Sunshine Coast: From greener pastures

By Patrice Gaffaney

Fine food is a feature of a trip to Queensland's hinterland, as Patrice Gaffaney discovers.

Spicer's Tamarind Resort is home to Taste of Thailand cooking classes.
Spicer's Tamarind Resort is home to Taste of Thailand cooking classes.

I've never slept at treetop level before. Quite simply, it's stunning. The three cottages that make up Blue Summit Cottages are set on a ridge overlooking the Blackball Ranges in Queensland's Hinterland.

It's an hour and a half's drive from Brisbane Airport and is my first overnight stop on a long-weekend break that takes me on a circular trip; first inland, then to the tip of the Sunshine Coast and down the coast to Brisbane again.

The rigours of a 6.50am flight from Auckland and the three-hour time gap fade into oblivion with the heat, humidity and blue, blue sky that greet me on collecting my rental car. GPS on, I point the car towards the tiny little settlement of Maleny and I'm away, north along the Bruce Highway and towards my first destination: Spicers Tamarind.

Set near a waterfall on the edge of a stunning rainforest, the resort is a lush, green retreat where Thai style meets the tranquillity of the Australian bush. It's also home to the "Taste of Thailand" cooking class.

No time for tiredness. After a coffee and chat with my 11 fellow Thai cooking novices, I'm paired with Maleny resident, stockbroker Terry, and we take to our stations, eyes and ears glued to resident chef Phillipp as he imparts his wisdom in all things Thai.

In five hours we create five authentic dishes from scratch and quickly learn that the mortar and pestle is our friend. No jars of pre-mixed paste for us: if we want Yellow Curry Paste, all 11 ingredients go into the mortar one by one and we use muscles we never knew we had to create the paste.

Slowly we become more proficient and, to our immense surprise, the 12 of us sit down to a banquet of Relish of Chicken and Yellowbean with Spooning Vegetables, Spicy Beef Salad, Yellow Curry of Salmon, Hot and Sour Soup with Mixed Seafood and Stir Fry of Asparagus and Snake Beans with Roasted Chilli Jam.

It's fair to say none of us would put a dent in the reputations of some of the better Thai restaurants Auckland has to offer, but it's a start.

My overnight treat is only a 10-minute drive away and soon I'm enveloped in the serenity of King Parrott cottage. I pull into the drive under the watchful eyes of the cottages' three resident alpacas and am welcomed by Mark who has left the most enormous cheese and fruit board to tempt me.

I sink into the spa bath, glass of local wine in hand, and watch the sunset turn the blue-green mountains a warming red-orange hue. Bliss.

I wake to a dawn chorus of kookaburras and emerge on to the deck to see pairs of them - often joined by rosellas - sweeping across the valley and perching on the bunya nut trees beyond.

It's hard to tear myself away but I do, to Maleny, a quaint little town home to a variety of craft shops, bookshops and cafes. The Maleny Cheese factory has helped put the town on the map.

Established 10 years ago by "Swassies" (Swiss Aussies) Markus and Sara Bucher, the award-winning factory makes 16 different cheeses using locally produced milk from the "happy cow herds" of the Maleny Plateau and employs 30 locals. I'd tasted six of their cheeses in my platter the night before and they were delicious.

Next stop is Montville, another quaint, European-style village not a million miles removed from the cottages of Parnell's shopping precinct, boasting a huge array of art galleries, cafes and restaurants.

Next is Yandina, home to The Ginger Factory, the world's largest manufacturer of processed ginger products. It's worth putting aside a couple of hours to explore the site, although if you're going with kids they'll plead for a longer stay.

It's set out like a mini adventure park with Moreton, a 100-year-old cane train that takes you around the complex and explains its history, there's a tour of the factory which takes you into the plant where ginger is processed and shows you the process from paddock to plate, and there's a charming water ride called Overboard in which you follow the gingerbread man as he travels the world trying to escape the clutches of two determined chefs.

The experience is capped off by Super Bee, a recent acquisition with working beehives.

The factory is set in tropical gardens that feature edible and ornamental varieties of every ginger plant imaginable.

From Yandina it's a 45-minute drive to Noosa Heads and as I check into my accommodation at the Sheraton Noosa Resort and Spa, I've gone from quaint and charming to ritzy and glamorous.

The luxurious five-star resort has undergone a $10 million refurbishment. The town's stunning white-sand, tree-lined beach is in spitting distance as I gaze from my balcony, which overlooks the swimming pool, complete with swim-up bar.

Dinner is at Miss Moneypenny's, Noosa's newest dining destination on the ever-so-elegant Hastings St, and my host, restaurant manager James Macqueen, points myself and my dining companion Susan in the direction of the seafood and charcuterie share board.

It's a fabulous array: prawns with lemon and house-made cocktail sauce, chargrilled Moreton Bay bugs, salt and pepper squid, oysters and ceviche of yellowfin tuna, plus salami, jamon, chorizo, grilled artichokes, olives, buffalo mozzarella and sourdough -an absolute feast.

I return to the resort, dip my toe in the swimming pool and head to bed, exhausted.
The next day there's time for an early morning walk along the beach before the humidity hits me and I head for the air-conditioned comfort of the car and drive to Mooloolaba, my second coastal retreat.

Mooloolaba has that Sunshine Coast trademark white-sand beach and crystal-clear blue sea that stretches for miles.

On the day I was there, a constant stream of people, young and old, were pounding the boardwalk along the beach, getting their exercise.

From my fifth-floor accommodation at Osprey Apartments (room 51, the best, according to the owners, because you can see in all directions) I charted their progress at 6 in the morning and 10 at night. They obviously go in for fitness at Mooloolaba.

I felt like I should join them but restricted myself to a final dip in the warm sea as a farewell to the coast before I loaded up my car and headed for Brisbane Airport and my flight home, determined to return, soon - but when the humidity has lessened a little.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Air New Zealand.

Further information: See visitsunshinecoast.com.au.

Patrice Gaffaney travelled to the Sunshine Coast courtesy of Sunshine Coast Destination and Air New Zealand.

- Herald on Sunday

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