Lapping up the sunshine in Noosa

When readers of Travel were asked where they would most like to go for a sunny mid-winter break, Noosa, and the Sunshine Coast of which it is a part, were among the most popular choices.

It is no great shock to discover that the Sunshine Coast has plenty of sunshine - seven hours a day on average - but what comes as a surprise is how much more is on offer.

Noosa, its most famous town, has some wonderful cafes and restaurants, a thriving arts and crafts scene, fancy boutiques and intriguing markets, all of which will be on show next month at the Noosa Long Weekend.

Its programme includes a wonderful mix of fine food and wine, with beautiful music, challenging art, great theatre and stimulating debate.

But if you feel the need for something more tranquil, Noosa has managed to retain the links with the sea and the forest which have made it so famous.

In spite of the millionaires' homes which have sprouted around the coast, the sandy beaches still offer great swimming and surfing in warm, clear water.

And the Noosa National Park, just a brief walk away, is one of the most visited in Australia, with its peaceful walkways, secluded coves and glimpses of wildlife.

Then there are the Noosa Everglades which can be explored by boardwalk, launch cruise or kayak.

The region around Noosa also holds some of Australia's top tourist attractions.

Not far away is Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo. This boasts more than 500 animals - including Harriet, said to be the world's oldest Galapagos land tortoise at 173 years old - but the big attraction is the hope of seeing the great man wrestling a croc.

Unfortunately, as disappointed comments in the visitors' book attest, the demands of making movies, raising money and promoting his zoo mean he isn't around often.

Instead, there are quite enough huge crocodiles, not to mention poisonous snakes, tiger cubs with vicious little claws, grumpy koalas, spiky echidnas and sharp-taloned birds of prey to keep a family scared for an entire day.

If you prefer to be scared by the creatures of the sea, the Sunshine Coast is also home to Underwater World, with its 80m long tunnel through a world of sharks and lesser fish, plus a billabong with giant barramundi and more crocs, a seal colony and some nasty jellyfish.

If you would rather eat than be eaten, try the bizarre Big Pineapple, a 16m fibreglass pineapple, where you can find out about Queensland's tropical fruit industry and taste the results (pineapple parfait anyone?)

Even crazier is the Ettamogah Pub, modelled on the one created by Australian cartoonist the late Ken Maynard for his cartoons in the Australia and New Zealand Post magazines, where, despite the weird design, you can get a cold beer and a good steak.

Aussie World next door is a family fun park with all sorts of crazy rides, including the second-largest ferris wheel in the Southern Hemisphere, the strangely named wild mouse roller coaster and the space shaker.

After all that activity it may be a relief to get back to the Long Weekend for the gala dinner of Beethoven piano music performed by Gerard Willems followed by a six-course degustation dinner, each course prepared by a different local chef, accompanied by matching wines. AAP

* The Noosa Long Weekend is from June 17 to June 26. Festival details are at www.noosalongweekend.com or phone 0064 7 5442 4546.

Further information about Noosa is at www.tourismnoosa.com.au, phone 0064 7 5474 3700 or PO Box 581, Noosa Heads, Queensland 4567, Australia.

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