12: Sweet Strawberry Farms and Tranquil Everglade Kayaking – Noosa

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What I love most about rivers is, you can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing, always flowing – Pocahontas

Her boiling bonnet burned and bubbled like an erratic volcano as the Moreton ferry docked. We made a direct beeline towards Brisbane city centre and it was there she was nursed by a Brisbane radiator specialist. We were faced with the choice of purchasing a fresh new radiator or fixing the old one for a fraction of the price. Of course, we’re budget-bound backpackers so our obvious decision was to part with $30 and have a man weld the radiator back to health instead. Awaiting the news like a pair of nervous parents after Jenny’s precarious operation, we were pleased to hear it was a success. Her radiator no longer sizzled away and her temperature gauge stopped rocketing.

We stayed in Brisbane Backpackers that night and parked Jenny in the shoebox-sized car park beneath the hostel. To avoid paying for a dorm room, we paid the parking fee and slept in the car. Jenny had proved to be the most comfortable night’s sleep yet, so why pass her up for a springy bunk bed?!  But the car park was crammed with other campers, so trying to weave Jenny into a convenient space was a laborious task. Her sheer size occupied most of the car park and we had nowhere to squeeze her enormous frame other than against a row of outdoor lockers. Praying that no one would need to access those lockers at any point during the night, we fell asleep beneath the glaring lamps of the car park, surrounded by the constant buzz of other campers and their neighbouring camper vans.

The next morning, we departed early and merged onto the Pacific Highway heading north. We were excited to leave Brisbane and venture further along the East Coast. Our next stop was Noosa, a pretty tourist hotspot in the Sunshine coast, 130km north of Brisbane.

Self-guiding means you are never bound to an itinerary; you have the freedom to roam wherever you please. At your own liberty, you may divert off route and indulge in scenic lookouts, visit strange reptile parks, explore fresh fruit farms or even pick the sugar cane from Queensland farmers’ fields. We did all of this, and it was a sheer delight. A road trip is a sweet luxury, literally speaking. As we passed a little town called Toorbul, a tantalising sign for fresh strawberries lured us off the highway. Before we knew it, we were on our hands and knees picking plump strawberries from their green runners. We pocketed them all in little wicker baskets and paid for them once we had had our fill. We grazed on our juicy stash of strawberries for the rest of the journey, savouring their ripe and natural essence that had grown sweet in the Queensland sun.

Noosa is yet another surfer’s paradise. With it’s perpetual high waves and gleaming beaches, it’s a pure holiday haven. Much like Byron Bay, it emits a strong hippie vibe with chains of shops that glitter with bangles and beads, dreamcatchers and peace-promoting propaganda. However most of Noosa’s retail is reserved for sports merchandise with a strong focus on surfing. Every shop you pass, windows will glow with stacks of waxed surfboards.

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Old Speckled Hen and Cruisers in Noosa

We arrived mid-afternoon but whiled away an hour trying to find a spot to park Jenny. Even in the winter months, Noosa is constantly bustling. We eventually found a tight space, and emptied our food bags to enjoy a picnic in the park. We cooked on the BBQ that most Australian parks provide – (ingenious!) – and then wandered down the local high street, admiring all of the shops and restaurants that give Noosa its pleasant charm. We bought a few drinks from the local Bottle-O (every name in Australia ends in O) and slurped them on the beach, gazing out as the late afternoon sun casted bright orange trails across the sky. We watched the surfers break the water with their boards, effortlessly skirting over the toughest waves, making surfing look so simple… it’s not! Others bobbed in the water enjoying the refreshing chill of the winter sea.

That evening, Matt and I were guided by our rumbling bellies to the front door of the illustrious burger restaurant, Betty’s Burgers. Matt, who had stayed in Noosa during his first year in Australia, raved about this restaurant no end, giving it outstanding reviews. He forever fantasised about one day returning to Noosa so he may feast upon another one of Betty’s tantalising beefy creations. Now the time had come. I could almost hear the animalistic hunger raging in the pit of his stomach as we took our seats in a vintage 1950’s style burger joint. As two almighty angus beef burgers arrived, Matty practically drooled in delight. I have never tasted anything like it. Pocketed between two soft buns lay the juiciest burger in Noosa, sizzling on a bed of fresh lettuce and tomato and oozing with Betty’s own original sauce. Travellers, you must try it; prices are not too extortionate and the food is a guaranteed mouthwatering treat. Also, Betty’s Burgers are renowned for their rich and creamy frozen custard puddings. Sadly, our main course had bloated us like water balloons and there was no space to accommodate even a drop of custard. Judging by the puddings on other people’s plates however, I would say we missed out on this heavenly experience. But this only gives us more reason to return. 

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Travelling tip: Never free camp in cities or busy towns in Australia. We learned this rule in Noosa. Free camping is a basically treated as a criminal offence; a wrongful act that sees careless travellers pitch up their tents and camper vans on the side of a residential road and not pay a penny. That night, we found a secluded area with few houses and little traffic, and we parked Jenny there for the night. We nestled under the duvet in the peace and quiet and fell asleep, blissfully content that we we had secured free accommodation for the night. It was our own fault then the following morning when a ranger came tapping on our car window. Dazed and confused, we sprung out of bed and opened the door to a curious-looking police officer. We played ignorant and apologised profusely. The ranger, who was more intrigued with Jenny’s size and stature was fortunately understanding and allowed us a verbal warning. That served us right!

Deep in the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park runs the extraordinary, ancient waterways of upper Noosa River and the Everglades. We had organised a half-day kayaking excursion later that day. It was a prepaid trip and a must-do in Noosa. The trip included a prepaid BBQ lunch on the banks of the river and a thrilling few hours gliding down the tranquil waters. Of course, it was pretty tranquil for me because poor Matt did most of the work. It was a hell of lot more arduous than I expected and after a good hour trying to maintain a steady flow with the paddle, I leant back, basked in the sun and soothed my aching arms. Matty, determined not to lose the other kayaks on the trip, briskly sped up. I tried to help… I tried. It is a beautiful excursion and worth the aching limbs and burned backs. It allows Noosa tourists to explore the diverse, natural and historical landscapes of Australia, and also enjoy a hearty brunch all included!

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Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. But please don’t scream at the crocodiles… it will only irritate them. 

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