People who know me know that I’m a bit of a princess. Well, perhaps put more accurately, a big princess. Maybe that’s where I developed my obsession with the Middle Ages and by extension, medieval history, Disney princesses, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and shows like The Tudors and Vikings, all of which feature rather impressive castles (except for Camelot... ‘tis a silly place).
I’ve always dreamed of getting to visit a castle someday, although here in Australia castles are a little rare to come by. However, it turns out that Queensland has its very own Norman medieval castle in Bli Bli, on the Sunshine Coast, lovingly built in 1973. My grandparents took me years ago as a young girl and I remember being awestruck.
We visited again more recently on a family holiday to the Sunshine Coast. It was a rainy afternoon, perfect ambiance for a castle visit. As we emerged from the car, the castle loomed over us against the backdrop of an iron grey sky. My imagination was already running wild. It took every ounce of my strength not to speak to everyone in the Olde English.
All The Important Bits
292 David Low Way
Bli Bli Qld 4560
Take the Bli Bli exit from the Sunshine Motorway
Distance from Brisbane: One hour
Distance from Noosa: 30 minutes
Distance from Mooloolaba: 15 minutes
Opening hours: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm (closed on Mondays during school term). Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, ANZAC Day and open from 10:30 am New Years Day. It may close early for weddings, but early closures will be advised on their Facebook page. For more information, see the Sunshine Castle website.
Phone: 07 5448 4477
Admission: $15 – adults, $13 – senior/student, $12 – children (3 to 15 years). Family and group discounts may apply. See the website for details.
Accessibility: As the upper levels of the castle can only be accessed via stairs, there is limited access for wheelchairs and prams.
Construction for Sunshine Castle (then known as Fairytale Castle) was commenced in 1971 and the first stage completed in 1973. Two years later, the moat and great hall were completed. A tower, Tudor facade, courtyard and tea room were added throughout the next decade, finally completed in 1984.
In its days as Fairytale Castle, Sunshine Castle was primarily a doll museum. It featured doll dioramas portraying fairytale scenes.
The doll museum was built upon in the 1980s and 1990s, with now over 2500 dolls displayed on the Fairytale Walk.
With new ownership in 2002, Bli Bli Castle became Sunshine Castle and new watchtowers and a front wall were added. The castle has been slowly transformed from a doll museum to a medieval museum, although the dolls retain a special spot in keeping with the castle’s unique history.
New ownership has also expanded the castle into a popular function, entertainment and wedding venue.
A medieval museum, a doll museum, and a breathtaking wedding and function venue all in one, Sunshine Castle has become an icon for the Sunshine Coast in its now 45 years of operation.
Exploring Sunshine Castle
It’s a very rare experience indeed to find a family activity that will delight three generations at once. (Our party ranged in age from 3 to 56.) And yet when I look back on our time at Sunshine Castle, I remember lots of smiles, excitement and laughter.
There were plenty of activities for my nephew, 6, and my niece, 3, to keep them entertained and believing the castle was a magical place. The self guided walking tour was an educational and highly interactive experience. Every nook and cranny of the castle, from the chapel tower to the dungeons, were free to explore. All ages had a blast trying on medieval armour, throwing around Monty Python and the Holy Grail jokes and marvelling at what life must have been like to live in a castle like this. (I decided that with perhaps a few more fireplaces, I would move in tomorrow.)
Exploring the castle took a couple of hours (perhaps because Greg and I like to read absolutely every plaque and study every exhibit in a museum), and then we stopped in at the cafe afterward for a bite to eat. The food was amazing! My sister and I were delighted to find that they served gluten free bread. Man, I love the Sunshine Coast.
Our Favourite Bits
The gorgeous courtyard, complete with drawbridge and moat, was probably my favourite part of the castle. The second we stepped from the Reception desk into the courtyard, I felt like I’d gone back in time. The kids were allowed to choose a costume to wear from a prop box.
There was an impressive weaponry display, and even real stocks, where prisoners who had committed a shameful crime were made to stand whilst villagers threw rotten food at them. Somehow, Mum ended up in the stocks at one point. Poor Mum. It was her birthday and everything. (It was just for pretend though, obviously.)
The Throne Room
Walking from the courtyard up the drawbridge, we entered the throne room. Here, though not a medieval relic, was a throne that was a real prop from Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules (remember them?). The walls were hung with flags and shields, and a suit of armour stood in the corner.
The Great Hall
No, wait, this was my favourite part of the castle! I wanted to have my wedding all over again just so I could have it here. Medieval paintings and swords were hung on the walls, and a U shaped table ran along the outskirts, with two thrones for the king and queen in the centre.
To top it off, there was a fairy princess doing arts and crafts with the kids. My niece, Miss 3, and nephew, Mr 6, thought it was the best thing ever. They happily made their own magic wands with stickers and colouring in.
In the corner of the Great Hall there was a narrow, winding stairwell leading down into the dungeon. It was dark and a tight squeeze.
I made my sister go first.
The climb was steep, and slow, the air got cold and damp, and there was little light.
“Oh man,” my sister said, halfway down, “if there is someone down there I will not handle it.”
I laughed, but secretly I agreed with her.
She stopped before reaching the bottom, afraid to venture further. “Hello?” she called. “Is there anyone down there?”
After a few moments of pause, she bravely stepped into the dungeon.
And then laughed.
In the corner of the dungeon room was a dummy in a giant metal cage, painted with blood. In the far corner and shadow, it looked quite realistic, especially after a trip down a winding staircase into the dark. The dungeon room was small and contained medieval instruments of torture. The actual dungeon itself was even tinier, barely large enough for a man to lie down in.
The Treasure Hunt
After we bought our tickets, the receptionist gave us a treasure hunt for the kids to do throughout the guided tour. There would be clues in various parts of the castle with scrambled words to decipher. If the kids found all of them by the time they had finished the tour, they would get a lucky dip at the end.
It was great fun, completely free, and the prizes were fantastic souvenirs. Full disclosure: we adults may or may not have pursued the Noble Quest, ostensibly for the kids, with more fervour than the kids themselves. (That is, up until the part where lucky dips started getting handed out. To the victor do not necessarily go the spoils.)
The Battlements and Towers
No, wait, this was my favourite part! I really did feel like a princess standing on the battlements looking out over the courtyard of the castle and the Sunshine Coast views beyond.
Here we found the castle chapel as well as the most important room in any home, the toilet. This was a tiny dark room with little more than a hole in the ground. It looked very inviting.
It will comfort you to know that this was not the actual toilet for guests. Those were far more modern and located in the castle courtyard.
Trying on Medieval Costumes
After beholding an impressive display of medieval costumes, there was an actual throne we could sit on and medieval armor, including helmets and chain mail, to try on. We spent a bit of time here, practicing our royal waves, and trying on armour so we could re-enact scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
One simply couldn’t write about Sunshine Castle without mentioning the doll museum. Though a few sections have now been retired, the dolls still feature strongly at Sunshine Castle. From dioramas of fairytale scenes to a museum showcasing 2500 dolls and figurines, it’s truly a sight you need to see. It is perhaps one of the most unique displays I’ve ever seen. The displays also featured Disney, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings figurines, fun to spot among the myriad.
All that stormin’ the castle had us pretty hungry, so after browsing the cool gift shop (it’s an Absolut Toys shop) we sat down in a beautiful private courtyard for mum’s birthday lunch. The menu had a large and varied selection to choose from. My sister and I were thrilled to find that they served gluten free options, including gluten free bread. The staff were so friendly, the coffee was great, and the food was delicious. It was the perfect way to cap off a delightful afternoon.
Whether you’re 6, 36, or 60, we can vouch that Sunshine Castle is a must see if you’re visiting southeast Queensland. If you are captivated by medieval history, or love fantasy films, it feels like a step back in time into your imagination.