The seals on Queensland's Sunshine Coast are an affectionate lot. Take the family on a visit to Mooloolaba's UnderWater World, and you'll see one, perhaps two puckering up to plant a kiss on the cheek of a young adoring fan. For kids, the seals are one of the many joys of holidaying on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane.
The popular holiday spot doesn't have the big theme parks to match those on the Gold Coast, but what the area lacks in man-made attractions it gains in novelty value. And there's plenty to keep everyone active.
For those fortunate enough to meet the seals at UnderWater World, it's only the opener to a funfilled adventure that spans from Caloundra - famous for its kid-friendly Kings Beach - in the south to the boutiques, restaurants, cafes and hotels of fashionable Noosa in the north. With sand between the toes and ice cream spread around the lips like sunscreen protection, children can lap it up right along the coast.
There's almost anything and everything to keep visitors enthralled from sunrise to well after dark. Kids can expect a ride, whether it's aboard a steam-driven train or by pedal power.
For much of the time, surf's up between the headlands that jut out over the sea. Young surfers can step back to a time when their parents were their age and the Beach Boys were the rage by testing the waves on a board 2m long or longer. Noosa Longboards has the malibu-style board for hire for anywhere between half a day and a week. And there are lessons for novices of old-school surfing.
For a different challenge, there's kite surfing, an adrenalin buzz, better described as a combination of sailboarding and wakeboarding with skiing and paragliding. Kite Surf Australia has two-hour lessons, for beginners through to intermediate, for a nudge under $100 a student, while private lessons are slightly more expensive.
Of course, kids don't have to travel to the beach to take a splash. For beginners, there's the Thrill Hill Waterslide Park, and there's the Olympia Theme Park where laser games and mini golf are tested as well as the slides. Ski and Skurf Cable Water Ski caters for beginners as well as the advanced.
Indoor treats are plentiful, particularly at Noosa Tenpin, where the lights are turned down and bowlers are switched on to a bowl 'n' boogie challenge to the latest disco sounds on Friday and Saturday nights. The surrounds are glowing when the pins are knocked down. When the gutter guards are in place, the smallest of competitors is guaranteed a skittle of the pins.
For a more peaceful occasion, nothing beats a horse ride to keep the kids entertained, especially when the ride is along the shore from beautiful Noosa North Shore Retreat. As the gear is supplied by Noosa North Shore Adventures, all riders need to do is turn up, jump on the saddle and enjoy the tranquil surrounds of the bush and the salt air along the beachfront.
A ride with a difference along the same shoreline is on camel, a safari that lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. For the more adventurous, there's an overnight tour or, for something novel, a ride along Fraser Island, the world's largest sand isle.
For a bit of pedal power, Koala Bike Hire has wheels for kids aged between two and 12 years as well as the adults. And they deliver and pick up the bikes from your hotel, apartment or resort (stack hats supplied).
Another novel way for kids to enjoy the waters of the Sunshine Coast, particularly around Noosa, is through an underwater course, designed for children aged between eight and 10 years. Conducted in the various resort pools by the Noosa Aquatic Centre (NAC), the course - PADI Bubblemaker - gives children a taste of scuba diving in a controlled environment, where trained staff incorporate pool games with fun to develop diving skills and enhance learning about the underwater environment.
Apart from the underwater experience, Noosa presents the young holidaymakers with a close encounter with nature at Australia Zoo, the backyard of our latest TV export, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, and as many as 550 animals.
A more hands-on day is experienced at Forest Glen Sanctuary where kids can feed a deer or cuddle a koala in the sanctuary's wildlife park.
A family holiday is not complete without sampling the food. For starters, there's the Ginger Factory, Queensland's largest free admission theme park, where visitors can delight the taste buds by trying some of the goodies from a vast selection of ginger treats.
A short drive inland from Noosa, on the return journey to Brisbane, is the Big Pineapple, Australia's only working pineapple plantation open to the public where kids can enjoy the surrounds on a train, boat or Nutmobile ride before or after tucking into a fruit parfait. The Sunshine Coast also has a Super Bee Honey Factory where kids are able to taste 28 types of honey before venturing through tropical gardens to the Three Bears Cottage, the House that Jack Built and the home of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Mini golf, mini cars and a merry-go-round also ensure a fun-filled day. Another spot for kids to take a ride is at Nostalgia Town where they can climb aboard Albert's Incredible Time Machine and travel back to see the humorous side of history. There's also an Enchanted Railway, a reproduction of an 1863 steam train, along with an 18-hole Graveyard Putt mini golf course.
On Fridays and Saturdays, mum and dad can check out the arts and craft market at Nostalgia Town while the kids continue on their adventure in racing mini cars and sampling an old-fashioned ice cream soda. Close to a young girl's heart is Bli Bli Castle, not necessarily for its medieval characteristics - it has a dungeon torture chamber and plenty of medieval artefacts - but for its collection of dolls.
In line with the Sunshine Coast's family appeal, many of the resorts have supervised kids clubs for the young set, allowing parents to take time out for a round of golf, perhaps some much needed pampering at the spa. The Sheraton Noosa Resort's Holiday Kid's Club has day and night activities during the school holidays, afternoon sessions including tea and some T-shirt painting, beach games and jewellery making.
The Hyatt Regency Coolum's Camp Hyatt Kids Club is considered the Rolls Royce of kids clubs, boasting slides, sand pits, cubbies, art and craft, games and music, bike riding, canoeing and, for the teenagers, night parties.
Novotel Twin Waters has a creche for two to five year olds as well as a Dolfi Adventure for two to 12 year olds, with day and night passes. Accommodation on the Sunshine Coast is as varied as the attractions and children's activities, the four-star Maison La Plage a particularly attractive beachfront apartment-style resort, clean and lovingly decorated and furnished. This is a perfect and affordable spot for families, located both right in the heart of Hastings street and right on the beachfront. What more could you ask for? The 23 one, two and three bedroom apartments are self-contained, and there's a pool that has the kids happy - and active - long after a day's touring.
The Cafe Le Monde Restaurant, also in Hastings Street, is a favoured family dining spot boasting a fun atmosphere and large menu to ensure everyone's taste buds are catered for.
Sticking with the water theme are the Everglades Water Bus cruises that venture along the Noosa River and explore the everglades - and the wildlife that inhabits its shores. With the sun mirrored in the tranquil waters, it can be a magical end to a Sunshine Coast experience.