The two-hatted Wasabi Restaurant & Bar sits on the Noosa River. Photo: Harrison Saragassi
The exodus starts early on a Friday afternoon as city workers swap pinstripes for polo shirts and begin the crawl north, the sprawling suburban housing estates gradually replaced by pine forests.
The region known as the Sunshine Coast stretches from the pineapple plantations at Beerburrum to the top of the Blackall Range and down to the coastal towns of Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, and, everyone's favourite holiday spot, Noosa.
The fine beaches of the Sunshine Coast lure holidaymakers from the cities. Photo: Natascha Mirosch
Roadside honesty stalls, farms and the looming, simian-like presence of Mount Tibrogargan mark the old freeway that once connected Brisbane to points north. It's slower going than the four-lane Bruce Highway, but far more picturesque.
Detour via Landsborough, where the road winds up the verdant Blackall Range and the view from every bend is a knockout. To the west, the remnants of ancient volcano cores rise from the valley floor like avant-garde sculptures and to the east, rolling green hills to the ocean.
At The Long Apron at Clovelly Estate in Montville, the genteel country house surrounds don't so much as hint at the experimental cuisine produced by executive chef Cameron Matthews.
Kangaroo bulgogi at the Spice Bar Restaurant in Mooloolaba. Photo: Supplied
The menu in the two-hatted dining room changes by season, availability and the chef's whim, and might feature kangaroo tail with native berries, buffalo curd and roasted watermelon jus or six-month-old Brahman beef, with "baked potato", bone marrow cream and carrots from a local farm. Despite the modernist cuisine, there's a commitment to hyper-local produce, including some from their own property.
Just up the hill, The Tamarind feels like Long Apron's more footloose younger sister. Part of the same hotel group, its pavilion-style restaurant is enveloped by lush tropical foliage. Lizards sunbathe on the tree-fringed lawns and the sound of water cascading over rocks from the creek mingles with birdsong.
Chef Daniel Jarrett cleverly integrates flavours from cuisines as diverse as Japanese and Thai into an appealing contemporary Asian menu. Freshly shucked oysters come dressed with chilli and lime, cucumber and pickled melon and garnished with tiny spheres of pop-in-the-mouth finger lime, crisp curled pigs ears and pork floss, while local Peachester chicken is served with a tea-stained egg, black sesame eggplant, kohlrabi and braised fungus.
Little May Espresso's chai and raspberry tart. Photo: Natascha Mirosch
Words like "local" and "seasonal" aren't part of David Rayner's menu vernacular. A farmers' and producers' champion for decades, those concepts simply go without saying.
At his restaurant in Noosaville, Thomas Corner, it's all about pristine produce made even more beautiful with a judicious application of kitchen alchemy. Try the charry joints of tender pink quail with Madeira-soaked muscat raisins; it comes with (locally grown) padron peppers, of which one in 10 is a firecracker.
Across the river, the two-hatted Wasabi focuses its lens on Japan, but a lot of its produce, including rare vegetables and herbs, come from owner Danielle Gjestland's own farm. Perched over the shimmering Noosa River, the elegant food and seamless service place it deservedly high on the bucket list.
Fresh produce may be bought at the farm gate. Photo: Natascha Mirosch
South of Noosa, Maroochydore is a more bucket sort of resort, but Ocean Street has a pleasant hum and a handful of good casual dining choices, including the bold flavour of Middle Eastern fare and Lebanese wines at Zahtar Lebanese.
Crowds throng Mooloolaba's Esplanade, but Spice Bar stands out among the fairly generic offerings. The menu traverses Asia and is designed for leisurely grazing: betel-wrapped prawns, pillowy pork buns, petals of translucent beef tataki, tongue-numbing Sichuan pepper-dusted duck and more, supported by a clever, well-priced wine list.
- The Long Apron & The Tamarind, spicersretreats.com/dining
- Thomas Corner Eatery, thomascorner.com.au
- Wasabi, wasabisb.com
- Zahtar, zahtar.com.au
- Spice Bar, spicebar.com.au
One of the largest wine collections in Queensland is at Rumba Wine Bar in Noosa's fairy-lit Hastings Street. Tucked away behind a gelateria, it has an intimate supper-club feel and features among its collection labels such as Henschke, Penfolds Grange, and Domaine de la Romanee Conti.
Newcomer Whisky Boy, overlooking the river at Noosaville, concentrates on whisky, with more than 50 imported from countries as diverse as Japan and Canada as well as some premium mature Scottish drops. Equally serious attention has been paid to the food; from bar snacks of spreadable chorizo with flatbread or sticky chicken wings, to 60-day dry-aged rib on the bone.
Maroochydore's best coffee (and breakfast) is found deep in the backstreets, among the eclectic objets d'art at the The Velo Project, where the coffee comes from local roaster Kai and menu covers are upcycled 1970s encyclopaedias. In Little May Espresso at Montville, owned by former Long Apron sous chef Rich Hayes and his wife Hannah, Bear Bones coffee is on pour along with house-made sweets including a petite chai and raspberry or lemon meringue tart.
They've also nailed hot chocolate, with their own house-made base, using couverture chocolate and coconut sugar. You can buy it to take home in the cafe too, along with their branded beans and a small selection of dressings and jams.
- Rumba Wine Bar rumbawinebarnoosa.com
- Whisky Boy, corner Thomas Street & Gympie Terrace, 0403 600 406
- The Velo Project, theveloproject.com.au
- Little May Espresso, littlemayespresso.com
Farm gate and provisions
Perfect picnicking spots are plentiful on the Sunshine Coast, from swimming holes at Gardners Falls and the lush botanic gardens in Maleny to riverside in Noosaville, where gangs of noisy lorikeets flock to the Norfolk pines at dusk.
Surprisingly, one of the best places to stock up on local produce is the supermarket in Maleny. The IGA champions local and has a full spectrum of deli and dry goods that would put most big city delis to shame; from gourmet salt and raw local honey, to preserves and pickles, crusty sourdough loaves and premium charcuterie, dried figs, chocolate and more.
It's a short drive from the village centre to Maleny Cheese, where you can watch the cheese-making process through the glass walls of the cafe and sample their cheese and much-awarded yoghurt. There are plenty of dairy cows grazing the Maleny hills, but there are also buffalo and even a herd of camels, and the milk of both is also made into cheese and yoghurt here.
If you miss the Noosa Farmers' Markets on a Sunday, call into Maroochydore's Big Top Farmers Quarter, where Shane Stanley of the Noosa Farmers' Markets has started an indoor market on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. You'll find excellent value organic or spray-free fruit and veg, all labelled with its provenance, including the grower's name, as well as smoked and fresh fish, bread, meat, street food stalls and more.
In Mooloolaba, Parkyn Street fronts the stretch of water that is home to the region's fishing fleet. Call into Mooloolah River Fisheries to buy some of those famous prawns straight from the trawlers.
- Maleny IGA, malenyiga.com.au
- Maleny Cheese, malenycheese.com.au
- Noosa Farmers' Market noosafarmersmarket.com.au
- Big Top Farmers Quarter, bigtopmarketfresh.com.au
- Moolooloba Fish Market, mooloolahfish.com.au
Clovelly Estate and The Tamarind are both boutique luxury hotels with all the accoutrements for a romantic weekend away. In Noosa, Netanya has large apartments right on the beach, many with views over Laguna Bay to the national park. Family-friendly Mantra Sirocco at Mooloolaba is set above all the action on the Esplanade with sweeping views of the patrolled beach all the way to The Spit.
- Clovelly Estate & The Tamarind, spicersretreats.com
- Netanya Noosa, netanyanoosa.com
- Mantra Sirocco, mantrasirocco.com.au
Natascha Mirosch travelled as a guest of Visit Sunshine Coast and Tourism Noosa.