Take a trip to the wild side of Noosa and you’ll find a nature lover’s wonderland.
Story: Natascha Mirosch. Photos: Natalie McComas
Birdcalls and the slap of water on our paddles provide a gentle soundtrack as we glide past the grey-skinned melaleuca, a cloudless blue sky perfectly reflected in the glassy water. A large lace monitor watches us warily from the riverbank before scuttling up a bowed cotton tree and startling a pair of elegant Australasian darters into flight.
Away from the barefoot luxury of Noosa Heads is this kind of Noosa – a region extending south from Peregian Beach, north to the Great Sandy National Park and as far west as the town of Cooran. Within its borders are four lakes, three national parks, a handful of small historic villages and a 150,000-hectare UNESCO-listed biosphere.
Lake Cootharaba’s plenteous fish attract bevies of glossy black swans and squadrons of pelicans.
This Noosa also boasts one of only two of the planet’s everglade systems, (the other tropical wetland wonder of this kind is in Florida). In the upper reaches of the Noosa River, it’s reached via Lake Cootharaba, a vast, shallow saltwater lake whose plenteous fish attract bevies of glossy black swans and squadrons of pelicans. A couple of kayakers are paddling across it to the Noosa Everglades but we opt for an easier option – a hybrid cruise/paddle from Habitat Noosa Ecocamp at Elanda Point to where the lake channels into narrow fingers of dark, still water.
Surfers at Noosa National Park; gliding through the Noosa Everglades on an Eco Tours boat; Shambhala Farm produce. ADDITIONAL PHOTOS: Eco Tours, Natascha Mirosch.
The boat, The Elanda, is skippered by the knowledgeable Trevor Sinclair, who grew up in the area and provides a running commentary of its history, flora and fauna. “If you fall out don’t try to climb back in from the water, it’s really difficult. Just grab the canoe and swim with it over to the shore,” Trevor advises us as we climb nervously into the Canadian canoe.
Known as ‘The River of Mirrors’, the Noosa Everglades is a photographer’s and naturalist’s dream.
It’s surprisingly stable, and we quickly fall into an easy rhythm as we head deeper into the Everglades, scheduled to meet with the boat at the next campground, five kilometres on.
Known as ‘The River of Mirrors’, the Noosa Everglades is a photographer’s and naturalist’s dream. The tranquil black-stained waterway is lined on either bank by thick thatches of wallum scrub, eucalypts and mangroves, home to more than 700 animal species. It’s difficult to imagine how different this region must have looked in the late 1800s, when it was scoured of trees, the loggers’ bounty bound and floated down to Tewantin.
Book a spring break at the RACV Noosa Resort and take advantage of some great member rates
At Harry’s Hut, an old logger’s shack gradually being reclaimed by nature, we pull in and berth the kayaks, joining the others for morning tea. Afterwards, it’s back on the boat for a leisurely cruise back to Elanda Point, with lunch and a welcome cold schooner of Everglades Lager, crafted at Habitat’s own microbrewery.
If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, there are plenty of walks around Noosa, from short and sharp – like the almost vertical two-kilometre walk up Pomona’s Mount Cooroora – to longer and more leisurely, such as the 14-kilometre Kin Kin Countryside Trail. Perhaps the best-known of Noosa’s walks are in Noosa National Park, just off Hastings Street in Noosa Heads, where 15 kilometres of tracks wind through coastal rainforest or along rocky, pandanus-fringed bays.
In the day-use area near the car park we join a crowd of enthralled tourists clicking away at an unconcerned koala perched in a eucalypt fork, before we set off around the heads to Alexandria Bay. While early mornings are popular, a late-afternoon walk means we arrive back at picturesque Little Cove as the sun is about to set, and the long-boarders are out to catch the last waves of the day.
Through binoculars we watch as little black cormorants join their pied cormorant cousins perched on a dam wall.
Bird life in the Noosa Everglades.
If you’re keen for a more structured walking experience or to learn more about Noosa’s wildlife, Steve Grainger from Tropical Treks is the go-to man. Steve’s been running bird and wildlife tours here for 13 years and tells us there are some 400 bird species in Noosa, representing almost half of Australia’s entire species.
Through binoculars we watch as little black cormorants join their pied cormorant cousins perched on a dam wall. We then train our binoculars on a lily-filled waterhole, to see blue-faced honeyeaters and buff-banded rails, before observing the drama of a stalk by a predatory white egret looking to raid the nest of a dusky moorhen. She refuses to get up to engage with the egret, denying him access to the eggs, and eventually the intruder gives up.
Travelling west from Noosa in a clockwise loop, you’ll find small historical villages perfectly spaced for a day’s drive. There are lots of farm-gate stalls in this area selling everything from strawberries and limes to tomatoes and pineapples, so bring a bag.
‘I had come to realise that real health starts with a foundation of real food from healthy soil.’
Our first stop is Shambhala Farm at Doonan, about 15 minutes from Noosa Heads. Here Craig Hubbard and partner Chrissy Beth run farm tours, yoga classes and a retreat. They sell their produce at local markets and via a subscription delivery service. A former Sydneysider, Craig moved to the Noosa hinterland seven years ago in search of a better life for his kids.
“When I moved here, I met this old farmer and realised that his knowledge was going to be lost so I started to work for him and he became my mentor,” Craig says. “It was really hard work and very little money compared to what I was getting in Sydney, but I had come to realise that real health starts with a foundation of real food from healthy soil.”
Shambhala is the fruit of that realisation, a five-hectare micro-farm steeped in sustainable and organic principles with around 40 different varieties of seasonal vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Another 15 minutes’ drive on is Eumundi, most famous for its Saturday and Wednesday markets, but even on non-market days you can buy fresh local produce and delicacies at The Store Eumundi, which doubles as a cafe.
Local produce at The Store, Eumundi, which doubles as a cafe; Craig Hubbard and Chrissy Beth of Shambhala Farm.
Between here and the next town, Cooroy, it’s worth making a short detour to Hinterland Feijoas, where in season (March) you can buy the deliciously perfumed fruit, or, in the off-season, indulge in a slice of moreish chocolate and feijoa cake, from the farm’s cute little caravan, ‘Myrtle’.
Regular showings at Pomona’s Majestic Theatre include a musical soundtrack provided by a resident piano player.
The hinterland region was once covered by kauri, hoop pine and red cedar, and in Cooroy a former sawmill site hosts an interesting display. It includes a well-preserved timber-drying kiln, used in the 1950s to speed up the timber seasoning process. In the nearby town of Pomona, named for the Roman goddess of fruit due to its fertile soil, the Noosa Museum takes visitors further back in time with displays depicting the history of the area’s original inhabitants, the Gubbi Gubbi people. Pomona is also home to the historic Majestic Theatre, believed to be the world’s oldest continuously running silent movie cinema, where regular showings include a musical soundtrack provided by a resident piano player.
We time our drive for a late lunch at Black Ant Gourmet in another of Noosa’s historical gems, the town of Kin Kin. Owner, chef and farmer Jodie Williams offers a menu that is a roll call of local produce, from the split grilled red-claw crays from nearby Wolvi, to local Cooloola berries and Jodie’s own pasture-raised beef, smoked low and slow on the verandah smoker. It’s the perfect end to an exploration of this very different side of Noosa. And as we head back to the coast, we suspect we’ve only just begun to scratch its enchanting surface.
Natascha Mirosch was assisted by Tourism Noosa for this story.