Coolum Beach: Seaside community starts to stir
There was always the thrill and apprehension of running along the narrow path, through the bushland and native grasses of the sand dunes.
What would it be like? Would it be the same as last year? Would the tides have changed the sand bars?
Those were my memories of our beach holidays as kids.
Days were spent from daylight to dark at the beach or watching the fishing boats come in and getting something from their catch to take back to the camp.
There was nothing quite like it.
There were always ice-cream cones to be enjoyed from the corner shop, games of cricket on the sand, a beachfront carnival to wonder at, and the picture theatre of a night.
Coolum Beach is still that sort of place.
For many years it has been regarded as the sleeping tiger of the Sunshine Coast.
It is stirring. New shops, holiday apartments, landscaping of the beachfront Esplanade.
Yet there is also the rusty tin and plywood behind the glass and concrete facades of some of the buildings.
The beachfront caravan park takes you back to those childhood days.
We are starting the next leg of our Sunshine Coastal Walk, about 100 kilometres from Noosa Head to Caloundra Head along the glorious beaches and footpath.
We started out in April 2020, just after the first Covid-19 lockdown in Queensland. We were allowed to travel now more than 50km so it was a matter of driving to the furthest point and making our way by foot – perhaps eight, 10, 12 or even 20 kilometres day then returning to the start point the next opportunity.
I had travelled this section of the Sunshine Coast countless times – from the road. So it was a different perspective this time – from the beach.
As well as looking at the ocean we were looking back at the coastline – the sand dunes, the cliffs, the estuaries of creeks and rivers.
This day we started at the caravan park, heading south to Yaroomba and Mount Coolum.
It is the place of legends.
Away to the south is Mudjimba Island, known locally as ‘Old Woman Island’, and which features prominently in the Dreamtime story of Coolum.
It is the site of many wonderful fisherman’s tales and its visible layers of soft, light-coloured sandstone date back to the Jurassic age (approximately 190 million years old).
Old Woman Island is just under five acres in size but perched less than two kilometres off the mainland it is visible along much of the coastline.
The island is also the subject of Indigenous legends.
Sunshine Coast Kabi Kabi elder Lyndon Davis explained one legend was about the battle of two men Ninderry and Coolum over a woman (Maroochy) with Ninderry knocking off Coolum’s head to form the island.
The flat-topped Mount Coolum sits seven kilometres north of Old Woman Island – due to the lack of a head.
Talking with long-time holiday-makers from the park, Coolum is very much what you see is what you get.
It’s the place everyone goes for a traditional beach holiday. One of the few where you can still camp on the foreshore, then pop across the road for a coffee.
It’s a place of fish’n’chips and ice creams, broad beaches and secluded coves.
Thongs and sarongs, singlets and t-shirts, board shorts and straw hats.
The Dan Murphy liquor supermarket and the pub are both across the road. The bowls club, just a few hundred metres from the sand dunes.
The surf club was designed by Ken Down, who drew on his sailing experience to keep it open to the elements and benefit from the aspect for natural breezes off the ocean.
The surf beach is patrolled either by professional lifeguards throughout the year or by volunteers from Surf Life Saving Australia’s Queensland branch.
The old weatherboard picture theatre has gone … and its canvas seats. It was a place where Jaffas could be rolled down the timber floorboards.
The site is now part of an expanded community centre, library and parkland linking residential areas with the shops and the beach.
The picture theatre, originally the school of arts hall, has been relocated to the industrial estate for use as a men’s shed.
Then there is the boardwalk that clings to the cliffs and opens the beachfront up to all … a forerunner of the future perhaps where public access is made for those not as mobile as they would like to be.
You can enjoy the dramatic views.
Yet there is the beauty of walking on the beach … a golden 16km arc stretching from Noosa Head in the north.
It doesn’t matter whether tide is in or out, there is always beach to walk on, and a place to swim or to surf.
The slope of the sand is gentle – not the deep drop-offs of beaches to the south of Mooloolaba.
Time your walk right and you can get all the way to Peregian for a coffee.
Heading in the other direction, the Coolum Beach Public Art Trail starts just to the north of the caravan park.
There are 11 featured works reflecting a diversity of artists, from community-initiated projects to artworks by internationally renowned artists.
The entire Art Trail is about a 3km round trip, which takes a couple of hours if you are to take it all in, grab some photos, stop to admire the views.
One of the works is by local artist Blair McNamara who is regarded as part of the paint work.
Blair regards Coolum as the best section of coastline on the Sunshine Coast, especially the stretch from Yaroomba to Yandina Rd.
The whole hill is a natural amphitheatre with remnants of littoral forest.
It’s a town caught between two cultures … Noosa with its natural appeal and Maroochy with its economic heart.
Originally the road in from Maroochydore was the David Low Way to Tanah St, then up Centenary Heights Rd.
Somers store was on the corner of Yandina Rd and the Esplanade.
Blair said there were several key facts about Coolum Beach, and none so significant as Mt Coolum, the world’s second largest rock behind Uluru.
The volcanic dome rises 208 metres above its surroundings and is one of the most important square kilometres in Australia with more than 700 types of plant life.
The old Toboggan Hill would run from Lows Lookout straight down to the bays. Today it is regarded as a dress circle of Coolum real estate.
The bays of Coolum and Pt Arkwright give everyone a chance to enjoy nature.
Pt Arkwright is one of best areas to observe the geological changes in the cliffs and to investigate the marine life in the rock pools.
Surrounded by Noosa National Park, Coolum is in the middle of nature.
You can experience amazing sunrises, sunsets and moon rises – there are not many other places like that.
The occasional encounters with wildlife are fewer these days – koalas in the laundry, snakes in the garage.
Even so, they cannot be fathomed by the texting teenager.