When considering a foodie themed trip across the Tasman, many destinations may come to mind – James Hacon discovers that the International Noosa Food and Wine Festival should be one of them.
Once each year the small Northern Sunshine Coast town of Noosa becomes a mecca for foodies from across Australia and further afield when they visit the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival. When skimming the programme it's hard not to be slightly awe inspired by the impressive assembly of over 100 world class chefs, wine makers and food writers. In fact, this year's line-up included chefs representing 12 restaurants listed in the top 100 globally in the San Pellegrino awards.
Alongside a full programme of talks, wine tastings and celebrity chef demonstrations, the festival also encompasses producers from across Australia promoting their delicacies; not to forget a competition fuelled cook-off between stallholders, each vying to be named the best dish or wine of the festival.
With such a coveted title at stake, many stalls were pulling out all the stops with quirky presentation, while others let the fresh produce be the star of the show.
One dish I found particularly memorable was a tasty jungle curry presented in a halved pineapple, the fresh fish and perfect blend of spices was to die for.
For those wanting to really make the most of their time at the festival can sign-up to a gold or platinum programme, with perks including entry into special hospitality areas and sought-after spots at some rather impressive lunches, dinners and wine tastings.
With Queensland living up to its reputation as the sunshine state I took the time to explore Noosa, with walks along the beaches on the various river ways and even enjoyed a water taxi to the festival one morning - a novelty I particularly recommend. With more than enough time to having my fill of great food matched with equally fine wines, my attention soon turned to getting out and about and exploring more of what this region had to offer.
Whilst public transport is good across South East Queensland, if you want to discover the real essence of the Sunshine Coast you really need to head into the hinterland. For that, I'd recommend hiring a car. For those not flying directly into the Sunshine Coast, it'll also speed up the journey up from Brisbane, not to mention giving you the freedom of driving the rather scenic coastal route.
With transport in place, your first stop on your culinary tour of the Sunshine Coast must be Eumundi Market, a twice-weekly affair attracting locals and visitors to the region. Heading a little further inland, you'll soon reach the quaint township of Yandina, home to both the Buderim Ginger Factory and Nutworks; popular attractions for visitors to the region, offering free entry with paid tours and activities on offer.
Whilst I found the ginger factory to be a little too commercial for my tastes, I enjoyed a wander through the Nutworks, learning about the booming Macadamia industry and tasting the endless range of products from chocolate covered through to roasted and even a wasabi flavoured variety - not my particular favourite, I must admit.
Back at the festival I got chatting to a stallholder there to promote a second food festival in the Sunshine Coast's annual calendar, the Sunshine Coast Real Food Festival held each year at the Maleny Showground. Perhaps a little more local in flavour than the international affair of the International Noosa Food and Wine Festival, this event concentrates a lot more on nearby producers.
One producer that exhibits at both festivals is Trevor Hart of Cedar Street Cheeserie in Maleny. A self-professed artisan in buffalo milk fresh cheeses, Hart's signature cheese is a multi-award winning haloumi. With good food like this to pick up on your visit to the Sunshine Coast, be sure to take my advice and rent accommodation with a kitchen. On the subject of accommodation, the options in and around Noosa are endless, with apartment resorts seeming to be the most popular option.
Between being presented with a variety of rather tasty local delicacies, my interest was sparked with the story of a lime grower who transformed a run of bad crops into a true success story with a little initiative. What was the secret? Creating a variety of lime based salts and dried cooking ingredients. I picked up the chilli lime salt at the festival and since being home found it works particularly well when roasting chicken or baking fish. I'm told you can buy the lime salt at Belmondos, a food store locally referred to as Noosa's foodie heaven.
Always on the lookout for a good place to dine in the evening, over the four-day festival I certainly enjoyed some exquisite dinners out. My particular favourite being somewhat of a lucky find on our first night; Flux Restaurant and Lounge is a recent addition to the Noosa restaurant scene, opened just a few days before the festival by owners Malcolm Butcher & Glen Tilley, both seasoned veterans of the local hospitality industry. One of our favourite nights out during our trip away, diners can choose from tapas-style dishes combining the flavours of fresh local produce with traditional Spanish recipes accompanied by creative cocktails and a well-balanced wine list too.
As I'm sure you've gathered by my upbeat review of this trip, this was a getaway I'm not going to forget in a hurry. The International Noosa Food and Wine Festival is a truly world class event in a stunning location, so easily accessible from New Zealand with direct flights from Auckland to the Sunshine Coast. Just be sure to learn from my mistake and leave plenty of room in the luggage for all the bottles of wine you'll want to bring home with you.