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G'day mate! Last week, we left off in one of my favorite cities in the world ... Sydney. I was torn about moving on from Sydney because a big part of me didn't want to leave this incredible city, while the other part of me was eager to go out and explore places I'd never been to. I stuck with the original plan and traveled up the eastern seaboard coast to Noosa Shire. Noosa is in the state of Queensland and is one of Australia's most popular up-market vacation destinations. It has pristine beaches, lots of shopping and a National Park with wild koalas. If you're looking for some fun in the sun Australia-style, plus, if you're interested in learning how to surf from an ex-pro, then read on.

Sydney to the Sunshine Coast

From the Four Seasons Sydney, Natalie and I took a 25-minute, A$25 taxi to the airport. We checked in with one of Australia's low-fare carriers, Jetstar. Jetstar's current CEO hails from Ryan Air (one of Europe's most popular low-fare airlines) so the airlines run very similarly. Just like RyanAir, all of Jetstar's domestic planes have all coach seating so being in the first row didn't have any of the benefits of first class. However, our seats did offer up extra legroom, we faced the cool and pretty flight attendants and we were able to deplane first. Everything went on schedule and flight time was just one hour and 12 minutes to the Maroochydore Airport (MCY). Although this airport is small, it has two names; the other is Sunshine Coast Airport.

Airport to Noosa

Natalie and I were picked up by a funny bloke named Peter, who's a part-time driver for DC Limousines. After cracking a few jokes, Peter explained to us that everyone in Queensland is a character. They have to be because of the weather, he says. Apparently, they also don't care whether or not people "come from money" or what their job title is. Queenslanders, he says, care about how people treat their spouses and their family. Before we knew it, Peter had us both in hysterics and practically every other word he said was Australian slang, like "ripper!" meaning excellent. Whenever I asked him a question about anything from Queensland to the water temperature, I received the same answer -- "Perfect!" Peter is a shining example of why I love Australia so much. One of my favorite aspects of Australia is the people. They are friendly, funny and down-to-earth.

Noosa

From the airport, the drive to Noosa is 25 minutes but if Peter's taking you, it'll take you 45 minutes because he's going to show off his area by taking the scenic route. Noosa is located 160 km (99 miles) north of Brisbane, which is about an hour and a half drive. If you're thinking about making the trek from Sydney by car, it's 1,100 km (683 miles) ... a 13-hour drive. Australians love to vacation in Noosa because of its natural beauty, shops, restaurants, beaches and most importantly the weather. All year round, the subtropical climate is pleasant and it's possible to swim anytime. The average daily air temperature ranges from 70 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 29 degrees Celsius) in the summer and 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 21 degrees Celsius) in the winter. I hear winter evenings get chilly so bring a sweater. The most popular time to go is during the Christmas and Easter school holidays. That's when the kids are out of school, the weather is the warmest but the prices are also at their highest. It also overlaps the rainy season (January, February and March). Be sure to make reservations far in advance and bring lots of money.

The Name Noosa

The name Noosa is derived from the Aboriginal names "noothera" or "gnuthuru" which mean shade or shadow. In 1919, the official name changed to Noosa Shire after the group of villages that make up the vicinity formed one. Most people just refer to it as Noosa. One of the villages is Noosa Heads, which is where the majority of the tourists stay. It's a resort area where you'll find Hastings Street, which has plenty of accommodations, shops, restaurants and real estate agencies. The main beach is a half block away from there, running parallel to the street. The best part of Noosa is that there are no high-rises (not like Surfers Paradise) and 31% of the area is made up of conservation reserves and State Forest. That's important because a study by the Noosa Council found 626 native vertebrate species within Noosa Shire, including 30 amphibians, 75 reptiles, 304 birds, 63 mammals, 33 primarily freshwater fish and 121 marine fish species.

Noosa National Park

You'll see most of these species in the Noosa National Park. It's one of the most visited parks in Queensland and was founded in 1930 to protect the trees and wildlife from the timber industry. To get to Noosa National Park from Hastings Street, it's just an easy 12-minute walk along a boardwalk, suspended in the trees and hugging the coastline. Take your time because the ocean views are inspiring. Be sure to stop in at the park ranger's office to find out where the resident koalas have been spotted that day. He advised us to look up in the trees just before we reached the "Boiling Pot" area. We never would have seen them if we hadn't received that information and that would've been a real shame because it was the highlight of our stay! Seeing koalas out in the wild is absolutely amazing! By the way, did you know that koalas aren't actually bears? They are marsupials. We didn't see any of the threatened wildlife like the glossy black cockatoo, ground parrot, red goshawk, wallum froglet, swamp orchid and Christmas bell. Nor did we spot any spiders or snakes (thank God!) Warning: It can get really hot out there so don't forget your hat, sunscreen, bottled water, binoculars and of course, your camera. It's a four-hour hike to get around the perimeter of the entire park. For more information, including information on the walking trails, log on to: Epa.qld.gov.au.

Getting Around Noosa

You don't need to bother renting a car. Pretty much everything you'll need is in walking distance and if you want to see the surrounding villages, there's a convenient bus service. But at night, watch out for moths the size of birds flying around the interior lights on the bus! A ride costs A$2.30 but during the Christmas holiday, the buses are free. Score! What Natalie and I enjoyed the most was the Noosa ferry. The captain was so friendly and gave a fun tour, pointing out which places are worth visiting and good places to eat. The ferry service doesn't operate at night so if you want to visit one of the many restaurants, plan on walking, cabbing it or taking the moth-infested bus back. The ferry departs right next to the Sheraton on Hastings Street and takes 90 minutes to complete a roundtrip cruise. Tickets can be purchased on board for A$6 one-way. For more information, check out NoosaFerry.com.

Noosa's Sebel Hotel

Noosa has over 120 accommodation properties in a radius of less than five kilometers. They range from high-end properties to backpacking facilities. Natalie and I checked into the four-star Sebel, which is considered the nicest hotel in Noosa with 73 one- and two- bedroom suites. The huge rooms are apartment style. They all have a fully stocked kitchen, living/dining room, TV with DVD/VHS players, a washer and dryer, air conditioning and a balcony with outdoor furniture. We had a one-bedroom apartment, which was clean and comfortable. The bathroom was just as oversized as the bedroom with a stand-up shower, spa bathtub and tiled walls. Glad for the in-room washer and dryer, we were eager to do some laundry but despite repeated attempts, we couldn't get the machine to actually dry our clothes. Even following the step-by-step instructions didn't help. We called reception and, assuming that our machine was broken, were given access to another unit to dry our clothes there. But the same thing happened! After an hour in the dry cycle, the clothes still came out wet. The kind folks at reception eventually offered to dry the clothes for us but if you're planning to do laundry yourself, give yourself enough time to air-dry your clothes out on the balcony if you need to. Wireless Internet was available for A$19.95 a day but downloads are limited to 300 MBs. The Sebel offers practically everything a hotel does: a heated outdoor pool, daily housekeeping, 24-hour reception, a concierge, porter and parking (for free). What I didn't like was that check-in time is at 2pm and they really mean 2 pm. Another concern was hallway traffic. It wasn't bad at night but during the day, I could hear the kids outside our door having meltdowns. But without a doubt, the Sebel is in an ideal location, right smack in the middle of Hastings Street and about a 100-yard walk from the beach (though the rooms don't have ocean views). Rooms start at A$275. Sebel Resort Noosa; 32 Hastings Street, Noosa Heads, Sunshine Coast; tel. 7/5474 6400, reservations@tsrn.mirvac.com.au.

Aromas

The Sebel doesn't have a restaurant or room service but next door is a restaurant called Aromas, a local favorite. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and guests can charge their meals to their room. Natalie and I enjoyed breakfast there one morning and I just had to try what I thought was something really different: Brioche toast with bananas, bacon, maple syrup and mascarpone cream ($14). It may sound nasty but dang, it was good! I know, they should just name it the Heart Attack Special. To help clear my arteries, I chased it down with the "refresh" drink, a mint and pineapple juice for A$6.50. As you can tell from the prices, things aren't cheap here. A blueberry coconut muffin alone cost A$6. Ouch! Aromas, 32 Hastings Street, Noosa Heads, Sunshine Coast.

Bernardo's Bistro on the Beach

Another popular place for breakfast is Berardo's Bistro on the Beach. As its name suggests, it's located right on the beach. An American owns this place and we grabbed one of their coveted tables to soak up the views, the rays and to suck down some tasty watermelon juice and a banana and honey smoothie. Yum! Berardo's on the Beach, Hastings Street, tel. 07/5448 0888.

Lindoni's

For dinner, we took our driver Peter's recommendation and dined at Lindoni's. They serve fine Italian cuisine from all regions of Italy but specialize in southern style. People dress casual here, which I like; most guys were wearing shorts, nice button-down shirts with sandals or tennis shoes. Like most restaurants in Noosa, the place was expensive. A Caprese salad cost A$22, a small bowl of pasta was A$21 and main dishes started at A$42. I found the food to be just average but then again, I'm a spoiled Italian. Lindoni's, 13 Hastings Street, Noosa Heads, tel. 07/5447 5111.

Zachary's Gourmet Pizza

On the walk home from Lindoni's, Natalie and I walked by Zachary's Gourmet Pizza. Just as we passed, we heard a couple coming out and saying, "That was the best pizza I have ever had!" Natalie and I looked at each other with our eyebrows raised high and nodded in tacit agreement ... tomorrow we would find out for ourselves. Sure enough, 23 hours later, we were there waiting for a table. The place was completely packed (a great sign) but we were so hungry, we couldn't wait the 90 minutes we were told it would take to get seated. Instead, we ordered takeout and enjoyed our dinner back at the Sebel. But even takeout took 45 minutes. A small, six-slice pizza starts at A$17. We enjoyed our Inferno Sambal Chili pizza that came with jalapeno peppers, salami, onion and capsicum. It wasn't "the best pizza ever" but then again, I believe that can only be found in Southern Italy or New York City. Zachary's Gourmet Pizza, 30 Hastings Street, Noosa Heads, tel. 07/5447 3211.

Shopping in Noosa

There are lots of shops along the main drag on Hastings Street. Stores line both sides of the street and, as I've mentioned, there are also lots of restaurants, cafes and outdoor patios. The streets are pretty busy with tourists, but there's a real energy and it's nice to stroll up and down the strip. If you're really interested in shopping, there are lots of places to buy swimwear and souvenirs but mostly, you'll find women's clothing shops. While I caught up on some work at the hotel, Natalie set out for an afternoon of shopping, but it only took her an hour and a half to cover the shopping on Hastings Street from one end to the other. Once you've done it once, there's not much else to do.

The Beach

Of course I've saved the best for last ... the beach. This is the main reason Noosa gets 1.7 million overnight visitors a year. By the way, 10% of those are international, mostly from New Zealand, the UK and Germany. You'll be happy to know that the sand is soft and clean. The beach is deserted in the early morning but by midday it's packed with families. The Noosa beach has something every beach should; two beautiful women in tiny bikinis, cruising up and down the beach in an ATV, towing a snow cone machine. I'm a sucker for snow cones, so I didn't need the added temptation but it's a great marketing ploy. These girls driving the Pineapple Crush were constantly being flagged down by me and you should see how fast they could whip up a fresh delicious treat for A$3. They were so efficient that New Yorkers would appreciate them.

Surf Lessons

Next up: We visited the Information Center directly across the street from the New Zealand Natural ice cream shop. (If you go, be sure to get the Hokey Pokey.) Inside, the center has all kinds of brochures and helpful volunteers. We inquired about the best things to do in Noosa, besides hiking the National Park and were told we should get a surf lesson. Noosa is famous for surfing lessons, as the break is shallow, the water is warm and even when the weather is bad, the waves roll perfectly.

Noosa Surf Lesson

We signed up with Merrick's Noosa Learn to Surf School for a A$55 for a two-hour lesson. The owner, Merrick Davis, a World Pro Am surfing champion, greeted us but was running out on an errand so he had one of his instructors teach us. We put on our tight surfing shirts, grabbed a long soft board and walked down the tree-covered path to the beach. There were three groups of six with mostly pre-teen girls. We all made a circle around our instructor, a funny and animated French guy.

Surf's Up

Fast forward 30 minutes and we were all in the water, achieving what was promised. Everyone in our group got up on their board and surfed. The instructor was great and encouraging, especially with those that weren't strong swimmers. A really great experience for beginners. It was a lot of fun and I was even able to flash the 'hang loose' sign to the photographer in the water who was taking photos, then selling CDs with the images for a reasonable A$25.

At the end of the lesson, as I was putting my board away, I told another instructor about the little black spider that had been on me. "Ah, don't worry about them, mate," he said. "It's only the ones with the white spot on their backs that you need to watch out for!" Panic-stricken, I said, "That's what was on me!" He asked if it bit me and I shook my head ... I didn't think I had been bitten. These spiders rarely bite, he told me, but if they do, you're sure to feel it immediately. I shook my head, thankful to be alive and thought ... just another adventure-filled day in Australia! Merrick's Learn to Surf School -- highly recommended.

Overall

I enjoyed my brief stay in Noosa but to me, it just didn't live up to the hype. Since so many people had told me how incredible it was, I was expecting so much more. Plus, I found it to be way overpriced, especially the restaurants. Next time I go, I'll go grocery shopping and make good use of the Sebel's in-room kitchen.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Australia.com.

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