We sent Melissa Findley, one of Flight Centre’s favourite photographers on a four day trip exploring Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. You may know Melissa’s work from her famed Instagram following, but you might not know that while she currently resides in Melbourne (or wherever her photography takes her around the world), she’s actually a Queenslander from way back.
Even for a relative local, on this trip she discovered a different side of the 'Sunny Coast' she didn’t know existed. From catching sunrise in the mountains of Montville to horseriding along Noosa’s North Shore and whale spotting in Mooloolaba.
Read our interview with Melissa below to find out more about her Sunny Coast adventure...
Hailing from Queensland, I guess you’ve been to the Sunshine Coast before? Did you even know all these places existed?
I had never actually been to Maleny or Montville before, I’d always heard about it, but I grew up closer to the Gold Coast, so that was always easier to get to. I was super excited when I saw it on my itinerary because of how beautiful everyone had always told me it is, and how cute and charming the little mountain communities are.
You visited the Kondalilla National Park. How long did you have to trek into the rainforest to find the falls?
It was about an hour walk each way (with my heavy backpack and tripod), and unfortunately it had been quite dry so the waterfall wasn’t exactly ‘falling’! I was a little devastated, but it was a really warm day and I came across some locals swimming in the natural pool there.
I actually spoke to them and asked where a good spot to photograph sunset would be, and they recommended a spot to me. My mother-in-law who lives not far from there also recommended a spot with some great mountain views. Unfortunately there wasn’t a great sunset that afternoon, but when I woke up the next day, I knew exactly where I was going to go for sunrise and that turned out to be even better. I got these amazing purple-blue tones, with mist rolling through the Glass House Mountains. It was a really calm, still morning.
Did you have to venture far from your accommodation at Spicers Clovelly to shoot the sunrise?
No, only about a 10 minute drive.
Did you eat dinner at Spicers Clovelly the night you stayed?
Yes. Oh. My. Gosh. It’s the best food I’ve ever had. I had pre-entree, entree, meal, dessert. I sat there on my own (laughs), and it was funny, when I ate the dessert, I now know what they mean on Masterchef when they say you can taste every single component of the meal in one mouthful. I understand that now, because of the dessert they served! It was chocolate and mint and avocado? I can’t explain it, but it was incredible.
After a good night’s sleep, Melissa continued onto Mooloolaba, for the Sunreef Whale Watching Tour.
Were you actually in the water with the whales?
Well, yes. You get in the water and the whales dive underneath you.
Wow, are you in a cage or something?
No, just bobbing up and down in the water. I was in inner-turmoil whether to get shots underwater or stay on the boat and get pictures of them if they jump. I was in and out of the water, switching cameras, trying to get the shot. The whales though, they are either shy or they show off. We saw a mother whale and some baby calves, and then five or six whales swam alongside the boat. You actually have to stay a certain distance away so as not to scare them.
I wouldn’t want to get too close to a whale myself...
They are so beautiful, and they look so gentle.
Did you have to travel very far out on the boat to find the whales?
Maybe an hour? Not too far.
Still, pretty deep waters, you’re really in the ocean out there. ..
Yes, and honestly even though I didn’t get to see a whale breach, or get to see them under the water, it was just an incredible experience, just to even see them flipping their tales. I would do it again, ten times!
I’ve grown up my whole life in Queensland, and I didn’t know you could go horse riding at Noosa and that there is a 'North Shore' accessible by car ferry (or dinghy) only...
I didn’t know either! I actually thought there was a mistake on the itinerary (laughs). I had no idea there was a barge in Noosa! But there is! I took it, and drove straight up along the foreshore to meet Sarah (horse riding guide). We were on the beach with the horses for hours. The horses go in the water if they want to, it was so amazing. I was ecstatic to be there. There’s so much to see on that side of the shore, people can 4WD on the beach all the way up to Rainbow Beach.
You also went to Buderim Falls? Was that planned or did you stumble across it?
It wasn’t on my itinerary, I was doing some research on where to shoot, and I wanted to do some star shoots at night, but there was cloud cover. So I wanted to find something a little bit different and to showcase where to go. I spoke to the lady in my hotel in Mooloolaba and asked her what was nearby and she suggested Buderim National Park, plus one of my best friends grew up in Coolum and he told me there was a really nice waterfall there. So I made it happen. I went there one morning after sunrise, and walked about five minutes before I found this beautiful waterfall, I was really happy with it and took a couple of shots, but I still wished I had some human perspective in the shot – that’s my style – I like to show the human element and how big these places are in scale to how small we are. I was really wishing someone was there, as I packed up all my stuff and I was heading back to the car, I heard girls giggling and the sound of splashing! So I was like ‘People. Splashing!’ I ran back as fast as I could with my backpack, introduced myself and asked if I could take a photo. It was worth going there just for that shot.
So were you travelling solo for this entire trip?
Yes, and it was actually really fun being on my own. Because I do a lot with the human element in photography, if I don’t have a model or a subject, I’ll put myself in it. But some of the places I was going, it was a little hard to set-up the tripod; windy or not safe. I found that challenging, but what I did to overcome that was to approach strangers, which I’ve never done before. I took a photo of a girl walking in Noosa National Park, I was just taking a photo of the light coming through the trees, and I was thinking how beautiful it would be to have someone in the shot, it was too tricky to put myself in it, and then this girl literally walked out of the trees. She had long blonde hair and a really pretty dress, I ran over and introduced myself and asked if she’d mind posing for a photo for me. And she was more than happy to. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and out of the norm. I had to think on the fly and go with what I had in that moment.
Did you venture out to shoot at night time?
Unfortunately for night shooting the weather wasn’t on my side. But I did get a shot of the full moon on the beach at Mooloolaba. It was literally over the ocean, it was big and so bright. I’ve never seen the moon that big.
I also got some great sunset shots from Little Cove in Noosa. When I was growing up I’d always go there, so I knew it would be absolutely stunning.
Favourite spot on the Sunshine Coast if you had to choose?
That’s a tough one – probably Noosa – because it offers a lot. You can go shopping, you can lay on the beach all day, go hiking in the national park, you can see dolphins, you can go to the everglades (which until this trip I had no idea existed), you can go over to the foreshore and ride a horse – so I think it has a lot for everyone, you can have a really varied holiday. And, it’s not that far from the hinterland either.
How does the Sunshine Coast compare to the Gold Coast?
I think the Sunshine Coast is more relaxed, it still has that small-town mentality, I mean there are touristy spots, but I think it’s still about the locals. It’s just charming. It’s a little slower, but in a good way.
You’ve done a lot of travel around Australia, but the Sunny Coast is pretty special isn’t it?
Yes. Definitely. And it is more special to me because I am a Queenslander. I really want to show off where I grew up and what we have available in QLD. And to think it’s only an hour from Brisbane and you’re up the coast, at the start of it at least. Every beach is beautiful for a different reason.
About Melissa Findley
Melissa Findley is a self-taught photographer who’s found a heart and a home in Melbourne. With the click of a button, she captures moments, feelings and moods like no other. Always inspired. Always learning. When Melissa’s not behind the camera though, you’ll find her hanging out with her friends, boyfriend or her cat, sipping coffee and eating chocolate! Either way, no words are needed because her story is told through images. Open your eyes to life through her eyes.