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Country care by the sea

autumn 10

WHEN QUEENSLAND NOVELIST VANCE Palmer visited Coolum Beach in 1927, he poetically described the area as “wrapped in a Sabbath calm”. Palmer was entranced by the peaceful scene before him – a handful of red-roofed homes, green hills sloping to the sea and cattle feeding on pastoral land.

More than 80 years on and Palmer would barely know the place.

Coolum’s roofs have multiplied many times over (the population is 13,267), the cattle are long gone and stylish developments such as Coolum Beach’s new esplanade and boardwalk are giving the area a sophisticated edge.

But chat to locals or spend a day in Coolum and you’ll find Palmer’s description still rings true in many ways. The consensus is it’s a peaceful and relaxed place, with a strong and caring community that is passionate about the environment. As local café and gallery owner Joe McFeeters says, “Coolum is just like a country town by the sea”.

Coolum encompasses the humming surf town of Coolum Beach with its cafés, bistros, bars and boutiques lining a new multimillion-dollar esplanade. It sparkles with energy.

But wait, there is more – far more.  

Coolum also slowly breathes the sea. Coolum also spreads south to encompass the sleepy suburbs of Point Arkwright, Yaroomba and Mt Coolum, where every second side street or sand path seems to lead to another empty part of the beach. The pretty coastal road of David Low Way, built in the mid ’60s, links these suburbs and runs through the beachfront at Coolum Beach, continuing north to Peregian.

From its earliest settler days, Coolum Beach was a popular spot. While the first parcel of land was bought in 1871 to run cattle, it wasn’t until 1905 that the first family, the Perry-Keenes, settled permanently on Beach Road. Holidaymakers started to flock in 1923 when the tramline opened between Nambour and Coolum.

Most visitors stayed at the local boarding house or erected tents near the beach. Early beach barbecue feasts consisted of freshly caught fish, potatoes and butter cooked over an open fire on the sand.

Those rustic feasts can’t be recreated today because open fires are banned, but the council offers the next best thing – free electric barbecues are available in kid-friendly Tickle Park and tents are welcome at the camp ground. Both sites are on the beachfront next to the Coolum Beach Surf Lifesaving Club.

Coolum Beach’s charm is that even at peak times there’s plenty of room for everyone. The beach in front of the surf club is patrolled every day of the year and beachgoers tend to pitch their brollies and beach towels near the designated flag area. This means there is plenty of open space just a short walk north along the beach to meditate, start a cricket match, draw a giant love heart in the sand with a stick, or do cartwheels in peace.

On a Sunday morning, a flurry of red-capped heads and sun-kissed bodies swim and sprint along Coolum Beach to a soundtrack of whistles and squeals. The Coolum Nippers enjoy a strong membership, with up to 250 boys and girls, aged seven to 14, training each week.

Coolum Nippers president Ernie Burrows says this open, unprotected stretch of beach may be perfect for surfers but it is one of the most dangerous on the coast when it comes to swimming.

“That’s why it’s important that our young people understand the dangers of the sea, and also learn not to be afraid,” Ernie says. Of course swimmers are perfectly safe as long as they swim between the flags.

Local historians Frances and John Windolf say residents’ passion for the environment is what sets Coolum apart from other places. Having together written two books on Coolum’s history, John and Frances know Coolum’s secrets and spirit better than most.

John arrived in 1946 at age three, and Frances arrived some 25 years ago to work as a teacher-librarian at the new school.

“Very many locals not only make a stand to save it [Coolum] but to care for it personally themselves – to walk in it, to be part of it,” Frances says.

A favourite spot locals explore and protect is the off-leash dog beach at Stumers Creek, which is also a great place for beach fishing (whiting, bream, tailor, and jewfish can be found in these waters).

Located at the northern end of Coolum’s main beach, Stumers Creek is only a two-minute drive north from the patrolled beach yet feels a cut lunch away. Turn off from David Low Way into Stumers Creek Road and follow the short, winding sand track fringed by dunes on one side and coastal heathland on the other. Dogs and kids frolic in Stumers Creek’s muddy, shallow waters; it rarely overflows into the sea so it’s a safe spot to play. There is also a small park with sheltered picnic tables and amenities beside the beach.

Coolum Beach café owner Di Stevenson enthuses, “You’ll always find families and people of all ages there – people in their 70s and 80s on their afternoon walk, and young families who set up for the day; it’s a really lovely place away from everything.”

Coolum Coast Care volunteers weed and revegetate here and all along the coastline, four kilometres south to Yaroomba. It’s an important ecological site. Locals are particularly chuffed that loggerhead turtles choose to nest here, and also on Yaroomba Beach, from November to March.

Stumers Creek is also the setting for the wildly successful Coolum Kite Festival run annually since 2000. More than 45,000 spectators, including avid kite fans and competitors from across the globe, watch on in awe as the sky morphs into a sea of brightly coloured kites.

The Australian PGA Championship at the Hyatt Regency Coolum is another big-ticket sporting festival that lures people to town.

A visit to Coolum isn’t complete without a hike up the landmark that gave Coolum its name – Mt Coolum National Park is a short drive south from Coolum Beach. Aboriginal people christened the area ‘gulum’ meaning ‘blunt’ or ‘headless’ to refer to Mt Coolum’s dome-shape.

At 208 metres above sea level, it looms as a dominant force in an otherwise peaceful green landscape of sugar cane fields and eucalypt forests. People of all ages climb its 800-metre rail to the viewing platform at the top. The designated trail on the mountain’s eastern side isn’t overly arduous, although some rocky sections can get a bit slippery.

The view is worth every careful step; it skids 360 degrees and takes in Moreton Island in the southeast, Buderim and the Glass House Mountains to the south, the Blackall Ranges to the west, Cooloola sand mass to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the east. It’s a lot to take in so, like the locals, you might need to make it a regular outing.


Learn to surf the break at Coolum Beach with local surfer and lifesaver Chris Kendall of Coolum Surfing School.

Stroll along Coolum Beach’s 300-metre boardwalk. It links the surf club to the rocky headland at Point Perry with stunning views along Coolum Beach north to Noosa.

Shop for homewares and fashion, pick up some flowers and stop for a coffee at Birtwell Street, a funky side street off the David Low Way at Coolum Beach.

Visit the markets on the first Saturday morning of each month on Coolum Terrace. Twilight markets pop up in the peak summer months.

Take the kids to Tickle Park on the beachfront side of the esplanade at Coolum Beach – they’ll be entertained for hours.

Set up for a day’s peaceful fishing at Yaroomba Beach where bream, whiting or tailor can be caught. 

words frances frangenheim photos anastasia kariofyllidis

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