The coast with the most
Sunny side up in Noosa and beyond
1. North Shore beachcombing: Temporarily fed up with my lot in life, I once got dropped off at the Noosa River ferry and set off to walk to Rainbow Beach at the other end of the vast Cooloola Wilderness. It took me three days, sleeping in the sand dunes and eating what I could catch in the surf gutters. It was rough and gritty — and the most exhilarating thing I’d done in years.
I don’t recommend a solo beach trek for everyone, but I do think that a little taste of the raw salt air of the Noosa North Shore is the perfect counterpoint to lazy lunching on Hastings Street.
You don’t need a four-wheeldrive or even a plan; just catch the ferry and follow your nose to the first cutting, park the car, walk on to the beach and turn left.
In holiday season the 30km Cooloola Beach can be a nightmare of macho fisherfolk in muscle trucks, but on a weekday morning out of season, it is bliss. Dolphins frolic in the in-shore gutters, seabirds hover above the dunes, driftwood treasures await you along the tide line. And that lazy lunch is only half an hour away. More: visitnoosa.com.au. 2. Ikatan Spa: I’m not really a spa kind of guy. It might have something to do with once too often being slapped into submission with a gritty mix of sand and cooking oil in Bali in the 1970s, but it’s just not my cup of dandelion tea. But this much I know: no matter how much marital strife one may find oneself in, help is at hand, and it’s a lot cheaper than a divorce.
Ikatan Spa is your favourite little piece of Bali, hidden away in the hills of Doonan, about 15 minutes into the Noosa hinterland. Ikatan looks, smells and feels like a gorgeous Balinese village. I can tell you that much, having been there to purchase redemption certificates. For the rest, I must defer to my long-suffering wife, who says a body treatment is the most wonderfully relaxing yet enervating experience to be had outside of the marital bed. (OK, I added that last bit myself.)
The treatment villas are surrounded by tropical gardens and the dreamy whiff of frangipani mixes with natural oils while time stands still. Note for surfers: if you’ve spent your entire Noosa holiday surfing the points while the rest of the family wonders what you look like, treating them here is your get-out-of-jail card. More: ikatanspa.com. 3. Visit the markets (not Eumundi): Which is not to say you shouldn’t visit Eumundi, but there are lesser-known markets with their own charm and plenty to discover. Make Sunday your market day and get started early because stuff sells out fast.
Noosa Farmers Market is held from 7am to midday every Sunday on the footy oval on Weyba Road, Noosaville. More than 100 traders sell goods ranging from organic vegies and frozen curries to skincare products and bush tucker.
On the first and third Sundays of the month ( every week in summer holidays), you can move on to Peregian, an arts and crafts market in a beautiful beachside setting. And as the market winds down, the Peregian Originals winds up. This family-friendly free concert, brainchild of muso Jay Bishoff, showcases some of the best music ( locals and touring acts) you’ll ever see for nothing. Food vendors all afternoon, and full bar at the adjacent surf club. More: eastcoastoriginals.org.au; noosafarmersmarket.com. au. 4. Noosa Woods: Everyone knows about the fabulous walking trails through the Noosa National Park, taking in five breathtaking bays and some magnificent stands of rainforest. Few but locals take advantage of the other patch of green at the opposite end of Hastings Street. Noosa Woods has an interesting history.
Once a littoral rainforest bordered by river and beach, it was declared a reserve in the 1920s but by the 50s it had become a counciloperated campground, and for the next couple of decades the forest was progressively cleared to allow for more campers. At the same time the adjacent Woods Bay became a safe haven for yachties, nude beach parties and dope deals. All this came to an end in the 90s when a progressive conservationist council threw out the campers and the yachties and began a revegetation program to return the woods to what they had once been.
In such cases you can never truly go home again; Noosa Woods is a little too manicured in places for mytaste, and a decade of sand-pumping from the river mouth to Main Beach has resulted in a badly eroded foreshore. But it’s still hard to beat it for picnic privacy, walking the dog, gentle cycling, trevally fishing, swimming and sipping wine at the edge of the bay, watching the sun set over Mt Tinbeerwah. 5. Humid: Hidden above a convenience store on the back road around the mangrove shallows of Noosa River, it could have been a case of out of sight, out of mind for Humid. Why search the backblocks for a feed when there is so much on offer on Hastings Street?
Well, if you’re a serious traveller you know to follow the locals, and we have been beating a path to Humid since it opened half a dozen years ago.
Former Melburnians Michelle Gordon-Smith (chef) and Mary Morrison (manager) took over the nondescript premises in Noosaville first made famous by Paul Blain’s groundbreaking Chilli Jam Cafe back in the 90s, and put their own southern sensibilities into a decor most commonly described by food critics as ‘‘semi-industrial’’.
Well, I like the open-plan eating and the polished concrete floor, but I don’t go to Humid for the decor or the view (there isn’t one). I go there to eat the best food in town, served efficiently and without pretension.
If it’s about being in Noosa, eat at the beach or on the river. If it’s about the food, find Humid. More: humid.com.au. 6. Paddling the Noosa waterways: Stand up paddle (SUP) surfing has become so popular that at many beaches relations between surfboard riders and ‘‘stick surfers’’ are at flashpoint. Still-water paddlers face no such problems, and Noosa’s varied waterways have become a paddling nirvana.
Using a paddle to support yourself while standing on a surfboard was originally a trick of the Waikiki beach boys so they could take photographs of tourists plunging down the waves in outrigger canoes. Leading beach boys Leroy and Bobby Ah Choy turned it into an art form in the 50s, but it took another half century to catch on.
In Australia it was pioneered by Noosa waterman Chris De Aboitiz, himself a former Waikiki beach boy, and introduced as a competitive sport at the 2007 Noosa Festival of Surfing.
These days Tropicsurf runs the best SUP school on the coast, and after mastering the flat water basics on the canals of Noosa Sound, you can take off on your own with endless kilometres of rivers, creeks and lakes to explore. And not only is this a great way to see Noosa from the water, but SUP involves a full work-out of muscles you didn’t know you had. More: tropicsurf.net. 7. Alexandra Headland Surf Club: When the Noosa Heads Surf Club went from quaint to giant, it joined the revenue super league but sacrificed a lot of its charm. Unkind observers have likened it to a car park with an Ikea cafeteria at one end and a TAB at the other. Fortunately, other Sunshine Coast surf clubs with beach frontage have been more thoughtful. Take Alexandra Headland, that tiny strip of forgotten coast between Maroochydore and Mooloolaba, for example. The Alex surf club’s view stretches from Point Arkwright to Point Cartwright, with a foreground dotted with surfers at The Bluff and Mooloolaba-bound yachts.
It’s a beautiful spot for a casual breakfast at the downstairs kiosk or lunch or sunset dinner upstairs in the unpretentious but stylish Lookout bistro.
Also, unlike many other surf clubs, service is efficient without being officious and guests are welcome. If you treasure the traditions of the old-school surf club, then at Alex they still raffle a meat tray every Friday and Saturday. More: alexsurfclub.com.au.
queenslandholidays.com.au Phil Jarratt is a resident of Noosa; his most recent book, Salts & Suits, was short-listed for the Blake Dawson Business Literature Prize. More: backbeach.net.au. Next week in our secret seven series: Darwin.
Noosa’s network of rivers, creeks and lakes is a nirvana for stand up paddle surfers of all levels of skill
In the off-season, Noosa’s beaches are blissful
Vegies at Noosa Farmers Market and zabaglione at Humid