First es­tab­lished as a rough 'n' ready tim­ber port, Mooloolaba of­fers mod­ern boaters a taste of the good life with show-stop­ping beaches and har­bours.

trade a boat - - CONTENTS - Chris Whitelaw STORY AND PHO­TOS

Mooloolaba, Queens­land

The tourist re­sort of Mooloolaba re­clines at the mouth of the Mooloolah River on Queens­land’s Sun­shine Coast, 100km north of Bris­bane. It forms part of the Ma­roochy­dore ur­ban cen­tre, with a res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion of about 7730 that swells many-fold with vis­i­tors through­out the year. The town’s name de­rives from an Abo­rig­i­nal word re­fer­ring to the snap­per that abound in the lo­cal wa­ters.

The Mooloolah River de­scends from the east­ern slopes of the Black­all Range and flows for about 20 kilo­me­tres east-north­east to a nar­row mouth on the Coral Sea at Mooloolaba. Its catch­ment of 221 square kilo­me­tres embraces Ad­dling­ton Creek, which was dammed by the Ewen Mad­dock Dam in 1973, and Moun­tain Creek that di­vides the Mooloolah and Ma­roochy wa­ter­sheds. Al­though their com­bined vol­umes don’t often pro­duce ma­jor in­un­da­tions, a flood warn­ing sys­tem was es­tab­lished in 2004 to pro­vide the Sun­shine Coast Re­gional Coun­cil with river height pre­dic­tions from a net­work of rain­fall and river gauges.

In its lower reaches, the river branches into

a num­ber of chan­nels that have been mod­i­fied into canals and de­vel­oped for the res­i­den­tial sub­urbs of Par­re­arra, Minyama and Bud­dina. This coastal low­land is bor­dered by the Coral Sea and a mag­nif­i­cent strand of un­in­ter­rupted beaches stretch­ing from Point Cartwright, at the river mouth, south to Dicky Beach near Caloun­dra.

The north­ern arm of the Mooloolah River is bounded by a nar­row spit of land edged on the sea­ward side by the beau­ti­ful Mooloolaba­h Beach, a long sandy stretch that is sep­a­rated from Ma­roochy­dore Beach by the rocky Alexan­dra Head­land. Bathed in sub-trop­i­cal sun­shine, Mooloolaba Beach has fea­tured in Tri­pad­vi­sor’s Top 10 Aus­tralian Beaches two years run­ning, and for good rea­son. Golden sand, clear wa­ters and a gen­tle beach­break make this stretch of coast one of the safest and most fam­ily-friendly surf beaches in Queens­land.


The orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of this re­gion were the Gubbi Gubbi (Kabi Kabi) Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, whose tribal lands ex­tended over 9600 square kilo­me­tres from what is now Childers in the north, along the coastal ranges to cur­rent­day Ca­bool­ture in the south. As colo­nial en­trepreneur­s pushed into their ter­ri­tory to es­tab­lish pas­toral sta­tions, the Gubbi Gubbi joined with the Butchulla tribes in the Wide Bay-bur­nett area to set up a fierce re­sis­tance. From 1847 to 1853, 28 squat­ters and shep­herds were killed, re­sult­ing in sav­age reprisals via mass poi­son­ing and shoot­ing.

In 1861, Lieu­tenant Heath sur­veyed and charted the Mooloolah River mouth and har­bour. Three years later, Wil­liam Pet­ti­grew pur­chased land at Mooloolah Heads as a base for ex­ploit­ing the tim­ber re­sources in the hin­ter­land, a trade he dom­i­nated in the Ma­roochy Dis­trict for the next thirty years. He es­tab­lished a de­pot and, us­ing a wharf op­er­ated by James Low, shipped his prod­uct via steam­ers to Bris­bane sawmills. In part­ner­ship with Low, he also opened the first store in the dis­trict to serve the needs of the new set­tlers.

Tim­ber felling up­stream caused ero­sion and the river-borne silt col­lected at the river

mouth, oc­ca­sion­ally ob­struct­ing the nar­row chan­nel and the off­shore bar – a prob­lem that per­sists to­day. Nev­er­the­less, pro­tected by Point Cartwright, Mooloolah Heads was pre­ferred as a port by the steam­ers that plied the lo­cal rivers and was the prin­ci­pal gate­way to the dis­trict for nearly twenty years. With the open­ing of the North Coast rail­way to Yan­d­ina, river trans­port de­clined and Pet­ti­grew trans­ferred his op­er­a­tions to Ma­roochy­dore, es­tab­lish­ing a sawmill there in 1891.

Fol­low­ing the de­cline of Pet­ti­grew’s de­pot at Mooloolah Heads, fish­ing and fruit grow­ing ex­panded to fill the eco­nomic vac­uum. Dur­ing the early 1900s, the pop­u­la­tion in­creased and Mooloolah Heads was sub­di­vided into al­lot­ments ex­tend­ing along the nar­row spit and river frontage, ini­ti­at­ing a fledg­ling sea­side hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion.

At this time it was re­named Mooloolaba to dis­tin­guish it from the town­ship of Mooloolah de­vel­op­ing on the river’s in­land head­wa­ters.

“Golden sand, clear wa­ters and a gen­tle beach­break make this one of the most fam­ily-friendly surf beaches in Queens­land.”

Boat­ing and fish­ing were pop­u­lar on the river and Mooloolaba Beach was so well pa­tro­n­ised that a surf life-sav­ing club was es­tab­lished in 1922 (mak­ing it Queens­land's third old­est). For a time, devel­op­ment was held back by re­stricted ac­cess. Op­tions were a boggy, sandy head­land track along the coast or a com­pli­cated cane-train and river jour­ney from an in­land rail­way sta­tion.

Pop­u­la­tion growth and ac­com­mo­da­tion in Mooloolaba lagged be­hind Ma­roochy­dore dur­ing the 1940s and ‘50s, but the open­ing of the David Low coastal road in the early 1960s fos­tered lo­cal devel­op­ment ac­tiv­ity and the merg­ing of the two towns, ge­o­graph­i­cally and as an eco­nomic unit.


De­spite its pop­u­lar­ity as a premier res­i­den­tial and hol­i­day lo­ca­tion, Mooloolaba and the nearby canal es­tates have not been over­whelmed by high-rise devel­op­ment, which has gen­er­ally been con­fined to The Es­planade fac­ing the beach. This is the town's beat­ing heart, a bustling strand lined with Nor­folk pines and packed with out­door cafés, juice bars, al­fresco restau­rants, gal­leries and fash­ion bou­tiques.

At its south­ern end, the main drag bends past the Surf Club to Parkyn Pa­rade, which con­nects with Mooloolaba's marine precinct ex­tend­ing along the spit be­tween the beach and the river. Here are lo­cated the multi-award win­ning Sea Life Sun­shine Coast Aquar­ium and Un­der­wa­ter World, The Wharf re­tail and marina com­plex, cruise-dive-fish­ing char­ters, the Volunteer Coast Guard base, Mooloolaba Marina and the yacht club. The Mooloolaba River Fish­eries com­plex com­prises the com­mer­cial fish­ing ves­sel marina (home to the largest fish­ing fleet on the east­ern seaboard), seafood mar­ket and li­censed café. At the end of the Pa­rade is a com­pound hous­ing the Wa­ter Po­lice and the north­ern base for pilot ves­sels that con­trol ship­ping through More­ton Bay and the Port of Bris­bane.


Mooloolaba is 27 nau­ti­cal miles north-west of Cape More­ton and 55 nau­ti­cal miles south of the Wide Bay Bar. The ap­proach to the river mouth is clear of off­shore haz­ards, ex­cept for the Gneer­ing Shoals five nau­ti­cal miles north-east of the en­trance which carry 6.7-me­tre LWS and are marked with a buoy. The mouth of the Mooloolah River faces north and is pro­tected by Point Cartwright, so that the pre­dom­i­nant swell and sea chop by­passes the mouth and, even in ex­treme weather con­di­tions, nav­i­gat­ing the en­trance is fairly straight­for­ward.

The Point of­fers ex­cel­lent views over the coast and the boat har­bour, as well as view­ing of dol­phins, whales and tur­tles that make their pas­sage off­shore. Atop the head­land stands the el­e­gant Point Cartwright Light­house, a 32-me­tre col­umn of re­in­forced con­crete, and a lantern with a range of 23 nau­ti­cal miles. It was erected in 1978 to re­place the ‘New Caloun­dra Light' (1967), which had be­come partly ob­scured by high-rise build­ings. Point Cartwright marks the en­trance to the North West Chan­nel, a deep wa­ter chan­nel into More­ton Bay and the Port

“The Es­planade fac­ing the beach is the town’s beat­ing heart.”

of Bris­bane. A red sec­tor, us­ing a fil­ter and a red Plex­i­glas screen, pro­vides a low in­ten­sity red light to the north­west for ves­sels en­ter­ing Mooloolaba Har­bour.

The break­wa­ter en­trance un­der Point Cartwright has lit bea­cons and lat­eral marks show­ing the chan­nel up­stream. It is safe in all weather un­less shift­ing sand and silt cre­ate ob­struc­tions shal­lower than 2.5 metres LWS, mak­ing dredg­ing nec­es­sary. As re­cently as March 2019, the Depart­ment of Trans­port and Main Roads (Mar­itime Safety) no­ti­fied mariners of a shoal patch, with a least depth of 1.5 metres ex­tend­ing from the end of the east­ern break­wa­ter in a west­erly di­rec­tion past the cen­tre­line of the chan­nel, re­quir­ing dredg­ing by the cut­ter suc­tion dredge Navau. Dur­ing such op­er­a­tions, the dredge ex­hibits day shapes and lights as re­quired by the Col­li­sion Reg­u­la­tions, while the dredge mas­ter main­tains a lis­ten­ing watch on VHF Chan­nels 73, 12 and 16 to en­sure safe tran­sit by river traf­fic. About 500 metres past the break­wa­ters, af­ter turn­ing off the lead­ing bea­cons, the chan­nel bends to the west and rows of pub­lic pile berths are passed to star­board.

These are rarely avail­able to tran­sients, but it may be worth check­ing with the Port Of­fice. A fur­ther kilo­me­tre be­yond the pile berths, Minyama Is­land lies in the cen­tre of the river opposite the Wharf Marina. An­chor­age is per­mit­ted in a mid-chan­nel area for about a kilo­me­tre up­stream from Minyama Is­land and a clear­way must be main­tained around the an­chor­age area and down the western side of the chan­nel past Mooloolah Is­land. Hold­ing is ex­cel­lent in mud for most of the area but there are a few in­dif­fer­ent patches along Mooloolah Is­land where there is also lit­tle room to swing on ad­e­quate scope. There is a ten day limit for ca­sual an­chor­age. Along each side of all canals and around both is­lands are pri­vate berths off water­front homes.

Al­though Mooloolaba is an all-weather har­bour favoured by recre­ational sailors, it is not a clear­ance port. The clos­est are River­gate Marina (lower Bris­bane River) and Bund­aberg to the north.


Mooloolah River Fish­eries (MRF) is the largest whole­sale sup­plier and re­tailer of seafood on the Sun­shine Coast. Served by a res­i­dent fleet of up to 36 com­mer­cial fish­ing ves­sels, MRF Whole­sale sup­plies Queens­land Wild Caught prod­uct to seafood out­lets across Aus­tralia and ex­ports to New Zealand, Asia and Europe. MRF Dis­tri­bu­tion ser­vices the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try for the greater Sun­shine Coast - Bri­bie Is­land, the Hin­ter­land, Kil­coy, Caloun­dra, Ma­roochy­dore, Mooloolaba, Noosa, Cooroy, Coolum - with de­liv­er­ies six days a week.

The prod­uct con­sists of a huge range of fish species and crus­taceans, all har­vested from the pris­tine Coral Sea off south-east Queens­land. Mooloolaba­h is renowned for its suc­cu­lent prawns and sev­eral va­ri­eties are avail­able through MRF - Tiger, Banana, Red Spot King, En­deav­our and the most pop­u­lar, East­ern Ocean Mooloolaba King Prawn. The daily catch is un­loaded from boats at the MRF wharf and im­me­di­ately pro­cessed for dis­tri­bu­tion or sale through its on-site mar­ket. Fresh and cooked seafood is avail­able at its Parkyn Pa­rade hub, and pa­trons can en­joy de­li­cious cooked seafood to take away or to savour on The Deck over­look­ing the Mooloolah River.


It is a fair re­flec­tion of Mooloolaba's pop­u­lar­ity as a boat­ing des­ti­na­tion that the har­bour has three mari­nas for recre­ational boats and a plen­i­tude of marine ser­vices.

Af­ter en­ter­ing the river, Mooloolaba Marina is the first to be en­coun­tered to star­board. The self-pro­claimed 'jewel in Queens­land's crown,' this marina is the largest (with 265 berths) plus good fa­cil­i­ties and handy ac­cess to a wide range of ser­vices. A 200 me­tre walk across the spit will get you to the pearly white sands of the beach, while Pier 33 restau­rant and the fish mar­ket are right next door.

Opposite the Mooloolaba Marina, a canal runs south for about 1.6 kilo­me­tres to Kawana Wa­ters Marina (KWM), also pop­u­lar among boaters on the Sun­shine Coast with 130 berths. Con­structed as Lawrie's Marina in 1974 (re­put­edly Queens­land's first), it was ex­ca­vated to pro­vide fill for the sur­round­ing Kawana canal es­tate. The marina lies in a cul-de-sac basin with a reg­u­lar flat bot­tom, a depth of 2 metres at mean sea level, and suf­fi­cient room to safely turn a 20-me­tre

ves­sel in nor­mal weather con­di­tions. It is also only 300 metres from Kawana Shop­ping World and within easy walk­ing dis­tance of restau­rants and recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties.

The KWM is con­ve­niently lo­cated next to Lawrie’s Boat Ser­vices (LBS). Es­tab­lished by Keith Lawrie in 1982, LBS caters to recre­ational and com­mer­cial ves­sels of all types - mono­hulls, cata­ma­rans, tri­marans, power boats and plea­sure craft. Its fa­cil­i­ties in­clude a fully sealed hard­stand, 44-tonne strad­dle car­rier, mo­bile crane, in­di­vid­u­ally en­closed bays (all with power and wa­ter), ves­sel cra­dles, cov­ered re-fit sheds, sand­blast bay, work dock, wa­terblaster­s and chan­dlery.

A wide va­ri­ety of spe­cial­ist ten­ants are co-lo­cated on site to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive range of ser­vices: sched­uled sur­veys, re­pairs and main­te­nance, an­tifoul­ing, marine paint­ing, ship­wrights, me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal re­pairs, mast re­pairs, rig­gers, hy­draulics, boat cov­ers, marine up­hol­stery, sail mak­ers, yacht bro­ker­age, marine in­sur­ance and chan­dlery.

Back on the river, the Wharf Marina sits on the north­ern bank at a bend near Minyama Is­land. Al­though the small­est of Mooloolaba’s mari­nas (with 47 berths), it is ad­ja­cent to The Wharf precinct, which in­cludes re­tail out­lets, a cock­tail bar, a tourist book­ing of­fice, cruise­dive-and-fish­ing char­ters, cafés, restau­rants, a tav­ern and bot­tle shop, a prop­erty agent and the Mooloolaba Yacht Club. It’s also close to the tourist hub on the Es­planade.

Mooloolah River Fish­eries op­er­ates a marina for com­mer­cial fish­ing ves­sels, with berthing for 36 ves­sels up to 25 metres in length, all with one­and three-phase power. Moor­ings are avail­able for day or monthly rates. An un­load­ing Wharf can han­dle up to three ves­sels si­mul­ta­ne­ously and the diesel fuel fa­cil­ity has two bowsers al­low­ing con­cur­rent re­fu­elling for two ves­sels. An ice-mak­ing plant can pro­duce 25 tonnes of bulk or bagged ice per day and some gen­eral sup­plies (pack­ag­ing ma­te­ri­als, chem­i­cals and oils) are avail­able for fish­ing ves­sels.


There are three main boat ramps in or near Mooloolaba Har­bour. On the south side of the river, up­stream from Point Cartwright, a boat ramp is lo­cated at the in­ter­sec­tion of Har­bour Pa­rade and Adaluma Av­enue (Bud­dina), with a large carpark, three-lane ramp, float­ing pon­toon and fish clean­ing ta­bles. On the north­ern side of

the river, the Mooloolaba Boat Ramp is lo­cated off Parkyn Pa­rade be­tween the Coast Guard base and Mooloolaba Marina.

The up­stream sec­tion con­sists of two mul­ti­lane ramps (sep­a­rated by a pon­toon) ad­ja­cent to a sandy beach. Another T-pon­toon sits next to the beach, equidis­tant from the down­stream sec­tion which has a sin­gle multi-lane ramp with land­ing pon­toon. The large carpark has am­ple boat and trailer park­ing and is close to tele­phone, fuel out­let, toi­lets, picnic area, bait and shops.

The third ramp is up­stream from Mooloolah Is­land and is ac­cessed by tak­ing the Mooloolaba off-ramp go­ing north on Nicklen Way, then dou­bling back to­wards the river. This ramp is sit­u­ated on the left and, al­though small, it is ad­e­quate and the best one to use for ac­cess­ing the up­per parts of the river.

There is also an ex­cel­lent dinghy land­ing on the beach at Charles Clark Park, south-west of Wharf Marina, from which shops and restau­rants are within easy walk­ing dis­tance. Wa­ter and toi­lets are avail­able in the park.


If you don’t have your own boat (or even if you do), one of the best ways to en­joy the beau­ti­ful Mooloolah wa­ter­ways is to jump on a cruise with one of the lo­cal char­ters.

Coastal Cruises Mooloolaba (CCM) op­er­ates the 35-foot Pa­cific Star, a com­fort­able all­weather boat set up as a cruis­ing restau­rant with a fully li­censed bar, booth seat­ing with water­front views and on-board ameni­ties. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Mooloolah River Fish­eries, CCM of­fers fresh lo­cal seafood lunches, with ta­ble ser­vice, and sun­set/evening cruises.

The fam­ily-run Mooloolaba Canal Cruises (MCC) has been op­er­at­ing from The Wharf for over 27 years. Their MV Mud­jimba, built in 1963 and lov­ingly re­stored, is a Mooloolaba icon and is the only wooden ex-bris­bane river ferry still afloat.

A one-hour cruise takes in the Mooloolah River be­tween the mouth and Mooloolah Is­land (boast­ing mil­lion-dol­lar man­sions and celebrity homes) and through the Kawana canal sys­tem, where you can feed the pel­i­cans.

MCC also of­fers sea­sonal sun­set cruises and 2-hour pri­vate (BYO) char­ters that can ac­com­mo­date up to 40 guests, with pre-booked pick-up and drop-off at pri­vate jet­ties (if you have ac­cess to one).


The Sun­shine Coast has many ex­cel­lent hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions, and Mooloolaba is a stand-out in a stel­lar cast. It has all the in­gre­di­ents for a fan­tas­tic fam­ily hol­i­day, with­out all the glitz and glam­our of its much vaunted ri­vals – an af­ford­able range of ac­com­mo­da­tion, at­trac­tions to suit ev­ery­one in the fam­ily, a good selec­tion of ameni­ties, stun­ning beaches, shel­tered wa­ter­ways and boat loads of world-class seafood.

And if you’re an an­gler you can ply the rod along the length of a pris­tine river, around in­shore is­lands and shoals or cast for the big ones off mid-ocean reefs. Whether you’re af­ter a meal or a tro­phy, you’re cer­tain to take home a creel full of happy mem­o­ries.

LEFT Calm wa­ters meet boaters as they nav­i­gate up­stream through the Mooloolah River. BELOW Safe golden beaches just per­fect for swim­ming? It must be Queens­land!

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE The coast meets the city in char­ac­ter­is­tic re­laxed Queens­land fash­ion at Mooloolaba; A se­ries of rock­walls pro­tect ves­sels in the har­bour; Fresh tuna be­ing un­loaded for mar­ket.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE In­dus­tri­ous com­mer­cial fishos can be found hard at work on the docks; Three mari­nas of­fer a wide choice for recre­ational boaters; Vis­it­ing mariners will have no trou­ble ac­cess­ing ser­vices or tem­po­rary berthing in this boat-mad re­gion.

ABOVE Take a canal cruise, head off­shore for a dive char­ter or dan­gle a rod off one of Mooloolaba's many jet­ties.

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