I’ve already waxed poetic about the ocean, putting my feet in the cold water for the first time in years, but I still can’t get over how magical this trip has been. Since early 2020, I’ve rarely left Reno and stuck close to home. This year, however, I’ve gone to multiple countries, a horror conference, and an extended holiday with my boyfriend. It feels like I’m trying to make up for lost time or taking in all these new experiences for ‘the old me’. Visiting multiple coasts and oceans in such a short time still feels like a luxury.
After the busy wedding weekend, we traveled from Montville to Mooloolaba for a few days to explore the Sunshine Coast. Perhaps the hangover and post-wedding lows did affect my initial impressions, but it grew on me. We had breakfast with Soleil’s mum and her friend at Velo Cafe. I made the mistake of ordering sweet crepes when I should have ordered savory eggs benedict, but my earl gray iced tea was a treat. The atmosphere was great, the weather was lovely, and I checked out all the cute dogs that passed us by. We said our goodbye and see you later and went off in search of our accommodation.
It was a little too early to check into our Airbnb, so we found somewhere to rest for a bit. We grabbed a table with a view of the ocean, sailboats swaying on the waves, and children playing on an elaborate jungle gym. I hydrated to combat my growing headache and tried some mushroom arancini from Confessions. Again, in any other mindset I would find the setting idyllic and charming—a contrast to Surfers Paradise or Burleigh Heads—but all I wanted was sleep.
Not long after, we were able to check into our Airbnb. While we’ve mostly been staying with family or in hotels during this trip, it was nice to have a different experience. Unlike our March experience in Vancouver, this apartment within a resort community didn’t look like a murder house from the outside. On the inside, it had been decorated in beach rental chic. The owners had left a fresh fruit platter and chocolates, along with a little milk box for morning tea. I’ll talk more about the pros and cons of all of these accommodations later, but staying at this place in Mooloolaba felt a little homier than others and just as relaxing.
I crashed for a hangover-induced nap, and then Soleil and I went out with his friends (from the wedding) and their family. One of the things I’ve appreciated about this trip has been the chance for us to hang with so many different kinds of couples: new relationships, excited about-to-be-weds, young parents with kids, and established couples too. So, on Sunday night, we went to The Wharf and eventually had dinner at James Squire. The view was lovely, but our food was spaced out a bit oddly so that a few of us were completely done eating by the time others got their meals. Additionally, the friends had trouble acquiring an Uber home so that put a bit of a damper at the end of the night. Regardless, it was a nice time.
On Monday, we slept in before taking care of a few to-dos. I worked on my blog, because it seems as if I’m always catching up these days, and Soleil prepared for his next steps after this trip is done. So far, we’ve talked about the future as optimistically as we can, and it’s easier to ignore the fact that—not long now—our time in-person will be over, and we’ll go back to long distance. It’s better to enjoy the time we do have while it lasts.
In the afternoon, we went to Rice Boi for lunch. We were seated in the beer garden, on a comfy couch overlooking the bay, and enjoyed a few mocktails. We ordered calamari, pork buns, bao, and spring rolls. The last was probably my favorite because they were full of yellow curry mixed with banana and the texture and flavor were perfect. Then, full of delicious food, we went to Kickback Books. I loved the organization, the mix of old and new popular books, and seeing some favorites here too. I picked up a copy of Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock because I’ve heard it’s a quintessential Aussie Gothic, and, paired with Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black which I’d found on a share shelf at our Airbnb, I was enjoying the spooky beach vibes.
Soleil and I walked along the beach. Mooloolaba is full of gelaterias, pasta and pizza specials, and your usual beachy boho wear. Compared to Surfers Paradise or Burleigh Heads, it feels less obviously touristy (probably because there’s less neon). The beach, however, is its own thing. The sand is peppered with small shells, and the wind was powerful but not chilling. Volcanic rock juts at low tide and is swallowed by higher swells. Children and the curious search tide pools for creatures big and small. It has its own kind of beauty.
On Monday night, Soleil made me a “traditional” Aussie BBQ while I chilled in the rooftop Jacuzzi. I’ve been absolutely spoiled with pools, spas, and saunas on this trip, and the gorgeous view of Mooloolaba and the distant Glasshouse Mountains reminded me of that. We ate our shrimp kebabs, capsicum, sausage, and salads on the balcony of our Airbnb. This was followed by an episode of The Amazing Race: Australia, which I can admit I’m getting into. I only have streaming at home, so it’s interesting to see what reality shows, commercials, and dramas pop up overseas.
You remember that night-before-Christmas feeling from childhood? Where you could barely sleep from excitement, or you had to wake up early because you couldn’t wait anymore? That was my Tuesday morning. When Soleil asked me if there was anything I wanted to do on this trip, my response was fairly basic: “good food, beaches, and bookstores.” Only one specific thing was a priority, and that was a trip to the Australia Zoo. I’m one of those American Millennials who curled in front of the TV for episodes of The Crocodile Hunter, and I remember Steve Irwin’s death as being shocking to a young me. Plus, I love crocodiles and alligators, and this would probably be my best chance to see them.
We left Mooloolaba early, worrying over the bus timetable because we forgot to top off our cards, but made it in the nick of time. I saw more of the Sunshine Coast as we drove toward the Zoo, stopping here and there to pick up new passengers, and we arrived just before 10am. With an afternoon bus around 4 to take us home, we had almost six hours to explore the full bounty of the Australia Zoo. Somehow, still, it didn’t feel like enough time.
Don’t get me wrong: we saw almost every animal in the zoo. The weather was that perfect mix of humidity, cool breeze, and heat that made most of the creatures active and out rather than hidden. We even had time for the big wildlife show in the Crocoseum, and I got to see Terri, Robert, and Chandler work with a crocodile. I still feel like I needed an extra hour or two to have time to gawk, to wonder, and to fully enjoy every aspect of the enclosures.
This has to be my favorite zoo I’ve been to. The design of each enclosure shows they have put the animal’s wellbeing at the forefront with an ideal environment to mimic its natural one, places to hide, sources of plants and water, and—most importantly—a lot of space. It’s also interesting how, compared to other wildlife parks or zoos, what animals have earned their place here versus what is more common or popular in others. You won’t see a lion or bear, but there are tigers; with emphasis placed on the zoo’s partnership to help save the endangered species from poachers. You may not see a gorilla, but where else will Australia’s natural wildlife be so displayed?
Per Steve Irwin’s legacy, I loved how much of the park was dedicated to crocodiles and alligators, snakes, and the natural beauty of this country. The key aspect, repeated again and again, is education and conservation, and that’s been fulfilled wonderfully. Even as a person who fears snakes, I loved being able to (safely) see an anaconda, a reticulated python, an eastern dimondback rattlesnake, and an inland taipan. Most zoos only have a handful of crocodilian members, but I lost count of how many of these beautiful creatures I saw. One enclosure for the freshwater crocs had at least eight inside! Most people, though, will love the ability to walk among, pet, or feed kangaroos and wallabies as well as koala hiding in trees and gorgeous birds.
The wildlife show was amazing, and I’m glad we found our seats twenty minutes early because the entire stadium filled with people. First, keepers demonstrated the beauty of birds with several aerial displays and education. We loved the lorikeets and how quickly they flew over the crowd. Many segments were intercut with footage of Steve Irwin. Then, a few snakes were carried through the stadium as the audience was taught how to properly apply emergency first aid in case someone is bit. Lastly, Terri, Robert, and Chandler came out and, with other handlers, demonstrated the amazing capabilities of crocodiles with Charlie. It was beyond words to see how efficient this animal is in the water, hear its jaws snap in a leap toward food, and take in the size of a full grown versus adolescent crocodile. The show, overall, was the best mixture of education and entertainment with a conservation message at its heart to remind the audience how important these creatures are to their ecosystems, and to us.
Again, I could have spent an entire day and then some at the zoo, but, alas, we grabbed the last bus home. My only criticism, and it’s a small one, is how weak the gift shop was. I was prepared to spend some serious cash on t-shirts, tea towels, and more, but I didn’t find a single thing that warranted any real interest. And, for being a zoo founded by The ‘Crocodile’ Hunter, there was a serious lack of crocodile merch, especially plush toys or a cute magnet. So, empty-handed, we went back to Mooloolaba.
We had dinner at The Good Bar, one of those American-style burger places that makes absurd burgers. Although we didn’t order one of those towers of bun, meat, and more, I tried the Old Faithful burger—as basic as you can get—and it satisfied every craving I had. Soleil had the El Jefe, which was a chicken burger with sloppy joe mix on it. We also had fries, truffle mac and cheese, and jalapeno poppers. The last had a decent amount of spice not even a lager could truly fix.
Unfortunately, the excitement of Tuesday and a big, greasy meal would come back to kick my ass on Wednesday as we traveled south to Victoria. That, however, is a different story. Our last night in the Sunshine Coast was spent in the midst of a truly sizeable thunderstorm (absolutely exotic to this desert dweller) so I can’t say I said goodbye to that ocean properly. All that means, then, is I’ll have to go back someday.
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If you’d like to follow my daily adventures, please follow my Instagram: @karleypardue (for writing updates, bookstores, and hauls) or @karleycooks (for eats and drinks).
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