After snapping up Necker Island in the Virgin Islands for a snip in 1978, Sir Richard Branson developed it into a world-class resort which has hosted the likes of Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.
Everyone knows about Necker, but a much better-kept secret is Branson’s other tropical island hideaway, this one in the stunning Queensland coastal town of Noosa, which he calls his “favorite place in Australia“.
The heart-shaped 25-acre Makepeace Island in the Noosa River has been lovingly converted into an exclusive Balinese-style retreat with all the necessary amenities, including a pool, tennis court, theatre and two-storey open-aired Balinese wantilan for relaxing or gathering with friends and family.
Until now Makepeace Island has been reserved for the exclusive use of Branson and Brett Godfrey, the co-founders of Virgin Australia, but they have recently announced that they’ll be renting it out to guests. Of course, indulging in the ultimate in luxury, peace and exclusivity doesn’t come cheap: The tab is $8,000 per night for you and up to 21 of your closest friends.
I’ve boated past Makepeace Island on my way up the Noosa River and the good news is that, even if you don’t have the budget to actually stay on Makepeace Island, you can still experience the magical surroundings of Noosa for a fraction of the cost.
What makes Noosa special?As well as having a balmy climate with warm weather year round, Noosa offers a pristine environment which is an officially declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Situated on a forested headland with a stunning national park where koalas, wallabies and kookaburra cavort in their natural surroundings, Noosa has long been a popular vacation spot for wealthy Australians, many of whom own vacation homes here.
You can visit a different white sand beach every day, including vast stretches that front onto the open sea and sheltered bays like Tea Tree Bay and Little Cove. Noosa is a giant aquatic playground where swimmers, surfers, kayakers, kite-surfers and stand-up paddle-boarders convene in the warm blue ocean.
Marine life abounds. Turtles are also common and dolphins can be spotted year-round swimming just offshore or leaping in awe-inspiring displays of grace. Between July and November, whale sightings are common as the annual humpback whale migration passes through. Whale-watching tours offer the chance to get up close and personal with these acrobatic mammals.
Just a short ferry ride across the river, Great Sandy National Park in Noosa North Shore is a popular spot for 4WD adventures, fishing and scuba-diving. A few miles inland, the Sunshine Coast hinterland offers a change of scene and pace, with volcanic peaks and lush rainforest.
For dining, Hastings Street in the town of Noosa features a range of spots, from a fast food mall that’s tucked away behind the shops to beach-front restaurants serving world-class cuisine. The Noosa Surf Life Saving Club’s balcony is always crowded with people seeking refuge from the sun and enjoying a cool drink.
The lazy Noosa River spills out just past Makepeace Island into the ocean between Noosa Main Beach and the North Shore. It’s a favorite spot for boating, fishing or walking. Every evening huge flocks of tiny, brightly coloured parrots return to roost in the trees on the riverbank, a riot of color and noise which lapses into silence as night falls. Then, as the parrots tuck their heads under their wings and go to sleep, colonies of fruit bats take to the skies.
As night deepens, peace prevails. It’s a special serenity that Noosa and the Noosa River offers — even if you can’t stay on Makepeace Island.
Where to Stay
For those who can’t afford Makepeace Island’s $8,000 per night fee, Noosa has a wide range of holiday accommodation, from private houses, villas and apartments for rental to resorts, hostels and campsites.
Outrigger Resort and Spa – This brand new spa resort perched high above Noosa Main Beach offers five-star accommodation within easy reach of Hasting Street.
Halse Lodge – A fully restored 1880’s building, listed by the National Trust, Halse Lodge hostel is now a YHA associate, with dorm beds, twins and doubles. Set in two acres of rainforest, it’s a short walk to Noosa main beach, the national park and restaurants.
Houseboat – As an accommodation alternative, you can rent your own six- to ten-berth houseboat and cruise up and down the Noosa River, from peaceful Lake Cooroibah to bustling Hastings.
Where to Eat
Bistro C – Popular with locals and holiday-makers for its stunning views over Laguna Bay, Bistro C is the ideal setting for cocktails and nibbles at sunset, a long lazy lunch or a splurge dinner of modern Australian cuisine with fresh seafood and local produce.
Wasabi – Listed by Gourmet Traveller as one of the world’s top 100 restaurants, this modern Japanese restaurant serves sublime food in the stunning surroundings of Quamby Place on the Noosa River.
Fish and Chips – No trip to Noosa would be complete without joining the locals to eat fish and chips by the Noosa River. Stretching along the riverfront, Gympie Terrace has an extensive selection of cafes and restaurants as well as traditional Aussie fish and chip shops where you can get fresh snapper or barramundi breaded, grilled or battered the old-fashioned way.
For more information, check out visitnoosa.com.au
Annabel Candy was born in England and has lived in France, the USA, Laos, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Costa Rica. She now calls Australia home. She shares travel stories at Get In the Hot Spot.