Anyone who lives in the North Island will attest that summer 22-23 was a washout. Literally. After months of dreary weather interspersed with floods and cyclones, I was afraid that my corpse-white skin might crumble to dust, vampire-like, when I stepped off the plane into a glorious day on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
But the glowing golden orb greets me like a long-lost friend. I turn my face to the blue sky, feeling the warmth on my cheeks as I rummage in my bag for my sunglasses.
My first stop is Mooloolaba, the coastal hub most famous for its prawns. On a Trawler to Table experience with Creative Tours, we get an up-close perspective of the local seafood industry. But first, a small electric boat operated by Coastal Cruises takes us quietly around the Mooloolaba waterways, home to some of the most expensive real estate on the Sunshine Coast. Giant mansions dripping in ostentation sit haunch to haunch with Thunderbird-style lairs and replica heritage manors. All have jetties crowded with jet skis.
I trail my fingertips in the warm sea. Winter is the dry season here, so the water clarity is pristine and I can make out dark shapes below, probably rocks, but remembering where I am I snatch my hand back thinking of sharks.
The Sunshine Coast is home to one of the biggest fishing fleets on the eastern coast of Australia. At the busy port there are more than 120 boats of varying sizes. Big trawlers and tuna long-liners that travel way offshore – nearly half the distance to New Zealand – sit next to small motorboats used for spearfishing.
We step ashore to visit the Mooloolaba Fish Market and marvel at the day’s catch. There are live crabs and shellfish and piles and piles of prawns. I find myself starting to drool. Upstairs we’re treated to some of the succulent seafood – cracking open pink crustaceans, turning our fingers orange and sticky. In Mooloolaba the prawn trawlers will go out for three weeks at a time, returning with between 1,000 and 5,000 5kg cartons of prawns, all caught, cooked, packed and frozen on board.
The platter of prawns is just an appetiser. The Trawler to Table tour finishes at another table – at See Restaurant on Mooloolaba Wharf where we’re spoiled with an abundance of pescatarian delights. Oysters are followed by scallops, then small sweet mussels, giant spanner crabs and a whole crispy snapper.
Later that afternoon my sweeping view of Mooloolaba Beach from the 15th floor of Newport Apartments is too tempting to resist. I pad barefoot through sand the consistency of high-grade flour to the warm froth of the waves. Families congregate in groups, tossing balls; impossibly svelte young women with toffee-coloured tans skip into the ocean. In the pastel-toned sunset apartment blocks gleam like hammered sheets of gold.
The recently-opened Tank Riviera day club is an amalgamation of indulgent experiences. Set alongside the Mooloolah River, Tank includes a luxurious spa, a stylish restaurant, wellness-infused steam and sauna rooms, an optional champagne river cruise and the star attraction – six magnesium pools to really rid yourself of any residual stress.
I begin my Tank experience with a massage. My therapist is Jasmine, a fine-boned woman with a long black braid. Her delicate features bely the strength in her fingers which seek out all my tension knots. Swaddled in a heap of warm white towels, my flesh is basted with lotions and kneaded like a piece of premium steak. Afterwards I pour my nearly liquefied body into my togs to join the other bathers lounging in the pools. Marble-tiled and varying in temperature, the six ‘tanks’ have carefully positioned umbrellas providing shade from the ubiquitous sunshine. The aesthetic is pure Mediterranean-style luxury – muted natural fabrics, cacti and palm fronds. The icing on the day's layer cake of indulgence is lunch – a tapas-style degustation, seafood-focused of course, served on six round plates mirroring the nearby tanks.
Noosa is a 40-minute drive north of Mooloolaba. I arrive to find Hastings Street, humming with people on a school holiday Monday. Families amble languidly in the warmth, sipping coffees, walking dogs, licking gelato.
Behind the main drag, lined with tempting boutiques, lies Noosa Beach, golden and glistening. I scuff through sand so fine it squeaks under foot and submerge myself in ocean green. The water is warmer than in a New Zealand summer.
To better understand the geography of Noosa Heads I take a cruisy cycling tour with Bike On. My guide, Isaac, is a quintessentially blond Australian youth, sunny of personality and tan. We explore around Noosa Heads, skirting the edge of Noosa National Park and the Noosa River. Isaac swears there are koalas to be spotted in the gum trees of the National Park – he’s seen them himself – but mostly we spot noisy crows, lorikeets and trees dripping in giant fruit bats. Our route leads us away from the tourist crowds, gliding along leafy paths on our exertion-free e-bikes and looping through luxe suburbia. This is Big Money territory. Isaac tells of one riverside property that bought the neighbouring section for $12 mil just so they could have a back lawn.
For the afternoon I head further north and away from the coast to Habitat Noosa – a camping and glamping compound to take another cruise, this time via boat, through the Noosa everglades. One of just two everglade systems in the world, the serene waterways in Noosa are reached on the far side of Lake Cootharaba – the shallowest tidal lake in Australia that’s only knee-deep in the middle. Crew in waders manoeuvre the flat-bottomed boat out from the jetty and we navigate the choppy waters to the entrance of the everglades. Defined as an area of swampy grassland with slow-moving, ground-fed water, the reality of the everglades is far more picturesque. The stillness and the dark, oily tannins from the surrounding melaleuca trees create the perfect conditions for surreal reflections. The sky, eucalyptus and gnarled limbs are mirrored in the dense, inky water – almost more clearly than the actual view. It creates a strange impression of floating in between two worlds.
I make the most of my last morning in Noosa Heads with a sunrise stroll. Still feeling Jasmine’s thumbprints in my calves, I climb the coastal walkway around the headland to Boiling Pot Lookout, alongside a throng of other walkers. The sunrise is a fluorescent ball emerging from a cloudless horizon, beautiful enough to stop joggers in their tracks. I watch in awe, but even the locals seem to appreciate how lucky they are to be here, snapping pictures on their phones, appreciating the warm morning, the dawning of yet another sunny day.
Explore more from AA Directions magazine while you're here:
- e-Scooter Commuting – could it be the change you're looking for?
- Home profile: an accessible Waikato house
- How to stay safe in the water