Share this article
The Sunshine Coast is the perfect destination for a solo winter gourmet getaway, writes Miriyana Alexander.
Prawns. Lobster. Oysters. Snapper. Scallops. Tuna. Salmon. Mussels. Crab. Calamari.
Carpaccio. Grilled. Deep-fried. Crumbed. On skewers, in bao and with the tastiest tequila-and-lime mayo.
I ate approximately 27kg of seafood on my first day on the Sunshine Coast. Okay, not quite, but it was a deliciously decadent welcome back to one of my favourite destinations.
Six hours after leaving soggy Auckland I was in 26C heat, eating my first prawn. Twist off the head, open the shell like a book and pinch the tail. Dunk in that ubiquitous, tangy seafood sauce and repeat. Heaven.
Fourteen hours after departing New Zealand, a canal cruise, Champagne and all that seafood later, I fell into the best sleep I’d had in weeks. Though maybe it was a food coma.
When it’s been raining forever, it can feel like it’ll never be sunny again. Now there’s a quick remedy for your Vitamin D deficiency, courtesy of Air New Zealand’s seasonal Auckland to Sunshine Coast direct flight.
Running til mid-October and leaving Auckland on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the respectable hour of 9am, you can be in the sun by lunchtime.
I took advantage of the first flight on the route to do a quick solo hop last month, to top up my depleted sunshine and seafood stocks.
The Sunny Coast has long been a fabulous foodie destination. Buderim ginger, prawns, macadamia nuts, mangoes and strawberries feature high on my favourites list, but there’s much more to it than that. And now the region’s fare is being celebrated with its own festival.
The Curated Plate, a 10-day, 40-event affair, kicks off Friday, showcasing the mouth-watering wares of producers from the coast to the hinterland.
If this year’s event is too tight a turnaround, bookmark it for next year – the programme will appeal to the fussiest gourmand.
Picnics, banquets, long lunches, a craft-drinks crawl, foraging, designing your dream coffee blend, farm-to-fork feeds and a whisky and chocolate masterclass are just some of the highlights on the menu.
I was lucky enough to taste some of the Sunny Coast’s finest food during my visit and found joining local tours and experiences perfect for when time is tight and you’re travelling solo.
Here are three of my favourites:
It was straight off the plane to The Wharf precinct at Mooloolaba, to join Creative Tours’ trawler-to-table cruise, a Curated Plate highlight.
A glass of ice-cold bubbles was in my hand as soon as I boarded the Duffy, a small electric vessel that hosts private tours on local waterways. Gotta love that Aussie hospitality.
First up was a tiki tour around the Minyama Island canals, home to some of the coast’s most expensive properties. Aussie royalty, the Irwins, have a house here, but it wasn’t theirs that set a recent sales record of $12 million.
Property ogling over, it was time to attend to the real business of the cruise – a behind-the-scenes look at the local fisheries industry.
Around 120 fishing boats call Mooloolaba home, making it one of the biggest seafood ports on Australia’s eastern seaboard. The export-quality daily catch includes everything from Spanish mackerel and spanner crab to tuna and snapper.
We jumped off at the Mooloolah River Fisheries, a famous wholesaler and public market, where come Christmas, it’s open for 36 hours straight to deal with the fever-pitch demand.
Queues form in the early hours of December 23, and when the dust clears, 40 tonnes of prawns will have been sold for Christmas Day festive feasting.
We didn’t get that carried away, but our platter of glistening fresh prawns got devoured in short order.
Then it was back to The Wharf, where the feast continued long into the afternoon at See Restaurant, Mooloolaba’s only over-water dining spot.
It was one sublime seafood mouthful after the next, though my standouts were the deep-fried snapper and the salmon and tuna carpaccio.
Some days are just better than others.
A blackboard sign welcomes you to the Noosa Chocolate Factory, tucked away in an industrial area of Noosaville.
“Chocolate comes from cocoa. Which is a tree. That makes it a plant. Therefore, chocolate is a salad.”
Hard agree. And a smart marketing move if my credit card receipt is any guide.
Specialising in handcrafted chocolate, the factory is churning out all kinds of mouthwatering flavours. Reportedly famous for its fresh rocky road, I found it harder to choose between the dozens of other exotic creations.
Eventually, macadamias covered in mango chocolate, a ginger dark chocolate slab, a smashed raspberry block and a blueberry jelly slab found their way into my bag. Some even made it home to New Zealand. (Declared, obviously.)
The chocolate stop was one of the highlights of a Taste of Noosa tour with Joel’s Journeys, run by founder Joel McPherson.
He’s just been named Queensland’s top tour guide – spend a day on one of his private or shared bespoke food, art or outdoors tours and you’ll see why. He’s full of the joys of life, passionate about looking after the land and supporting local.
Make your way around the other stops on the tour (Belmondos Organic Market, coffee at the Flying West Roasters, lunch at the hip new eatery The Doonan, and a delicious gin tasting at the Seabourne Distillery) and McPherson will regale you with tales of sustainability, the great outdoors, indigenous culture and Noosa’s UNESCO-awarded biosphere designation.
Given to recognise areas that demonstrate a balanced relationship between humans and nature, Noosa is one of three neighbouring Sunshine Coast Biosphere Reserves, the only place in the world where three sit side-by-side.
He nails it though. Many of the artisans we visited cited the good fortune of first-class local produce as vital to their success. Look after the sea and the land, and it will look after you.
When I say I’m not a domestic goddess, I am not joking. I’m not the cut-myself-chopping-an-onion type, it’s more that I stay out of the kitchen entirely – unless we’re talking something simple like marmite on toast. Thankfully, my husband is a stellar cook or we’d be in trouble.
So it was with some trepidation that I lined up for a Thai cooking class at the Spirit House, an award-winning restaurant and cooking school at Yandina, about 35 minutes from Noosa. (Unless you’re like me, and get slightly lost. One downside of travelling solo: no navigator).
But Thai is the takeaway of choice in our household, so I was determined to pick up some skills to impress the whānau.
The chef putting our “Art of Thai Curries” class through its paces was Simon Blaby. A former head chef at the restaurant, he was the perfect mix of calm, authoritative and encouraging as we 16 students peeled, chopped, ground, blitzed, fried and stirred our way to Thai curry perfection.
On the menu were Khao Soi Gai (chicken with turmeric, coriander and mustard greens); Hor Mok Goong (banana leaf wrapped prawn curry with fresh coconut and kaffir lime leaves); Hung Lai Moo (pork belly curry with pickled garlic, ginger and peanuts); and a black pepper panna cotta with strawberry and Thai basil granita.
Over several hours we made the curry pastes from scratch, butterflied prawns, chopped chicken and pork, and scraped granita, all the while being given insider tips on the best way to get true Thai hot, sour, sweet and salty flavours to sing.
Best of all, we got to sit down together to eat it for lunch. It was utterly delicious. Obviously, given we’d made it.
Air New Zealand’s seasonal direct Auckland to the Sunshine Coast service operates three times a week, until October.
Share this article
BA staff were forced to “wing it” after a catering malfunction left them short of food.