Stepping into the vibrant spaces of the Sunshine Coast’s eco villages, you may be forgiven for thinking that the days of hippie communes, love-ins and peace signs have not yet left us forever.
Crystal Waters and Bellbunya, two eco villages in south-east Queensland‘s Sunshine Coast, are hidden gems. With a plethora of earth-friendly activities, festivals and workshops, they offer an alternative weekend away, or even a longer stay, in pristine places that nurture body, mind and soul. Established at the confluence of crystal-clear rivers and creeks, with views of the sweeping coastline, here you can forget the modern world for a while and leave your worries behind. Emerging from them, you may even find a new vitality, an invigorated sense of self and a clearer vision of your place in the world.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Crystal Waters Eco Village
Crystal Waters Eco Village, founded in 1987, is a 650-acre (263ha) paradise hidden among the forested hills and lush valleys of the Mary River. Half an hour out of the colourful town of Maleny in the Sunshine Coast‘s hinterland, Crystal Waters lives up to its name. The abundant creeks and dams are home to native waterbirds and rare frogs, and the surrounding bushland is alive with kangaroos, wallabies and even the elusive echidna. Birdlife is abundant, with sightings of the endangered glossy black cockatoo welcomed by residents.
If you happen to visit on the first Saturday morning of the month, you will find the Village Green abuzz with live music and market stalls selling everything from local raw honey, fresh eggs, organic fruit and vegetables and beeswax candles to second-hand clothing. The communal kitchen serves home-made baklava, hummus and masala chai, and the Village Bakery their authentic sourdough bread and cakes.
Crystal Waters offers short- and long-term accommodation as well as workshops and residencies on permaculture, sustainability, green technologies, theatre, yoga retreats and natural beekeeping. You can attend a beekeeping workshop led by one of the original founders of the Village, Max Lindegger, and learn hive hygiene, the history of beekeeping, how to make wax frames and also sample the many varieties of honey Max produces, which changes from dark to light according to the flowering seasons.
Morag Gamble is another resident of Crystal Waters, who runs online and real permaculture design courses from her off-grid eco home and polyculture garden. A popular online course of hers is named The Incredible Edible Garden, as well as her permaculture teacher training courses. She also offers monthly free online master classes on Marine Permaculture and No-Dig Gardens, which have attracted thousands of participants. Morag has also established a registered charity called The Ethos Foundation, in partnership with the Permaculture Education Institute, which offers free permaculture education to fire-ravaged Australian communities, as well as supporting permaculture and eco-literacy projects in East Africa.
Crystal Waters Eco Village has stayed true to its original founding principles of local empowerment, ecological and spiritual care for the Earth and its people, social experimentation and low-impact, sustainable living. Gone is the heyday of hippie commune living, but you can still feel the lingering aroma of peace, love and incense. Once there, you feel removed from your everyday life and concerns and part of a greater community of thinkers, doers and change-makers.
Bellbunya Eco Village
Further north toward Noosa, nestled in the foothills of Mount Eerwah (the local indigenous word for ‘death adder’), Bellbunya Eco Village is a secret haven. Established in 2008, Bellbunya is smaller in scale than Crystal Waters, yet with its own gentle charm and subtle beauty. As you wind your way up and down sinuous lanes fringed with bamboo, you arrive at the beginning of a steeply rising driveway which ends at a large white-painted statue of the Buddha. Bellbunya’s self-contained cabins and communal buildings are here, in 40 acres (16ha) of rainforest and agricultural land, with bird’s-eye views to the east.
Self-described as a “living, breathing community, working to increase our own and the planet’s consciousness,” Bellbunya can feel more like a traditional commune or intentional spiritual community than Crystal Waters. Residents, short- and long-term visitors and volunteers still shop and cook and eat together in the communal kitchen, grow organic food together, read from a shared library in the ‘community house’, have weekly meetings and maintain the grounds and wildlife corridors.
Bellbunya offers serene outdoor and indoor spaces for retreats, conferences, weddings and gatherings of all kinds. Like Crystal Waters, they hold workshops and residencies on permaculture, yoga, meditation, sustainability, holistic health, healing modalities, alternative, localised economic and social systems and collaborative decision-making.
One of the hidden gems of Bellbunya is its spring-fed waterhole, large and deep enough to paddle a canoe and perfect for plunging into on a steamy, subtropical Queensland day. You may even share it with a platypus, along with the wallabies, kangaroos and whipbirds you can hear, calling their distinctive cry in the beautiful silence.
Bellbunya may feel like a remote oasis, yet it’s only a 10-minute drive to the world-famous Eumundi Markets or a 15-minute drive to the old-fashioned country town of Kenilworth, with its Cheese Factory. Across the road from Bellbunya is an organic feijoa farm, Hinterland Feijoas, which is open every Saturday, selling fruit and local artisan products from its farm shop and a van serving coffee, tea and cakes, as well as farm animals for children to enjoy.
Crystal Waters and Bellbunya Eco Village are not mere stops on the tourist trail. They have much to teach us about both old and new ways of being, thriving in community, building local networks and coming into our own personal power and creativity.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.