Enjoy a sun-drenched escape to the beachy pleasures of Mooloolaba, where the lavish array of culinary treats warrant a trip alone, writes Mike Yardley.
Blessed by the gods with a seemingly endless sweep of sun-soaked ivory sand beaches, the Sunshine Coast sets the stage for languid, stress-free holiday bliss. The tempo is leisurely and laid-back and the platter of holiday offerings is piled high. With a plethora of alluring beachside hot-spots strung along the 100 kilometre-long coastal sweep, I plumped for Mooloolaba. Rimmed with a wide stretch of soft ivory sand and sparkling sea, Mooloolaba Beach consistently ranks as one of Australia’s best beaches. Through a fortuitous quirk of nature, it’s one of the few East Coast beaches that actually faces north, amplifying its appeal with calm, warm ocean water, all-year round.
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the authentic beach spirit is to mix with the locals, over a meal or drinks, at the well-priced and family-friendly Surf Club in Mooloolaba. Beautifully designed with panoramic windows, framed by surfboards, you could not get a better ringside view on the perky beach scene. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Boathouse Restaurant in the Surf Club is showered with awards for its delicious contemporary Australian cuisine. The seafood paella is a major house favourite.
Fringing the beach and festooned in fairy-lights, The Esplanade’s eye-catching spunk and glamour is radiantly manifest by the swag of colourful cafes, juice bars, alfresco restaurants and fashion boutiques, lining the street. The Esplanade also boasts a much talked-about public toilet with in-built views across the Pacific surf – the loo with a view! I loved strolling along the boardwalk above the foreshore, wrapped around Mooloolaba Beach, where loved-up couples canoodle on rocky nooks, while fitness fanatics blithely breeze by. Walk all the way to the towering promontory of Alexandra Headland, which pays tribute to the HMAS Brisbane. The warship was decommissioned and sunk in 2005 and its funnels are just below the surface of the water, now playing host as a wildly popular dive site. A major multi-million dollar foreshore redevelopment, currently underway, will increase public beachfront parkland by 40% and enhance family-friendly facilities.
In addition to profusion of good eats strung along the esplanade, Mooloolaba’s culinary script is being exuberantly rewritten at The Wharf, which has undergone a revitalising facelift. One of the latest heroes to join the parade is Spero, the brainchild of Sunshine Coast restaurateur Tony Kelly, who has produced of highly decorated eateries restaurants over the years. Unmistakably Greek, Spero feels like it’s been scooped up direct from the Aegean, with a salivating menu of calamari, lamb moussaka, gyros, pork belly baklava and spanakopita. Then there’s more elaborate ding delights like confit lamb shoulder with a pomegranate glaze, tzatziki, lemon potatoes and olive oil.
Also in Tony Kelly’s stable at The Wharf, the fiendishly popular Rice Boi. Projecting the essence of a Japanese izakaya dive bar, Rice Boi is a celebration of Asian street-style food. Bao fans go crazy over their duck, pork and chicken sumo loaded buns, alongside their delicious dumplings and their incredible curries.
Eager for something more substantial? You can’t go wrong with the chicken karaage ramen in roast chicken broth with baby corn, egg, nori, spring onion, bamboo and naruto. In deference to the heaving demand, Rice Boi has expanded, with a second-storey addition. The Upstairs Bar features the full menu, alongside wicked cocktails, live gigs and dreamy views of the Mooloolah River.
Speaking of cocktails, Boston Shaker is an evocative, vivacious little haunt that’s cultivated a firm-following on The Wharf. The velvety interior exudes a sophisticated art deco-inspired ethos, with live music performed way bast Cinderella’s curfew. A brand-spanking new opening at The Wharf is the iconic Prawn Star restaurant.
A dining landmark in Cairns, Prawn Star has just branched out, with two restored fishing trawlers permanently moored at The Wharf, serving wild-caught, sustainably-sourced seafood, cooked onboard. On the menu are large platters that can be shared by one to six people and offerings include prawns, bugs, crayfish, oysters and salmon sashimi.
Neptune’s bounty doesn’t get much more mouth-watering than Mooloolaba king prawns, prized by chefs for their texture and flavour. I gorged on the critters at another alluring venue at The Wharf, See Restaurant. They were Coconut crumbed Mooloolaba king prawns with Peruvian salsa and a sticky house chilli glaze. Wow. Boasting over-water dining, this sophisticated yet relaxed fine diner boasts unrivalled views of the pristine blue waters.
Chef Antonio Puelma’s innovative approach to modern Australian fare is so expressive, with a strong focus on combining fresh local seafood with unexpected flavours – like my prawns. Clever meets the classics. Try his crispy fried soft-shell crab with smoked garlic aioli and spicy plum glaze. Another winning selection – his macadamia-crumbed barramundi with sage butter potatoes, snow peas and fried cherry tomatoes. Sensational. Leave room for this dessert – Amaretto panna cotta with salted almond soil and agave glaze.
I scooted around the shoreline from Mooloolaba to neighbouring Maroochydore, where’s there’s a lot of buzz about their hi-tech new urban centre. It’s home to Market Bistro, just over a year old, but fast fostering a red-hot reputation. It’s a local fave for its house-made pasta, wide selection of dry-aged meats and export quality local seafood. Already scooping awards, this quintessential European-style bistro is a haven of air-conditioned calm, with its own bottle shop, faultless service, and rather generous portions of uncomplicated fare.
I started with an entrée of spanner crab “Mornay” with confit garlic, bechamel and herbed crumb. My main was the house-made Tortelloni with confit duck leg, porcini mushroom and parmesan. Magnifico. Somehow, I cleared some belly room for a decadent dessert of Pavlova roulade with lemon curd and blueberries. A flavour-bomb tour de force. Make tracks for Market Bistro.
For a complete change of scenery, soak up the gleaming Mooloolaba coastline onboard an Adventure Rafting Action Ride. Jump aboard this custom-built vessel, which was originally designed for the Australian Border Force, and turn things up a notch blasting along Mooloolaba’s big blue. It’s like the ocean equivalent to a jet boat ride, with high speeds and thrills aplenty, courtesy of its 350 horsepower RIB.
With its unparalleled manoeuvring capabilities, the ride includes a brief visit to Mudjimba Island where some local marine life pops by to say G’day. Bottlenose Dolphins and turtles are regulars in these waters, but you might luck in and even spot humpback whales at this time of year. Brendan and the experienced team of skippers provide a highly entertaining and informative commentary from go to wo. Strap yourself in for a riveting ride! https://adventurerafting.com.au/
Back on terra firma, I was so close to the beach, I could almost feel the sand between my toes, as the sea breeze wafted in. The magnificent Mantra Mooloolaba Beach is on the ocean’s doorstep, adjoining the Esplanade’s hospitality enticements. Standing over 200 feet high, this hospitality landmark is the Sunshine Coast’s tallest building. From the sublime rooftop viewing deck and its 360 perspectives, drink in a dreamy sunset, or watch Mooloolaba light up as the sun pokes its head above the ocean. All accommodation options feature a private balcony, stylish décor, air-con, a kitchenette or fully equipped kitchen, a dining setting and personal laundry facilities.
My incredibly spacious one bedroom ocean view apartment sported a slew of creature comforts including a fabulous lounge area with cable TV, free WiFi and best of all – an in-room spa bath with giant windows facing out to the glorious beachfront and ocean. Mantra Mooloolaba boasts a wealth of facilities including an indoor and outdoor pool, cinema room and excellent fitness centre. An extra-nice touch that no doubt appeals to Aussies as much as Kiwis, is the BBQ facilities available to use DIY-style, including one on that spectacular roof-top deck. Off-street undercover complimentary car parking is a plus, while the hotel staff were highly outgoing and helpful. Mantra Mooloolaba ticks all the boxes with a ringside seat on the oceanfront. www.mantrahotels.com
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With a superb year-round climate, escape to the Sunshine Coast to experience contemporary beach culture, lush and soothing rainforest encounters, charismatic Hinterland villages and unforgettable dining. From the sublime Glasshouse Mountains to the wide-open ivory beaches, relax and recharge your senses on the Sunshine Coast. www.visitsunshinecoast.com
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