I'll be honest, on our visit to Sunshine Coast, Queensland, we stayed in a three-bedroom apartment with a balcony adjoining a heated pool. Our kids literally ate breakfast in their togs then jumped into the water and climbed out again only when it was time for lunch.

Tropical weather and a great place to swim would have been enough to keep all six of us happy, but it's not the sort of thing that sells travel magazines so in your interests, dear reader, I dragged everyone into the car each afternoon to go and explore the area.

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Here's some of the cool stuff we found:


Remembering Steve Irwin at Australia Zoo

The Crocodile Hunter may be no longer, but his legacy survives at Australia Zoo, a wonderful showcase for the country's peculiar and charismatic fauna. We visited in peak heat, peak season but from the moment we arrived everything was easy – a crack team of uniformed staff ran everything like a ballet, from car parking to snake petting and with plenty of shade and room to move there was no sign of the school-holiday fluster.

Steve Irwin and his family feature prominently in the park's marketing, but it's the day-to-day workers who really impress, adding a personal warmth to the close-up animal encounters and a whole lot of energy to the live crocodile show, a daily stadium event that is worth factoring into your visit.

Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Image / Supplied
Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Image / Supplied

Berry picking at Coolola Berry Farm

It may sound a little quaint but an afternoon at Cooloola Berry Farm is a great way to change up the pace and experience the Sunshine Coast's rural idyll.

On Sundays, they put on a paella and live music, and while you drink a strawberry cider, the kids get to explore a working farm, climb some trees and kick a football around. Go berry picking if you can be bothered, or just grab a punnet from the fridge along with an icecream too big for any normal human to finish.


Ride the Mary Valley Rattler steam locomotive

Nearby is the Mary Valley Rattler, a lovingly restored steam locomotive that takes you through an incredible, lush part of Queensland. The trip is town to town with a decent stop for lunch, although if your timing is good you might catch the new, occasional food service, which showcases the produce and producers of the region.

The Rattler leaves from Gympie, an historic town also worth exploring if you have the time.


Ride the Mary Valley Rattler steam locomotive. Image / Supplied
Ride the Mary Valley Rattler steam locomotive. Image / Supplied

Discover underwater wildlife at SeaLife

There is plenty of science but also a little magic at SeaLife, an underwater wildlife adventure in downtown Moolloolaba. Although the seal show main event is predictably impressive, you might find the image that remains with you is a simple glowing jellyfish tank, or one of the other subtly beautiful minor exhibits.

There are some huge sharks in the underwater tunnel and for a small extra charge you can go behind the scenes, learning about how all those fish are fed (for one thing) and, if you're lucky as we were, getting eyeballed by the biggest shark in the tank as he breaks the surface to see you close up.

On busy days, arrive about 45 minutes early to get your seat for the seals, and for SeaLife itself book online to shorten your wait time at the door.

Try the quirky Ginger Factory theme park

One of Sunshine Coast's quirkier destinations is the Ginger Factory – a working industrial plant with a small theme park built around it.

The factory itself is a major supplier of ginger products to the world – you can see it in action on a behind-the-scenes tour – and it has inspired a fun, family-friendly park where you can take a train ride, wander through the forest, see a working beehive up close and – a must - go boating with Overboard, their answer to Disney's It's a Small World.

Entry to the Ginger Factory is free with a small charge for rides.

Spot a sperm whale

Whale watching may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of this part of the world, but Australia's east coast is a major highway for the beautiful creatures – so much so that Sunreef Mooloolaba offers a 100 per cent guarantee that you will see a whale on your trip.

The whole set up is very slick, with half a dozen brilliant cabin staff darting round at all times to serve you drinks, point your camera in the right direction and, if necessary, help if you start feeling seasick.

As promised, we found our quarry and enjoyed an hour or two of following a decent sized sperm whale and her calf alternately diving down then, every few minutes or so, breaching for air.

At one point a hammerhead shark cruised past the boat and for the eagle-eyed there were also other marine curiosities.

This is really one of those experiences best enjoyed with your own eyes than on an iPhone screen – there's something special about seeing a massive mammal lolling about on the surface just a couple of hundred metres from the boat.

Seeing that same dark shape a few days later on the video you took? Well, you had to be there.