Noosa has long been the jewel of the Sunshine Coast. The main drag of Hastings Street is a triumph of sensitive planning, with its canopy of trees, excellent boutiques and restaurants, and low-rise buildings overlooking the beach.
And what a beach! The long, beautiful sweep of sand stretches to the national park and is suitable for surfing and swimming. Along the beachfront there are a couple of great cafes. One of the pleasures of Noosa is to emerge from an early-morning swim then get a great coffee only a few steps away.
The whole place is so idyllic that you can understand why it has long been a destination for Melbourne’s monied class, who make annual pilgrimages up here. On the weekend of my visit there are a lot of “Prue and Trude” accents, and tanned, healthy-looking retirees in head-to-toe white linen.
But it would be a mistake to visit the region and only see Noosa. The Sunshine Coast hinterland has national parks, great produce, cute townships, quality accommodation and excellent restaurants. Some of the best food I’ve had in Australia I’ve had in this region and it should be a destination in its own right for foodies.
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2pm: late lunch at Flame Hill Vineyard
I don’t usually associate Queensland with wine but, after flying into Sunshine Coast airport, my first stop is the picturesque Flame Hill Vineyard. The Razorback Red – at a reasonable $20 – is my pick at the cellar door.
The restaurant’s motto is “paddock to plate” and, sure enough, there are Angus cattle roaming the vineyard slopes and their beef appears on the menu. Herbs and vegetables from the vineyard’s garden are included in the cooking.
6pm: check into Spicers
The standalone villas of Spicers Tamarind Retreat are set in a garden estate. Each comes with a spa bath on the deck and a log-burning fire, and kangaroos and great bird life can be seen from the balcony. There’s also a day spa a golf buggy ride or stroll up the hill away.
But at Spicers it’s all about the food. The restaurant does a modern Asian degustation for $95 a person, serving up possibly the best Thai food I’ve had outside Thailand. Matching beers and wines are also offered. My tip is the black vinegar-braised pork belly with scallop toast, XO, radish and celery salad.
9am: visit Maleny
The township of Maleny is a short drive from Spicers, about 45 minutes from Sunshine Coast airport and 90 minutes north of Brisbane. I’d visited about 10 years before, for a friend’s wedding (the town has a massive wedding industry), and remembered an organic store, a hippy vibe and good markets.
Returning, Maleny was bigger than I remembered. The high street winds down a hill and overlooks the hinterland. Give yourself at least an hour to browse: there are plenty of cafes, clothes and shoe stores and an excellent bookstore, the independent Rosetta Books.
My guide for the day is Lynn from Mystic Mountain Tours. She specialises in gourmet food tours and knows all the best places to graze. Our first stop is Colin James Fine Foods, which has a fromagerie and an ice creamery. On the walls are numerous awards for best ice-cream from the Royal Queensland Food and Wine Show.
I sample the chocolate ice-cream. Made daily, it’s thick and rich – almost like frozen fudge. The milk and cream are from the Guernsey cows down the hill, with Italian chocolate added to the mix. It’s easily the best chocolate ice-cream I’ve ever tasted.
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Then we’re off to Maleny Cheese where you can peer through a window and see workers on the factory floor making yoghurt. We order a cheese board, which has numerous excellent cheeses including some great fetas. There are too many to do justice to and we end up packing up the leftovers to take away. The outlet also has a range of camel milk products.
Next we stop is the Maleny Botanical Gardens, a private garden set on 14 acres and` surrounded by a rainforest. I miss seeing the famous view of the Glasshouse Mountains because of fog but there’s plenty to explore, including an aviary. Devonshire tea is served in one of the gazebos.
11.30am: visit Montville
Montville is as cute as its name. Everything in this town is adorable – although it does have a Toytown vibe and is filled with daytrippers. It feels less like Queensland and more like a village you might find in Europe. There’s a romantic-looking cafe called Poets Corner and an inn called Connemara that looks Irish and atmospheric.
Also worth exploring is the nearby town of Eumundi, which does excellent markets each Wednesday and Saturday. The markets, which have been going since 1979, feature everything from craft to produce to live music.
12pm: arrive in Noosa
As we pull in to the town, one of those once-in-a-generation super storms is passing down the coast. It will be the storm that hammers Sydney’s northern beaches but right now it’s just hanging around downtown Noosa, sulking.
Never mind. Even though Noosa is very much an outdoors town (particularly for walking and watersports), it has plenty of good shops and restaurants to make the bad weather bearable.
Lunch is at Season Restaurant with Louise, a Noosa local. The food is delicious and the fresh local fish is highly recommended.
Somehow Noosa manages to get it just right. You can eat right on the beach, with a view of the ocean and national park. Yet unlike other beach restaurants, this doesn’t feel tacky oras if you are party to some environmental travesty.
2pm: shopping on Hastings Street
But what to do in the rain? There is shopping. Most of it is along Hastings Street, the posh main drag. It’s like Mosman or Armadale here, with lots of homewares shops, places selling $80 T-shirts plus a few tasteful chain stores.
I am staying at On the Beach – which is actually on the beach. It is and a great place to watch the storm come in.
6pm: cocktails and pizza
A stop at Miss Moneypenny’s in Hastings Street for a pre-dinner martini (rosé with fairy floss) is a good place for people watching. I have some friends over and we order pizza from Zachary’s ($20 for a large pizza). I recommend the Nicomeli with prosciutto.
7am: walk and swim
A friend who lives in Noosa part-time says the locals’ general pattern is to get up really early and go to bed early. I follow suit and rise at dawn. It’s spectacular down at the beach. Even though it’s June – and cold by Noosa standards – I go for a swim. It’s 22 degrees! Brisk outside but still warm in the water.
Then it’s on to the national park. Visitors get there by walking along the footpath that winds along the coast and through a carpark. There’s an excellent cafe here serving good strong coffee, which is popular with local surfers. Up at the headland there are a range of walks that are signed and timed. The most popular, judging by the foot traffic, is the walk that snakes along the coast to Sunshine Beach.
1pm: lunch on the river
It’s easy to forget that Noosa is also a town on a river. It’s too stormy today for standup paddle boarding, a popular activity. Instead we catch the ferry from the stop behind the Sheraton and glide along, past the yachts in Woods Bay, down Noosa sound and along Noosa river.
We disembark at Noosa Boathouse, the ideal spot for a long lunch by the river. Most tables have a stunning water view and the seafood is as fresh as it comes.
The writer travelled to Maleny and Noosa courtesy of Visit Sunshine Coast