Noosa is instant Australia. Step out in the car park just behind Hastings Street and it's not so much the scent of the eucalyptus trees that tells you you've arrived - nor the bright sunshine that earns this part of the Queensland coast its nickname - but the carefree teenager strolling past in a wispy bikini, as poised as any catwalk model but with a grin as wide as the surfboard she totes.

A couple of hours' drive north of Brisbane, Noosa serves up a combination of beach, bling and bush with consummate panache. Packed with pricey boutiques, designer restaurants and hotels whose rates indicate a certain bravado regarding the town's allure, Hastings Street is nevertheless relaxed, and the cuisine available is as fresh as it comes.

The adjacent beach wakes early, with joggers and tai chi practitioners out before sunrise, then moves into overdrive with the arrival of the surf-and-tan crowd and parties well beyond dusk.

Given Noosa's manifest attractions, it would be easy to spend an entire holiday eating, shopping and sleeping within a few hundred square metres. Yet the real delight here is that a far more elemental Queensland lies just beyond the town's borders. Stroll east for 45 minutes through a thickly forested national park and the trail opens into Alexandria Bay, a stunning crescent of sand pounded by high waves. At the time of writing, the beach's website is "down until further notice due to a bunch of ****ers trying to spoil it for everyone", to quote the homepage, but plans are in place for Alexandria Bay's annual sports carnival, organised by the Adam & Eve Social Group, next month.

The 500 or so participants tend towards all-over tans and physiques better suited to repose than speed: if the organiser's nomenclature suggests an Eden, it's one for seniors, or at least those on the mellower side of middle age. Moreover, be warned - bathing suits seem pretty much superfluous and jokes about being careful not to grab the wrong baton in the relay race are du jour.

If any of this fails to pique your interest, venturing farther afield on four wheels is a smart option. The trail west leads first through Noosaville and the outer suburbs, then by rustic ferry across the Noosa River, and finally, given a low tide, north along the coast. This - to use its official title - is the Cooloola Recreation Area, and it's undiluted Oz.

Cooloola is a magnet for hikers and anglers, and at weekends entire families set up camp on the shore, revelling in the knowledge there's nothing but ocean and a few islands between their tents and South America. There's no other habitation here apart from the hamlet of Teewah, within which is an assortment of holiday homes. The northern end of the beach is marked by the wreck of the 1,600-tonne Cherry Venture, which ran aground in 1973, and remains a telling reminder of nature's forceful side in what is an otherwise pacific locale - well, if you discount the occasional "Big Wet", as locals like to call the type of flooding that drenched this area last month.

Inland, trails are roughly marked and obviously not designed for Sunday strollers. On signs, authorities suggest: "Carry a personal locator beacon" and "Advise a friend of your itinerary who should inform police if you do not return in time". And this is for somewhere less than 30 minutes' drive from the centre of Noosa.

The town itself has spread back from the beach, embracing condominiums, billionaires' retreats and purpose-built malls - although there is a strong showing from family-owned businesses such as the IGA supermarket chain, the staff of which natter to customers like old pals and suspend operations for long spells at the checkout counters to trade gossip. Purpose-built - and somewhat samey - malls such as Noosa Civic cluster around the town's fringes, but one-of-a-kind craft markets are the jewel in the region's retail scene, and the champion of them all engulfs the little town of Eumundi every Saturday and Wednesday.

Most vendors here have set up by dawn, with the food sellers doing brisk business among fellow traders who have skipped breakfast. At Topliss Tarts, Richard Marchant and Lindy Bonwick (who between them have totted up an impressive half century at these market stalls) dispense home-made cakes and brownies, while the Café Le Mundi serves Dutch pancakes generously soused in cream, maple syrup or ice cream.

The emphasis is very much arty, eco-friendly and fair trade; designer label but with natural threads. Pottery and jewellery vie for attention with furniture crafted from sustainable Aussie timber and odd souvenirs such as handmade toy monkeys and Mexican hammocks. Spilling along both sides of Eumundi's main drag beneath gargantuan fig trees, it all feels more like a family fair than a commercial operation.

Youngsters twanging guitars or scraping at violins respond with thanks to any change dropped in the hats at their feet; parents manning stalls keep half an eye on toddlers on adjacent slides and swings; and the septuagenarian behind the desk at the visitor inform-ation centre happily rattles on about her triplet teenage granddaughters. Best of all, despite the twice-weekly influx of shoppers, the town keeps a firm grip on its identity, as the elbow-to-elbow Crocodile Dundee lookalikes at the Imperial Hotel prove.

Beach or hinterland, boutique or bush, the vibe remains pretty much the same in these parts. It's upmarket, but laid-back; as expensive as you want to make it, but 100 per cent dinki-die.

Everybody who comes here - and quite a few move in permanently - does so for the simple reason that it's an authentic Australian getaway. And you can't say fairer than that, mate.


Getting there: Cathay Pacific flies to Brisbane daily. Some of Noosa's more distinctive accommodation can be found at