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The town of Mooloolaba in Queensland, Australia, has more visitors than residents, and writer Erica Wheadon tells us why this spot with a river on one side and an ocean on the other is so special.
Text and photos: Erica Wheadon
Country: Australia

ooloolaba is undoubtedly the Sunshine Coast’s best kept secret. Only one hour north of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, Mooloolaba is uniquely positioned on a spit between the Mooloolah River and the Pacific Ocean, and away from the bustle of nearby Maroochydore, and Caloundra, the Sunshine Coast’s central business districts.

Famous for its fresh local seafood and oceanarium, as well as its extensive shopping and dining esplanade, visitors to Mooloolaba enjoy a mild climate year-round, and a record average of seven hours of sunshine a day—even during the winter months— ensuring that beaches can be enjoyed, no matter the season.

Mooloolaba may not have the population and prestige of Noosa, or the amenities of Kawana —but it’s a small price to pay for a little slice of paradise. As I kick back under the shady fronds of a Casuarina equisetifolia (a type of Australian pine tree commonly found along the coastline), with fresh-caught prawns in one hand and a cold beer in the other, I know that it truly doesn’t get any better than this.

History

Mooloolaba was originally known as Mooloolah Heads, named after the same river that winds its way from the eastern slopes of the Blackall Range, flowing east-northeast to the mouth of the river and out to the Coral Sea. It’s thought that the name derives from the aboriginal word ‘mulu’ (snapper fish) or ‘mullu’ (red-bellied black snake), both of which are known to the region.

In the early 1860s, a timber -cutting depot was established at the mouth of the Mooloolah River, as well as a wharf which shipped timber to Brisbane sawmills. The river was also the primary source of transportation for European settlers looking to make their home in the hinterland. Mooloolaba’s population grew from a mere 233 in 1911 to approximately 7,500 in 2017, attracting more visitors every year than permanent residents.

Marina & Wharf / Sea Life

Situated on two distinctly different waterfronts, surf and still water, Mooloolaba boasts the best of both worlds with an international-standard marina which is the gateway to the Mooloolaba-to- Auckland and Mooloolaba-to- Sydney yacht races. Just up from the marina are the fish markets—home to the famous Mooloolaba prawns. Unlike locally farmed prawns, they are wild-caught in the deep waters north of Moreton Bay and enjoyed Australia-wide. All seafood sold at the markets is caught daily and sold fresh off the wharf.

The Mooloolaba wharf, once harkening back to Queensland colonisation, is now home to a plethora of restaurants and bars, which serve fresh local seafood to visitors year-round. The wharf is most famously known for the Sea Life Oceanarium (formerly known as ‘Underwater World’—a title still affectionately used by locals), which has a 260-foot shark tunnel and the world’s largest marine, land, and migratory crab species. With over eight species of sharks (including the critically endangered grey nurse shark), visitors can experience a close encounter with some of the ocean’s most awe-inspiring creatures. The oceanarium also features the Tidal Touchpool, Seahorse Sanctuary, and Seal Island, where visitors can touch and learn about life under the sea. Sea Life also has an extensive conservation program which actively works to protect endangered and protected species of marine life.

If walking through a tunnel doesn’t satisfy your thirst for adventure, there are plenty of other ways you can get up close and personal with Sunshine Coast marine life. Sunreef Mooloolaba offer a range of exciting dives to some of the region’s local reefs. There are over 25 sites to explore, from Mudjimba Island, Fairyland, caves, Wobby Rock, Pinnacles and more. Sunreef also offer tours out to Flinders Reef, hailed as one of the most beautiful dive sites in the state and famous for its abundance of green sea turtles as well as the highest number of coral species in a sub-tropical reef system on the east coast. The most exciting dive site, however, is the Ex-HMAS Brisbane, a decommissioned guided missile destroyer that lies approximately 9km from the mouth of the Mooloolah River, now turned into a unique marine conservation park. This world-class dive site is quickly gaining a reputation as one of Australia’s premiere wreck dive destinations, with an artificial reef now with 200 species of fish. If you’re not into diving, Sunreef also organise unforgettable whale-watching tours, where participants can swim with the ocean giants in a safe and controlled environment.

Mooloolaba Beaches

Currently rated at #8 on the coveted Top 25 Beaches in Australia list on TripAdvisor, Mooloolaba Beach is a haven for surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers who are looking to escape the crowds and soak up the sun in a little more seclusion. Expansive white sands and sparkling sapphire waters are the jewel in the crown of this unspoilt paradise, whether you are strolling along the beach, learning to surf or fossicking for starfish, sea cucumbers, and crabs in the natural rock pools at low tide.

The Spit Parkland offers a kilometre of sealed walking and cycling track through natural gardens, overhanging foliage and shady trees, and a calm-water beach with unparalleled views over Mooloolaba.

The coastline is dotted with parks and barbeque areas, and popular with picnickers, holiday makers and wedding parties.

Every year in March, this tiny beach town comes to life as two of the biggest local athletic events take centre stage.The Mooloolaba Swim Festival offers two long-course ocean swim competitions — a challenging 2.5km point-to-point swim from Alexandra Headland to Mooloolaba on the Saturday and the popular Mooloolaba Mile on Sunday, followed by a range of junior and family events for all ages. Several weeks later, the Mooloolaba Triathlon is held with thousands of triathletes travelling from around the country to swim, ride, and run their way to triathlon glory.

Mooloolaba Lifestyle

The Mooloolaba Esplanade is an up market enclave of boutique stores, offering a range of unique local labels with a trademark east-coast vibe. Visitors can take in breathtaking views while shopping up a storm, and peruse a stunning selection of clothing, accessories, and collectables that they won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Not only a great place to grab a family-sized pack of fish and chips or a yummy ice-cream, the Mooloolaba Esplanade also has a range of world-class restaurants, cafes, and bars and comes alive at night when the trees sparkle with fairy lights and beachy jar candles adorn al fresco tables full of chatty diners and live performers.

From wood-fired pizza topped with fresh local seafood, to modern Asian cuisine, from classic American offerings to innovative five-star fare, Mooloolaba is a food-lovers paradise, with something for everyone.

Loo with a View

With a nod to cheeky Australian charm, Mooloolaba’s aptly named ‘Loo with a View’ is a quirky icon which takes pride of place on the beach side of the popular esplanade. As the name suggests, it is a public toilet, shower, and change facility with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. A popular meeting place, the ‘Loo’ is not only a convenient facility, close to beaches and restaurants, it’s also home to a community drum circle, fire twirling, markets, pop-up bars and beach-side gatherings, including the annual Cinema in the Sand event, and New Year’s Eve fireworks. It’s also a popular place for photographers who gather on the viewing deck to capture indescribable views at sunrise and sunset.

Information box

● Long before European settlement, Mooloolaba was the home of the Gubbi Gubbi (Kabi Kabi) Aboriginal people, the majority of whom were forcibly removed from the region between 1880 and 1920. Today the culture is being kept alive by a small group dedicated to keeping the stories, traditions, and the spirit of the Gubbi Gubbi people alive.

● Mooloolaba is bounded by the Mooloolah River to the south, and the Coral Sea to the east. A large fleet of fishing vessels sits at the mouth of the river, and the harbour is the northern base for pilot vessels that control shipping through the Port of Brisbane and Moreton Bay.

● In 2016, Sweet Lips, a local Mooloolaba ice creamery, claimed a world record for the biggest parfait on the planet. It contained approximately 30 litres of ice cream, 4 litres of custard, 2kg of watermelon, 1.5kg of mixed fruit, 2kg of mixed berries, 1kg of biscuit base, 1kg of pavlova, 24 Cherry Ripe candy bars, 7 pineapples, 11 oranges, and 40 cans of whipped cream. Whoa!

● Mooloolaba is the fourth town mentioned in the Australian rendition of the famous song ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ originally written and by Geoff Mack and released by country singer Lucky Starr in 1962. The song has gone on to international acclaim and has since been rewritten for North America, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Ireland.

Diane Cilento, an Australian actress who hailed from Mooloolaba, married Sean Connery (aka James Bond) in the late 1960s. The couple lived in the small beach town during the 1970s and were well known to the locals.




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Sweet Slice of Paradise on the Sunshine Coast


Mooloolaba is undoubtedly the Sunshine Coast 's best kept secret. It is one hour north of Brisbane in Queensland Australia and is located on a spit between the Mooloolah River and the Pacific Ocean. It has a mild climate year-round, with an average of seven hours of sunshine a day, even during the winter months.

The Moololaba wharf is home to a plethora of restaurants and bars where visitors can enjoy the fresh local seafood all year. The wharf is also famous for the Sea Life Oceanarium, which has a 260-foot shark tunnel and the world's largest marine, land, and migratory crab species. It also features the Tidal Touchpool, Seahorse Sanctuary, and Seal Island, where visitors can touch and learn about life under the sea.

For more adventure you can go diving at some of the region's local reefs. There are over 25 sites to explore including Flinders Reef, one of the most beautiful dive sites with an abundance of green sea turtles or the Ex-HMAS Brisbane, a decommissioned guided missile destroyer.

If you prefer the beach, Mooloolaba Beach, with its expansive white sands and sparkling sapphire waters is a haven for surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers who want to escape the crowds and soak up the sun in more seclusion. Or you can visit Spit Parkland for a stroll or a bike-ride through its natural gardens. The coastline is also dotted with parks and barbeque areas.

Finally there is the Mooloolaba Esplanade, an upmarket enclave for your dining and shopping pleasure. You can take in the breathtaking views while perusing a stunning selection of clothing, accessories, and collectables. And end your day dining at one of the fabulous world-class restaurants that offer everything from wood-fired pizza topped with fresh local seafood, to modern Asian cuisine, from classic American offerings to innovative five-star fare.

Don't miss out on Mooloolaba, a unique place with something for everyone!

 

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