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From kicking up red dust in an outback cattle muster to floating above the Great Barrier Reef, tucking into the freshest coastal cuisine and tracking dingoes on a rainforest-covered sandbank, explore the very best of Australia's Sunshine State.
Noosa: Best for food
They arrive before dawn. A solitary car pulls up, then two, then a dozen. With cloth bags tucked under arms and torches clasped in hands, a troupe of eager gourmands makes its way along the edge of a suburban football ground to an unassuming string of tarpaulin-covered stalls – the Noosa Farmers’ Market.
Torchlight reveals plump strawberries neatly piled beside crates of forest-green avocados the size of gourds, perky starfruit, and passionfruits like cricket balls. While stallholders rush to put the finishing touches to their displays, mangoes are squeezed by expert customers’ fingers, tight-skinned grapes are popped in to mouths, and pineapples are turned upside down to be sniffed – the only way to measure their sweetness. Beyond the fruit, fresh artisan breads, cheeses and exotic concoctions such as ‘golden kiwi sweet chilli sauce’ or ‘lychee balsamic vinegar’ are in high demand.
By the time the sun is out and the main crowds arrive, the early risers are finished, settling down for a flat white coffee and a free-range egg and bacon roll. ‘People love their food around here, so most of the very best stuff is gone early,’ says one customer with several shopping bags at his feet. ‘At times it’s like the January sales, or the start of a horse race.’ He grins widely. ‘We are all very nice to each other, of course. But it’s competitive.’
The small coastal district of Noosa, with its golden beaches and laid-back hippy roots, may seem an unlikely candidate as Queensland’s unofficial culinary capital, but its location between the fresh seafood of the coast and the farm goods from the surrounding hills has seen the town gain a reputation that draws visitors from all over the country.
Across Noosa, cafés and restaurants trumpet their local goods, from Cedar Street halloumi – made by a former jazz musician in nearby Maleny – to fresh Clandestino coffee, roasted on the edge of town. On the Noosa Heads shorefront, the clink and clatter of plates and cutlery can be heard over the crash of the waves and shrieks of gambolling, wet-haired children. Berardo’s Bistro on the Beach is full of diners enjoying delicately flavoured Noosa spanner crab and Mooloolaba prawns plucked from waters up the coast.
Local cooking teacher Gail Rast holds regular classes on how to perfect what she calls ‘the essential Queensland arts’ of barbecuing and cooking seafood. ‘The diversity of produce you can get in this part of the world is amazing,’ she says, tucking into her cuttlefish salad. ‘And Noosa people really care about where their food comes from, which means we have great relationships with the growers and producers, and they in turn have a strong market for their goods and can keep their businesses going. It works out rather well for everyone.’
The Noosa Farmers’ Market takes place every Sunday. Gail Rast hosts half-day cooking classes and guided market tours (cooking class from £80, tours from £60 for a group of up to four).
Where to eat
Berardo’s Bistro on the Beach shows off the best of Noosa’s culinary tastes, from barramundi fish and chips to local cuttlefish (mains from £15).
Where to stay
Upmarket Hastings Street is home to the beachfront hotel Netanya Noosa (rooms from £250). A more economical option is to stay further inland at Verano Resort, near the Noosa River and Lake Weyba. It offers stylish, open-plan apartments with balconies (self-catering rooms from £85).
Fraser Island: Best for wild nature
Two fishermen stand ankle-deep in the foamy surf, a straight golden line of beach stretching almost to the horizon either side of them. A dingo – Australia’s honey-coloured wild dog – wanders along nearby, his form doubled in the reflection of the wet sand beneath his paws. In the distance, the outer fringe of a vast tropical rainforest waves in the breeze.