Touring Noosa, Australia's ritziest resort town, in a wooden vintage car
There aren't many, if any visible indications of austerity on and around the immaculate and affluent (immaculately affluent?) streets of Noosa, a place where hard times can amount to an alfresco cafe barista running out of soy milk for a macchiato-sipping Lorna Jane-wearing local.
But the eye-catching vintage vehicle in which I'm motoring around the quintessential Queensland resort town – so good they named it three times: Noosa, Noosaville and Noosa Heads – and its environs is a four-wheeled symbol of straightened times.
It's a 1946 Ford Woody, an American "automobile", as it were, that was built mainly from hardwood. In the depression-hit and war-torn times of the US in 1930s and 1940s, wood was a considerably more economical material.
Eventually, as the US emerged from war with austerity being replaced by prosperity, the Woody was superseded by more durable, safer and less expensive cars made from today's familiar steel.
But one place, unlikely as it sounds, where the Woody has survived is here in Noosa, probably Australia's ritziest resort town, where you can take a tour in one of the vehicles, or hire it for a special event.
There are apparently fewer than 50 Woodys registered in Australia with the Noosa version, classed as a "special purpose limousine", having been rescued from – wait, it gets weirder – Lima, Peru.
It was shipped to Queensland where it was meticulously restored, eventually taking up residence, complete with a old-fashioned Brisbane-made surfboard attached to the roof, outside Noosa Longboards, an iconic Hastings Street surf shop.
Today the Woody is owned by Tim Crabtree, a former employee of Noosa Longboards. A 36-year-old Englishman who first came to Australia to chase waves in the 1990s, eventually settling down for good in Noosa.
Since acquiring the vehicle, Crabtree has built a novel tour business around it, showcasing Noosa, 135 kilometres north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast, to visitors and serving as a chauffeur for weddings. It's walking, nay, driving advertisement for itself. (Since I visited Crabtree has sold the Noosa Woody business to another operator).
"The Woody sure does draw a crowd," says Crabtree. "The old boys love it. Whenever I have to fill up for petrol I allow for an extra 10 minutes as there'll always be someone who wants to chat and have a look."
Our one hour jaunt begins with a circuit of the Noosa, er., Woods, a small and beautiful bushland and beached-wrapped recreation area. It's right at the end of Hastings Street, Noosa's high street, full of upscale restaurants, cafes and boutiques and running parallel with Main Beach, one of east coast Australia's only north-facing beaches.
From here, it's a drive up the hill to the 4000-hectare Noosa National Park, which provides the town's second gloriously green natural bookend and even includes a small koala population. Here we stop at Laguna Lookout – where Crabtree is cornered by one of those old boy motoring enthusiasts – to admire jaw-dropping views of the Noosa environs and its distant and inviting hinterland.
Noosa, a beautiful and glamorous place, itself threatens to upstage the Woody as we tour some of the area's notable attractions. But even Godzone can have its complications.
"A lot of people come to Noosa to live after holidaying here and then they leave," Crabtree says. "I can usually pick them. They end up going back to the city and treat it as a holiday destination again.
"For young people, there aren't many job opportunities unless they're a master barista. But the people who do decide to stay are the ones who are really into the lifestyle, such as the surfing, hiking and the relaxation, and not just about being seen on Hastings Street."
Crabtree may have lucked out on the "being seen" bit, cavorting around in a vehicle made from timber, including all four doors, a reminder how lovely a car could be before the advent of plastic-moulded everything. And, speaking of plastic, before we know it, we're back in Lorna Jane land in heaving Hastings Street, deposited for lunch at one of the coterie of fashionable restaurants for which Noosa is deservedly famed (hold the soy and austerity, guys).
The Noosa Woody can be hired for a tour starting at one hour for $190 beginning at Noosa Longboards and visiting Hastings Street, Noosa National Park, Languna Lookout and back to Noosa Longboards. Longer tours are available on request, as are hires for special events. See noosawoodyhire.com
Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia all operate regular flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Sunshine Coast Airport, near Maroochydore. Noosa is a just under 40 minutes drive from the airport. See qantas.com; jetstar.com; virginaustralia.com
The Visit Noosa website (see below) lists an extensive choice of accommodation ideas including everything from hotels to houseboats and bed and breakfasts to self-contained cottages.
Anthony Dennis visited as a guest of Tourism Noosa.