It's a bit awkward for a person who writes about travel to admit that her sense of geography is rubbish (just scraped a pass in seventh form, mortifying). Which may explain why I'd never grasped the difference between Queensland's Gold and Sunshine Coasts, conflating them into some blurry picture of sand and high rise and women in white pants with lots of gold jewellery.
It wasn't until I'd been introduced to the wonders of the Noosa Wine and Food Festival that the differences between the two coasts sharpened into focus.
When I finally made it to the Sunshine Coast last month, you could say I was a blank slate waiting to be impressed.
And impressed I was. From the moment of picking up the car at Brisbane Airport, programming it to head north, I was hooked. The tiny bit of drizzle on the way up was a sweet novelty after our rain-starved summer, the paddocks green and bush lush compared to the southern states. Big, empty, well-signposted highways - even the "rush hour" I passed heading south into the city seemed less onerous than ours.
Turns out Sunshine Coast is the gentler, prettier side of Queensland, with Noosa so determined not to become another Gold Coast, marred by tasteless development, it recently de-amalgamated from the wider Sunshine Coast council. Sure, there were the high rises of Mooloolaba (I stayed in the tallest one, the striking Mantra, and confess to loving being perched so high above the beach with views back across the hinterland), but they were a good block or more back from the beach and the few towers are now limited to only 12 storeys. Instead, there were tree-lined streets of gentle low rise; density with neighbourliness.
On the Sunshine Coast, not all beaches are created the same: from the south, Mooloolaba's Mount Maunganui-ish vibe of promenade and cafes, the smaller settlements of Coolum (golf-central), Pergian, Marcus, Sunrise or Sunshine beaches give way to the elegant riversides, parks, gardens and foodie attractions of the stylish Noosa Heads and Noosaville in the north.
The travel goddess kindly delivered a packed Mooloolaba beach on my first day, with thousands of tanned and toned bodies competing in the Festival of Surfing.
She was less kind about the weather for my afternoon sail with the nice Brian from Set Sail Cruises: his giant catamaran needed more wind to skim across the top of the rolling waves, and we had to retreat to the safety of the river when two passengers pleaded sea-sickness. But that proved a sparkling introduction to the canal architecture (real estate, these parts, starts around $2 million; famous locals include the late Steve Irwin's wife and young 'uns). Gin palaces moored near the grunty prawn boats summed up what this part of Queensland is about.
The region has finally started pitching its justly deserved food bowl reputation.
With raw food cafes, ginger farms and farmers' markets through to fine dining, a person could happily eat their own bodyweight. There are enough of the fun parks - Aussie World, Australia Zoo, opals, kart tracks and so on - to suit the multi-generational family market the region is targeting, but it was the gentler pursuits that charmed me. There is an emerging bike culture, bush walks and pampering spas dotted through the hinterland and, blissfully, the brochures do not lie about those golden beaches and warm surf.
Now I get it.
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Catherine Smith was a guest of Qantas, Tourism and Events Queensland and Destination Sunshine Coast.