What if Queensland’s Sunshine Coast offered more than a summery beachside retreat? Words by Celeste Mitchell, Photography by Krista Eppelstun
It’s not what you’d expect. Blonde-haired locals, cerulean water, resort wear, sand between your toes – that’s what you expect when you visit the Sunshine Coast. But here in the hinterland – a charming mixture of fresh, organic food, luxury B&Bs and roadside honesty boxes – is Queensland’s wintery answer to Noosa; a place of lush rainforests, fresh air, and a vibe somewhere between sophisticated and bohemian. But restaurants, rolling hills and hatted retreats aside (this area is also home to up-and-coming gourmet getaway, two-hatted Spicers Clovelly Estate), it’s the locals who make this area worth a weekend visit. Here, a few of our favourites.
12.05 pm: Carb loading, Bohemian Bungalow, Eumundi
Go here because: The freewheeling Bohemian Bungalow café in the main street of Eumundi is a menagerie for the senses. Look up and you’ll spot 21 painted ponies lined up above the kitchen, hoopoe birds with Elvis-like hair settled on the branches of the twig chandelier, two gloriously plumed peacocks presiding overhead and if you look hard enough, you’ll find Jesus.
Be sure to order: The ‘Garlic Breath Pizza’ with roasted whole cloves of garlic, bocconcini, rosemary and sea salt. BYO mints.
Local’s secret: There’s live music every weekend, a stone fireplace, and plenty of heaters and rugs in the courtyard to keep you warm throughout winter.
2:32 pm: Afternoon delight, Maison de Provence, Cooroy
Go here because: Owner of Eric Pernoud grew up making chocolates alongside his father in the French Alps, is best mates with Adriano Zumbo, worked at Le Cirque in New York, and makes everything in his pâtisserie from scratch. “I use French butter, French flour, French chocolate… I work with $49-per-kilo chocolate, not the fake stuff.”
Be sure to order: Some of Eric’s wickedly good macarons (it’s a tie between chai gingerbread and chocolate for first place flavour), a signature brionut (the cronut’s brioche cousin) or, if you want something more substantial, the wickedly good croque monsieur.
Local’s secret: One of their sourdough breads is prepared with a 120-year-old culture, smuggled out of Germany 70 years ago.
4:30 pm: Flick the (relaxation) switch, Ikatan Spa, Doonan
Go here because: The traditional Balinese body treatments incorporate fresh organic spices blended by the therapists. They can organise a beautiful high tea in the gardens, too.
Be sure to book: A one-day retreat at Ikatan – kicking off with a session of either meditation, yoga, business, life or health coaching, followed by eight blissful hours of treatments, lunch and endless herbal tea ($795 per person).
Local’s secret: The garden setting of the spa was inspired by nearby hinterland restaurant Spirit House. Head there before or after for amazing Thai cuisine or a cooking class (but be sure to book well in advance).
8:30 am: Local fuel, Homegrown Café, Palmwoods
Go here because: It’s cute, cosy, supports local farmers and you won’t find a meal over $12. They roast their own coffee beans out the back, too.
Be sure to order: Whatever is on the specials menu at the time. Save room for one of staffer Sascha’s Daisy Cakes creations (pictured).
Local’s secret: Owner Sarah Wright prepares a ‘seasonal dinner’ on the first Saturday of every month for 40 people and, every Friday night, adjoining businesses join forces with Homegrown to bring their laneway, aptly called ‘The Lane’, alive with food stalls, music, tea light candles galore and a chilled, drink-BYO-wine-from-plastic-cups vibe.
10:10 am: Garden of Eden, Maleny Botanic Gardens, Maleny
Go here because: To say Garden of Eden owner Frank Shipp is a modest man would be like suggesting Shane Warne doesn’t mind flirting. Admitting it’s “a hobby that got out of hand”, Frank is transforming his 110-acre property bit by bit, opening it to the public in 2012, replete with rainforest walks, gazebos, picnic benches, ponds, waterfalls, a petting zoo (hello llamas!) and one of the largest aviaries in Australia with 58 species of birds. Basically, it’s the Jurassic Park of the botanic garden world.
Be sure to order: The Devonshire Tea. Think fluffy, warm wholemeal date scones topped with local strawberry jam and thick Maleny Dairies cream.
Local’s secret: Pack a picnic and a bottle of wine for a meal with one of the coast’s best views – you can even take your dog (on a leash).
12:00 pm: On-road shopping, Somewhere near Maleny
Honesty boxes can be found along almost any given road in the hinterland. Grab a bag of produce, pop a few coins in the letterbox and continue on your way. Similarly, a walk down Maleny’s main street proves fruitful for more reasons than one, as the fresh local strawberries here are usually snapped up before they even have a chance to make it to the Co-Op.
1:05 pm: Daily greens, Living Kitchen, Maleny
Go here because: The food is raw, vegan and certified organic – meaning the cakes here are essentially sin-free (right?).
Be sure to order: A green smoothie, of course: a surprisingly delicious concoction of seasonal fruit blended with leafy greens and herbs. The raw kelp noodle Pad Thai is also tasty as – if you can get over the name.
Local’s secret: A qualified naturopath and nutritionist, Living Kitchen owner Amy Keller also holds regular workshops to educate people on the benefits of a plant-based diet and teach new skills in the kitchen.
2:49 pm: The road less travelled, Maleny to Eudlo
Take the shortcut. Follow that small, inconspicuous sign. The best parts of the hinterland are uncovered when you venture off the main roads. Brandenburg Road cuts a (2WD friendly) dirt trail from Maleny through Mooloolah Valley to Eudlo, with plenty of quintessential rolling hills and dairy cows to ogle along the way. Gardner’s Falls, just outside Maleny, may not be enticing for a dip in winter, but picnics are always in season at this picturesque waterhole.
4:13 pm: Contemplation time, Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo
Go here because: It was one of the first Tibetan Buddhist centres established in the western world and is home to a large community of Sangha (monks and nuns) and others seeking a reprieve from the outside world. You can join in a guided meditation or learn about Tibetan Buddhism through a calendar of courses and workshops,
or just take a stroll through the beautiful gardens.
Be sure to order: A chai from the Big Love Café. They do gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan meals for lunch from Wednesdays to Sundays.
Local’s secret: If you’re looking to really get away from it all, they also have accommodation (albeit basic with shared bathrooms) – and you don’t need to be a Buddhist to stay.
8:00 am: Early bird gets the cronut, Eumundi Markets
With the ethos of ‘make it, bake it, grow it, sew it’, the Eumundi Markets have been running since 1979. The town hums every Wednesday and Saturday morning as everything from fresh juices to cronuts, didgeridoos, art, baby clothes, crystals, vintage wares and vegetables change hands. Keep an eye out for the ‘Got the Blenz’ stall for wholesome smoothies and pop your cronut (that’s a croissant-cross-donut) cherry when you spot the Kombi.
9:25 am: Shades of clay, Fried Mudd Studio, Maleny
Be sure to try: The ‘Shades of Clay’ (four-hour), or the ‘Fun in the Mudd’ (one- or two-day) pottery workshops in the gorgeous sandstone studio next to Cathy’s home on the hill. Go here because: There’s nothing like indulging your creative side and having a good gossip. “I love watching as they become totally immersed in the sheer joy of being creative,” says owner Cathy Lawler.
Local’s secret: Stay in the adjoining ‘Victoria’s Attic’ after your workshop and make a weekend of it in this artist’s hamlet.
12.30 pm: Tipple and taste, Flame Hill Vineyard, Montville
Go here because: Sitting in the stylishly renovated Queenslander, overlooking the vines on this 300-acre farm – and dining from a menu that includes beef, game and eggs from their backyard – is the stuff all winter Sunday drives should culminate in.
Be sure to try: The verdelho and shiraz – the grapes are grown on-site (the rest come from a sister property in the Granite Belt) and you can do a tasting before lunch and order based on what you like. “We built the menu around our wines,” Tony says.
Local’s secret: Flame Hill holds a Grape Stomp Festival each February (tickets go on sale in October) so you can put your best foot forward and help out with the harvest.
The details: Sunshine Coast Hinterland
How to get there: There are daily flights from all capital cities to Sunshine Coast airport with Jetstar and Virgin. Rent a car to pick up from the airport, from where it is a 30-minute drive to the hinterland.
Where to stay: Blue Summit Cottages, Maleny: Modern cottages and cabins with views of the Conondale Ranges. From $250 per night.
Narrows Escape Rainforest Retreat, Montville: Pavilions nestled amongst the treetops, with spa baths, log fires and fully equipped kitchens. From $320 per night. Spicers Retreat Clovelly Estate, Montville: Stay at this gorgeous European-inspired estate with its luxe spa and hatted restaurant. From $320 per night mid-week.