving experiences in the Ocean Tunnel. Those not willing to get their feet wet - or nibbled - can watch the human shark bait from below, coming face to fin with giant grouper, cuttlefish, tropical fish, turtles and eight species of sharks.

There are no sharks in the Noosa River, ferry skipper Brad assures me. It's too shallow apparently, so they can't make their way downstream. This is good news for my lesson with Noosa Stand Up Paddleboards as, judging by previous attempts, I'm more than likely to find myself in the water pretty soon - not on top of it.

Our expert instructor John, a big tree of a man, is endlessly patient with our group of varying ability, proving that anyone can SUP. Among us is a man in his 60s who has ongoing mobility issues after various joint-replacement surgeries, but soon, he too is standing up on his board and paddling confidently down the river. The sun on my back, the gentle breeze in my face, and the saltwater drying on my skin (yes, I fell in. Three times) make for a relaxing, good-for-the-soul Sunday afternoon.

Transferring to the Maison Noosa, my accommodation at Noosa Beach, it's tempting to lie on the soft sand and work on my Connery glow. But Sunshine Coast's active, healthy atmosphere is infectious so instead I head up the hill for a walk in Noosa National Park.

Just 15 minutes' walk from Noosa Main Beach, the park spans more than 4000ha, with a variety of walking tracks ranging from 45 minutes to four hours.

Noosa National Park, Sunshine Coast. Photo / Tourism Queensland Image
Noosa National Park, Sunshine Coast. Photo / Tourism Queensland Image


I take the coastal path, winding my way through native rainforest and shady trails, dotted with secluded bays, climbing steep paths to impressive vantage points.

Reaching Granite Bay, I follow the rocky track away from the main path and take a moment of solitude to look out across the Pacific Ocean.

I can't spot any whales from here, but I know they're out there. That's good enough for me.

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand flies non-stop from Auckland and Christchurch to Brisbane, and connections are available from all around New Zealand and with partner airline Virgin Australia on non-stop flights every week from Wellington, Dunedin and Queenstown. One-way Seat fares start from $259.

Con-x-ion Airport Transfers
Landmark Resort
Cnr Esplanade & Burnett St, Mooloolaba
Whale One
Shop 4, The Wharf Mooloolaba,
123 Parkyn Parade
Sea Life Mooloolaba
Parkyn Parade, Mooloolaba
Noosa Stand Up Paddle Board
172 Gympie Terrace, Noosaville
Maison Noosa
5 Hastings St, Noosa Heads

• For more information, visitsunshinecoast.com

- Spy.co.nz

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