There's a way about people, I reckon, who live in a perpetually warm climate. They walk a little slower. Smile a little more readily. They have the air of people who know they're lucky to live where they do, and they're perfectly happy to share it with you.
So it is with the people of Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Not for them the impatient driving and fast pace of big city life. Here, the clocks don't go forward and the locals are quite happy to move at the sun's natural pace.
The SC is known for its beautiful beaches; its powdery-sanded coastline stretching for 100km from Sunshine Beach in the north to Caloundra in the south. It's tempting to "drop and flop" surfside, and Kiwis have been doing just that in these parts for years.
But it's a region that also holds other treats. That coastline plus a lush, tropical climate and fertile soil makes for some top class local ingredients, which SCers are starting to seriously celebrate. If you can tear yourself away from the beach, it's a place where foodies can find delicious inspiration.
As you head into the hinterland — the romantic term the locals use for the fertile inland hills of this region — you're transported to a lusher, greener place. And like the ocean that serves as its seafood basket, this land provides exceptional ingredients for an emerging locally tinged cuisine. As one local grower put it, "You could plant a broomstick in the ground here and it would grow".
Saturday's a great day for a foodie adventure in the hinterland; it's the famous Emmundi market day. This huge market with a 40-year history is a good place to find breakfast or morning tea; there's everything from ramen bowls to acai smoothies. Alongside the produce, food and drink you'll also find artisan chocolate; original artworks; craft; clothing; tools; cosmetics; gifts and other goodies. The market's "make it, bake it, sew it, grow it" ethos means you won't find the mass-produced plastic tat seen at many markets; it's a genuinely quality experience in a tree-filled setting. Save some time for a wander in the streets of Emmundi, too; the bookstore alone is worth an hour.
By the time you've worked up an appetite for lunch, it'll be a short drive to Spirit House restaurant and Cooking School. Step inside the archway at the entrance and you'll think you've been teleported to Thailand. The Thai-style buildings are surrounded by lush, jungly gardens; you can dine beside a lotus-filled lake under temple arches or go for a more casual platter-style meal in the Hong Sa bar. The food here is modern Thai with a nod to local ingredients and a hint of fusion. You'll find finger limes; local ginger; Mooloolaba prawns and a sprinkling of Szechuan and Korean flavours. It would pay to book; this place is popular. Likewise for the cooking school, which is another way to experience Spirit House; here you'll make your own lunch while learning some Thai techniques with the hands-on guidance of a chef, then sit down to eat it with your classmates.
When I say local ginger, by the way, I mean very local; the Buderim ginger factory is just down the road. Ginger's been being grown around here since before World War I; what started as a small co-operative of growers has become a global supplier of high-quality ginger. The Ginger Factory has elements of theme park about it — there's a ginger train and a ginger-themed boat ride — but it's also a fascinating look at a crop we don't grow in our neck of the woods. The ginger factory tour and tasting is worth a look. And I couldn't resist the dark chocolate-covered ginger and the "naked ginger" to bring home.
Continuing inland through the hills a little way towards Maleny — stopping on the way at Brouhaha Brewery for a craft beer tasting if it takes your fancy — will bring you to Spicers Tamarind Retreat. Sitting in the indoor-outdoor pavilion here (I'd suggest after working up an appetite with a walk through the adjacent bush), you'll again have the feeling you're in south-east Asia. Although as you sit down for dinner outside, the croaking of the local frogs (and in my case, the hair-raising tales from my fellow diners of their experiences with spiders and snakes) will plant you back firmly in Oz.
Chef Daniel Jarrett has mastered the art of what he calls modern Asian cuisine; you might also call it fusion, but there's no hint of confusion here (sadly common when this is done poorly). Jarrett packs his food with punchy flavour but everything is refined. Dishes such as swordfish curry with Fraser Isle Spanner crab and Issan-style mushroom salad let the fresh local ingredients really shine.
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The restaurant's open to all for casual dining, but it's worth staying the night here, not only for the lush rainforest setting around your villa, but also for the reviving breakfast bowl with tangy kimchi, brown rice and avocado alongside a softly cooked egg. The Tamarind is also home to a cooking school, with classes every weekend.
If you're detecting a theme here, you're not wrong; in my five-day stay on the SC I ate almost nothing but south-east-Asian-inspired food. It seems to suit the climate and the ingredients; local chefs have found these cuisines fertile inspiration for celebrating their local bounty.
If you want to explore more of the indigenous cuisine of this land, I can recommend seeking out a bush tucker walk at the Tribal Link centre in nearby Mapleton. I'm embarrassed to say I've been travelling to Australia for more than 20 years but I'd never had an indigenous food experience until our guide, Kerry Neill, took us into the bush and gave us an introduction to the ancient and fascinating food traditions of his people. Then he fed us delicious samples: emu cooked over the fire; roasted bunya nuts (like giant pine-nuts with the texture of chestnut); lemon myrtle cakes; bush tomato soup and bunya nut pesto. For foodies in search of new flavours to inspire, this is pretty special.
There's much more for food lovers to explore here, and early August will be a good time to do it, with the Curated Plate, a new four-day food festival from 8-11 August. The SC will host a range of fabulous events celebrating the relationship between chef and producer.
Air New Zealand has direct flights from Auckland to Sunshine Coast Airport between July and October. airnewzealand.co.nz
ACCOMMODATION Spicers Tamarind Retreat, is a handy place to stay at Maleny. spicersretreats.com
DETAILS For more on The Curated Plate, from August 8-11, go to thecuratedplate.com.au/sunshine-coast