Sustaining Noosa

How ya goin’, mates? Here on the Sunshine Coast, we’re assimilating quickly, and earning our Aussie summer tans nearly as fast.

Today we headed up coast. The day began with cloudy skies but by the time we arrived at our first stop, Coolum Beach, things cleared up and we got a spectacular view of the Coral Sea from Point Perry. There were surfers and kayakers all over the water, and beaches

point-perry
Looking south from Point Perry toward First Bay Beach, Coolum, Queensland

 

 

stretching north and south. Everyone soaked up the sights before we wandered down from the overlook into the town of Coolum. It’s amazing how the character of a beach town like Coolum mirrors our ski resort towns in so many ways, despite the very different weather and topography. There are the trendy clothing stores and the hip eateries that are so common in mountain towns powered by tourism. The big difference is the beach front that doubles as a park. You don’t see many runners and families building castles at the base of the ski hills of the American West.

 

After some Australian brunches, we piled back in the bus and headed towards Noosa. Our interest in Noosa is its much famed sustainability, especially as that relates to the massive tourism industry based there. Our first stop was the Noosa Spit. An interesting feature of the spit can be spied on a map: the beach’s northern end is ruler straight.

sand-pumps
Sand recycling pumping system on the Noosa Spit

The Noosa River’s delta normally shifts up and down the coast, which makes development very hard. To mitigate this natural shifting, the community anchored the mouth of the river with stone piers on the beach. Giant sand pumps constantly move the accumulating sand beachside. It is one of the most prominent features of human influence in a town known for protecting its small town identity with tight restrictions on development. To see an entire river essentially pinned down is to witness a seriously impressive feat of engineering.

By the end of fifteen minutes exploring the Spit, people were feeling the effects of the ferocious 90°F heat/ 80% humidity, and we eagerly crammed back into the bus with its blessed AC to head to our next stop. That reprieve was shockingly short: five minutes later we found ourselves standing in front of the entrance to Noosa National Park, where views of the Pacific are even better than those at Point Perry.

Our goal was to hike to Hell’s Gate, a viewpoint a quick 2.7 km hop, skip, and a jump down the trail—or “track,” as trails are known here. It was still stiflingly hot, and growing hotter, but that didn’t seem to concern anyone. We walked along the shore, listening to the susurrus of the waves, looking out into the bluest waters I’ve ever seen. Let me tell you, life here is pretty amazing.

The national park, which opened in 1939, has some beautifully conserved ecological features. These really varied with the lay of the land. Depending on the direction and slope the hill faced we could either be in a lush forest full of hoop and kauri pines, or in arid scrub filled with heath. These species are unlike anything in Wyoming–I’m still trying to figure out whether or not one of the trees we saw on our hike actually belongs in the conifer family.

hells-gate
Hell’s Gate and Alexandria Beach, Noosa Headlands

By the time we trickled into the point called Hell’s Gate everyone had traded layers of clothing for swimmers and thick sunscreen. Turns out the Sunshine Coast is currently experiencing a midsummer heat wave. Even the locals had started to sweat by now—and they normally don’t seem capable of that. Up on that scenic vista, we learned that Hell’s Gate is a misnomer created by some locals trying to keep the view to themselves. From it you could see the curve of the beach all the way up to Fraser Island, with Alexandria Bay on the other side. Here the great expanse of the Pacific is profoundly illustrated. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long, as we had to turn around and start making our way back. But we were treated to a sleeping koala sighting on the hot trek out.

Back in Noosa Shire, we gathered ourselves and got right down to finding…ice cream. (Just one of those necessities of life in the subtropics.) Once everyone got some cold food and drink, our group struck out to find some locals. As a follow-up to a few papers we read on Noosa’s tourism and sustainability balancing act, our professors asked us to visit with the locals to get their first hand perspective on sustainability in Noosa. Each of us ended up finding someone cool and making a connection—it’s still remarkable to me how friendly the people are here. From these conversations, a few common themes emerged as central to Noosa’s identity: approval of building codes to prevent the construction of beachfront high rises, the importance of creating community expectations for how best to keep town clean and sustainable, and plenty of criticism of Noosa’s sustainability efforts too.

It would seem that when it comes down to it Noosa residents know where measures fall short or can just be improved. I believe this is actually encouraging: the residents aren’t putting forth token efforts and greenwashing. They are truly committed to keeping their community thriving far into the future and to keeping a close eye on the details that will get them there. By the end of it we all got back on the bus and headed for home base, but not before finding the time to pop over to the beach and jump in the surf. It is unbelievable how clear, blue, and warm the water is here, and it’s a treat to throw yourself in it!

noosa-main-beach
Noosa Main Beach international tourist destination.

We can’t believe we’ve only been in Queensland for two weeks. We’re still learning some of the basics of living in Australia–like that one must reapply sunscreen constantly–but we’re also taking a pretty deep dive into really important topics and themes related to landscape, sustainability, and the environment in this region. The academic learning combined with the flood of experiences makes it seem like we’re drinking from a fire hose, but you won’t see any of us stopping yet! We’re going to dive into Fraser Island (the world’s largest sand island) and Lady Elliot Island (the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef) next, and we look forward to relaying more awesome stories from our next stops!

Until then, as the Aussies say–naw woorries mates!

-Alek

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