As big as Australia is, Kiwi holiday makers have traditionally narrowed their view between Surfer's Paradise and Brisbane — when they should be looking a little further north to the Sunshine Coast.
New Zealanders have been flocking to the Gold Coast for generations, largely remaining blissfully unaware of the more calming and natural delights on the Sunshine Coast.
This is no gaudy strip of high-rise hotels, night clubs and children's fun parks, but an infinitely more beautiful stretch of Southern Queensland's most pristine beaches, countless surf spots, lush rain forests and world heritage parks.
Stretching from the coastal city of Caloundra up to the Great Sandy National Park, the Sunshine Coast is dotted with villages offering a wide range of accommodation, fresh local food and shopping — from the supreme luxury of Noosa, to the more family- and budget-friendly atmosphere of Mooloolaba.
I enjoyed a taste of both during a week-long stay in early February — an ideal time to avoid the peak holiday-season crowds and scorching height of summer.
Flying in to Brisbane, it's just a relaxing 90-minute drive to the coastal township of Mooloolaba, where I arrive at the Mantra Hotel — directly opposite the beach and surrounded by cafes, restaurants and shops.
The hotel has two pools and a sauna, and I was pleased to drop my bags in a tasteful and large one-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor, with sliding shutters offering shade and an impressive balcony view of the beach.
The large hot tub would appeal to many, but I only used the pool area to shower off the sand and sunblock from regular visits to the main swimming beach, just a short stroll down the boardwalk.
The beach itself is quintessentially Australian — golden sands and crystal clear water — but the unspoiled shoreline highlights the contrasts between the Sunshine Coast and other destinations I ragged on earlier: there are no towering buildings along the water, which means there are no unwanted shadows over beachgoers.
The waves are irresistible to keen swimmers but the main surfing spots are further north along the beach and over to Alexandra Headland, towards the neighbouring town centre of Maroochydore.
And while the natural surrounds are serene, Mooloolaba also has a distinct laidback charm that is quickly apparent in any interaction with locals or shop and restaurant staff. Everyone says g'day and people go about their business at a relaxed pace.
There is plenty on offer for kids — with the Sea Life Sunshine Coast Aquarium at hand, and Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo a short drive back down the highway — and the grown-ups can choose from charter fishing and other on-the-water options.
After enjoying four days of sun, surf, and relaxed meals at the Mooloolaba Surf Club, my itinerary took me 50 minutes' drive north to Noosa, where the comfort levels ramped up considerably.
I was excited to arrive at the Mantra French Quarter Hotel and realised like almost everything in Noosa, it's much fancier than the rest of the Sunshine Coast.
The hotel is at the end of the main premium shopping and dining promenade of Hastings St and the beach was just across the road, with the entrance to the stunning Noosa National Park just a short walk away.
Make the effort to get out of bed early and enjoy the sunrise while exploring the park's trails that lead to several more beautiful beaches and the Fairy Pools (natural tidal pools) — and keep an eye out above for koalas.
The main beach is one of the few along the eastern seaboard that faces north, ensuring a calm space for swimmers and the Noosa River leads to the tranquil mirrored waterways and sub-tropical surrounds of the Noosa Everglades.
I recommend embarking on a day-trip Discovery Group tour of the Everglades — the more adventurous can choose the "bar-b-canoe" experience that allows you to paddle along sections of the tea-tree-stained waters before stopping to enjoy a refreshing swim then lunch.
In the evening, treat yourself to a meal at any one of the many beach side eateries — Season Restaurant is a must-visit, where you can sample Mooloolaba Prawns at their best, amid a mouth-watering array of the best local seafood.
The only bad thing about visiting Noosa is having to leave, but the region is even more accessible for Kiwis during the winter months, with Air New Zealand flying direct to the Sunshine Coast several times a week. Even more reason to head on over.
COMING UP ON THE COAST...
Noosa Festival of Surfing
The world's largest surfing event by competitor numbers, the Noosa Festival of Surfing attracts hundreds of surfers from around the world every year — with plenty more coming along to watch the action and party on the sand. This year's festival has a focus on sustainability and features events, guest speakers and an Awareness Market. Although the human surfers will draw crowds, there's another group who attract more attention than anyone else — the furry, four-legged kind. That's right, there's a surfing dog championship — definitely not to be missed. noosafestivalofsurfing.com
Noosa Food and Wine Festival
Celebrate great Aussie tucker in one of the country's leading food destinations — Noosa. Taste your way through the events held in the beachfront tipi marquees and explore the Woods Wine and Produce Village at the end of Hastings St. A new addition to the event, the Village offers entertainment, spaces to relax and the chance to sample local produce, cheese and of course, wine from 30 wineries. You certainly won't leave hungry.
Sea n Sound Festival
A boutique blend of coastal lifestyle and local culture, this festival focuses on the best live music, local food and craft beer. Held in Mooloolaba at the Wharf Tavern's outdoor precinct, this year's diverse lineup of performers includes Paul Kelly, Kingswood, Hart and Pierce Brothers. In its fourth year, this festival is growing steadily and attracting visitors from afar — if the music isn't enough to convince you, the local brews and fresh seafood certainly will. seansound.com.au
The Wedding Crush
If you're after a wedding like no other, this could be the event for you. In August, more
than 100 couples will get married on Mooloolaba Beach in Australia's first-ever mass wedding — hey, it's one way to make history. Even if you're not quite ready to tie the knot, this event will certainly have to be seen to be believed — so pull up a beach chair and soak in all the love. theweddingcrush.com.au