Noosa's natural bling

One of Queensland's most cultivated hot spots is also one of its wildest, writes Lee Atkinson.

Saturday morning in Noosa and the traffic on Hastings Street is bumper to bumper, backed halfway up the hill along Noosa Drive. It's not peak season but the beach is packed; there's not a parking spot to be found and the tables at beachfront cafes are full.

Sometimes, the weekend crowds can get the better of you in Noosa but this popular holiday town's saving grace is that it's easy to get away from the masses.

We walk to the headland in Noosa National Park at the eastern end of Hastings Street's cafe and shopping strip, sharing a coastal walking path from the end of Main Beach to the point at Hell's Gates with dozens of other walkers, joggers and women pushing three-wheeled strollers. But we keep going, past the point around the eastern side and down into beautiful Alexandria Bay.

The crowds disappear and it seems as though we are the only ones here, although after 10 minutes or so, we spy a couple of nudists in the dunes. Maybe that explains why it's so deserted on such a sunny day.

For the next half hour, as we climb over the hill towards Sunshine Beach, we see no one and it's hard to believe the bustle of Hastings Street is less than a 90-minute walk away.

We'd had a similarly lonely experience the day before, when we hired a kayak and set off on a midday paddle across Lake Cootharaba, a vast shallow salt lake on the upper reaches of the Noosa River, less than 30 minutes' drive from Noosa Heads and part of the Cooloola section of Great Sandy National Park.

Ten minutes of paddling and we were alone, apart from a few waterbirds lazily probing the shallows for fish.

You can spend days paddling the maze of waterways in the area known as the Noosa Everglades but we only had a few hours so we headed for an unstaffed information centre built on stilts above the water about an hour's paddle from Elandra Point.

Boardwalks here wind through mangroves to a gorgeous lagoon covered in water lilies. It feels a world away from the frenetic bluster of Noosaville. Camp at one of the riverside campsites (accessible only to paddlers) and I'm confident you wouldn't see anyone for days.

It's not quite so uncrowded when we take the vehicle ferry on a Sunday across to Noosa's North Shore. Teewah Beach might be part of the same national park as Lake Cootharaba but it seems everyone with a four-wheel-drive is keen to hit the sand and tear it up. It feels a bit like driving on the Sunshine Coast Highway in peak hour - albeit with fewer road rules and more hazards, such as toddlers, fishermen and sunbathers.

By lunch time, we've had enough and park our truck to head inland on a walking trail. As soon as we do, we leave the revving hordes behind and have the place to ourselves.

Whether wandering along Hastings Street or riding the cute little ferry up the Noosa River - both areas are lined with restaurants, cafes, boutiques, galleries, resorts and apartment blocks - it can be easy to forget that Noosa is surrounded by some of south-east Queensland's most beautiful, and deserted, stretches of wilderness.

As the blinged up ladies of Hastings Street might say, green is the new gold, daahling.

Trip notes

Getting there

Noosa Heads is 139 kilometres north of Brisbane. Virgin Blue (13 67 89, and Jetstar (13 15 38, both fly daily between Sydney and the Sunshine Coast.

Staying there

Noosa Hill Resort has large, self-contained apartments with fantastic views. It's an easy five-minute downhill walk to Hastings Street — although the walk back to the resort is harder. Winter rates start at $179 a night for two people; discounts apply for longer stays. (07) 5449 2644,

See + do

Elanda Point Canoe Company has kayaks and canoes for $30 a half day; $40 for a day. (07) 5485 3165,

You'll need a permit if you want to drive in the Cooloola section of Great Sandy National Park. A permit costs $15 and is available from the national parks information centre in Moorindil Street, Tewantin, near the North Shore ferry. (07) 5449 7792,

More information