Natural wonders of Sunshine Coast

When you think 'Sunshine Coast', surf beaches immediately spring to mind.

However waves and warm sand are only part of the story. Beyond the surfing strip that runs from Peregian Beach to the Noosa National Park is a lost world of lakes, waterways and wetlands. Move even further inland and you'll discover a lush hinterland of forested hills, nature reserves, waterfalls and hiking trails.

The Pumicestone Passage to Coolum

Stretching from Deception Bay in the south to Caloundra in the north, Pumicestone Passage is one of the most important bird and marine habitats on the east coast of Australia. A great way to explore the area is by kayak, paddleboard or canoe. There's the potential to see bottlenose dolphins, osprey, sea eagles and various kinds of wading birds. But the big prize here is a glimpse of a dugong, the world’s only marine mammal herbivore. Up to three metres long and weighing as much as 450kg, dugongs live in the Pumicestone Passage all year round.

Further up the coast near Mooloolaba is Point Cartwright, a soulful place to walk and wonder. It's also a great viewpoint for spotting humpback whales and turtles. Flanked on one side by the ocean and the other side by the Mooloolah River, Point Cartwright has a lighthouse, a beautiful headland reserve and views that extend all the way to Caloundra.

The upper reaches of the everglade system is called 'The River of Mirrors', because the reflections are so picture-perfect.

A more strenuous, but hugely rewarding, nature experience is the hike up dome-shaped Mount Coolum, which is at the centre of a small national park. Like the Glass House Mountains, this peak is a volcanic plug formed many millions of years ago. The panorama from the summit takes in Point Cartwright and the Glass House Mountains to the south, the Blackall Range to the west, and Noosa Heads to the north. Stupendous!

Kondalilla National Park

If you find yourself in Eumundi, after a frisky time at the markets, face west and contemplate the hills. Up there is a touring route sprinkled with pretty towns and mini national parks that are just begging to be explored.

Kondalilla Falls, Sunshine Coast, Australia.

First up is the Mapleton Falls National Park. There's an easy loop track here called the Wompoo Circuit. As well as big views of Mapleton Falls and the Obi Obi Valley, this walk is a chance to listen for the wompoo fruit dove. Its call sounds something like 'book a roo'.

Further on is Kondalilla National Park, home of a spectacular waterfall that drops 90 metres into a rainforest valley. You'll need up to three hours to walk the circuit, which takes you past rock pools and immense views to a pretty picnic area. If it's hot, you can take a dip at the falls. Unless you love stairs, anti-clockwise is the best direction.

The Noosa Everglades

Behind the gloss and glamour of Noosa Heads is a peaceful world of calm lakes, wetlands, banksia woodlands and river tributaries - the Noosa Everglades. Some experts reckon it's the only true everglade system outside Florida.

Linking it all together is the Noosa River, a 60km aquatic corridor that runs from its source within the Great Sandy National Park all the way to Noosa Heads. The upper reaches are called ‘The River of Mirrors', because the reflections are so picture-perfect.

While it's easy to catch a boat cruise to discover this watery paradise, the most satisfying way to explore is by canoe or kayak. You can slide silently along in a way that won't disturb the wildlife. There's a good chance you'll see fish, frogs and a variety of water birds. Don't forget to look up for circling sea eagles.

Whether you want to join a guided tour or strike out on your own with bare boat hire, Boreen Point is the place to start.

Rainbow Beach

Between Fraser Island and the Great Sandy National Park is Rainbow Beach, an idyllic destination for eco-tourists and anyone who wants to get in touch with their wild side. It's called Rainbow Beach because of its coloured sands - up to 70 different shades, best seen when the cliffs are wet. Make sure you visit the Carlo Sand Blow. The view from the top takes in Double Island Point, Tin Can Bay and the coloured sands. Do it at sunset and you'll be struck dumb with wonder.

Horse riding is the best thing to do here, and it doesn't matter if you've never thrown your leg over a steed before. Imagine yourself in slow motion galloping along the sand, wind in your hair, seafoam around your horse's hoofs and sheer joy in your heart. If you want an even bigger experience, you can book a day ride in the country that includes riding up Mt Goomboorian. Koalas, platypus, kangaroos, echidnas and emus are regularly seen on longer rides.