Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Tale of Two Pelicans Down Under

Believe it or not,  Ah Pui and Ah San lured me to Noosa, the Sunshine Coast's coastal hub!  

My introduction to Noosa - Ah Pui and Ah San, the pelicans with big appetites! 
Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo may have put Australia's Sunshine Coast on the tourism map. For me though, Noosa's graceful feathered residents with their recognisable throat pouch and large beaks prowling the riverbanks are what first drew my attention to the place.

My friends, Australian Brad Jeffreys and his vivacious Singaporean wife Judy Koh, often raved about the feathered visitors to their exclusive riverside home. Each day after 5pm, a pair of friendly pelicans they fondly refer to as Ah Pui (the fat one) and Ah San (skinny one) turn up like clockwork on the wooden platform jetty that joins their patio to the riverbank.

Thanks to Ah Pui and Ah San who piqued my curiosity, I now know a little more about the big birds. The Australian pelican is claimed to be the biggest of all species of pelicans found worldwide. Typically white in colour with black wingtips and markings on their tail, they are so buoyant they can't sink under water!  And they can actually fly, as their light skeletons are only about 10% of their body weight!

Brad and Judy who run Noosa Entrance Waterfront 
On a much anticipated visit to the couple's home in Noosaville, I finally met the by-now-famous pair. A 7.5-hour direct flight on Singapore Airlines to Brisbane plus another 2-hour ride on Col's Airport Shuttle from the airport brought us to our vacation townhouse.  At sunset on a Saturday night at Brad and Judy's home, Ah Pui and Ah San waddled over for their evening feed. Amazingly, the heftier of the two was also the smarter and nimbler!

Relaxing Noosa

An ideal base from which to explore the Sunshine Coast, Noosa's nicer weather is like a magnet drawing hordes of Australians to its coast. It's a holiday hub for many Australians who own vacation homes, and many more who choose to retire there. Noosans are some of the friendliest people I've met on my travels. After the first day, I was no longer surprised to receive a "G'day mate!" and well trained to return one.  

Priceless view from our townhouse at Noosa Entrance

Waterfront, which offers free wifi, flat screen TV in the 

living and bedrooms, laundry facilities and a kitchen

equipped for a barbecue and party. Stay here when

you book Chan Brothers' Great Sunshine Way 

self-drive package
Noosaville is good for the soul if your ideal vacation is to simply relax and do nothing. My friend Sandie and I stayed in a spacious two-bedroom waterfront townhouse at Noosa Entrance Waterfront, run by Brad and Judy. Coming from fast-paced and crowded Singapore, we welcomed the peace and quiet. Only a 10-minute lazy stroll from our townhouse is Gympie Terrace, a soothing stretch of the main road through Noosaville alongside the Noosa River. The attraction here are the quaint riverfront restaurants and cafes, shops - and more holiday resorts.  

Strolling along Gympie Terrace, we enjoyed the fresh air and scenic beauty of the Noosa River. We had breakfast at Beans & Bagels. We watched families strolling, walking their babies, dogs, rollerskating and just shooting the breeze. We fed the swans and pelicans.  We had delicious cappuccino and tiramisu at the nearby Bella Vita on Thomas Street, where owner Tony Abbate served a generous dose of irresistably genuine, heartwarming smile.

Tony Abbate, owner of Bella Vita 
Who needs lunch after breakfast at 
Beans & Bagels?

For a spot of souvenir shopping and people watching, we took in Hastings Streeta mere 15-minute drive from our townhouse. A smaller and less crowded version of  Singapore's Orchard Road, it has rows of shops selling mostly beach and casual wear. Surprisingly well tucked away near the ferry services ticket counter is a Singapore-style foodcourt where teenagers and families casually stroll in for a bite or drink, taking shelter from the sun shining on the beach and park nearby. 

If you're not on a self-drive holiday, it's still possible to get around. Noosa is a well laid out town and there are many ways to explore the area. You can take the public bus or hail a cab but be forewarned - cab fares are as steep as Singapore's.  

A 10-minute ride from our townhouse to Hastings Street cost A$15.00. It was after 6pm, the traffic wasn't heavy as it is in Singapore, and there were  fewer traffic lights than on Orchard Road! 

You can also get directions from the local residents, or from the visitor information centre on Hastings Street, where bus and ferry schedules are  readily available. 
Noosa's main shopping district hides a small  
foodcourt tucked away amongst  souvenir 
gift shops, hip restaurants, cafes and bistros
If you choose to see the action on Hastings Street from the water, there are regular ferry services plying along Noosa River from Noosa Marina at Tewantin to Hastings Street, with stops along the way. 

I prefer putting on my Merrells to trek the coastal trail of Noosa's National Park, right behind the main beach and shops. Photography buffs will not be disappointed with the view and constant action punctuating the park and shoreline.  

I watched the locals and tourists swim, surf and paddle board. Like me, many were snapping away - with their Canons, Nikons, Samsungs and iPhones.

Scenic view from Noosa Park's coastal trail

Put on your walking shoes and walk along the 
many trails in Noosa National Park. The coastal trail offers a clear view of 
the picturesque coastline. The park is home to species of wildflowers and 
endangered wildlife such as the ground parrot and koala

 View of Main Beach from Noosa Park's coastal trail

 Highly recommended, watching the sunset from Noosa National Park 

Hire A Boat

A leisurely cruise on a bright sunny afternoon with Rod Baker, co-owner of O Boat Hire, shed a little history on Noosa and gave us a closer peep at the riverfront houses straddling the river. Rod singled out an empty vacation house said to be owned by a Hong Kong tycoon, which stood among the many unoccupied houses dotting the riverside. We were told Richard Branson owned a vacation house somewhere nearby too, but decided to give it a miss. 

On The Food Trail 
Noosa is famous for its gourmet food trail, and Noosans are justifiably proud of their fresh local produce. For a spot of wholesome and delicious seafood lunch, off we went  to The Boathouse Floating Restaurant and Bar moored on the water at Noosaville. We sampled fresh baramundi and salad prepared by Shane Bailey who had recently joined as executive chef. 
Executive chef Shane Bailey and Sheena O'Keefe 

One evening, I was invited to dinner with Jim Berardo and Greg O'Brien at the ever-popular fine dining Berardo's Restaurant & Bar on Hastings Street. Jim and Greg are co-owners of the restaurant as well as the more casual  Berardos Bistro on the beach. 

Jim is also the founder of the annual Noosa Food and Wine Festival on from May 15-18 this year. The festival will bring gourmet chefs, producers, winemakers and entertainers from Australia and the world.  So if you're undecided about going, simply picture the seafood lunches along the beach and sunset concerts in the park, and all that wine to sample with the fresh seafood and vegetables! 

Jim Berardo
Greg O'Brien
Both Jim and Greg are exacting in their expectations, so you can expect a culinary adventure and entertainment yet again unsurpassed in the festival's 11-year history. 

Noosa's popular Eumundi market and farmer's market are treasure troves of culinary and shopping delights. How I miss and wish we have similar markets of the scale and variety in Singapore! We tried hard to resist temptation - from vendors selling souvenirs, hats and caps, quirky wear, beachwear, costume jewellery, handicrafts and antiques, to those selling fresh flowers and produce, fruits and nuts, jams, chocholates, seafood, comfort food and more. 
A taste of Malaysia at Eumundi
Market and Farmer's Market

We stoically faced them all, caving in to several savvy ones. The result was our lighter wallets and fuller stomachs. Boy, we never felt happier spending money!

Tony Meijer 
If you have time, drop by Noosa Reds greenhouse. Tony Meijer readily enthused how cherry tomatoes are ripened on the vine, never picked green.  Although Noosa Reds supplies to the restaurants, we saw and bought some from the farmer's market.  Tony is happy to oblige if you wish to buy fresh tomatoes directly from the greenhouse.

What's Cooking?

Cooking schools may not be your idea of a great place to meet people. Neither was it ours! We signed up for a class at Maleny Cooking School in the hinterland - and met retired Lithuanian couple Joanna and John Morkunas. 
John and Joanna Morkunas 
Our small group found ourselves in a cooking studio in the cosy home of chef-turned owner Sudha Hamilton, aka the Sacred Chef, who guided us through preparing a 3-course lunch, which we eventually washed down with a bottle of pinot noir.  Among the other cooking schools recommended by Tourism & Events Queensland are Spicers Tamarind Cooking School, Spirit House Restaurant and Cooking School and Freestyle Escape Cooking & Art School.
After 43 years, the first Sumatran tiger cubs born at Australia Zoo. Appearing in public for the first time on  the day of our visit

Crikey, Mate!

One month after our visit, we read in the news that a tiger had mauled its trainer at Australia Zoo. Thank goodness, the trainer has since recovered. We've not heard about the tiger, though. 

Our host Wayne Poole had shared untold stories about the Irwins and the animals at the zoo. One is about the crocodile who saved Steve Irwin's and close buddy Wes Mennon's hide from another croc's jaws! I think the zoo named the hero Bindi, after Steve's now-famous daughter.  Bindi (the croc, not the daughter) now has a partner, Graham. Punching above their own weight, Graham & Bindi have become crowd pullers too. The highlight for me wasn't the daily crocs show at the Crocoseum, nor the many photo-taking opportunities or the friendly staff. 

Rather, three things stand out...

A behind-the-scenes peek at the reptiles resting in their baby-size pools out of view from the crowd, where Graham and Bindi's love nest is. 

Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital which Steve Irwin built and dedicated to his late mum, Lyn Irwin. Lyn passed away before realising her dream to set up a wildlife hospital. 

On the bus ride from Noosaville to the zoo, we had so much fun with the in-bus entertainment. A series of videos showed off the ever playful Steve Irwin pulling pranks on his staff. We laughed until we cried at one, in particular. Zoo staff had turned the table on the unsuspecting Steve by staging a visit by an Arab prince and his entourage. The "actors" were hired to entice Steve to part with his prized camels for a A$100m donation in return for animal conservation.  The prince even offered Steve one of his accompanying wives when he sensed Steve's discomfort and reluctance to sell!

That's us with Wayne Poole
Crikey! Sandie and I miss you, Noosa. 

Our appreciation goes to Brad and Judy, our gracious hosts; Khim and Christina of Tourism & Events Queensland who arranged our trip;  Jim and Greg, Shane and  Sheila for the culinary indulgence, Rod for educating us about Noosa, and Wayne, the Irwins' loyal ambassador who'd stepped in to show us around.

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