Water, water everywhere and not a drop above 60 degrees (15C). That pretty much summed up the dilemma I faced arriving in south Queensland in the heart of the Australian winter. There were no shortage of palm trees, which was promising, and day-time temperatures verged on t-shirt weather. But only those in wet-suits and the hardiest vacationing teenagers were going anywhere near the ocean, and this in an area that fancies itself something of a year-round ocean playground.
So, with my water sports plans dashed, I turned inland and explored the state from the shoreline up. Fortunately, this part of the country (Sunshine Coast) is awash in parks, and it didn’t take me long to find some spectacular locations where I could get out and stretch my legs. The Glass House Mountains are 11 hardened volcanic outcrops that rise dramatically above the Queensland landscape. I found a well-marked 2-mile trail (one way) up the 800 foot Mt. Ngungun that provided spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding environment, including the striking Mt. Tibrogargan and Mt. Berwah. Further north, a three-mile circuit through Kondalilla National Park took me deep into Queensland’s subtropical rainforest, down a steep gorge, then up to a swimming hole at the top of the 270-foot Kondalilla Falls (water temp also around 60 degrees). Without much looking I stumbled across a vast sand dune that crosses the 60-mile Cooloola Great Walk in Great Sandy National Park. Even the beaches themselves were great places to stroll as long as you stayed clear of the bone-chilling surf.
I was staying in the town of Coolum Beach, a small seaside town about 70 miles north of Brisbane. Not much of note here, but it had a great waterfront and was home to Little Lane Espresso, voted one of the best coffee shops on the Sunshine Coast. I had no argument with that assessment — I fueled up every morning at the inconspicuous little cafe, whose proprietor Yotam Ottolenghi daily greeted me with a friendly Turkish smile, delicious Mediterranean breakfast, and great flat white (coffee). That wasn’t before I somehow convinced myself to climb Mt. Coolum the four mornings I was in town. With my internal clock stuck somewhere between Hawaii and Fiji time zones, and an early morning dip out of the question, climbing the 700-foot Mt. Coolum seemed like the best way to while away the hours before Little Lane opened up. A couple miles south of Coolum Beach, the volcanic dome is rich in botanical diversity and has great views up and down the Sunshine Coast. Despite the darkness and near freezing temperatures I was never alone, and the rising sun always marked the start of a substantial warming trend. It didn’t have much effect on local water temperatures but it was enough to keep me exploring the diverse and always fascinating Queensland interior.