The essentials backpackers’ guide to the Sunshine Coast
Ripe with pristine beaches, gorgeous hinterland, and bountiful food and wine regions, the Sunshine Coast is the perfect base for every kind of backpacking adventure. Whether you’re chasing adventure in unspoiled natural wonders or looking to reconnect and recharge on the sand, this is the essential backpackers guide to the Sunshine Coast and will get you set for the experience of a lifetime.
WHERE TO STAY
The Sunshine Coast is home to a mix of quality hostels, backpacker and flashpacker resorts, camping options and holiday parks suitable for everyone from families to the budget-conscious single traveller.
The lure of Noosa’s unique take on laid-back luxury is hard to resist, and unsurprisingly it’s the biggest Sunshine Coast hub for backpackers seeking sun, stunning beaches and a bustling local food and bar scene. For accommodation, try Nomads Noosa, Noosa Flashpackers, Dolphins Beach House, Halse Lodge (set in a heritage-listed 1880s house, which sits a short 100 metres from the beach), Chillout Noosa and Noosa Backpackers for affordable shared accommodation in a mixture of lodges, bunk and resort-style rooms.
If you want to be in the heart of one of the Sunshine Coast’s most vibrant areas, Beach Hostel Mooloolaba is right in the thick of it. Just a short walk to the beach and the strip of cafes, restaurants and boutiques, the backpackers has great amenities and inclusions like free breakfast, free, reliable WiFi and free surfboard and stand-up paddle board hire. Much-loved surf beaches Alexandra Headlands and Maroochydore Beach are also close by.
Others to check out include Caloundra Backpackers, Maroochydore Backpackers Hostel and Suncoast Backpackers Lodge.
Want a truly unique Sunshine Coast experience? Skip a roof in favour of the stars and pitch a tent in one of the many campgrounds or holiday parks dotted along the coast.
Keep these tips in mind when looking for backpacker friendly accommodation on the Sunshine Coast:
- Proximity is key. Find a spot that’s within walking distance of the beach and local amenities.
- Check your hostels complimentary inclusions. Most hostels offer a free breakfast, WIFI, use of computers, courtesy buses, and hire of watersports equipment, like stand-up paddle boards.
- Do your research. Websites dedicated to reviewing accommodation like TripAdvisor and Hostelworld are great places to get a feel for honest feedback from like-minded travellers.
WHERE TO PLAY
The Sunshine Coast is not short on natural beauty and things to do, but nothing quite beats relaxing on the beach and taking in some of the coast’s glorious namesake sunshine.
You’ll have to fight for a space to lay your towel at hotspots like Kings Beach, Mooloolaba Beach and Noosa Main Beach but if you venture to others like Coolum, Peregian and Sunrise at the northern end of the coast, and Shelly, Moffat and Dicky Beaches at the southern, then you’re sure to find a spot to call your own.
When you’ve had your fill of sunbathing there’s nothing quite like taking to the water. Learn to surf at one the coast’s best surf schools, or grab a paddle and find your centre stand-up paddleboarding (or SUPing). The placid waters of Maroochy River in Cotton Tree and Noosa Sound are ideal for learning and most of the hostels, including Flashpackers Noosa, Beach Hostel Mooloolaba and Halse Lodge, offer free surfboards, boogie boards, and SUP boards to their guests.
Want more? Here’s our guide to the Sunshine Coast’s best secret beaches.
The Sunshine Coast’s stunning national parks offer visitors a chance to reconnect with nature and catch a glimpse of the region’s diverse wildlife. This outdoor wonderland is home to waterfalls, mountains, secret swimming holes, biologically-blessed waterways and more than a few beach and bush walking trails (don’t forget to look up in Noosa National Park for the chance to spot dozing koalas).
Sunshine Coast Hinterland
Pack a hat and head for the hills to explore the Sunshine Coast hinterland in all its glory.
There are some lesser-known spots you should check out while you’re out this way, too.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Quick and Healthy Eats
The Sunshine Coast’s cafe scene has a well-earned reputation for delicious, fresh food served with a side of coastal charm.
If you’re eating out on a budget, plenty of Sunshine Coast restaurants, cafes and pubs put on meal deals and happy hours for set days and hours of the week. And with plenty of budget friendly vegan and vegetarian options popping up, there’s no reason to skimp on health while you’re travelling.
On the hunt for vege-focused cafes? You’ll want to visit Noosa’s Jungle & Co – Australia’s first gut-health cafe; Elixibar in Maroochydore, a plant-based restaurant and boutique herbal bar; organic and vegetarian Greenhouse Cafe in Caloundra; and locally sourced Raw + Rice poke restaurant, with venues in Noosa, Mooloolaba and Caloundra.
For cheap eats with a side of local flavour, Your Mates Brewhouse in Warana has a $20 beer and parmigiana special; Umami Ramen is an authentic, no-frills ramen restaurant where nothing on the menu will break a $20; Embassy XO in Sunshine Beach has a $9 beer and bao offer in its wine bar; and famous Noosa establishment Miss Moneypenny’s offers a bottomless brunch on Sundays, and half-price bar bites and pizzas on weekday afternoons.
Markets and shopping
Thanks to the Sunshine Coast’s ideal climate and geography – fertile volcanic soil and humid weather – farmers markets brimming with local produce are everywhere. Caloundra, Kawana, Peregian, Noosa and Maroochydore are all home to regular farmers markets – a great place to track down the freshest fruit and vegetables. Kawana Farmers Markets are on every Saturday morning, while Noosa Farmers Markets and Fishermans Road Markets in Maroochydore pop up every Sunday morning.
One of the Sunshine Coast’s most iconic markets, Eumundi Markets is also great for finding fresh fruit and vegetables and picking up locally made souvenirs from artisans who call the area home. Head along every Wednesday and Saturday to explore.
Bars and pubs
The Sunshine Coast comes alive at night, with a thriving live music scene, pubs, cocktail bars, and boutique breweries.
Whether you’re looking to enjoy a cocktail in the sea breeze or kick back in a beer garden with the locals, there’s a Sunshine Coast bar for every type of traveller. Raise a glass in the festoon-lit courtyard of Paradise Arcade in Noosa Heads; enjoy the views from the waterfront beer garden at Rice Boi in Mooloolaba; find a spot in the astro-turfed beer garden of the much-loved Village Bicycle in Noosa Heads; and take in the waves with a cocktail in hand at Kings Beach Bar in Caloundra.
The Sunshine Coast is also home to a growing craft beer scene, with unique boutique breweries popping up all over. Boiling Pot Brewing Co. in Noosaville; Your Mates Brewing Co. in Warana, and Brouhaha Brewery in Maleny are local favourites.
Looking to give back while on your Sunshine Coast escape? There are plenty of volunteering and paid opportunities available for travellers keen to do their bit in the region. Volunteering is also a great excuse to meet the locals and see more of the beautiful countryside.
- The Volunteering Sunshine Coast website is a great place to start. You’ll find short and longer-term opportunities from local not-for-profits and businesses.
- Want a real Sunshine Coast farm-life experience? Try your hand at WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). There are many opportunities to work on local organic farms (minimum of 4-6 hours per day) in exchange for room and board. To apply, you’ll need to be a member of the Australians WWOOF network but you can join online or a WWOOF “host” can help you join, giving you access to the app and associated resources.
- On the hunt for paid work? Online forums like Backpackers Jobs Board, the Australian government’s Jobactive site, Fruit Picking Australia site and Fruit Picking Jobs Australia (on Facebook) are free resources to start your job search.
- Adventure Queensland’s Jobs page which links to a number of sites geared towards working holiday/seasonal jobs throughout the state.
- Ask at your hostel. Most of the hostels (like Beach Hostel Mooloolaba) have connections with local farmers and can recommend where to look for seasonal work like fruit picking and farm work.
Keen to keep exploring? Here are 20 almost free things to do on the Sunshine Coast.