Lions basking in their own little Utopia of Noosa

Sunshine Coast location is easing the aches and pains of the touring squad before the decider in Sydney

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 01:00

Noosa has retained its original indigenous or aboriginal name, dating back thousands of years. Translated, Noosa means ‘Place of Many Trees’, ‘Place of Shade’ or, perhaps most fittingly of all for the Lions’ squad this week, ‘Place of Rest’.

If ever a group of players needed a couple of days away from the madding crowds to nurse their wounds, switch off from rugby as best they can, stroll around town in civvies without being bombarded with photograph requests, do some recuperation in the waves and regroup, Noosa is pretty much close to Utopia.

The Courier Mail carried a picture of Brian O’Driscoll, Jonny Sexton and Seán O’Brien walking down Hastings Street sipping smoothies on chilly Monday, albeit in hats or hoodies. But the sun shone yesterday, as is normal hereabouts in winter time, and the players appeared to be smiling more.

As one high-ranking member of the Lions’ entourage put it, these finely-tuned athletes have been wound fairly tightly for much of the last five weeks, and they have to unwind too, with this week earmarked for such a process regardless of the scoreline in the series, before resuming work at training this morning.

Sir Clive Woodward, who was head coach of the Lions’ tour to New Zealand in 2005 – an arduous expedition but not exactly one without its flaws – has been very critical of the Noosa diversion.

“That’s up to Clive,” said Lions tour manager Andy Irvine yesterday. “We are delighted as to how the players have reacted to being up here. If we were out here next year on tour we would be doing the exact same and definitely come here.”

Sea of red
Nor was this a slight on Sydney, where they arrive tomorrow in what will be a sea of red. “It was always the case that we wanted a break. It’s 500 miles north of Sydney and the chances are you’re going to get slightly better weather. It’s a lovely environment. Sydney’s a big city. If you’re stuck in a concrete jungle for six days, even though it’s an iconic city with a tremendous harbour bridge and an Opera House, that’s not as conducive as what we’ve got up here.”

“In Noosa, the common element is people who love the outdoors, people who love a really good lifestyle and warm temperatures,” explained Louise Terry, marketing manager for Tourism Noosa, where Richard Branson owns an island and former Aussie tennis player Pat Rafter lives.

Pretty much everyone looks healthy and fit, regardless of age, and local fitness instructors begin their classes from 6.30am onwards. Gaining popularity as a holiday spot from the 70s and 80s onwards, it still retains a village charm and ambience.

About 55,000 live here, while over 1.8 million tourists visit annually. A one-and-a-half hour drive from Brisbane, the domestic market accounts for 90 per cent of the visitors, but amongst the couples and families from Sydney and Melbourne, sporting clubs visit, as do surfers, backpackers and many from abroad on working visas who stop off to work in the cafes, bars and stores. As well as being relaxed, it’s also a very romantic destination, and weddings are one of Noosa’s biggest markets.

Noosa Heads is the main village of several located within this region on the Sunshine Coast and there’s always something happening. In March, there is a Festival of Surfing, which is a long-board competition but also entails stand paddling, dog-surfing and surf-dancing. In May there’s Noosa’s International Food and Wine Festival, which brings many of the leading chefs from around Australia, and in that month there’s also Noosa’s Ultimate Sports Fest, which incorporates a half-marathon, swim and cycle event.

Busy period
They’ve just completed Noosa’s arts and cultural event, the Noosa Longweekend Festival (which, true to its name, actually runs for 10 days), and in August there’s Noosa’s Jazz Festival. In November the town’s multi-sport and triathlon event brings in over 12,000 competitors. All of which sums up much of what Noosa specialises in, be it surfing, food and wine, arts and sports (see visitnoosa.com.au). And of course, the Christmas holidays constitute Noosa’s busy period.

In stark contrast to much of the rest of Australia, this postcard-like hideaway, is fairly laid back, though the restaurants do close early – circa last orders at 9pm. In Zacharys last night, the midnight curfew was rigidly applied at 11.55pm! Roundabouts direct traffic as opposed to traffic lights and there are few parking meters. “All the things that are associated with urban over-development are avoided here, so there is a relaxed flow,” explained Terry.

Due to the heavy accent on protecting its natural environment in 2007 Noosa was named as Queensland’s first Unesco biosphere reserve in recognition of its natural environment and bio-diversity. An estimated 44 per cent of Australia’s bird life reside in the Noosa region.

“When I think back to my time playing,” reflected Irvine yesterday, “between the second and third Test in South Africa you went on safari, in New Zealand you went up to the Bay of Islands or somewhere warm, where there was a tourist resort. All we are doing is something very similar.”

“We came out here for ‘a recce’ a year ago, we checked the training grounds and to be absolutely honest, they weren’t really up to standard. But the local rugby have worked really hard with the local tourist board and put a lot of money into it.

“The facilities are absolutely super and to be honest I couldn’t think of a better place for the players to be than up here.”