Probably as much of an understatement as it is banal, but the last couple of years have been tough.
For the travel industry, we’ve had to come to almost a complete stop. But a bit like buses, all kinds of things have come together at once. Christina and I have now found ourselves living from our suitcases once more.
I must say, it’s so good to be back.
With trips to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and to Brisbane, and then to a distillers’ conference in Melbourne—not to mention our first flights since March 2020, we’re excited about how much we’ve got to tell you, so let’s get into it.
We hope you enjoy this Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
Heading from Maroochydore Airport, we drive northwest into the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Our first stop is in the pretty village of Montville.
One of the ‘three Ms of the Hinterland’ (joined by Maleny and Mapleton) Montville’s street is full of cute shops, galleries, and busy little cafes and restaurants, and is seen by many as the creative heart of the region.
We carry on from Montville further into the mountains to Flame Hill Vineyard. Queensland isn’t often equated to wine country, but being higher up in the Hinterland (Montville’s highest point in fact) where it’s a bit cooler, Flame Hill manages to make a surprisingly wide range of varietals.
We sit down to a tasting and find that not only are there a lot of types of wine here, but they’re also really well made.
Our favourites are the Montville Chardonnay and Rousanne Marsanne in the whites, and the Barbera and Traprock Shiraz in the reds, but there lots of others to explore here.
After our tasting, we find a seat on the winery’s restaurant with its beautiful vistas out across the western mountains and right onto vines, where free-ranging chooks and gabbling guinea fowl wander.
We we enjoy beautiful charcuterie and cheese boards made up with produce from local providers. The washed rind Brie in particular is superb.
Flame Hill also offers paddock-top-plate menus Thursday to Sunday at this award-winning restaurant and luxury accommodation at their on-site cottage.
Tonight, we’re staying at the beautiful Spicers Clovelly Estate just down the road from Flame Hill Vineyard.
Our room in the newly-built Montville House is well-appointed and even has its own sunken courtyard.
Although this room is perfect for a romantic stay for a couple travelling alone, it’s even better for larger groups of up to 12 people. There’s a communal living and dining room, and you can even have food from the restaurant brought to you.
The hotel has arranged a special surprise for us: a bottle of Champagne down at their giant cabana that looks out over Lake Baroon. It’s so peaceful here even though it’s just a short walk up the track to the hotel.
For dinner, we’re at Spicers Clovelly Estate’s own restaurant, the hatted Long Apron.
Our five-course degustation with matching wines (of course we did!) is absolutely stunning. Food, wine, service and ambience are all superb.
The European feel of Spicers Clovelly Estate runs so strongly throughout the property, which the cuisine at Long Apron perfectly.
After a quick drive through Melany to Spicers Tamarind Retreat, it’s time for a pampering. We’re at Spa Anise, the ultimate destination for spa rats like me.
Here we’re shown a whole new level of relaxation, starting with half an hour in our own private hydrotherapy spa that looks out through the open wall over the rainforest beyond. This jacuzzi is filled with magnesium-rich spring water, which eases tension and relaxes stressed muscles.
There’s also a rain shower and sauna here for us to enjoy before we’re taken through for a foot soak, body scrub and mud wrap, full body massage and moisturising facial.
Two and a half hours gladly spent.
Once we’re again fully dressed, staff show us out onto the deck where our light lunch is waiting for us: a splendid charcuterie board and a glass of bubbles.
As with the rest of Spa Anise, the deck continues the Spicers theme of bringing the outside in. The birdsong from the nearby forest, the bright blue sky and well-tended lawn fill our vision until it feels like we’re the only people around.
All too soon, we leave Spa Anise and head to our villa at Spicers Tamarind Retreat. This Spicers has a completely different feel to Spicers Clovelly. Rather than the clean lines and European elegance, Spicers Tamarind embraces its rainforest surroundings and harnesses the zen of Southeast Asia.
Our huge two-bedroom villa is tucked well into the tropical gardens and suggests privacy, peace and comfort.
Blending beautifully with its surroundings, The Tamarind (Spicers Tamarind Retreat’s restaurant and owner of two chef’s hats) takes us back to our time in Chiang Mai and the mountain jungles of northern Thailand.
Food here is simply incredible.
Clever plays on classic Asian dishes and modern techniques make sense of the two hats this restaurant has earned.
Today we’re heading north to the town of Eumundi, but on the way we stop in at a few lookouts. The Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve and Rainforest Discovery Centre is an amazing resource for people to learn about one of the last true sub-tropical rainforests left in the country and the history of the traditional custodians of the area, the Jinibara People.
The reserve has hikes through the forest, a really impressive interactive discovery centre and a viewing platform with vistas across the Hinterland and the misshapen spikes of the Glasshouse Mountains.
Famous for its bi-weekly markets that have been running since 1979, Eumundi is a social, artistic and cultural hub of the Sunshine Coast.
These markets own the tagline Make It, Bake It, Sew It, Grow It, and every Wednesday and Saturday the town fills to capacity with people keen to buy hand-crafted goods from the oldest running market in Australia.
Right in line with the artistic nature of the town, HOLA—Hotel Of Local Art—is a celebration of creativity and community. It’s also a lovely hotel with incredible attention to detail and luxury.
The local art that creates the concept of this hotel is not limited to what’s hanging on the walls. Everything from handmade cups and cutlery to lampshades and even the bathroom sink are all by local craftspeople.
Brainchild of Nicky and Paul Thomas, HOLA is a delightful place to stay in a unique, fascinating Sunny Coast town.
Just in front of HOLA is the Imperial Hotel, which is also run by Paul and Nicky Thomas. And although this beautiful old Queenslander has all the looks of a classic Aussie pub, it’s actually right on trend.
Deep within its depths is Eumundi Brewery and Eumundi Distillers. These craft beer and spirit companies are also Paul Thomas’ work, making this a unique pub indeed.
And housing live music festivals, events and even weddings, the Thomases have really made the Imperial the social centre of the town.
For such a little town, Eumundi really punches above its weight in terms of food offerings.
All this in one street and I’m sure we’ve missed some.
From Eumundi, we’ve made our way to the coast and headed south today to Mooloolaba.
This is the beautiful ship Spray of the Coral Coast. The ship is over 110 years old, restored by owner Simon Thornalley, who has created Saltwater Eco Tours—a fascinating unique cultural experience of the Maroochy River and its canals.
Aboard with Simon, who has Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander heritage, is the truly wonderful Bridgett Chilli, a proud Kabi Kabi woman brought up learning the traditional history of this area.
As Simon steers us along the waterways, Bridgett tells us stories she was taught when she was a child of the land we see floating by.
It’s incredibly interesting, but also haunting at how badly the land and its original custodians have been treated over the years. It’s also so important that more people learn about it.
Throughout the cruise and while we listen to Auntie Bridgett, we’re fed several times, including some bush tucker, which adds to the authenticity of the experience.
Tonight, we’re staying at the Novotel Sunshine Coast in Twin Waters. It’s a huge resort that even has its own lake. Guests can take out kayaks, SUP boards and even small four-berth sailing boats on the lake, which also has over-water villas.
In fact, one of the villas house Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. Our room isn’t quite that flash, but it does have a view of the lake.
Our last meal before we leave the Sunshine Coast is a real highlight. Travelling into Maroochydore, which is quickly developing a buzzing city centre, we’re eating at Market Bistro.
The restaurant’s high-energy vibe and extremely good food seems to have brought most of the Sunny Coast here for dinner. The place is pumping.
After a drink at the bar, we move to our table. The food here at Market Bistro is nothing short of magnificent. Flavours, textures, colour and form all cohere to create a wholistic dining experience, but at the same time, each dish is significant.
A perfect modern take on vitello tonnato, wood-fired calamari in a rich oily sauce, chargrilled scotch fillet and slow-cooked duck in handmade tortelloni, and cheesecake and pavlova to die for… I think I’ve made my point.
This morning, we’ve driven down to Brisbane to catch up with my brother. We’re staying in style at the truly incredible Calile (as in a portmanteau of California island) in Fortitude Valley.
We’ve got plenty more to say about this extraordinary hotel, but here are a couple more shots to whet your appetite:
This really is a remarkable hotel. The level of detail here keeps surprising and delighting. From the scallop balconies overlooking the pristine pool to the Wes Anderson symmetry of the lobby to all the colour palettes and hidden doors of the rooms. Stunning, unique place to enjoy this city.
Hard as it is to tear ourselves away from our lovely room at the Calile, it’s great to see my brother and our nephew and nieces (they’re so grown up!), especially after so long not being able to.
It makes us want to come back to Brisbane really soon… which is already on the cards by the way.
This afternoon, we’ve managed to squeeze in a work event at the beautiful Sofitel Brisbane Central. Accor has recently appointed the impressive Sarah Derry as CEO, and we’re having lunch with her to celebrate.
Far above the Brisbane streets in the Sofitel’s Club Millesime executive lounge, we enjoy a delicious (well-wined) meal with a select few (only 22 others in fact), including our excellent friends Claire Haigh, Naomi Hammond, Peter Hook, Shelley Winkel and Kate Webster.
And by a delicious meal, I mean ridiculous. Morton Bay bug tails, lamb loin cooked two ways and a high tea tray of petit fours—at least two of which we covered in gold leaf. Amazing.
Just before we head back to Sydney, we get the chance to hang our with our mates Sonia and Chris, who moved here a little while ago from Adelaide. It’s so good to catch up with them.
We tuck into a meal at Helenika—the Greek inspired restaurant at the Calile.
We fly back to Sydney full of ideas of what we want to see and do the next time we’re back in Brisbane.
The city’s changed so much in the last few years.
But now we turn our focus on our next upcoming trip: down to Melbourne for the annual Australian Distillers’ Association conference.
We’re working with Nip of Courage—wholesaler and commercial distributor of Australian craft spirits—who are long-time members and sponsors of the ADA. It’s our first ADA conference and it’s set to be the biggest yet.
Here we are all ready for 420 delegates to descend on our welcome stall where we’ll be handing out goodie bags chock full of gin, tonic, snacks and the latest copy of Nip of Courage’s industry magazine 1992.
We’re excited to be at this conference but it’s also great to catch up with Jarrod and Kathleen Davies—owner-founders of Nip of Courage—and national brand ambassador and owner of Adelaide-based tiki bar Hades Hula House, Just Abby.
As you’d expect with so many people involved in the spirits industry, networking drinks are a major part of this conference—more than any other in fact.
Port Adelaide-based whisky distillery Starward has put on welcome drinks at their beautiful facility, with entertainment from the Tap Dogs, and sustenance via a huge charcuterie board and food trucks.
We get to meet hosts of distillers all with their own fascinating stories and dynamic personalities. Stand-outs for us are the lovely Stuart and Naomi McIntosh from Chief’s Son Distillery and legend Steve Timms of Fossey’s Distillery in Mildura.
After a busy day hearing from panelists and solo speakers talk on all kinds of issues around distilling and the Australian spirits landscape, we all take our seats for the swanky gala dinner.
Over 150 guests fill the Pullman Mercure Albert Park Hotel’s enormous Grand Ballroom, where we celebrate the late Raymond ‘Spike’ Desert’s induction into the ADA’s Hall of Fame.
Godfather of Australian distilling, Bill Lark is also inducted. Bill has been set the task of creating a one-off blend of 30 different Australian whiskies to celebrate 30 years of modern distilling in Australia, and the commemorative bottle of this whisky sits in its special box at every place-setting of the dinner.
MCing and entertaining proceedings are two familiar faces: Hamish Blake and Wippa keep everyone smiling and the schedule moving.
Abby, Christina and I sneak a quick photo with the two funnymen before we head towards one of four bars set up at the back of the ballroom.
Each bar is stocked with at least one spirit from every attending distillery. It’s wonderful to see so much Australian made whisky, gin, rum, vodka, agave spirit and liqueurs all in one place.
The final day of the conference is a field trip to one of four locations, each with two distilleries to visit.
Christina and I are in the Mornington Peninsula, where we check out the exquisite gins and brandy from Bass & Flinders Distillery, then to try the superb whisky our new friends the McIntoshes’ Chief’s Son Distillery.
It’s been a fascinating (if a little pickling) few days and we’ve learnt so much about the industry, meeting so many interesting people. It’s a sign that Australian spirits are in good hands.