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Wandering into Sunshine Coast wonderland

spring 12

IT IS ALMOST CORNY, so perfect is the scene that plays out.
A pod of dolphin surfaces and dips, peeking at the handful of lucky bystanders on the Moffat Beach shore on the Sunshine Coast.
Half a dozen grey bodies of different sizes punctuate sea and sky, animating the landscape.  
The small audience watches, agog and amazed that they are here at this moment and in this place. 
If I had not seen it myself, I would never have believed it happened at all.
The unscripted dolphin show is a poetic end to a walk along part of the Caloundra Coastal Walk that skirts the coastline from Buddina to Golden Beach.
Its continuous 25 kilometres takes in beach and dune, hill and valley, mansions and empty spaces, all on a clearly laid out footpath.
It is a walk that I love, and since discovering it a couple of years ago, I explore its sections as often as time and weather will allow.
It explores a part of the Sunshine Coast which has beauty and variety that are, simply, food for my soul.
Today I am showing it off to my guests, a retired couple from England who are keen to sample the elements and taste the treasures of the Sunshine Coast that might not feature in internet searches and tourist brochures. 
Today, she shines like justice.
Although I have run along the track before, and explored larger pieces of it on other days, today we vow to savour it slowly, consciously enjoy each piece and explore each nuance. 
We are far from alone, but a world away from our space being crowded. People and pooches are out and about as we are, enjoying the sunshine.
We are a rag-tag collection of activity levels and ages, from high-speed runners to doddering wanderers. But there is room for everyone. 

We start at Tooway Creek, which forms a kind of visual edge to the beach front at Moffat.

The waves on Moffat Beach are small today, the breeze light and everything is washed clean by recent rain.
We leave behind Eleanor Shipley Park, with its happy little people who squeal and run as their bigger carers look on.
Our legs burn a little as we march up the steep Moffat Headland, but the sight of the sun on the sea keeps our heads high.
Thousands of photos have been taken from vantage points that lead to the headland itself, but the endlessness of the sea and sky are striking when seen in person.
We pause at a tribute to the survivors of the Queen of Colonies disaster that marks the path.
That death and fear visited this beautiful place in the 1860s is a reminder that Mother Nature can be as brutal as she can be kind.
I am glad to have caught her in a particularly good mood today.
Pioneers of the Sunshine Coast surfing culture Ma and Pa Bendall are honoured on the headland, too.
The local surfing legends of the 1950s and 1960s were renowned for their love of the wave and encouraging others to dip their feet in foamy water.
They are credited with drawing locals into this newfangled, nature-based activity.
The half-a-dozen bodies who are prone on their boards today, lying in wait for the long line waves off the headland are living out the Bendalls’ passion.
Whales pass by and are visible from Moffat Headland as they make their annual trips to and from Antarctica.
Crisp, pretty sailboats play as they pass in their owners’ pursuit of pleasure; cargo ships lumber by, serious in their need to keep to commercial timetables.
To stand and see it all from the headland is to watch what goes on over the edge, in the great beyond and beyond the confines of solid earth.
We pause and enjoy the parade. 
The walkway hangs for a time across the top of the headland, past lucky residents of old fibro homes and new unit blocks, then it descends and the path sweeps back from the beach, tucking behind dunes and low-lying scrub.
The view switches 180 degrees, and we gaze on homes that are as beautiful as man can make.
Generously proportioned and perfectly positioned, they sit up high to greet the ocean with a face of glass and timber deck.
We feel privileged to be able to saunter in the space between prime real estate and the edge of the world.
Shelly Beach’s arms encircle the warm sand that crouches between Moffat Headland and ancient rock shelves and pools that separate her from busy, shiny Kings Beach.
Like Moffat, the beach is unpatrolled, but Des Dwyer parkland is perfect for picnicking and it is easy to lose hours poking around the Shelly Beach rocks.
Indentations and cracks in the rocks look like lines on giant hands, on which water and wind have written their stories over eons.
Crabs scramble and fish zip at the sight of us, our curious, peering faces scaring them into watery shadows.
It is remarkable that the tiniest pool is enough to harbour essential minutiae of marine life.
Some rock poolers see octopus and sea snake, but we are not so lucky today.
The headland at Caloundra is officially called Wickham Point, named after and by the explorer who charted it, Captain John Wickham.
It is generous and leafy, and the path that traces it is lined with the names of those who served in war to defend the freedoms held dear by those who were to follow them.
The listed battlefields are sobering and seem so far from this pretty place: New Guinea, the Pacific, France, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq.
One family, the Fullers, have plaques that mention three brothers – Roy, Alf and Ben – who all fought in World War II and survived into their old age.
Their names lie side-by-side with dignity on a pathway in the region they lived in. That some families gave so much so that we might enjoy a blue-sky day in a free nation is a sobering thought.
An eagle shrieks overhead, welcoming us into Kings Beach. The waterpark is empty, but a few brave swimmers bob on this coolish day between the flags.
Kings is grand, showy and popular – buildings of all kinds climb over this grandad of the area, and he has a lap large enough for them all to clamber for prime position.   
The choices for a coffee break abound. Our legs are keen for a little respite.
We order takeaway coffees and sip them at a table with out faces pointed to the vast, untamed ocean. 
Caffeine and deep, pure joy fuel us up for a rather brisker walk back to Moffat.
The curtain is about to go up on the unscripted dolphin show.
Life doesn’t get much better than this.
  • The rock shelf at Shelly Beach is a world in itself. Teeming with sea life, at low tide its pools feature up to 20 different marine species and interesting rock formations that just beg to be explored. Just tread carefully, as the mossy rocks can be slippery. And keep an eye on the tide so as not to look up from your visual exploration to find yourself cut off from the beach.
  • A boat ramp between Shelly and Kings Beach is easily accessible and a quiet, prime spot for fishing and snorkelling. Keep an eye open for approaching boat trailers.
  • Birds abound along the pathway. We counted at least a dozen species on our walk, from the majestic sea eagle to the comical ibis. The songs, with all manner of tone and lilt, make quite a soundtrack to walk to.
  • On days when the rolling surf is taking a breather, conditions in the Moffat Beach bay are perfect for having a go at stand-up paddle boarding and the perfect launch spot for sea kayaking.
  • Dogs run off-leash at Moffat and Shelly from 4pm to 8pm. It is a dog lover’s paradise and whole communities of canines (and their owners) gather for water and sand play.
  • Toilet blocks are located at each of the beaches along the way. There is also a multitude of barbecues scattered about, including on the Caloundra headland, and picnic tables galore.        
  • The Sunshine Coast beachfront and inland to the mountains was the traditional home of the Undambi people before European settlement in the 1860s.
  • The headlands at Caloundra and Moffat were very sacred to the Undambi and were considered dreaming areas.
  • Engravings on the rock shelves adjoining the Moffat, Shelly and Kings Beach areas were visible until the 1930s. They featured footprints of dingos, emus, birds, kangaroos and humans.
  • The belief that Australia would be invaded by enemy forces at Caloundra was so great that from May to August 1942, Australia was defended at Wickham Point, Caloundra by the 2/27 BN AIF.
  • An American radar training school was set up in Caloundra in 1943. Many local houses were commandeered by the American forces army for their servicemen to be trained before deployment to fight in Asia and the Pacific.
  • During World War II, the beaches and dunes were barricaded with barbed wire. Machine gun posts were situated at each end of Kings Beach and a 25lb gun emplacement faced out to sea behind the surf club building.
  • The fear of war was rooted in reality. In the dead of night on May 14, 1943, a Japanese submarine torpedoed the hospital ship Centaur off the coast of Caloundra, killing 268 men and women. Its remains where it was found in December 2009 about one nautical mile from its last known co-ordinates. It is protected by the government and will lie undisturbed as a mark of respect to the dead.
  • A replica of words carved into a pandanus tree is found on the Moffat headland portion of the path. On the first of five voyages between the UK and Queensland in the 1860s, a woman died in childbirth on board Queen of Colonies and some volunteers on a lifeboat brought her body ashore for burial. A violent squall then prevented them from returning to the boat, and the captain decided to head for Brisbane and send a rescue party from there. Fourteen days later, survivors were found, starving and sunburnt in the then-uninhabited area. Some, fearing imminent death, had carved “Queen of Colonies” into a pandanus tree, and included their initials below it.
  • Ma and Pa Bendall were pioneering, late-starter surfers who lived at and loved Moffat Headland. In the 1960s, Pa was the world’s oldest competitive surfer and vied for honours in well-known surf spots including Hawaii. They were well known for encouraging others to have a go at surfing and a competition bearing their name takes place at Moffat each year, attracting surfers from around the country.
  • Captain John Wickham, who charted the northern portion of Moreton Bay in 1847, named the headland at Caloundra Wickham Point. 
words jane fynes-clinton photos claire plush

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