So near and yet so far away – holiday close to home

Just over an hour’s drive north of Brisbane, Caloundra, at the gateway to the Sunshine Coast, ranks up there among some of the world’s favourite tropical holiday destinations.

Although I’m no stranger to Caloundra, it had been a few years – actually, many years – since my last visit, so a mid-week holiday beckoned as the perfect chance to renew auld acquaintance while enjoying a beach break.
It turned into a holiday escape into a part of the world that has been blessed by Mother Nature and enhanced by a new sophistication that didn’t come at the cost of its down-home hospitality.

So, I booked into Pumicestone Blue in Bulcock St, and for the next 48 hours let Caloundra work its magic.
I soon discovered that I could have an international experience at home.

WEDNESDAY
2pm: Check-in to luxury apartment on the 9th floor of Pumicestone Blue.  Pause to admire the stunning views of Pumicestone Passage and the waves rolling in over the Caloundra Bar, framed by Norfolk pines and the northern tip of Bribie Island.  A container ship looks close enough to touch as it edges up the coastline, moving surprisingly quickly before it passes out of the picture. I get my bearings from the 12th floor roof garden which has views up and down Bulcock St but best of all, the Glass House Mountains lurking on the horizon, an unparalleled backdrop by any measure. The best spot to see them is while lounging in the infinity pool or one of the spas.
3pm: Too easy to be lazy. Time to get moving. I cross Bulcock St and head down to the Esplanade, to join the Coastal Pathway for a saunter along the waterfront. The air is fresh, the water is clear and gentle, the path is pretty. Life is as it should be.

3.30pm: In an open and airy space at Esplanade level of the Rumba Beach Resort I discover Blend Hair and Spa. Time for a touch of Bali, a massage.  Choose your oils and massage style and let Jeanette do the rest. She is friendly and helpful and has a magic touch. I’m wishing I had allowed more time for this as Blend is just that, a blend of a hairdresser, beautician (manicures and pedicures) and massage in a spacious salon with three quite separate areas. It’s everything you need to while away an afternoon with a bit of self-indulgence.  And they look after the menfolk as well, unless, of course, they are out with a fishing rod.
5.30pm: Time for a quick change and it’s up to the roof garden for champagne as the sun sets over the Glass House Mountains and the lights turn on in Caloundra giving a whole new perspective to that magnificent view.
7pm: Dinner. An evening stroll down the street and around the corner leads to Alife’s Moo Char Bar, the fine dining establishment of Alfie Langer and his wife Janine. I spot a framed Australian rugby league jersey hanging on the wall – yes, it’s that Alfie and he’s usually there to greet his guests and have a yarn (although this is a rare occasion when he’s not in). The menu is enticing and the small plates are a good opportunity to sample a few of the flavours – from barbecue duck with crispy pastry and sand crab with green mango and coconut salad to baby back ribs in Irish Guinness and waffle potatoes and popcorn chicken with roast beetroot, it’s a tempting list.  The Langers look after the details themselves so there’s a definite personal touch to it all.

THURSDAY:
7am: Up for an early swim at Bulcock Beach after a pleasant stroll beside the waters of Pumicestone Passage. Home to shower and then another stroll around the corner to the Paleo Place where a touch of Tuscany awaits in its ambient setting with a fruitful passionfruit vine wrapping around the rails and, overhead, an old bicycle slung on the wall, all in what would have been the front garden of an original house. The food is good too and as the name suggests, there are plenty of choices to cater for sugar, dairy or gluten free and vegan but sausages and bacon too of course. There are coconut pancakes, a vegetable stack, fruit salad, eggs in all forms and paleo bread topped with fresh kale in lemon garlic and avocado. Yum! Being mid-week there is a generous discount going as well.

9am: The car comes out of its secure covered carpark for the first time to head down to the Pelican Waters dock for a 9.30am departure on Caloundra Cruise’s Eco-Explorer heading down the Passage through the marine park.  Binoculars are provided so even if you’re not an avid birdwatcher, you can’t help but become engaged. An informative book shows what species to be looking out for – cormorants, spoonbills, black swans, and raptors for starters - and gives a brief history of the area as well.

We cruise past Military Jetty and the World War II gun emplacements and the enthusiastic guide, Sandy, shares her knowledge of the waterway, its history and its inhabitants (did you know the Bribie Island pine is borer-resistant so was used for palings on the oyster farms here? Or that Matthew Flinders named it the Pumicestone River in 1790?)

At Lighthouse Reach on the northern end of Bribie Island we drop anchor for a morning tea of freshly baked bikkies and fruit, perfect for the location. A brahminy kite flies overhead, reminding me of a trip to Langkawi in Malaysia where it is the national bird. The silence is broken only by the music of the birds and the lapping water. The Eco-Explorer can get into shallow water but by Roy’s Farm – Queensland’s largest citrus farm in the 1930s – it becomes too much even for that and, with the Glass House Mountains again forming a splendid line on the horizon, we turn around and head home. Having a relatively low attention-span the thought of a river cruise usually scares me, but there is so much to see here there’s not even time for a snooze. It’s just the right distance and a rewarding morning.  

12.30: Lunch time and after a morning on the water, fish is calling. The Seafood Market in Bulcock St is a westward stroll from Pumicestone Blue and it’s not your average chippie, although it does do traditional fish and chips. There’s an oyster bar, scallops, a char-grilled menu and takeaway platters and fresh salads. It’s also licensed so you can enjoy a beer or a wine with a fresh seafood lunch. All the fruits de mer are local and fresh from the boats. If you spot a whole fish for later, it can be scaled and gutted ready to cook at home. There’s also an attractive selection in the freezer for eating in at the apartment or taking home with you – curried prawns and scallops; lobster mornay pie; snapper, salmon and prawn sausages; seafood chowder; snapper, bacon and cauliflower soup; crab and prawn bisque; whitebait; fish ravioli or lasagne. While it’s not customary to go to a fish shop and expect great salads, you can here. I’m hooked. This could be the Greek Islands or Croatian Adriatic.
2pm: Hmm, it’s a hard call after a tough morning out and about. Do I make an expedition down Bulcock St to check out the local shops, head down for a swim and an afternoon on the beach, go up to the roof for a swim and a spa or relax on my private balcony with a book for a nanna nap. Decisions, decisions!

6pm: Early dinner as tonight’s the theatre. Shirley Valentine is in Caloundra on its national tour and it’s one-night only. Perfect timing. The Events Centre is another stroll up the street – I’ve now officially walked north, south, east and west and find everything at the doorstep – and it regularly has big-name acts and performances so without having to worry about parking, it’s a good chance to catch a show.  Dinner is an international choice Nepal, India, Mexico, China, Italy, the US … in the end I settle for Thailand.

FRIDAY:
9am: Time to head home, but one last treat before turning south. Coffee Cat is only a 1.5km coastal walk from town but the car’s packed so I swing over to King’s Beach to have breakfast so dangerously close to the beach that I can hear the breakers crashing on the sand. Sitting in the shade of the pandanus I watch the swimmers and surfers while browsing a menu of fresh fruits, lemon and poppy seed pancakes and corn and chorizo fritters before settling on an acai bowl, an old favourite and this one is up there with the best I’ve had. I could be on the Med in Spain or the south of France.

While I feel like I have really been on adventure away, it’s a short trip home and the only regret is that it couldn’t have been longer. Next time, a mid-week stay will need those extra couple of days.