You know I love Aussie place names (see My kind of place name, December 2010). Some are obviously appealing: others are more of a mystery but with a certain draw – Broken Hill, Eight Mile Plains, Arnhem Land, Innisfail. Yet others you've heard many times before, and you've no idea what the places are like but there's something just a tad unpalatable or disconcerting about the name when you pronounce it. Maroochydore is one such. And Caloundra...
Now I learn – too late in my Australian education – that there is a song, 'I've Been Everywhere', made popular in 1962 by a man named Lucky Starr. Basically, he sings lists of Australian towns, albeit so fast you can hardly catch any of them (just like 'The Auctioneer'). Maroochydore is sixth in the list in verse one. So I need not have studied so many maps: I could just have listened to this song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UAh7ogwAYQ.
On the way back from Mapleton at Easter, I decided we should take a look at places on the Sunshine Coast that we've often heard of but never visited, including Maroochydore and Caloundra. These places lie north of Bribie Island and south of Noosa. We took the Nambour road and then headed to Mudjimba and the Sunshine Motorway, which isn't one. We came across this along the way.
When we visited Noosa in the summer, we didn't 'do' all the eastern beaches, so first up on our infilling tour was Peregian (pronounced Per-ridge-n) Beach, 12km south of Noosa Heads. It's a small seaside town that seems to consist mainly of a modern shopping precinct, most of which was closed up on Easter Monday/Anzac Day, even though the place was buzzing. We took our coffees and walked along the beach, the first time I've ever done that in my life. I've obviously led a sheltered life too far away from the coast.
A lot of effort is being made to protect the dunes at the back of the beach and encourage the growth of Horse Tail She-oaks (part of the Casuarina family), whose roots help to stabilize the dune sands. These trees don't mind salty onshore winds and they shield other native plants behind them.
Peregian alone wasn't good enough for me, and we had to go a bit further north to Marcus Beach. Considered to be a suburb of Noosa, this quiet little place with its lovely beach is unfortunately named after a property developer, whom I won't flatter.
At Coolum Beach we drove straight through town and along the Esplanade. The main drag is a bit too Gold Coasty for me: it could have been any of a number of places with too many fast-food outlets, tacky shops and bars. I didn't look for the 'budding cafe society' that Lonely Planet describes, but maybe I should have. Just past the headland on the south side, however, is a much nicer little cove, although right at its back is the busy David Low Way.
Next stop was Maroochydore, which was a pleasant surprise. It's not on the coast for a start, but at the mouth of the wide South Maroochy River. There's lots of green along the river and places to picnic, fish or chill.
The town is a commercial and retail centre, and it's big on surfing. We tried to eat our lunch on the beach but a huge black cloud poured cold water on that idea.
Maroochydore segues into Alexandra Head, Alex to its friends, and then Mooloolaba, which also has a splendid beach and lovely waterfront houses with moorings on the Mooloola River.
Across the Mooloola River from the eastern end of Mooloolaba Beach, and at the northern end of Buddina Beach, is the Beacon Lighthouse at Point Cartwright. This was one of the delights of the day: glorious long views down Buddina Beach towards Caloundra; ospreys wheeling above us and then retreating to the light-top to eat their catch; and shiny sparkling views up the coast to Mt Coolum.
And then, finally, to Caloundra, at the southern end of the Sunshine Coast and just north of the tip of Bribie Island. It sits on a sticky-out bit of land, around which are several fine beaches (the main one is Kings). We headed right into town and Bulcock Beach (named after a Brisbane politician). By now it was well past teatime, but we found a cafe still serving on the waterfront at the head of Pumicestone Passage, the thin sliver of water separating Bribie from the mainland. We sat and watched mesmeric kite-surfers dipping and diving. I liked the feel of Caloundra: for some inexplicable reason I was reminded of Venice.
The sun was going down rapidly, and it was time to head back to Brisbane. As we joined the Bruce Highway from Caloundra, it reminded me of hitting the M6 at junction 19 on our way home from a weekend in Manchester: that is, very slowly, if not stop-start. But every cloud... and as we crawled in the direction of Brisbane, it was the opportunity to appreciate once more the irresistible outline of a Glass House Mountain against a sunset sky.