The hinterland discovery tour
Quaint towns and villages and spectacular scenery are waiting to be explored
THE smoke rising from the small fire in front of us made the hulking and rock-strewn mountain in the background start to shimmer.
As the sun set, and the fire hissed and cracked and warmed our legs, Mt Cooran went from grey rock and green shrub to a black silhouette against the sky.
We were reclining in an arbour at The Dales Boutique Bed and Breakfast and looking at the peak of one of the mountains that form part of the Noosa hinterland.
It was a relaxing way to finish a day of exploring the region. About 30 minutes’ drive from Noosa’s famous Hastings St a world of country hospitality awaits.
We had collapsed the night before into a comfortable bed at The Dales and got to know owners Liza and David Hobbins a little better over breakfast.
The couple opened their home to guests about a year ago after deciding on a business venture that allowed them to work together and at home.
“Guests can expect complete rest and relaxation,” Liza said. “That’s what we hope to achieve.
“We only take one booking party at a time ... so they’re not going to run into anyone else except for us, as the hosts.”
The Hobbins have planted an extensive garden on their 1ha property at the base of Mt Cooran, and breakfast is peppered with homegrown produce and homemade condiments.
Liza’s lemon and passionfruit curd was a particularly tasty treat that left me begging for a jar of it to scoff at home.
There is much to do in the hinterland and one of the easiest ways for tourists and locals to explore it is to take part in the Noosa Country Drive.
Visitors can make up their own route through towns in the hinterland region, or choose one of three set itineraries online.
Use one of the many accommodation options in the hinterland as a base, and then explore at your leisure.
Our first stop was the Eumundi Market. The small town, about 15 minutes’ drive south from Cooran, has undergone a revitalisation and many cafes and retail shops line the main street.
The market, popular with the region’s visitors, seems to have an ever-growing number of stalls. Prints and other homewares, health foods, cards and stationery, jewellery, clothes and food are for sale.
According to the Eumundi and District Historical Association, Christa Barton and Gail Perry-Somers came up with the idea of holding a European-style market in 1979.
That same year, three stallholders set up around the CWA hall. There were eight visitors and a turnover of $30.
Fast-forward 38 years and there are now 600 stalls with an annual visitation of 1.6 million people.
After working up an appetite by threading among the stalls, we parked ourselves at the Bohemian Bungalow on Memorial Dr for lunch.
Selda and Ned Nolan took over about a year ago and have introduced a distinct Middle Eastern feel to some of their dishes, in celebration of Selda’s Turkish roots.
They lived in Hong Kong for several years before settling in Eumundi to raise their children.
“Our relationship is kind of based on food. I grew up in a big Turkish family ... and we know how good Turkish food can be, how good it can taste,” Selda said.
Ned, 34, an Aussie chef, brings about 18 years of experience to the kitchen after working in several countries.
The Israeli couscous with hummus and melt-in-your-mouth smoked lamb are a must-try. It is a casual dining experience, especially if diners nab a spot on the bar seats by the window so they can watch the world go by on the footpath.
After fuelling up, we hopped back in the car and made the Noosa Botanic Gardens our next stop.
Noosa Botanic Gardens
We half stumbled upon the Greek amphitheatre in Noosa Botanic Gardens, in Cooroy, not expecting to come across it so early into our garden jaunt.
Kids leapt down the semi-circle of bench seats and a gaggle of visitors (ourselves included) took centre stage over an impressive star made of brick tiles and sang to an invisible crowd.
Through the perfectly formed columns of the theatre stage the blue water of Lake Macdonald glistened in the afternoon light.
We lingered at the amphitheatre, which was finished in 1997, as the light changed and the lake water dulled as the sun went down.
Originally farmland, the gardens site was reclaimed by the
Noosa council in the 1950s and was used, in part, to dump rubbish before resident Ida Duncan approached council for permission to clear it.
The gardens are a perfect pit stop to let the kids run around, or buy food from the markets and take a picnic there.
Too soon, it was time to head back to Cooran for dinner.
Town favourite Clooney’s Restaurant was pumping the night we dined, thanks to the monthly acoustic night held in the town hall next door.
Performers converge on the hall, which in years gone by has also acted as a movie theatre and dance hall, to entertain a large crowd.
Clooney’s chef Christine Jurss-Smith, 69, runs a tight ship. Forget about recipes, after more than four decades behind the stove she makes dishes guided by her intuition.
“I like developing my own dishes, and getting my own taste into things,” she said.
A generous serve of lemon butter barra with vegetables, and a hearty size steak for him, had us rolling out the restaurant door. We plunged into the crisp hinterland air, which is much cooler and less humid than on the coast. Remember to pack a jumper or two as winter descends.
Cooran is named after “guran’’ or “kuran’’, meaning tall in the Kabi indigenous language. Experts say this might refer to Mount Cooran or to the Moreton Bay ash trees that grow there.
It is an eclectic little town where hipster meets heritage and seems to work well together.
In King St The Vintage Junction offers coffee and a chance to sift through wares gathered from across the region.
There is also a bit of a buzz about town as Bonsai Brewery prepares to throw open its doors on the main street.
Another stop on the Noosa Country Drive is Kin Kin.
This little destination has not forgotten its logging past, with a stunning slab of wood taking pride of place behind the bar at the Kin Kin pub.
The walls are littered with contraptions of years gone by, from wind-up sewing machines to farm equipment crippled with rust.
Across the road, the Kin Kin General Store (and also a restaurant) has received a new lease on life thanks to chef Jodie Williams.
Friday night is pizza night, and diners can expect morsels with a number of toppings, which are given a quick blast in the outdoor pizza oven.
The Eumundi Market is on every Wednesday and Saturday.