48 hours in the Sunshine Coast’s best-kept secret: The Mary Valley
If you’re a believer in the journey being as epic as the destination, buckle up. This 48-hour road trip is guaranteed to change your life!
Tucked behind Sunshine Coast darling, Noosa, the Mary Valley is punctuated by misty hills, rolling valleys, foodie haunts and infectiously unaffected characters at every turn. Not forgetting, the rare opportunity to kayak with platypuses; the most peculiar of all Aussie icons, famously prompting funny man Robin Williams to suggest God must have been tripping.
Yesiree. There’s Something About Mary (Valley)!
In true loved-up style, it all starts with a vintage ‘dub called ‘Ketut’. Jaffa-orange and ready to roll!
“You’ve got to relax into him – it’s the only way to drive,” says self-confessed VW fanatic Paul Ryan with a knowing smile. He’s the brains (and heart) behind Hireadub – only the second rental car venture of its kind in Australia, offering vintage Volkswagen Kombi campervans in the self-drive market, complete with how-to training.
As anyone who’s ‘earned’ the love of a Kombi can attest, rough handling and gear crunching won’t get you anywhere remotely near first base (out on the highway, that is!). This is a freedom ride you have to feel. The rhythm of the ‘dub. And it’s got one humdinger of a positive off-shoot! Forced relaxation behind the wheel quickly turns into the real thing.
Find your groove: Hireadub is located in Eagleby, between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. If new to driving ‘dubs, it’s a good idea to arrive about an hour before you want to hit the road, leaving time for an expert 101 lesson and a million and one stories from Paul. His ‘dubs come fully equipped with bedding, kitchen facilities, board games and even retro dress-up attire. Groovy baby!
Frequent pit-stops are a ‘must’ when driving a ‘dub (as Paul explains, Woodstock hippies had the right idea, back in the day, stopping for regular ‘smokos’ that doubled as welcome engine breathers).
Inspired by The Beatles – and with Strawberry Fields Forever blasting on the pimped-up car stereo – there’s no better place than a short detour off the Bruce Highway to Strawberry Fields in Palmview (just east of Aussie World, along the old Cobb & Co Route).
This Sunshine Coast farm is open year-round, with PYO (pick-your-own strawberries) season operating June to November. Pull up a seat in the café for homemade strawberry ice-cream and barista-brewed coffee.
Just under an hour’s drive up the Bruce Highway (via Route 70 towards Noosa Heads) awaits a second must-do pit stop – Mooshka Restaurant and Bar at Sunshine Beach.
Pulling up in a ‘dub, you’ll feel right at home in this retro-inspired foodie haunt. Located in a tiny collective of funky shops overlooking the beach, this local favourite serves up a healthy and eclectic menu (vegetarians are also in for a treat… try the superfood salad: mixed quinoa, roasted sweet potato, broccolini, baby spinach, field mushrooms, Noosa Reds, rocket pesto), not to mention kick-ass organic coffee, an enviable wine list and DJs spinning old-school vinyl on weekends.
Looking for other foodie options? Noosa is five minutes up the road, jam-packed with award-winning beach-chic restaurants and bars – and home to the Noosa Food & Wine Festival, held each May, and ranked by The Telegraph (UK) as one of the best foodie festivals to venture to in 2017. Mark it on your calendars for 2018!
To savour another local secret, head to Belmondos Organic Market, located in an industrial estate at the back of Noosaville. This award-winning marketplace feeds even the most insatiable organic appetite. Chow down with a clear conscience at Vanilla Food or Clandestino Roasters.
Mary Valley is calling! Fuelled up on sunshine, a quick dip in the surf and more foodie goodness than you can fathom, it’s time to hit the road. So, why the detour via Noosa? Good question.
Quite frankly, the full wonder of the Mary Valley is best appreciated following a heady dose of one of Australia’s most iconic beach havens and the head-spinning realisation that this lush, other-worldly destination is but an hour’s drive inland (even at relaxed dub pace).
First stop, Cooran – arguably the most creative hub, by artist head count, in Queensland… if not Australia! According to Mia Hacker, who leads a local creative community, Tall Trees Art, that’s 73 and counting (in Cooran and neighbouring Pomona), including emerging talent and internationally acclaimed artists of the ilk of Lew Brennan and Aboriginal artist Peter Muraay Djeripi Mulcahy.
Hot tip: Don’t miss the 2017 Tall Trees Art Exhibition, set to take over the main street of Cooran (1-2 July).
Teetering on the cusp of Noosa Hinterland and the Mary Valley, Cooran oozes a funky vibe that simply has to be experienced. The kind of place you’ll pinch yourself while fossicking among rare and original art, vintage collectibles, wow-factor designs (silks, upcycled fashion and scarves crafted in India from stinging nettle – you can’t walk past Didi Collective or newly-opened Tinker Tailor), artisan bread and cold-pressed raw organic rainforest honey so natural it’s the closest experience to how bees themselves taste it!
‘Bee man’ and Cooran local, Scott Taylor, who emigrated from the US in 1999, is the genius behind ‘The Landing’ honey. He uses a top bar beekeeping method (without a frame) and says, in terms of taste, bees actually know best! There’s only one place you can buy Scott’s honey – at The Vintage Junction in Cooran’s main street, just across the railway line.
Best described as an Aladdin’s Cave of vintage collectables, this place literally buzzes and has become a community hub. At its helm: Aussie girl, Kat Anderson, and her British husband, Jay Skill, who stumbled on Cooran after something of a bohemian life, travelling and living in a library bus, and running glamping and tipi experiences in Spain.
The Vintage Junction also boasts a deserved reputation for serving the best organic coffee, hot chocolate, cakes and DIY toast (courtesy of Pomona superstar bakery, Lust For Crust, and its famed range of old-fashioned sourdough).
Coming soon to Cooran! Bonsai Brewhouse, which won a cult following (and rightly so) in its old Pomona digs is about to reopen in Cooran (end of June / early July). Cooran couple Matt and Cassidy Vanderveen — the latter, an important fixture at Sunshine Coast Brewery prior to stepping out on his own — are converting a Heritage-listed building that once housed Alfredson’s Joinery and Sawmill into a rustic-style brewhouse/beer garden specialising in craft beer.
A perfect space for Matt to serve his signature ‘grain to glass’ perfectionism – from Layne’s Lager to Archie’s Ale (named after his two children); complex hop-driven brews; a lip-smacking Irish Stout; refreshing Sungazer (made with local ginger, raw honey and organic green tea) or sour German-style Berliner weisse.
Before the sun sets, make tracks to Melawondi Spring Retreat, just outside the Mary Valley town of Imbil (roughly 20-minutes’ drive from Cooran) and, for trivia buffs, the first stop for James Nash, who saved Queensland from bankruptcy when he discovered gold in the Gympie region in 1867.
Melbourne couple Tanya and Tony Fisher opened the retreat, set on 30 acres of secluded bushland, in 2009. Humbly, they call it a B&B. Truth be known, however, it leans more towards a luxury retreat, offering a ‘Luxury Studio’ (complete with freestanding double spa) or ‘Spring View Cabin’… and breakfast with all the trimmings: home baked bread, muffins, wood smoked bacon and local free range eggs, yoghurt and jams.
Staying with this couple is like striking gold. Tanya, renowned locally as something of a culinary doyenne, launched cooking classes in May 2017, hero-ing fresh, locally-sourced produce. Move over MKR!
On Tanya’s gloriously DIY menu: ‘Cured Local Snapper Tortillas with fresh salsa’, featuring local Knobby Snapper from Noosa Fish Providores (caught off the Fraser Coast); home-made tortillas; and all other ingredients from neighbouring producers – tomatoes from Double Creek Farm, avocado from Red Earth Farmers, corn from Farmer & Sun, cabbage and cucumbers from Trish & Bruno Gabbana.
Hot tip: Don’t miss a home-cooked dinner – delivered to your cabin. And take a walk up to the hill-top viewing platform for sunset drinks and a grazing platter. If Melawondi Spring Retreat is booked out, Imbil offers a range of idyllic and often unexpected accommodation experiences, from farm stays to authentic cottage Queenslanders.
- #1 You can’t help but fall in love a beautifully restored 1920s farm house, moved from Brisbane to perch on one side of Yabba Creek that runs through Imbil township. Retired couple, Jim and Sue Thrower (who live in Noosa) moved the old Queenslander and offer it to holiday seekers as Imbil Bridge Farm, complete with resident horses, cows and chickens (collect your own eggs for breakfast). All rooms come with a knockout view and the veranda offers prime location to sip Chardonnay (or a healthy juice or cuppa) while watching platypuses play in the creek below.
- #2 Elsie of Imbil, a modest worker’s cottage turned holiday home oozes warmth from its overhanging eaves to wide back deck. On the walls remain pencilled height marks of grandchildren; a feature that adds to the ambience of this ‘home away from home’. The marks belong to Brisbane-based sisters Karen Phillips and Donna Dunn, now fully grown. The cottage, built in the early 1900s, was bought by their grandparents, Ted and Elsie Zillmann, in 1945, and remained in the family until the 1990s. The sisters jumped when the property came back on the market in 2012 and lovingly restored it as a vacation home. Ask to stay in William’s Quarters for the best sunrise view.
- #3 Miranda Downs’ private Susquehanna Lodge offers a secluded getaway, perfect for couples. Fully self-contained and complete with barbecue facilities and even a hay bale.
Rise and shine! Introducing Mother Nature’s alternative to the Noosa Triathlon (the latter being the largest Olympic distance triathlon in the world).
Meet your adventure guide, Ian Harling, from Ride On Mary… Kayak & Bike Bush Adventures at Imbil Bridge in the centre of town. Originally from Surrey, UK, Ian stumbled upon the Mary Valley 13 years ago, fell in love with the place and stayed. Once a travelling nomad, he now runs adventure tours, including dawn and dusk kayak tours with platypuses or, for the more adventurous, a ‘Nature Tri’ of sorts, minus the frenetic pace (kayak, hike and mountain bike). This wraps up around 11:30am.
Having previously searched for platypuses in far-flung locations, it’s almost impossible not to be rendered speechless by the experience. To the notoriously shy platypus, a kayak could be a floating log, causing no alarm. “They swim with their eyes closed and can sometimes swim under the kayak,” says Ian. “Rock wallabies also come down to the creek occasionally for a drink and, on one tour, we saw an echidna on the bank as well as platypuses in the water!”
Winter (July – September) is the best time to spot the little monotremes. Why? It’s their season to find a mate. In this neck of the woods, platypuses are not alone in their quest for love. Just over the hills, in Amamoor State Forest, the Gympie Music Muster (held in August) stakes its claim as the nation’s biggest love-in. In fact, organisers have lost count of love matches at the event. Even multi-award winning Country Music superstar, Troy Cassar-Daley met his missus (Laurel Edwards, a presenter on Channel 7’s The Great South East and host of Classic Hits 4KQ) at the Muster in 1993. Forget Tinder; meet your match at these 8 must-do events.
Lunch beckons! Head to The Packing Shed, situated a couple of minutes from the centre of town. Kiwi, Lawrence Ryan (originally from Auckland) and his wife Susan, started the popular café in 2016.
Originally planned as a kitchen to simply produce chutneys and jams (including a to-die-for rum and pumpkin chutney), it morphed into a café due to popular demand, with the duo recently plating-up Mother’s Day lunch for 120 customers! Their story is like so many others who stumbled upon the Mary Valley and stayed.
2PM to LATE
The Mary Valley is meant to be explored at your own pace. The opportunities are endless, but it’s virtually guaranteed you’ll want to chill out and breathe in the township. Think it over: an afternoon spent soaking in a bathtub with a view, snoozing in a hammock overlooking Yabba Creek or checking out Imbil’s main street, with its iconic Railway Hotel or delightful café, One2One on Yabba, started by a retired headmistress in a building that was once a church. Tempting?
However, for those with energy to burn, there’s no better way to see the Mary Valley than a country drive through lush valleys and a landscape patch-worked with grazing cattle, macadamia farms, rainforests and endless rolling hills. Check out various stops on the Mary Valley Scenic Drive.
Gympie’s Gold Mining and Historical Museum (less than a 30-minute drive, heading north from Imbil) is guaranteed to please curious modern gold-diggers, casting a spotlight on ‘the town that saved Queensland from bankruptcy’ via a vast collection of documents, artefacts and photographs dating back to 1867, alongside historic relics, from steam machinery to gemstone collections.
On the drive to Gympie, nature lovers are advised to make a pit stop at Amamoor State Forest (40km south-west of Gympie). The forest is home to more than 120 bird species, sighted in its riverine rainforests and plantations of hoop and bunya pines, and each year, also plays host to the Gympie Music Muster.
Hot tip: lace up your walking boots and hit the 1.5km Amama Walk (starting from Amama day-use area) through lush rainforest, with buttressed trees, vines, ferns, mossy rocks and even a waterfall.
Peckish? Pull into The Blue and White Teapot in Amamoor, which serves quality coffee, tea, cakes, scones, savouries and more, complete with a shaded outdoor garden area.
Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to the Mary Valley… unless, of course, like so many others, you’ve decided to park your bags and stay!
There is, after all, Something About Mary.