Europeans first identified the region in 1770, when Captain James Cook named the distinctive Glass House Mountains because their shape reminded him of the huge glass furnaces (glasshouses) back in his native Yorkshire. However, until the 1960s, the area was known simply as the 'Near North Coast' (of Brisbane), but the enterprising real estate industry advocated strongly for a name change and persuaded the region's three councils at the time – Landsborough, Maroochy and Noosa – to adopt the Sunshine Coast name, which was proclaimed in August 1967.
The region now covers the area beginning at Caloundra and the Glass House Mountains in the south to Noosa and Rainbow Beach in the north, and west to the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and the Mary Valley, with the popular coastal areas complemented by the Hinterland's rich agricultural pastures, national parks, rainforest and dramatic mountainous landscape.
In 2016, the region attracted over three million domestic travellers and 266,000 international travellers, a record for the Sunshine Coast. The popularity has spurred a wave of new tourism development plans, including:
- Sunshine Coast Airport is set to undergo its biggest transformation in its history. The expansion will include a new 2450-metre-long and 45-metre-wide runway, which will cater for large aircraft including the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 and 787. The terminal will also be upgraded. The extension follows the official recognition of Sunshine Coast Airport as an 'International Airport' in 2016. Construction will get underway this year and is scheduled for completion by 2020;
- Two new 5-star hotel developments were announced in 2016. Starwood's Westin brand was announced as part of a proposed new integrated development at Yaroomba Beach; while a 5-star hotel was also mooted as part of a major redevelopment project in Mooloolaba;
- A $400 million themed water park was announced by SANAD Capital on Steve Irwin Drive. The water park will feature a wave pool capable of producing waves of up to three metres in height, as well as an interactive aqua play structure capable of holding up to 2000 people at a time. Hotel and function facilities will be included. Subject to planning permissions, work on the park is scheduled to commence in 2017;
- Also on Steve Irwin Drive, world-renowned Australia Zoo is planning to expand onto its adjoining Beerwah site, providing a dedicated 'live in' experience for zoo patrons. The nature based tourism project will consist of eight cabins, 32 recreational vehicle sites and 68 bush camp sites, a reception area and amenities. The proposal follows the opening in 2016 of Rivershore Resort, the first new holiday park developed in south east Queensland for over 40 years;
- A new Discovery Centre is being developed as part of an upgrade of tourist facilities at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve in the Hinterland. The Reserve comprises 55 hectares of National Estate listed subtropical rainforest overlooking the Glass House Mountains with a wide variety of walking tracks for visitors. The new Discovery Centre will include an elevated viewing platform and boardwalk, cafe, theatre, and a conservation research area. It is scheduled to open in mid-2017;
- New town plan concepts have been announced for Mooloolaba and Maroochydore, while the opening of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital this year will establish the region as one of Queensland's leading medical and education centres, transforming the Kawana Waters area;
Visit Sunshine Coast and Sunshine Coast Council are planning a year of celebrations to attract new and previous visitors to the 'Sunny Coast'. These include the launch of a new Discovery Guide, which provides a guide for visitors to retrace the region's heritage from sites showing the axe grinding practices of the original Kabi Kabi inhabitants through the early European settlers as they opened up the land for farming, gold exploration and tourism, including the Sunshine Coast's first tourism 'icon' – the Big Pineapple.
Also being fully launched in 2017 is the Sunshine Coast's new web-based Food Trail, which allows visitors to discover the region's world-class 'paddock to plate' food experience, including new cooking schools, restaurants, breweries and providores.
An extensive events calendar will be announced shortly for the 50th anniversary year, including major sporting, food and arts festivals.
Commenting on the 50th anniversary, CEO of Visit Sunshine Coast, Simon Latchford, said that the region's diversity of attractions was providing the momentum for tourism growth across the region.
“Coastal destinations such as Caloundra, Maroochydore, Mooloolaba and Noosa have been established for many decades as some of Australia's favourite beaches, but what has been particularly encouraging in recent years is the growth in popularity of our Hinterland attractions – the adventure options, health retreats, the historic Hinterland villages and the incredible richness of our food producers,” said Mr Latchford.
“The drive market – fuelled by lower petrol prices – produced outstanding tourism results for the Sunshine Coast in 2016, but the expansion of Sunshine Coast offers to be a 'game changer' for the region's tourism over the next 50 years.
"The new runway and upgraded facilities will lay the groundwork to connect the region to more destinations and markets nationwide and internationally. There has already been interest from Asian based airlines and Visit Sunshine Coast has boosted its representation in Asia to complement our traditional inbound market strengths in New Zealand, Europe and America.
“Complementing the record passenger movements at Sunshine Coast Airport is the growth in our cruise business, with Mooloolaba established as one of the fastest growing ports for cruise liners operating in the Australian market.
“2017 is a year when we invite everyone to visit the Sunshine Coast and join in the celebrations for our 50th anniversary. We can assure visitors of an exceptional holiday experience, with plenty of events and activities to satisfy both new and returning visitors.”