Sharon Smallwood profiles one of SE Queensland's most memorable ports – Mooloolaba.
Mooloolaba is probably best known as one of the towns collectively comprising Queensland's Sunshine Coast. For the cruising sailor, it is not only the gateway to this region but a worthy boating destination in its own right. Relatively easy access, secure berthing, ample marine facilities and an enthusiastic yachting community are just some of the features Mooloolaba has to offer.
For the crew of Brilliant II, each visit is a memorable one. In fact, although our first stay some years ago spanned only hours, it still stands out in my mind. Cruising then in our Compass sloop, Orion, we arrived late at night. Julian steered us to a pre-arranged pen at the end of a finger belonging to the Mooloolaba Marina. We left at dawn, too early to pay fees in person. At 9am when my husband telephoned, credit card in hand, he received an unexpected response. “Did you use any electricity?” “No, but we filled up with water.” “Then we won't charge you. You were here for such a short time.” How many motels have you heard of where the proprietors are so generous?
Since that occasion we have returned to Mooloolaba more than once. Inevitably things have changed over time, but in essence the place is the same. Friendly locals, fantastic food, beautiful beaches and the relaxed atmosphere of a holiday location always welcome us in.
Entry to the Mooloolah River is as per the directions in Alan Lucas's Cruising the Coral Coast. After the excitement of crossing the Wide Bay bar farther north, or negotiating the Gold Coast Seaway to the south, the run in to Mooloolaba might seem tame by comparison. Rounding Point Cartwright in the dark on our most recent approach, we were aided by familiar flashing reds and greens, lighting a passageway into the boat harbour.
Upstream of the training walls, the Mooloolah River curves briefly before conforming to the geometric patterns of man-made canals. Looking at the exclusive waterfront homes, it's hard to believe this area was once a swamp. Private jetties, imported palms and impeccably manicured gardens front the houses of Minyama, reputedly Queensland's priciest suburb.
The residents of Aduluma Avenue have a north-facing view that takes in the Mooloolaba Marina. One of three in the vicinity, this marina is possibly the prettiest. To reach the office you follow a path over the grass verge, where picnic benches overlook the fingers through a curtain of palm fronds.
Wednesday dinners, arranged by the liveaboards, are a particularly nice touch. These social gatherings give cruisers the opportunity to meet while sampling the local fare. Perusing the list of venues for the month, I was sorry to be moving on. Pub grub one week, authentic Tibetan the next – maybe we could change our plans?
Unfortunately the one place where cruisers could not congregate was the adjacent yacht club, at least when we were last there. This remained closed indefinitely while arguments over the lease were battled out in the courts. The general feeling among locals regarding this state of affairs was one of sadness. It is certainly a perfect spot for a sundowner or two and would doubtless enjoy great patronage.
For a berth in the heart of town, you couldn't get much closer to the action than at the Wharf Marina. Farther upstream than its larger neighbour and at the opposing end of Parkyn Parade, this establishment is virtually part of the wharf complex. Shops, restaurants, a tavern and bottle shop are all within easy reach. Fuel is bowsered at a pontoon beside the tavern's beer garden, which makes filling up a rather public affair. On the positive side, there's usually no shortage of volunteers when it comes to taking lines.
Opposite the wharf precinct are Under Water World and Scuba World, the latter responsible for arranging shark dives at the former. Also on the Sunshine Coast is Australia Zoo, home of the late Steve Irwin. Steve's boat, Whale One, operates out of Mooloolaba during the annual humpback migration. In the inimitable style of Australia's favourite crocodile hunter, a slogan on the hull reads “Whales Rule”.
Between the Wharf Marina and Minyama Island, an invisible line marks the eastern boundary of Mooloolaba's boat harbour. Beyond this is the official anchoring zone, frequented twice by Brilliant II. Though the Mooloolaba Marina declares itself pet-friendly, we prefer whenever possible, not to incarcerate the ship's cats, Pepe and Carlos. Space inside the anchorage is often tight and depths are reasonably shallow, but it's a small price to pay for our felines' freedom. Dinghy landing is feasible at a little beach to seaward of the Wharf Tavern. Alternatively tenders can be tethered to the public wharf, although time restrictions apply. The public wharf is located between the Mooloolaba Marina and resident coastguard premises.
Living aboard in the Mooloolah River is prohibited, except within the confines of commercial marinas. However, the rules state that, “Boats entering Sunshine Coast waters while on a genuine coastal or international voyage are able to be used for living aboard for up to 10 consecutive days if taking shelter from adverse weather or making urgent repairs.” Do headwinds constitute adverse weather? I hope so.
Repairs and reprovisioninig
As for repairs, Lawries Boat Services is arguably the place to call, where shipwrights, engineers, marine electricians and riggers are based. This maritime institution is located at the end of a pleasant potter down the Kawana Waters Canal. Lawries Marina (now Kawana Waters Marina) is popular with long-term cruisers, and it isn't hard to see why. An agreeable atmosphere, very reasonable rates, haul-out facilities and close proximity to Kawana Shopping World have an undeniable appeal. The shopping centre boasts Woolworths and Bi-Lo supermarkets as well as all the usual outlets found in most mega malls.
Reprovisioning the galley is a task best saved until last in Mooloolaba thanks to the proliferation of excellent venues for dining ashore. At the wharf “See” and “Spagalinis” serve upmarket cuisine with a seafood bias. Numerous cafés and restaurants line the esplanade running parallel with Mooloolaba Beach. Especially noteworthy here is “Augellos,” a national award-winning pizzeria. On River Esplanade, the tiny “Thai Seasons” deserves a mention. Plastic tables and chairs spill into the adjacent yard each night. Main meals are mostly at the lower end of the $10-$15 bracket and the portions are substantial. This place is consistently packed, but the food is worth waiting for.
Thanks to the presence of a large commercial fishing fleet, seafood in Mooloolaba is fresh, tasty and inexpensive. The trawlers and longliners are based downstream of the Mooloolaba Marina, conveniently close to a selection of fishmongers. Tucking into ocean bream on our last visit, we were entertained by the sight of huge marlin being delivered by forklift. The chance to buy uncooked Moreton Bay bugs persuaded me to re-open our galley for one night. Julian's barbecued bugs, drizzled with garlic butter, rival anything on offer elsewhere.
Free hotplates and picnic benches provided by the council encourage informal outdoor meals and get-togethers. These are found along the length of the Mooloolaba spit and beach, where views northward follow the Maroochy coast up to Noosa Heads. The beach itself is always a lively spot and perfect for people-watching. Families with children play on the sand, or frolic in the waters of the shallows. I felt exhausted just looking at the joggers, and the frenetic paddling of competing surf lifesavers – now that's energetic!
Mooloolaba is particularly proud of this last group, celebrated in artistic form at the surf club. A sculpted mural at the entrance entitled “A passage of time” commemorates 75 years of surf-lifesaving history on the Sunshine Coast. Inside partially clad life-size mannequins are suspended from the ceiling in various athletic poses. Old photographs and a wooden lifeboat complete the quirky décor, enhanced by the natural light of strong Queensland sun streaming in through the open veranda.
Looking out to sea at the yachts rounding buoys, I was reminded that Mooloolaba's spirit of competition extends also to sailing. The Sydney to Mooloolaba yacht race is a popular annual event. The Sunshine Coast Sailing Academy advertises participation in races and sailing adventures as well as its RYA courses. In the month of August maxi yachts are a familiar sight on their way up to Hamilton Island. During our last visit the Sunshine Coast Cruising Yacht Club was inviting members, guests and visitors to join in a fun fortnightly sail and barbecue, scheduled for alternate Sundays.
If it's a break from the ocean you're after, then hiring a car allows for exploration of the hinterland. Attractions such as the Eumundi markets, Glass House Mountains and Noosa National Park are all only a short drive away. Be warned that in among the natural beauty sprouts Australia's “Big Pineapple,” one of a series of the country's “big” things. .
With our sights now set on tropical horizons for the foreseeable future, I have no idea when we will next return to Mooloolaba by boat, or indeed how it might change by then. This wistful thought was soon replaced with a smile – at least in the meantime I have plenty to remember it by.