Instead of hitting the highway why not slow things down a notch and take the scenic route to the Sunshine Coast over seven days instead? Narelle Bouveng (@alittleatlarge) and her family (including adorable pup duo Tally and Spencer), share their journey and guide to the best places to stop, stay and play on the perfect family adventure to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Brisbane To Sunshine Coast
Best Time of the Year
Any time of year
Brisbane to Karoomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm
Distance 150km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Lavender with a Side of Cream
Starting early and with the luxury to wander, we punched Karoomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm into the sat nav and wound our way south-west from Brisbane via the fertile valleys and lush rolling hills of the Scenic Rim. In a little over an hour, we had reached the Fassifern Valley near Mount Alford just outside Boonah where orderly rows of lavender and vines had the kids eager to explore and the Karoomba Kitchen menu had me just as excit-ed after countless recommendations from foodie friends.
Our pups were welcomed warmly too, and after settling into the alfresco garden overlooking the wedding chapel with postcard perfect views over the Great Dividing Range, we brunched on lavender scones, a cheese platter (which the kids demolished) followed by homemade lavender ice-cream drizzled in berry coulis - because holidays! We returned to the campervan laden with sachets of dried lavender to place under our pillows, lavender pet soap for the pets, soy/lavender candles as gifts and a couple of bottles of the home grown rosé to pop in the fridge for later.
Stop - Karoomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm. Order - the lavender scones and ice-cream. Good to know: Pet friendly and plenty of room to park the van.
Karoomba Vineyard to Fernvale
Distance 275km - Driving Time 3 hours 40 minutes
Hit the Sunflower Highway
Heading west to Allora, where in season (Jan to March) the hills are awash with giant sunflowers, this little loop is known as Queensland’s ‘Sunflower Highway’ and it weaves through the Southern Downs presenting a not to be missed photo opportunity if you can get your timing right.
After a short scoot from the fields to Gatton and onward another 45 minutes we were stopping to eat yet again, but this time; famed Fernvale pies. With 160 different pie varieties, cakes, breads and pastries on offer at the Old Fernvale Bakery it can be quite a task to choose just one. Across the road is a lovely park for a picnic where the kids had a play and the pups had a run. We stayed close by in the campervan with the doors flung open so we could enjoy the sunshine but also eat our pies in peace at the camper's convenient dining table.
Stop - Old Fernvale Bakery, Fernvale. Order - Pies and a sweet treat for later. Play: Fernvale Memorial Park located opposite the bakery. Good to know - there are good, clean toilets at the park.
Yowie Country to Kilcoy
Distance 200km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 minutes
From Fernvale to Esk via sun-dappled roads with views of the verdant Brisbane Valley, we tracked beside both Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams so the kids got a chance to see where the water that Brisbane and Ipswich folk drink comes from. While neither dam is suitable as a stop with dogs, we passed plenty of picnic areas we’ll return to - but on this adventure, we travelled on to Kilcoy where we had made a date with a Yowie.
The kids were fascinated; a Yowie is said to be a giant hairy man who has been spotted in the Brisbane Valley region as far back as the1800’s. But after a visit to Yowie Park to check out a life-sized sculpture, the kids were not that keen to stay overnight as we had planned. Kilcoy is a supremely friendly RV friendly town with multiple camprervan parks and a campervan rest stop where self-contained vehicles can stay for up to 20 hours in Seib Street, but Instead, we carried on for another hour before reaching Maleny. The Glasshouse Mountains were gorgeous painted int the colours of sunset and The Maleny Showgrounds a perfect stop for the night, where for just $25 we nabbed a powered grass site on the oval and fired up the BBQ for dinner.
Stop & Play: Kilcoy Yowie Park. Good to know: while the Yowie is not designed to be scary, little kids (and pups) might think the chance of meeting him in person is, and if so, continue to Maleny, a further 55 km away.
Maleny to Imbil
Distance 50km - Driving Time 1 Hour
A tasting trail through the Sunshine Coast Hinterland
After a hearty breakfast at Shotgun Espresso in Maleny’s pretty main street kicked off our day, we wandered the local stores picking up some special treats for the pups and some delicious organic fruit and vegetables from the market. A swim at nearby Gardner Falls delighted the kids before we filled the fridge further at Maleny Cheese. If you like your sweets, the tarts they also make here are to die for. And after a drive past Barooon Dam and a stop to take the family-friendly walk to the lookout over Obi Obi Creek we stepped back in time at the charming Montville before dropping into Flame Hill Winery for lunch. They also do a great brunch if you are tracking any earlier and the cellar door is worth a stop into also if you are not the designated driver.
With our tummies more than full and the camper now resembling a local delicatessen, we headed towards Imbil via Kenilworth, without realising we were about to meet one of the world’s best doughnut shops. The line up right down the street in the tiny country town had us intrigued and while we planned to “just pop in for a look”, we ended up with a box loaded with 6 doughnuts, including a $20 iced doughnut the size of my face. The local challenge is to eat a 1kg cream-filled doughnut and if you conquer it, you get your name on a plate for the wall. Not for us though, we could barely breathe let alone eat any more. It’s definitely worth trying their worlds first “coffee in a doughnut” too and there is an incredible chocolate shop next door with an amazing rocky road that we took home for much, much later on.
After a stunning drive through the Mary Valley, we arrived at Borumba Deer Park with plenty of time to play with the adorably cute baby rescue deers that reside at the park before the kids went for a swim/rope swing in Yabba Creek.
Stop: Gardner Falls, Baroon Dam, Maleney and Montville main streets for shopping. Eat: Shotgun Espresso Maleny for Breakfast, Flame Hill Winery for Lunch or one of the cafes in charming Montville. Good to know: leave room for doughnuts at Kenilworth Bakery.
Imbil to Noosa
Distance 90km - Driving Time 1 hour 20 minutes
From the Hinterland to the Sea
Borumba Deer Park is a rare gem of a place and we easily filled two days with swimming, kayaking and deer petting, plus there was mini golf, a giant playground, fabulous camp kitchen complete with an entertainment area with festoon lighting that the kids used as a stage to perform at night for the parents and a generous off-leash area for the dogs.
We returned via Kenilworth as the lure of a second helping of those doughnuts proved too much, however, it gave us the chance to loop back to the coast via the famous Eumundi Markets for a fossick and then reach Noosa in time for lunch and a wander in Hastings Street before a walk in Noosa National Park. With 4 hours of free parking and spaces big enough to fit the van in Hastings Street (thank-you Noosa!), we popped our swimmers on, grabbed plenty of water and some snacks and after a short 10-minute walk, had reached the entry to Noosa National Park. Easily one of Australia’s most beautiful walks beside the sea and through a range of stunning vegetation. The Coastal Walk is just over 10km each way to Sunshine Beach, however, we decided to go just halfway and return for a swim at Tea Tree Bay, which is arguably the best beach in Noosa. We spotted koalas sleeping in the treetops, spied some dolphins playing on the waves and watched on as surfers caught wave after wave from the points. We made it back to the campervan within the 4 hours even with a mandatory stop at Massimo's Gelateria for a mango and coconut gelato.
While there are plenty of campervan parks in Noosa to choose from, we chose to drive 25 minutes north to Habitat Noosa, an eco-friendly campground sitting amidst 65 acres of native bushland on the shores of Lake Cootharaba for a change to the usual Noosa pace.
Stop: Kenilworth Bakery .Eat: Coffee in a Doughnut. Fossick: Eumundi Markets, Play: Noosa National Park. Good to Know: There are plenty of pet sitters in Noosa who will happily (for a fee) look after your pups as they are not permitted in the Noosa National Park.
Solar-powered campsites nestle beneath towering gumtrees where koalas are often spotted and eastern grey kangaroos graze and lazed alongside the vans. Sitting right inside the National Park we could not bring the dogs in, but the pet sitting service in Noosa was great, so the pups happily stayed a bit longer.
Lake Cootharaba is perfect for canoeing, boating and stand-up paddle-boarding with all water sports equipment available to hire from reception and tours of the nearby Noosa Everglades departing from the jetty at Habitat.
One of only two everglades in the world, the Canoe ’n' Cruise tour was an idyllic way to see and enjoy such a unique part of Australia. After a cruise across the lake, and learning over over 40% of Australia’s bird species can be found here, we jumped in the canoe to try to spot them. The true highlight however was kayaking through the River of Mirrors where the water is so still the trees on either side of the waterway along with the clouds above reflect like a mirror on its glassy surface. Morning tea at Harry’s Hut and lunch on our return at CootharaBAR (clever guys) is also provided as part of the cruise.
The campground has fabulous amenities, an on-site restaurant serving quality meals (or take-aways available to your campervan if you are too tired after all that canoeing) plus an Artesian Micro-brewery! We were so pleasantly surprised to find a brewery at a campground and celebrated by trying all eight beers and learning that the difference in the quality and taste is the water, which is sourced from the great sandy mass aquifer, said to be some of the purest water in the country. The beer is 100% natural, free of preservatives, additives or flavours. So cheers to that!
Play: Noosa Everglades. Eat: Fraser Island Crab Linguine at CootharaBAR and try the chocolate beer at Eco Brewing, both part of Habitat Noosa. Good To Know: Pets will need to stay with their sitters as Habitat sits inside the National Park.
Noosa to Beerwah
Distance 120km - Driving Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Reunited with our pets, we took the long way home heading back via the Sunshine Coast strip where we called into Sunshine Beach’s FOMO for a delicious breakfast of local fruit, coconut yogurt and local organic avo on toast before an invigorating splash in Serenity Falls at Buderim. The falls are an easy 900-metre walk in from the parking bay and one of the most picturesque spots to visit on the Sunshine Coast.
Looping back into Alexandra Headlands, the drive alongside the ocean is spectacular with sweeping views of the very best beaches the Sunshine Coast has to offer. For a double-sided view, take the family-friendly walk to Point Cartwright to see a backdrop of the uniquely shaped mountains that span the Sunshine Coast’s breathtaking panorama. After we grabbed some piping hot fish and chips at Caloundra and ate them enjoying the views over the ocean pools at Kings Beach we headed back west to Beerwah for some more forest bathing to add to our return route to Brisbane.
The free camp at Beerwah was our stop for the night and gave us another chance to see the Glasshouse Mountains change through myriads colours into night. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to Australia Zoo the following morning, which is located nearby.
Stay: Beerwah Free Camp, Eat: FOMO Sunshine Beach for Breakfast. Fish and Chips for lunch at Seafood Market @ CALOUNDRA, Play: Point Cartwright, walk to the lighthouse to view the ocean art on its base and spectacular 360-degree views of the Sunshine Coast. Good to know: A pet-friendly option for overnight if you prefer a powered site would be Golden Beach Holiday Park.
Beerwah to Brisbane
Distance 90km - Driving Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Deciding to continue on the back roads on our return to Brisbane via Caboolture rather than link with the highway (which you can still do easily from Beerwah), we were rewarded by passing masses of spiky pineapple fields fringing the base of the Glasshouse Mountains. Waraman may be one of Queensland’s lessor know beauty spots but it’s worth a wander through the fields in this area to see where more than 6.5 million plants span 10 farms. Pineapple season is February to November and from flowering to in-fruit, a great spot to grab some quintessential souvenir photos of your holiday in the Sunshine State.
We left the Sunshine Coast just after lunch, after the morning at Australia Zoo and a drive past the pineapple fields, however if you were not keen on visiting the zoo, you could also consider a return via Redcliffe to spend a little more time beside the sea and to enjoy a final serve of fish and chips overlooking Moreton Bay.
Stop: Waraman Pineapple Fields. Option: if you have extra time before the van is due back, return via Redcliffe .Good to know: On the way back to Eagle Farm stop at Sandgate Shorncliffe Boat Ramp dump point, fuel up at Nudgee and top up your gas bottle at BCF Morayfield.