Sunshine Coast: Hang loose in Noosa

By Emma Land

Fine wine and food helped Emma Land while away the days in Noosa.

There's plenty to keep nature lovers occupied at Noosa National Park. Photo / Tourism Queensland
There's plenty to keep nature lovers occupied at Noosa National Park. Photo / Tourism Queensland

It's not hard to see why Sir Richard Branson bought his own private island near Noosa. Beautiful beaches, rivers, national parks, shopping, fine dining, there's something to suit everyone, whether you're a billionaire like Sir Richard, or one of the masses.

An easy 90-minute drive from Brisbane if you take the inland route, two hours if you take the more scenic coastal route, Noosa has evolved from a sleepy, hippy town in the 1970s to a playground of the wealthy today.

Baches have given way to expensive houses and time-share apartments, but locals have fought tirelessly to retain Noosa's charm. You won't find any parking meters, traffic lights, billboards or high-rise buildings around these parts. It has a population cap and 35 per cent of its land is protected, so it's more PC than GC.

The great thing about Noosa is that you can do as much or as little as you like. There's plenty to keep nature lovers occupied as it has a number of national parks in the wider area, including Noosa National Park, conveniently right at the edge of town.

A variety of walks cater to different fitness levels but the most popular is the coastal walk. It has dramatic beaches to one side and pockets of lush rainforest to the other, so the track is busy with walkers and runners of all ages.

Even surfers trek through to find tucked away surf spots. I'm told dolphins are a regular sight and if you're lucky you might even see humpback whales passing by on their annual migration.

If you're more into stretching your credit card than you're your legs, head to Noosa's shopping hub, Hastings St, a mix of high-end clothing stores, boutiques, homeware, surf stores and galleries.

Art lovers should check out Le Blanc Gallery. Owned by local artist Shane Bowden and exclusively exhibiting his work, his approach is to make art affordable and pieces start from as little as A$250. The gallery is tucked away in an arcade so you have to go looking for it. I stumbled across it in search of a supermarket and instead of getting food I walked away with a 1m x 1m painting. Probably the most expensive detour I've ever made but worth it.

Having worked up an appetite after a day's retail therapy you don't need to venture far for a meal. The strip is lined with cafes, restaurants and bars. Bordering the main beach, it's the perfect place to have a meal or a drink and watch the sun set over the water.

You could easily spend your holiday dining in a different restaurant each night but why not visit some of the many local suppliers and whip up your own culinary creation? The region is known for its abundance of good-quality produce and it all comes together on a Sunday morning at the Farmers' Market held at the AFL grounds, not far from the centre of town.

It's full of weird and wonderful things you won't find at home, including the curious-looking and oddly named Custard Apples (similar to an artichoke in appearance and with a taste like a very sweet melon) and finger limes, described as the caviar of the citrus world. There are 90 regular traders as well as casual stalls, although some are so well set up you wouldn't know they'd just trucked in that morning.

A lovely little French patisserie operates out of a caravan. It comes complete with awnings and cafe tables it looks like a permanent fixture. Make sure you go there on an empty stomach as the pastry selection is amazing.

There are plenty of other places to have breakfast or just grab a coffee while you browse the stalls. A bouncy castle is there to keep the kids entertained, so parents needn't feel rushed.

If you fancy getting out of town for a bit, take a drive into the hinterland. A number of destinations are within a short drive from Noosa.

Eumundi, with its markets held every Wednesday and Saturday, is a popular destination. Montville is a must-see for its old-world charm and quaint collection of shops and cafes. Set high in the Blackall Range it boasts great views over the hinterland all the way out to the coast.

For an even better view, head to the Glass House Mountains. This collection of volcanic peaks dominate the landscape. The highest, the world-heritage listed Mount Beerwah, is a towering 555 metres. Some of the mountains can be scaled but they're not easy. You'll need to be fit and have some climbing experience.

There are a number of walks and picnic spots around the national park, or you can view it all from the comfort of your car by driving to the lookout.

IF YOU GO

Where to stay: Noosa has accommodation to suit all budgets. Hastings St has a number of hotels and the main beach promenade is scattered with apartments.

I stayed away from the main strip at the secluded and luxurious RACV Resort and Spa. Set on a tranquil 6ha site overlooking a wetlands sanctuary and bordered by bushland, it was only five minutes from town but it seemed like a world away. It has special rates for AA Members, with studio suites from A$190, including breakfast, or one-, two- and three-bedroom self-contained apartments from A$200 a night. Non-member pricing starts from A$260 a night.

If you fancy living like a billionaire for a weekend, Richard Branson's Makepeace Island is for rent. Starting at A$7900 a night for up to eight guests (with capacity for up to 22) the entire 10ha island secluded in the Noosa River and its staff are exclusively yours.

When to go: Noosa has an average temperate of 25C and the climate is good year round. Food lovers should time their visit for May to catch the Noosa International Wine & Food Festival. What started as a small event nine years ago attracting 100 people has become the highlight of Queensland's culinary calendar. This year's festival hosted more than 26,000 people over four days. It's a foodie's mecca, featuring more than 100 events and 200 top Australian and international food and wine personalities and producers.

Local Aussie chef Maggie Beer and past Australian MasterChef winners Julie Goodwin, Adam Liaw and Kate Bracks were audience favourites, as was MasterChef judge Matt Preston. This year, Ben Batterbury of Queenstown's True South Dining Room at The Rees Hotel was the first New Zealand chef to participate in the event.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, the festival will welcome 10 international world class chefs and include new events. The 2013 festival runs from May 16-19.

Further information: See visitnoosa.com.au.

Emma Land travelled to Noosa courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

The Sunshine Coast's top 5

Flight Centre's Eleanor Jameson shares her top tips of things to do in the Sunshine Coast:

1. If you are driving up the coast from Brisbane on a Saturday or Wednesday, stop in at the Eumundi Markets. There's a huge selection of tropical fruit stalls, arts and crafts, jewellery and all sorts of food.

2. Spend the day on the beach relaxing and eating ice cream in Mooloolaba. Walk it off with a trip up to the lighthouse reserve.

3. In Noosa, walk down Hastings St and check out the boutique shopping. The beach is right there so it's easy to drift between the restaurants, the shops and the beach.

4. Hire a paddle board at Noosa beach and give it a go in the surf or take a lesson on the river. It's harder than it looks but a lot of fun.

5. If you're staying for a few days or taking the family, rent an apartment. They're convenient and usually in great locations.

For more information on travelling to the Sunshine Coast and Australia, contact Eleanor Jameson and the team at Karori Flight Centre on 0800 427 555.

Find out more at Australia.com

- Herald on Sunday

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