Chris Barton

Technology columnist for the NZ Herald

Sunshine Coast: Meandering down to Mooloolaba

Rain. Always a challenge on holiday - and in this instance particularly annoying because we're on Australia's fabled Sunshine Coast. Never mind.

We pick up the Thrifty rental in Noosa and meander down the coast road to Mooloolaba. "My, Australian drivers are so courteous compared to New Zealanders," I find myself saying.

Actually, it's true and despite the rain the broad expanse of Coral Sea meets Pacific Ocean, horizon and lots of beach - Sunshine, Sunrise, Peregian, Coolum, Yaroomba, Marcoola, Twin Waters - makes for a lovely drive.

The inclement weather suggests a good day for shopping so we take a slight detour to Maroochydore and the Sunshine Plaza - which is today without sun and doesn't seem to be a plaza, strictly speaking. But it is a shopping mecca which has the 14-year-old straining at the leash to explore its multi-level treasures.

The complex features multiple eateries, and a six-screen cinema, and straddles Cornmeal Creek.

A shame the watercraft aren't functioning because mucking about in the pedal-boats in the canal would be a good way to pass the time for a reluctant shopper.

But shopping is a must on any Aussie holiday, not just for the bargains, but because the range, like so much in Australia, is so big. Sunshine doesn't disappoint. But as always my shopping is completed long before the others. No worries though as I pass the time in a comfortable seat watching mall-world go by.

Some hours later we're back on the wet road to Mooloolaba. Tower blocks by the beach make a wall but also express something about our clamouring need to be by the seaside. And from the fifth floor of the Peninsular apartments the sweeping curve of Mooloolaba spit, thankfully tower-block free, is spectacular.

On our last day the rain clears, giving up a picture postcard memory - a shaft of sunrise glanced across the sea and on to our balcony. Each morning we take a hearty breakfast in one of the many waterfront cafes designed for alfresco dining, but a little zipped up with awnings in this weather.

Seafood buffs will be in heaven here. Prawns, crab, Moreton Bay bugs and fish are unloaded daily at "The Wharf" area from a steady stream of trawlers. I can thoroughly recommend Fish on Parkyn.

The water-laden skies don't bother us at UnderWater World - a Kelly Tarlton-type encounter, only bigger. Highlight of the visit is a seal encounter with Bella who flaps her flippers and will whack a wet kiss on your gob on command. The Seals Behaving Badly show is great, too, even if it does involve a New Zealander losing his pants.

UnderWater World's other main attraction is a shark dive, where one can get up close and personal with giant rays and a very large grey nurse shark.

Rain doesn't spoil the Harbour River Canal Cruise either, where from the MV Mudjimba, an old timber ferry, one can get the lay of the Mooloolah river, gawk at ostentatious real estate, the fishing fleet and feed the pelicans.

We depart Mooloolaba on a brilliantly sunny day for Australia Zoo which might better be named Crikey! World.

Steve Irwin and his trademark khaki shorts and action crouch are everywhere: on posters, screens, T-shirts and even on mousepads in the gift shop. Resistance is futile and Irwinspeak is infectious.

We begin by feeding Harriet, the giant Galapagos land tortoise. Look how she loves to munch hibiscus flowers using her serrated jaw! Hard to believe this gorgeous girl hatched in 1830! What a beauty!

Australia Zoo specialises in up-close-and-personal animal encounters. We get heaps: cuddling a koala, feeding the Asian elephants - drop-dead gorgeous girls - and, by jingo, patting a dingo.

The show in the 5000-seat Crocoseum is fantastic too: birds swoop, snakes slither, tigers frolic, and crocs snap while Australia Zoo staff gently impart their conservation message of how easy it is to live in harmony with dangerous beasts.

Tired, happy and a little grubby we make our way to the Hyatt Regency Coolum, where we are met by the immaculately turned out Kate and Brooke.

Despite feeling wrongly dressed for the occasion, we are made to feel welcome and they take us on a grand tour by golf cart of the luxury resort. The place is a weird utopian dream village. (Think Pleasantville meets The Prisoner set on a golf course).

Everything is perfect - especially for golfers who will be in heaven on this gorgeous course which is home of the Australian PGA Championship.

Our Ambassador two-storey villa with two master bedrooms, each with ensuite and spa bath, has the 14-year-old running from room to room screeching with pleasure. Identical villas are clustered around a communal lounge complete with its own pool and tennis courts where we wander down each morning for a sumptuous continental breakfast and drop in for happy hour - wine and canapes and shooting the breeze with the neighbours - before dinner.

We're spoiled for choice in food, with four restaurants ranging from fine dining (Bruschetta) through to the less formal (Noodles). For lunch I thoroughly recommend lounging in the Village Square with a pizza from Pizzeria.

Like any village, the Hyatt Regency has its own transport system: elongated golf carts that tootle around the beautifully laid out circuit every 10 minutes or so. But our greatest pleasure came from hiring bikes and getting a bit of pedal exercise.

An early-morning ride past a family of kangaroos to the Hyatt Regency's stretch of Coolum beach (complete with its own lifeguard) is a sensational start to the day.

On one of the days we take a tour to the Eumundi markets - a colourful step back in time to hippie new-age craft, bad folk songs and assorted eccentrics.

But mostly we're content to meander on our bikes through this idyllic paradise, made more idyllic by a visit to the Sun Spa. Here we are pampered with "extensive techniques and the most nurturing of essential oils".

Soothing plinky-plonky music combines with the sound of falling water while the masseuse rubs lavender-orange-camomile oils with "wild sweeping effleurage movements" into my shoulders, back and legs.

The result is indeed "a radiant blend of healing attributes. Invigoration, reflection, relaxation". I never want to leave.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Pacific Blue flies between Auckland and Brisbane.

Where to stay: The Peninsular Beachfront Resort, Mooloolaba, has two-bedroom apartments (floors 3-8) or consider the Hyatt Regency Coolum.

Getting around: See Thrifty Rentals.

Chris Barton travelled as guest of Mooloolaba Tourism and the Hyatt Regency Coolum.

Find out more at Australia.com

- NZ Herald

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