A HEAVENLY Hawaiian girl is dancing the hula on the dashboard as I bounce along in the back of a Teale-coloured kombi, circa 1966. The sun is threatening to set over the Noosa River, where a cheeky chorus of rainbow lorikeets is chattering like a gaggle of Hastings Street gossips. It’s been a scorching autumn day and I grasp for the breeze on my face as we chug along into the cooling evening.
Even Elani, the hula girl, appears to nod in approval, as does Old Skool Kombis owner Scott Montague, whose hands are wrapped lovingly around the huge, white wheel as if it is precious cargo. Valued at $70,000, this retro ride takes up to eight passengers on tours of Noosa, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, the coast road from Noosa to Coolum or custom-made trips from anything to a private picnic to a surfing safari.
“I make sure passengers enjoy it and it’s relaxed because that’s what kombis are all about,” Scott says.
“It was always my passion. I’ve always had kombis and I turned it into a business to pay for it. Everybody loves them around Noosa, it’s an iconic surf wheel.”
Fortune favours the brave. And on this balmy evening, arriving at our Noosaville destination, fortune also flavours the brave. I have the great privilege of attending the official opening of Fortune Distillery, Noosa’s only distillery providing Australian spirits. It’s adjacent to their Land and Sea Brewery, which opened 14 months ago, and which boasts Harley and Honda motorcycles above the bar, and old-fashioned pinball machines and a surfboard or two in the corners.
On this edgy evening, there’s a tattooed muso perched on the back of a 1954 fully, restored old school Chevy from the United States. Slick? You ain’t seen nothing yet. On the menu there’s a white malt as well as a vodka, but it’s the signature dry gin which uses eight botanicals, including North Queensland honey dew melon, which steals the show here. The dudes behind the distillery are all pointy shoes, hairy faces and tattoos but say this new venture is less about the hipster set and more about the next stage of life.
Brand Creator Tim Crabtree says he launched Land and Sea as Noosa was calling out for a lifestyle-based brewery.
“We live in Noosa, it’s a beautiful part of the world, we go to the beach all day, and eat fine food, nothing sets it off like a beautiful craft beer,” he says.
“The plan was to expand our range while keeping a similar sort of ethos…let’s create a spirit brand that echoes the same sort of lifestyle. There’s an element of fun, personality and hijinks in the brand.
“Let’s take our Land and Sea customers and move them on 15 years where they wear fine clothes and drink fine drinks.
“It’s also aspirational, it’s chasing the dream a little bit.”
At this point in the conversation I pause and wonder why I’m still stuck in the craft beer phase, when I should be wearing fine clothes and drinking fine drinks. Hell, I should have a Noosa beach house by now. I decide it’s best that I take another sip of that fine gin while I contemplate what I’ve been doing with my life.
What I do know is that I’m in Noosa previewing the Noosa Food and Wine Festival which will be held from May 16 to 20. Fortune Distillery will be there, collaborating with local businesses such as the Peter Phillips Gallery which will showcase a retrospective of renowned pop artist Peter Phillips. It’s the first time the Noosa Food and Wine Festival, in its 16th year, has explored art and food together and to celebrate, Fortune will be releasing a Peter Phillips gin. Two events will be staged at the gallery over the weekend where celebrated chef Josh Lopez will create a six-canape course inspired by six decades of Peter’s work. At the second event, a full degustation menu which also pays homage to Peter’s work will be served on this beautiful acreage property.
There’s much to ponder on this Indian summer evening as I jump back into the kombi just in time to snatch a Neapolitan sunset. We chug back along the river, taking a brief detour to witness the renovated boardwalk from Hastings Street to Noosa National Park. Warm salt air wiggles through the window and the boardwalk is lit up with fairy lights. It feels like Christmas. We dine on Fraser Island spanner crab risotto with sea urchin butter at Locale, one of the restaurants which will be involved in the Noosa Food and Wine Festival Noir Noosa event, a black-tie dinner along Hastings Street which will celebrate Moet and Chandan’s 150th anniversary. Sated by all this talk of food, and the fab food itself, we wander back to our hotel, the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, which is not only a stylish stalwart of the Noosa scene, but also of the Noosa Food and Wine Festival itself, hosting a number of swanky events.
Noosa Food and Wine Festival Director Sheridah Puttick says there are some exciting additions to this year’s event. Expect a Noosa-inspired cocktail called Tan Lines; the new exclusive River Lounge; the Red Snapper brunch serving gin Bloody Marys; and chefs from Bikini in Bali’s Seminyak. The highlight which catches my eye, however, is the industry day on the Monday, where Australia’s leading food rescue charity OzHarvest will create a brunch from festival leftovers for the hospitality industry. In fact, all of the food left over from the festival village itself is recycled by OzHarvest.
Sheridah says the Noosa Food and Wine Festival is about sustainability and building on the natural beauty of Noosa.
“It is about supporting our local industry. A lot of our businesses are in hospitality or accommodation,” she says.
“For me, it is about working with passionate people.”
The Noosa Food and Wine Festival will be held from May 16 to 20 http://www.noosafoodandwine.com.au
• Stay at the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort http://www.sofitelnoosapacificresort.com.au
• Travel around the region with Old Skool Kombis http://www.oldskoolkombisnoosa.com.au
• The Peter Phillips Gallery will be open to event ticket holders or by private appointment http://www.peterphillips.com
• Check out Fortune Distillery http://www.noosaheadsdistillery.com/fortune; and Locale Noosa http://www.localenoosa.com.au
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Noosa http://www.visitnoosa.com.au
ON a sassy Southampton Saturday evening, I am stalking screen siren Sophia Loren. Let me repeat that. I am stalking Sophia Loren, the acclaimed Italian actress. Sure, it’s not my usual Saturday night, back in Brisbane, clutching a bottle of shiraz and what’s left of my dignity while I watch Disney movies, but life as a travel writer sometimes takes you to the most unusual places, where you are plunged into the most unlikely scenarios, and on this particular Saturday night, this is precisely where I find myself.
I am in the UK, at Southampton Port, to be precise, covering the launch of the world’s newest cruise liner, MSC Bellissima which claims to be the most beautiful ship in the world. And I am sitting front row of the media throng, on the dock, having just watched Andrea Bocelli and his son Mateo perform on stage. The gargantuan ship sits in the background, attempting to provide a buffer from the gale-force winds that have whipped up on this evening. But just as Ms Loren is about to appear on stage, and cut the all-important ribbon before a bottle of champagne is smashed against the hull (a waste of plonk, in my humble opinion), all 2000 guests in the marquee are told to urgently evacuate themselves back onto the ship. The winds have become wicked, and a little dangerous in this tent, and so we “Brexit” back onto the boat. I am reminded of one of Ms Loren’s famous quotes: “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. We have so much in common.
Amid the confusion, my new Kiwi mate and I make some swift decisions. Turn left and we follow the confused crowd. Turn right, and we are in a mad mosh pit of VIPS. We take a sharp right, and walk straight past a waiting Mercedes Benz. The windows are dark but we know who is in there. It’s Ms Loren, but we have no time to loiter as the crowd shuffles us in the rain and wind, back onto the boat. We snatch a champagne from the bar while we contemplate our brief brush with fame. Meanwhile the heads of this Italian shipping company, bless them, rise to the occasion.
“Everybody, have a drink,” they declare as only Italians (and possibly Aussies) in an emergency can, and 2000 people scatter among the ship, awaiting details on what to do next. I stand with my Kiwi mate, hoping to catch a glimpse in the distance of Sophia and strategizing as only two desperate Antipodeans can, on where we think she’ll do the launch.
I am dressed to impress, in a faux fur I’ve bought online from China. But I was no longer worried about embarrassing myself. The previous day, I locked myself out of my cruise cabin wearing nothing but my QANTAS pyjamas. Shoe-less and bra-less, I complete the shuffle-of-shame to the ship’s lift, descend five decks below, and saunter through a bar full of well-dressed Europeans to reception to order a new key. In order to stop my breasts from jiggling, I cross my arms over my chest, as if I’m about to abandon ship and jump into the seas below. Hell, who needs a bra when God has given me two perfectly good arms? What was I thinking all these years?
On this evening of Ms Loren, I am wearing a bra, shoes and my fur and impressively, in less than 15 minutes since the disruption, the show is ready to resume. If you can judge a cruise company on how it handles an emergency, MSC comes up trumps. I am pondering all of this when something spectacular happens. Inexplicably, I turn around. And right behind me, within hugging distance, there she is, in all of her Italian glory. She’s 84 and as elegant as ever, in a shimmering gold gown and giant crucifix. I frantically snap shots as she saunters past. She sashays and steals centre stage, mid ship. The “godmother” of MSC Cruises, she makes some comments about the beauty of cruising, before she heads back my way. I want to reach out and touch her, tell her that Australia loves her, but I simply stand there in giddy adoration. A month before, a fortune cookie I had eaten during a Chinese New Year celebration in Sydney had predicted “Your life will soon be graced with the presence of stardom.” And there she was.
One day, when I’m 84, the age that Sophia is now, I’m sure I’ll be telling these tales to unbelieving ears. By then, I’m pretty sure I will also be wearing QANTAS pyjamas full time and locking myself out of my room on a regular basis. Who will ever comprehend that I flew to Europe for less than a week, jumped aboard the world’s newest cruise liner, and bumped into Sophia Loren? Such is the crazy life of a travel writer. Amid all of the fog of jetlag, those long, lonely hours on the road, the anxiety of deadlines, the uncertainty of where the next word or pay cheque may come from, come these magical moments. A good mate recently reminded me that as travel writers, we have a backstage pass to the world. And if my job has taught me anything, it’s this: just like this ship launch on this wild, windy evening, life never works out as you had planned. But sometimes, it can be better. So travel as much as you can, turn right when you should turn left, and wait for the wonderful.
The Global Goddess was a guest of MSC Bellissima – http://www.msccruises.com.au