Top 10 locals' guide to Sunshine Coast

When your whole being is craving a big serving of sunshine, with warm sand and surf on the side, the Sunshine Coast is always a good idea.

From July to October, Air New Zealand flies non-stop to Maroochydore airport on the Sunshine Coast. At all other times, Brisbane is your launch point. The drive from Brisbane airport to Sunshine Coast is easy (80 minutes to Caloundra; two hours to Noosa Heads) or you can catch a shuttle.

We talked to a bunch of locals to gather a collection of never-fail Sunshine Coast things to do and see. Some you might have heard of before; others are nuggets of local knowledge that will make your holiday extra special.

1. Paddle the Pumicestone Passage

Separating Bribie Island from the main land is a wondrous stretch of water called the Pumicestone Passage. It's sheltered and full of wildlife, so just perfect for exploration by paddleboard, kayak or canoe. The ultimate encounter here is meeting a dugong (manatee). These gentle, seagrass-grazing animals are up to three metres long and weigh as much as 450kg.

2. Giddy up at Rainbow Beach

Horse riding along Rainbow Beach is one of those mind-blowing life experiences that will be with you forever. It's all happening - awesome scenery, wind in your hair and the back-to-nature freedom of horseback riding. Even if you've never ridden a horse before, you can do this. Choose from a range of routes, including beach, country and full moon night rides.

3. Discover the Carlo Sand Blow

Wind and weather can do amazing things with sand, as you'll see at the Carlo Sand Blow - a moonscape of sand shapes at Rainbow Beach. From here you get spectacular views of towering coloured sand cliffs, Double Island Lighthouse and Inskip Peninsula. Any time's good for a visit, but at sunrise and sunset the landscape is especially impressive.

4. Rise early and get to Eumundi

Open every Saturday and Wednesday, the market at Eumundi buzzes with creativity, energy and friendliness. There's a lot going on here, so arrive early to make the most of the craft shopping, wellness products, yummy food and unique services, such as a relaxing shoulder massage or having a tarot card reading.

5. Watch whales in winter

Some of the brightest Sunshine Coast weather happens in winter and you won't need a wetsuit for swimming. What's more, winter is the season for spotting humpback whale families as they enjoy a holiday in the warm waters of Queensland. Mooloolaba's a particularly good place for whale watching because there are local companies who'll take you offshore for a closer look.

6. Socialise on M.V. Catalina

Every Noosa holiday deserves a river trip, so look for M.V. Catalina, a twin-hulled vessel that hosts floating events every week. You can buy tickets to Friday Night Social, Saturday Lunch on the water and Saltwater Sundays. The food is a highlight, along with just the right kind of music to suit the mood.

7. Follow the Great Beach Drive

To take the road less travelled you'll need to hire a 4WD, but it'll be totally worth it. The Great Beach Drive is an off-road beach experience from Noosa's north shore all the way to Rainbow Beach. The perfect add-on to this adventure is the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island. A vehicular ferry runs from Inskip Point at the northern end of Rainbow Beach.

8. Sip a perfect coffee in Noosa

Coffee is a Noosa Heads obsession. It can be hard to choose from the many options, but there are three stand-outs much loved by locals. Clandestino Roasters in Noosaville is great for a group; Padre Coffee is also is Noosaville - it's the place to see and be seen; and Costa Noosa at Sunshine Beach is a gorgeous spot for a long, slow coffee with reading material.

9. Have a beer and burger at Ricks Garage

Inland from Mooloolaba is the rural town of Palmwoods, where you'll find Ricks Garage - a retro diner for those who love a great burger and beer meal.  Ricks is kid-friendly and there's a large garden area, sometimes with live music. Check out the bar's top shelf and you'll see imports that are hard to find anywhere else in Australia.

10. Take a walk in the park

If you're staying within cooee of Noosa National Park, make sure you explore all the trails. The most popular walk is the track from Hastings Street to Hell's Gates and back, however there are many other routes to explore. If you get up early there's more chance of seeing wildlife on the hop - koalas, lace monitors and fairywrens live here, along with heaps of brush turkeys. Listen for the 'whip' of the whipbirds in the old forest near the park headquarters.

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