Flat out in Noosa, Qld

When we’d talked
about a girls’ weekend away, the plans were laid for lovely spas, lazy brekkies
and dips in Noosa’s warm waters. I hadn’t factored in toads or fisticuffs
but, hey, I’m flexible. 
Girlfriend Mel and
I pile way too much luggage for three days into a lipstick-red Kingswood
V6 hire car at Maroochydore airport and hit the road, ready for beaches, art
classes and too much eating. 
The roads are slick with rain, and you know you’re
in Queensland when you feel that special sensation beneath the wheels: the
popping of cane toads. It’s deeply satisfying to know we’re doing our bit for
the environment.
The deadly sins of
greed and sloth are not the only thing egging us on down the road. What is it
about the locals? Are they taught hairpin-bend-tailgating at school? I take a
leaf out of my grandmother’s book of driving and wind down my window to shake
my fist at a woman who glues herself to the Kingswood’s backside as we wind
uphill through dark, damp rainforests into the Sunshine Coast hinterland, for a
day of art and spa at the Natural Beauty Retreat.
Eating at XO
The hamlet of
Dulong is where Tina Rossiter has set up a series of art-meets-spa days. It
sounds delicious: a small group meets to paint and, in between, each artist is
whisked off for a facial.
It’s been years
since most of us wielded a brush, but Sabine, a willowy blonde Austrian and a
successful artist in her own right, has photocopied photographs of nudes that
we will draw freehand with charcoal, then transfer on to the canvas to paint
with acrylics.
At Tina’s sprawling
house, our easels are set up on the deck overlooking a pool and Balinese hut
lined with absurdly green palms and bamboo, which kookaburras flit between.
Occasionally, rain drums on the corrugated iron roof, and Sabine sets about
coaxing out our inner berets. 
As we work away, Tina steals us away, one by one.
Each lucky girl emerges smiling and fresh-faced, smelling of Tina’s luxurious,
organic, handmade cosmetics following a relaxing facial, with hand and feet
massages for good measure.
By the end of the
day, I’ve painted what obviously is a masterpiece, my take on a photograph
reminiscent of Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, while Mel’s saucy girl should be snapped
up by Sotheby’s soon.
The drive back down
to Noosa is spent window shopping: we could buy local honey, bags of avocados
for $2, get a psychic reading or purchase a pure-bred droughtmaster bull from
$1100. Funds permitting, we could buy an entire hobby farm, such is the
diversity of the handmade signs. Roadside commerce is thriving in this neck of
the woods, even though the Sunshine Coast has more roundabouts than Canberra.
Noosa Main Beach
Our bed for the
night is the Outrigger in Noosa, which recently opened new villas and
penthouses. It’s not to be confused with an older property in the Noosa area
that snagged the Outrigger name some years ago. This is the real deal of the
Hawaiian resort group: a five-star, $300 million resort with 197 suites, villas
and penthouses, three pools and all the trimmings, from gym to sauna,
conference facilities and, of course, the Brisbane institution Stephanies Spa,
which has hung its plaque here.
Stephanies Ocean
Spa is one of those places you wish you could transplant into your bathroom –
coastal scents and zen music that doesn’t sound corny. Despite the name, there
are no coastal views but the flotation tank looks out on to a wall of
rainforest, so Mel and I strip to bikinis and spend an hour letting go, as the
salt water buoys us in the closest approximation to an Aussie Dead Sea. It is
deeply weird, as we keep bumping into each other, like ships in the night, in
the long pool. A therapist later tells me that when you are truly relaxed, you
stop sailing about, and one hour equates to a night’s deep sleep.
The Outrigger is
set in the rainforest just above Noosa’s happening Hastings Street, with its
Italian fine-dining restaurant Berardo’s, but Noosaville’s where it’s at for
new food, and we head there for dinner the next two nights. The old River
House, former home of Sunshine Coast chef David Rayner, has been revived as the
River Cottage Restaurant, where the spanner crab risotto is legendary and degustations
are on the menu.
David himself has
moved around the corner to Thomas Corner Eatery. A hot tip: skip the meaty
mains and order up big on the entrees to share – charcoal-grilled octopus,
Moreton Bay bugs, clams and pork and rabbit rillettes, which our French waiter
says are “better than the French ones”. Oh, and ask for table No. 20,
the garden table set apart from the masses, which backs onto a wall of ferns,
with great street and kitchen views. Sitting at the high bar tables or the shared
timber tables, we spot plenty of thongs and shorts on show in the open-air
restaurant, which is flat-chat doling out Bowen mango daiquiris and limoncello
cocktails.
Outrigger Litle Hastings St Resort, Noosa
If I’d had the time
and ability, I’d have eaten yet more spanner crab at Pitchfork in the
jam-packed Peregian Beach shops, and followed with lycheetinis at Embassy XO’s
secretive, glam little upstairs bar in nearby Sunshine Beach after a good
rummage through the chic shops. Then I would have sampled the Franco-Thai
bistro menu at Gaston (50 Hastings Street) or headed down to Q Place, a new
food precinct led by Noosa staple Rickys and Japanese eatery Wasabi, formerly
of Sunshine Beach, now with a fabulous water view and wearing a hat, thanks to
the new Queensland Good Food Guide.
The last we can
manage is a pre-flight morning coffee at Aromas cafe on Hastings Street.
“Soooooo Noosa, darling,” says the friend who tips me off about the
cafe, with its menus designed by beloved Brisbane chef Philip Johnson. “We
all sit in the European-style tables on the footpath and see who’s in
town.”
Let me tell you
who’s in town: massive brush turkeys, who perch on the backs of the seats,
preening themselves ’til the staff chase them away with fluttering dishcloths.
They’re a bit wild, a bit vain, very cheeky and they know the best table in
town – that’s Noosa in a nutshell.
Five
more outdoor things to do
1 Amble along the Sunshine Coast nature
trail. The classic Noosa walk is the Noosa Heads coastal walk. There are five
tracks — ranging from one kilometre to eight kilometres — which will take you
through rainforests, up to lookouts and along the beaches. You can do an
hour-long circuit, spotting koalas on the way, or a one-way walk down to the
spectacular surf beach, Sunshine Beach, for a swim and a brew at the excellent
Costa Noosa Espresso cafe.
2 Wander through the bushland setting of
the fabulously massive Eumundi Markets to admire clever street performers, buy
up local cheeses and produce, fondle cheesecloth and snack on street food every
Wednesday, 8am-1.30pm, and Saturday, 7am-2pm. For a fashion hit, local
designers gather on the beach at sleek Peregian Beach’s market on the first and
third Sunday of the month, 7am-12.30pm. Stick around afterwards as local bands
provide the soundtrack for lunch.
3 Take a cruise down the Noosa River for
afternoon tea amid the pristine wilderness. Snappers take note: it’s estimated
that nearly half of all Australia’s birds hang here at some point during the
year, more than in Kakadu. To experience the wetlands’ impossible stillness,
extend the day by taking a canoe through the waterways before cruising back to
busy Noosa. Costs $75 adults cruise only, $119 canoe and cruise. (07) 5449
0393, noosaevergladesdiscovery.com.au.
4 “Nature is your playground,”
says fitness goddess Nikki Fogden-Moore, who knows all the best local spots for
bushwalks, road biking or, hey, even a triathlon following Noosa’s famed
course. Fear not, those looking for a little light exercise are just as
welcome. Join a sunrise yoga session at Little Cove, just beside Noosa’s Main
beach, or up at the Boiling Pot lookout in the Noosa National Park, from $25.
Or go all out with your girlfriends and hire a personal trainer for an ocean
swim and run through the bushland or whatever exercise your body desires. Costs
$75. 0428 198 911, lifesagym.com.
Learn to surf in the warm waters of the
Sunshine Coast. Beginners, try Tropicsurf for 1½-hour private lessons, costs
$180 a person, or $360 a family, or book a full-day trip to Double Island Point
for a family day of surf lessons, sandboarding and barbecuing with the local
roos. Costs $720. (07) 5455 4129, tropicsurf.net.
Otherwise, focus on your core and find your abs with stand-up paddleboarding
queen Donalee Halkett. 0423 869 962.
Trip
notes
Getting there Virgin
Australia and Jetstar fly Sydney-Sunshine Coast daily. Otherwise, fly to
Brisbane and drive 90 minutes to Noosa.
Staying there Outrigger
Noosa starts at $279 in a one-bedroom apartment including breakfast, Little
Hastings Street, Noosa. 1800 726 591, outrigger.com.au.
Painting there Art
Spa parties at the Natural Beauty Retreat cost $220 a person. thenaturalbeautyretreat.com.
Relaxing there Mineral
flotation colour therapy costs $89, Stephanies Ocean Spa, Outrigger
Noosa. stephanies.com.au.
Eating there River
Cottage Restaurant, rivercottagerestaurant.com.au. Thomas
Corner Eatery, thomascorner.com.au.
Aromas, 32 Hastings Street, Noosa.