Sunshine Coast hinterland a heaven in the hills

Feel on top of the world in the hinterland of Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Picture: Supplied
Feel on top of the world in the hinterland of Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Picture: Supplied

When Captain James Cook sailed up the east coast of Australia in 1770, he was so taken with the volcanic mountain range he encountered 1000 kilometres north of Botany Bay that he named it the Glass House Mountains - the shape of the peaks reminded him of glass furnaces back in his native Yorkshire.

For modern day explorers, the Glass House Mountains form the southern border of the Sunshine Coast, which stretches as far north as Rainbow Beach and west to the Conondale Range and Mary Valley.

Of course, Captain Cook wasn't the first to appreciate the region's crystal-clear waters, pristine beaches and near-perfect sub-tropical climate.

The water at Kawana Beach is crystal clear. Picture: Supplied

The water at Kawana Beach is crystal clear. Picture: Supplied

Long before the HMS Endeavour sailed past, the Indigenous Jinibara and Kabi Kabi peoples had appreciated the region's abundance and cultural significance; the Glass House Mountains feature prominently in their Dreaming stories.

According to the story, Mt Tibrogargan and Mt Beerwah - the highest of the mountains - are husband and wife, and the remaining mountains are their children.

Fearing an imminent flood, Tibrogargan gathered his children together to flee to safety, sending his eldest son, Coonowrin, back to help his pregnant mother. However, instead of protecting her, he fled, leaving Tibrogargan furious.

In a fit of rage, he chased down his son, beating him with a club and dislocating his neck, which is reflected in Mt Coonowrin's crooked peak.

Spend a day at beautiful Montville.

Spend a day at beautiful Montville.

The best way to view the mountains and cover the Aboriginal territory, as well as tread in the path of the 19th-century European colonialists who opened up the land to southerners, is to follow the Blackall Range Tourist Drive, one of the Australia's most spectacular drives.

The 55-kilometre trip takes you along the spine of the mountains, with phenomenal views down to the valleys and the coast. On a clear day, you can see as far as Bribie and Moreton islands, just off the coast.

Rising over 500 metres above sea level, in the Hinterland the air is cooler, the grass is greener and the local produce is fresh and tasty. There are plenty of appealing stops, including art galleries, wineries, cafes and restaurants, rainforest walks and markets.

There's even a traditional cheese factory where you can taste the cheeses that are being made right in front of you.

The Blackall Range was initially just a thoroughfare to the Gympie gold mines, but the rich volcanic soils, sub-tropical climate and vast agricultural potential encouraged the settlement of small villages which maintain their rustic charm today.

Go straight to the source at the Maleny Cheese Co. Picture: Supplied

Go straight to the source at the Maleny Cheese Co. Picture: Supplied

The Blackall Range drive starts in one of these towns, Landsborough, just a short drive from Sunshine Coast landmark Australia Zoo, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

As you head up the mountain range, you'll find scenic lookouts located throughout the journey, but one of the best is found near the first of the "three Ms" - Maleny, Montville and Mapleton.

A great starting point for capturing the magic of the region is Maleny Botanic Gardens & Bird World. It's the inspiration and passion of owner Frank Shipp, whose exquisite gardens are set against the magnificent backdrop that is Glass House Mountains.

With its multi-layered layout of waterfalls, ponds and colourful plantings, there are numerous idyllic spots to lay out a picnic rug and soak up the peace and serenity.

If you have children, the aviary provides a fascinating distraction with hundreds of colourful birds.

Maleny township is the perfect place to stock up on local produce - dairy products, especially cheese, are the premier attraction.

Try out the vast range of cheeses at the Maleny Food Co fromagerie, which also offers coffee, deli-style dining and to-die-for gelato and sorbet.

Dairy stay: Eumundi Dairy is a sanctuary in verdant Hinterland countryside. The 100-year-old farm has two self-contained, family-friendly holiday houses set in 2.5 ha of gardens and 24 ha of cattle fields, within reach of towns attractions and restaurants. See:

Fly: Go direct from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast with Virgin or Jetstar, or from Cairns with Alliance Airlines.

Drive: The Sunshine Coast is just over an hour's drive from Brisbane, and easily reached by motorway from New South Wales.

Travel advisory: Depending on when you wish to travel and from where, there may still be border restrictions. Please check guidelines for your state before departing.

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