Caloundra’s reputation as a family-friendly seaside playground has recently been thrust into the spotlight. Taking out Queensland’s Top Tourism Town award for 2023, Caloundra was also crowned one of Australia’s top three tourism towns. Following this stellar success, the Caloundra Chamber of Commerce launched the six-month Uncover Caloundra tourism campaign last December to draw even more visitors from Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Townsville.

Caloundra Chamber CEO Brady Sullivan says the Uncover Caloundra campaign will ensure tourism providers can capitalise on the town’s increased profile.

“The chamber is excited to continue the momentum created with Caloundra’s recent award success,” he adds. “The future of Caloundra’s tourism industry is bright.”

And there’s no shortage of attractions to enjoy: pristine beaches, great surf, award-winning restaurants, a thriving retail trade, local markets, innovative craft breweries and a vibrant arts and events scene, including the annual Caloundra Music Festival held from late September to early October.

With all this in mind, I decide it’s time to rediscover Caloundra, a place I occasionally visited as a child on family holidays. Driving towards the coastline, I consider the region’s heritage. I recently learnt that the name Caloundra comes from the Gubbi Gubbi word ‘kal’owen’, or beech tree, and ‘dha’, meaning ‘place of beech tree’. Most of the original beech trees were logged out years ago, but the town remains a place of restfulness and rejuvenation, of gentle sea breezes, of sand dunes and salty air.

I begin my journey by exploring Bulcock Street, named after Robert Bulcock, a Brisbane-based seed and produce merchant who built the first house in the area, known as ‘The Homestead’, in 1878. These days, the street is a buzzing boutique strip peppered with retail outlets. I explore a treasure trove of eclectic fashion and accessories (including vintage), homewares and antiques, unique gifts, crystals, books and even preloved vinyl records – a visit to Red Door Records is a must for music enthusiasts.

Next, I head up to the Kings Beach Ocean Pool. On this warm, sunny day, the bathing spot is well patronised. Positioned on the foreshore, the 25-metre seawater pool features an easy stair entry, and there’s ample seating beneath shade sails if you’d prefer to simply relax with a book.

I wander down along the boardwalk (part of the Coastal Pathway network) that meanders from Kings to Bulcock Beach. Offshore, further to the south, lie Bribie and Moreton Islands. More immediately, I can see the water fountain and play park — the perfect spot for kids to cool off.

Kings is well known as Caloundra’s foodie hotspot, and there’s a plethora of quality beachside eateries one could visit, including Aurenda Coffee Co., Coffee Cat, De Lish Fish, Dom’s at Kings, Frocals, Harry’s Beach Bistro, Yeti Restaurant and Bar and the Pavilion Kiosk, located in a gorgeous heritage-listed building constructed in 1937.

But I circle back to Bulcock Street because a little birdie told me a divine little café lies tucked away off the main drag. I enter a quiet side street before pulling up outside a cute-as-a-button white building that houses Lamkin Laneway Espresso Bar. The café’s interior features splashes of nautical blue, while draping green vines add a funky touch. Spying the food bar, I’m struck by the prettiness of its presentation — goodies sprinkled with edible flowers, petite garnishes, and pastel-coloured icings and condiments. The all-day menu is extensive and includes plenty of vegetarian options. The service is friendly and swift. And the coffee? Fabulous!

Now in the mood for a cool treat, I make a beeline for Milano Gelateria. Located on Bulcock Street, this multi-award-winning gelato store is owned and operated by Franco and Camilla Negri, Italian immigrants who moved to Australia more than 20 years ago. I share a friendly chat with Camilla, who explains that she and Franco took a chance on settling in Caloundra in 2002, a decision they’ve never for a moment regretted. “We love the village feeling here and the variety of beaches that make Caloundra unique,” Camilla says.

Speaking of variety, Camilla tells me they regularly rotate around 100 flavours of gelato and dairy-free sorbet based on traditional recipes. “We make everything from scratch and our recipes are truly authentic. I’ve even had customers say the gelato here is better than what they’ve tasted in Italy.”

I’ve never been to Italy. Still, it would be remiss of me to depart the gelateria without completing due research. So many choices… so little time. Eventually, I settle on a combination of mango and chocol-oat sorbet, possibly the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.

Finally, I proceed up Canberra Terrace and visit the Caloundra lighthouses (the old and the new stand side-by-side). The lights mark the entry to Moreton Bay and the main shipping route into Brisbane, the North West Channel. The original lighthouse was built in 1896 and remains the oldest surviving Caloundra building. It was replaced by the new Signal Station, Light and Radar Installation in 1968. The Friends of Caloundra Lighthouses provide guided tours on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. Having a keen interest in lighthouse history, I make a mental note to book.

Gazing out to where the ocean meets the sky, it strikes me that the view is as enchanting as it is never-ending. If not for other duties, I could stay here for quite some time, drinking in the refreshing, peaceful, adventure-oriented vibe that is the essence of Caloundra’s soul.

Turning to leave, I make a deal with myself to soon return to this magical corner of the world, this one-time place of beech trees.