On a taste trail in the Sunshine Coast hinterland
There’s more to the Sunshine Coast than its beautiful beaches. Head to the hinterland for an indulgent weekend road trip of eating, cooking and relaxing.
- July 2019
“What’s that sound?” An insistent mechanical beeping startles me awake from my I’ll-just-rest-my-head-here-for-a-minute nap so I set about trying to identify its source. It takes a moment to realise the noise is not coming from any of the appliances my spacious villa is kitted out with, but the birds. It’s an eastern whipbird pair, singing a duet – the male lets out a long, slow whistle followed by a signature whip-crack sound that the female responds to with a chirpy “chew-chew”. The Disney princess-style wake-up call seems appropriate on this leisurely getaway – the whipbirds could be the happy little bluebirds to my Cinderella – and I decide that’s the perfect way to rouse on this indulgent long weekend, by birdcall only.
I’m holed up at Spicers Tamarind Retreat opens in new window, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast opens in new window, but this trip is mostly devoid of the area’s famous rolling surf and long stretches of sand. I’m here to explore the hinterland, a compact region of just over 20,000 hectares about 30 minutes’ drive west from Sunshine Coast Airport.
Having taken the coastal ‘scenic route’ north from Maroochydore airport, the road curving and dipping to reveal little froth-fringed coves and the shimmering blue waters of the Pacific beyond, I bypass the busy streets of Noosa to turn inland.
I’ve been lured here for the food and I don’t have to go far to discover the region’s obsession with it; the Sunshine Coast is home to amazing produce and a thriving community of markets, restaurants, breweries and chefs who know how to celebrate it. Not content with one successful food festival – May’s Noosa Food and Wine opens in new window event – the region has now debuted the Curated Plate opens in new window, a four-day festival of food trails and farm tours celebrating local, sustainable produce to be held 8-11 August 2019. There’s good wine here too (who knew!), and Flame Hill Vineyard opens in new window produces a surprisingly good fiano and a selection of other popular grapes.
My first stop on this food safari is Sum Yung Guys opens in new window, a modern restaurant tucked away in a leafy backstreet of Sunshine Beach that serves up creative Asian flavours with oomph. MasterChef Australia finalist Matt Sinclair, one of the co-owners, may be the restaurant’s poster boy but it’s the personality packed into the food, cocktails, service and décor – a mash-up of Asian kitsch, leafy foliage and modern lines – that ensures Sum Yung Guys is always busy.
Satiated and well-fed, I then head 70 kilometres further inland to my home for the weekend, the Spicers Tamarind Retreat, a luxury resort nestled in the hinterland with 13 of the aforementioned villa suites spread across its sprawling verdant grounds.
The drive sees the landscape change visibly from tropical beach to Scottish glen. Painted in innumerable shades of green (Pantone would do well to reference this corner of the world for inspiration) and with brilliant blue skies, it’s impossibly pretty - quaint little towns with historic shopfronts set against the backdrop of the Glass House Mountains, bucolic farmland and lush rainforests.
The tranquil setting provides the perfect backdrop for chilling – whether it’s curling up with a book in one of the many inviting spots dotted around the grounds, taking a walk to the nearby Gardners Falls (a popular spot for swimming in rock pools shaded by gum trees), enjoying a pampering treatment at Spa Anise, or yes, taking a nap lulled into relaxation by birdsong.
The only thing that could convince me to eat a three-course meal after my lunch feast is dinner at the resort’s elegant hatted restaurant, The Tamarind. Asian cuisine and local produce are once again the heroes here, with sensational dishes such as Hakka-style prawn stuffed eggplant and Southern-style curry of Mooloolaba swordfish with Fraser Isle spanner crab.
I’m not just here to eat however, but to try and hone my culinary skills too, so the next morning I make my way to the sunlight-drenched, state-of-the-art kitchen at the onsite Tamarind Cooking School. Here, I learn new recipes and cook up a three-course French meal (Frisée aux Lardons sounds a lot fancier than it is to make). I also forage for herbs in the organic garden and, of course, enjoy the fruits of my labour at a convivial lunch at the end.
The region’s other charms are short drives away so in the afternoon, I head to Maleny, a pretty little holiday town just five minutes west. This is dairy country and the creamy brie, cheddars and feta at Maleny Cheese opens in new window and the luscious ice-creams from Maleny Food Co. opens in new window are a must-try.
It’s easy to lose track of time wandering between these artisanal food havens, intimate art galleries and laneway food markets, and I emerge from a vintage bookstore with a couple more dusty purchases than I had intended.
Nearby Montville, 15 kilometres north, has a similar vibe – old-fashioned 19th-century buildings that now house art galleries, cafés and souvenir shops line the main drag – and it’s the perfect place to stop for a house blend coffee at Little May Espresso opens in new window and some sweet fudge from Fudgyboombah opens in new window.
There’s a certain quirkiness and sense of community that seems to pervade everything in this region, so I’m not surprised to find my dinner venue, Brouhaha, located incongruously in a Maleny dental clinic complex (something to do with one of the founders’ other businesses, but it stops mattering when you walk in).
Brouhaha opens in new window is a microbrewery and restaurant housed in a large warehouse-like space. It takes a sustainable approach to their brews and food, closing the loop by feeding the spent grains leftover from brewing to Maleny cows, which provide the Wagyu beef for the menu. You might come here for their ever-evolving range of craft brews but you’ll stay for the seasonally changing, local ingredient-led menu of crowd-pleasing comfort food. Brouhaha is a passion project and that really comes through in their creative flavours.
And if the Sunshine Coast hinterland ensures you eat and drink well, it also provides ample opportunity to work off the calories. On a blue-sky morning, I head out for a leisurely 4.7-kilometre walk through the Kondalilla Falls Circuit, only a 20-minute drive from Maleny in Kondalilla National Park. The gentle descent through forests of ancient eucalypts and giant fig trees is stunning and ends at a tranquil watering hole at the base of Kondalilla Falls. It’s the perfect spot to take in the valley views and tuck into the picnic breakfast I’ve brought along (so much for working off calories then).
The national park is a birdwatcher’s haven, home to more than 100 species and a curiously high number of spiders and reptiles too, because... well, Queensland.
Here, too, the diverse music of the birds chirping – from golden whistlers and pied butcherbirds to the ubiquitous whipbird – is a constant. But this time, as I walk through stretching giant watergums and past gently trickling streams, instead of jolting me awake, birdsong is lulling me into a sense of relaxation. This mini-break seems to have all the right ingredients for a real recharge. I just wish there was a way I could bottle up this soundtrack and the feeling of utter peace that comes with it, to take back with me to the big smoke.