Saturday, 28 February 2009

Noosa: The Prince, the Pauper and the Deep Blue Sea

Until I came to Noosa, in the Australian state of Queensland, I didn’t know what well-heeled meant.

But last night I was standing in front of a new apartment complex which overlooks the forest and the river beyond, while fire dancers performed for a crowd sipping cocktails around a pool garden decorated with elephant statues and metal structures belching flame.

It was the launch party for the elegantly designed Settler's Cove apartments, which start at about 1.5 million Australian dollars each.

I’m on a media trip to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, and this was my first visit to Noosa. As you may gather, it’s made a name for itself as one of the most luxurious seaside destinations on Queensland’s coast; not only for owner-occupiers, but also for short-stay visitors residing in resorts. It’s particularly popular with the well-heeled from Melbourne, for some reason, a kind of Toorak-on-sea.

And Hastings Street, the Noosa Heads beachside strip that overlooks Laguna Bay, confirms that impression. I’ve never seen a holiday town’s main street that looked quite so ritzy, lined with famous brand name stores set back from shiny new paving. If it wasn’t for the tropical trees and the humid breeze, I could’ve been on Church Street in Melbourne’s bayside suburb of Brighton.

So Noosa is distinctly upmarket. However... there are things which keep it from being the sole preserve of the seriously cashed-up. For a start, there are the excellent beaches, which in the fine Australian tradition are free for all to use. Yesterday I hit the beach after lunch, sharing the section of waves between the lifesaving flags with people from all over the world, judging from the accents.

And the day before, I’d walked through the nearby headland reserve that’s a pocket of land belonging to the Noosa National Park. As I followed the track around toward Dolphin Point, I could see the town’s main beach way behind and below me, through gaps in the eucalypts lining the slopes that drop away to the ocean. Below, surfers were picking their way down over the rocks before taking the plunge into the surf.

Halfway along, I encountered Tea Tree Bay, a short stretch of beach wedged in between rocks and trees. It was fairly placid within the bay, contrasting with the bigger waves further out. It was also fairly placid on the beach, with people stretched out very still on the sand or beneath the shade of the tea trees behind. Up in the trees behind me, apparently, koalas can be seen. I say apparently, because I didn’t spot them.

The National Park is an undeniably beautiful place; and the fact it’s survived so close to Noosa seems like a miracle, considering Queensland’s history of rapid coastal development.

Well-heeled or not, we’re all equal when on the beach or peering into the foliage for koalas. How profound.