Like most parts of the coastal strip in our beautiful region, the beachside suburbs of Caloundra get crowded in summer. Daytrippers and visitors flock to the beach to join the many locals who are hanging out in and around the water. Hunting for a car park and successfully claiming your slice of sand or a picnic table is a lottery you don’t always win.

However, if you visit the southern Sunshine Coast location in autumn, when the water is still warm and the streets and beaches are much less crowded, you’ll be rewarded. Whether you head down to Kings or Moffs, Dicky or Bulcock, Shelly or Golden Beach, there’s much to love about Caloundra’s beachside settlements.

Caloundra, like much of the Sunshine Coast, sits on Gubbi Gubbi country. The Sunshine Coast Council states that the name Caloundra comes from words in the Gubbi Gubbi dialect that mean ‘place of beech tree’ and by 1865, the few white visitors to the region were using the name Caloundra when referencing this part of the region. However, many years before this, Europeans were naming landmarks in the Caloundra area. In the late 1700s, Matthews Flinders named the passage Pumicestone River. Captain John C Wickham named Caloundra’s headland Wickham Point in 1847, and, famously, cyclonic squalls marooned 13 men from their ship Queen of the Colonies in April 1863 at present-day Moffat Beach – Queen of Colonies Parade now runs from the beach to the headland.

The first Europeans who chose to live in Caloundra came in the 1870s. Robert Bulcock erected the first house in 1878 (it was called The Homestead and was built at present-day Bulcock Beach). Thomas John Ballinger, Samuel Leach and James C Moffat all established homes in the area in early 1880s. The SS Dicky ran aground in 1893 (giving Dicky Beach its name). In 1912 The Landsborough Shire Council was formed to administer the southern Sunshine Coast, which included Caloundra.

From 1939 to 1945, many soldiers set up camp in Caloundra, when the area was restricted to the Australian Defence Force and American Army. In the decades since, its popularity as a seaside escape has grown and grown.

Nowadays, however, many residents of the central and northern parts of the Coast rarely if ever visit the suburbs south of Currimundi Lake. I think they are missing out because Caloundra has a lot going for it – not least of all a stunning coastline that rewards at every turn. You just can’t take a bad photo around here.

Need proof? Let’s start at Dicky and work our way down.

When you drive into Dicky Beach, on your left you’ll slide past the Dicky Beach Family Holiday Park. This caravan park is packed during school holidays and over summer, but once school goes back, many caravans leave, the traffic thins out on Beerburrum Street and the suburb gets a lot quieter. It’s much easier to get a park in the beachside car park behind the skate bowl. Dicky has a lovely little strip of cafes and restaurants, plus a pharmacy, general store (where you can get your post-swim Paddle Pop) and bakery. The Dicky Beach Surf Club, where you can order a decent pizza, chicken parmi or tender calamari, is also nearby. Not that long ago, photographers would gather at the beach every day at sunrise to get their own shot of the much-photographed Dicky wreck. The skeleton of the old ship rose out of the sand near the surf club, but it was badly eroded and in 2015 the council removed the exposed pieces for conservation. However, Dicky Beach is still a very pretty spot for a morning walk.

After leaving Dicky, drive south over Tooway Lake, then hang a left at the Moffat Beach Motel and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Moffs. Known for Moffat Beach Brewing Co and The Pocket, this part of Caloundra is always packed – even midweek it can be hard to get a car park, especially if the sun is out. But on weekends and school holidays it is hectic. That’s why I think it is best enjoyed in autumn.

Moffs is home to the Queen of the Colonies memorial (a concrete pandanus that honours the shipwreck) and every year plays host to the Pa and Ma Bendall Memorial surfing comp.
Around Dicky and Moffs most of the original beach shacks have made way for larger, contemporary beach homes. During school holidays, tourists and day trippers rub shoulders (literally) with locals as they line up for their morning lattes in one of the many coffee shops.

Moffat Beach Playground is a great spot. Situated under a huge old fig tree, this was always a popular playground, but a recent makeover makes it even better, and with its many walkways and slides it is paradise for kids. There’s also Eleanor Shipley Park where you can kick around the footy.

If you’re not feeling energetic, it’s a good idea to lay down a blanket and relax in the park to watch the world go by. You’ll see people jogging up and down the path, dog owners weaving in and around parents pushing prams and ibises poking about in the bins. Under the towering pine trees that line the foreshore, people relax as they watch the waves. Go there when there is a decent swell and you might be rewarded with what I think is one of the best shows in town – the local boogie boarders getting hammered in the shore dump.

There’s a good reason Moffs is popular – great cafes, plenty of grassy spots to recline on, picnic tables and waves, plus a pretty headland. I recommend people stroll up this headland if they are keen for a walk. Just head up Queen of Colonies Parade and past the units perched on top, then down towards Shelly.

Shelly Beach is quieter and more suburban than Moffs, but it is unmistakeably beachy. Despite all the larger new and renovated homes squeezed onto suburban blocks, Shelly still offers a relaxed beachside vibe that is very appealing.

Down Victoria Terrace off King Street, there is a strip of grass and sand that is a lovely spot to take in the ocean. I wouldn’t recommend swimming here, as Shelly is unpredictable and unpatrolled, but the rock pools are well worth exploring, there are picnic tables and barbecue facilities, and it’s a good spot to take some family snaps.

From Shelly through Kings to Happy Valley, the natural curves in the coastline and pretty views mean you’ll never get bored of the scenery. There are plenty of seats along the pathway to rest, plus memorials and plaques where you can catch your breath.

But before we reach Happy Valley, let’s stop off at Kings Beach.

Kings is absolutely brimming with holiday accommodation and it’s really busy in summer. This is the holiday centre of Caloundra. Near the surf club is the beachfront saltwater pool, and there are shops and restaurants at the eastern end of the patrolled beach. The beach is about 500 metres long and faces south-east. It’s generally a safe spot for a swim or surf, as Moreton Island reduces wave height. Back on dry land, Kings has a grassy reserve and play areas. In October, it’s also home to the hugely popular Caloundra Music Festival.

Head further south-east and you hit what is probably my favourite part of Caloundra, the appropriately named Happy Valley. It’s my happy place, and given that the carpark is usually full, I’m clearly not alone. The grassy strip is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic after you’ve had a dip in the water – it is always filled with people chilling out after a surf who are in no rush to stick the board back on the roof racks and head home. If the tide is just right, Happy Valley offers the perfect wave for beginners and those after a more chilled ride. The Coastal Pathway pushes through here – in fact, the pathway runs from Pelican Waters to Point Cartwright.

From Dicky to Bulcock Beach you’ll never go hungry or thirsty – even if there isn’t a cafe nearby, you’ll probably come across a coffee van selling decent brews and snacks. Find one at Dicky Beach at the Buderim Street beach entrance, Shelly Beach Park and Happy Valley (the more permanent Turtle Café serves up a varied menu).

Down at Bulcock Beach, there are even more restaurants and cafes filled with visitors and locals, but while the shops are usually busy, across the road is the lovely gentle Bulcock Beach. In front of the Ithaca Caloundra City Surf Lifesaving Club is the perfect swimming spot as the water is calm and flat. As the ocean comes down into the passage it has created a bay where families and less confident swimmers can feel the saltwater without the waves. There is a boardwalk over the water where people of all ages drop in a fishing line, but even if fishing isn’t your thing, the boardwalk is a good place to stop and take in the vista down the passage to Bribie Island and Golden Beach.

If you happen to be around Bulcock Beach Esplanade on the last Friday night of the month, hang around for the Twilight Markets, which kick off at 5pm.

A block back from the beach is Caloundra’s shopping strip on Bulcock Street. It has everything you need – fashion and homewares retailers, loads of cafes and eateries, places to get a haircut, a massage or to get fit, a great bookshop, jewellers, florists… You get the picture. Go on a Sunday and check out the Caloundra Street Fair markets, which are on from 8am to 1pm.

From Bulcock Beach, follow the path down to Golden Beach. If you’re going for a bike ride in Caloundra, I recommend the pathway down here as it’s flat and safe. Golden Beach is also the place to launch any kind of watercraft to explore the passage. If you don’t have your own, head to Bill’s Boat Hire where you can rent a barbecue boat, cruisers, tinnies, kayaks or SUPs.

From land, Pumicestone Passage is gorgeous, but it’s only when you are on it that you get a true appreciation of how special this waterway is.

My tip – If you’re driving, take a left at the roundabout near the shops at Jellicoe Street, then turn right down The Esplanade. There are picnic areas and spots where you can settle in and watch the ever-changing passage. As you sit here and enjoy the view to Bribie Island, you’ll understand why this place is so special. Aren’t you glad you took a trip south?