Everything's in easy reach on a self-drive tour of the Sunshine Coast, finds Linda Thompson.
She's getting a bit tetchy with me — Matilda, the voice of my satnav, guiding me around the glorious Sunshine Coast of Australia.
I keep stopping to look at things, or turning around from the assigned route to check out a wee town or a spectacular scene. She's Matilda for obvious reasons, and you can tell she's gritting her virtual teeth when she mutters "perform a u-turn when possible" one more time.
The Sunshine Coast. Its very name suggests an escape from rain and winter. And it's so easy to get around. Roads are smooth and well sign-posted, they drive on the same side and they almost speak English.
I fly into Brisbane airport (or you could take the winter season twice-a-week flights direct to Maroochydore), grab a car and hit the Bruce Highway with Icehouse blaring on Triple M.
Matilda warns me about speed, which they take seriously here, and keeps me posted about the right exit.
In about an hour the breathtaking stretch of coastline at Caloundra, Pumicestone Passage and the northern tip of Bribie Island appear. Matilda doesn't want me to stop. I ignore her.
The water is iridescent blue and it's laid-back, a bit like Mt Maunganui on steroids. And Kylie's on Triple M.
Bulcock Beach has a coffee shop on every corner with fabulous food, which you can take down to the beach for a picnic. Splash in the shark-free ocean pool at King's Beach, or keep travelling along the Nicklin Way and up Point Cartwright Drive to stroll through La Balsa Park and up to the Lighthouse (with AC/DC playing loud).
In the distance the beaches are overlooked by oddly shaped pointy monoliths. Captain James Cook named them the Glasshouse Mountains because he thought they looked like the glass furnaces of Yorkshire when he spotted them in 1770. They are spectacular at sunset.
I base myself at the lovely Monaco in the centre of Caloundra — self-service apartments with pools, the friendliest staff and walking access to everything. The best views at sunrise and sunset too, looking over Moreton Bay Marine Park, Bribie Island and Pumicestone Passage to those mountains.
Cafes, shops, restaurants and soft sandy beaches are everywhere along this coastline. Cafes open at 5.45am for early runners, swimmers and those who want to watch the sunrise.
But it's not all about the beaches, lovely as they are.
I let Matilda guide me to the hinterland towns of Maleny (pronounced Millaynee) on the edge of the Blackall Range with views all the way to Brisbane, and the creative hub of Montville. Matilda rolls her virtual eyes as I stop to take photos. Midnight Oil is on Triple M.
Here's where urban hippies live, where the main street is filled with co-ops, natural food stores, boutiques, potteries and art galleries.
Notice that the residents reverse into their angle parks. Sorry Matilda.
Ignore the road signs (and Matilda) warning of "very steep road" and "winding road". They've obviously never driven in New Zealand — these are gentle rises. I doubt I've ever been greeted so often by friendly locals with "How ya goin'?"
The trees are a brilliant pink and purple, strange birds sing from ancient curling tropical trees, metre-long lizards scuttle off into the undergrowth.
There's wineries around every corner, bed and breakfast guest houses, mountain cabins, cooking schools, rainforest walking trails, artists' studios. If you're a bloke tired of shopping, there's a designated "Husband Seat". Other blokes will welcome you.
Use Steve Irwin Way — honouring of one of the Coast's most famous citizens, the Crocodile Hunter — to get to Australia Zoo. It's a must-see, and you could spend a couple of days there in its well-planted, graceful grounds.
Time to head north. Australian Crawl on Triple M. Matilda leads me briefly astray on to a new road but soon realises she's stuffed up. Sigh, Matilda.
Mooloolaba is the family-friendly stretch of the Coast. Check out Sea Life (formerly Underwater World), swim with the seals and sharks, or marvel at the weird beauty of jellyfish.
You'll also run into plenty of ex-pat Kiwis here.
Every second person is from Devonport, or Christchurch, or Hawke's Bay.
One Kiwi, Kim — a young mum of two — has been here 20 years.
"It's the kind of place that attracts a range of people from all over the world and people are friendly, welcoming and ready to chat.
"We are a fiercely protective bunch who battle with our desire for progress and preservation. We love to be outdoors, enjoying the amazing sunrises, coffee on the beach, having dinner at the surf or yacht club, running, swimming, cycling, surfing, rowing, stand-up paddle boarding, horse riding or zooming along on a jet ski — it's all here," she says.
Later, Matilda and I cruise into Noosa, INXS on Triple M. It's utterly gorgeous. More urbane and sophisticated than Caloundra, but friendly and beautiful. I check into the Culgoa Point Beach resort, Noosa Heads — walkable to town, on the Noosa River and well appointed apartments.
The main street is full of weekenders in everything from "swimmers" and towels (some togs have turned into undies, unfortunately) to expensive linen resort wear, Gucci sunglasses, huaraches and permatans.
The main beach runs just the other side of the shops and the sand is pale talcum powder, the water as blue as it's possible to be. It's warm of course, but there's plenty of air-conditioned places to eat and drink, shop and meet friends. The massive Surf Lifesaving club serves massive, well-priced meals overlooking the beach, 1400 in an average weekend.
There's upmarket restaurants and bars, flash boutiques, and to get away from it all, the Noosa National park with its eight scenic walking tracks in the bush.
Time to head back to Brisbane — Matilda reminds me of the baffling and constant changes in speed limit. Men at Work are on Triple M, followed by Crowded House. Oh no you don't — they're ours.
Everything's in easy reach, you'll see animals, beaches, trees, birds you'll never see at home — but you'll feel right at home.
And take Matilda with you.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to Brisbane.
Further information: queensland.com.