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Mike Yardley: Creative spirit of Eumundi

Author
Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 4 Jun 2022, 12:24pm
(Photo / Visit Sunshine Coast)
(Photo / Visit Sunshine Coast)

Mike Yardley: Creative spirit of Eumundi

Author
Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 4 Jun 2022, 12:24pm

There’s a perky, plucky, creative spirit coursing deep through the veins of Eumundi. Cradled in a verdant and undulating landscape, this charismatic hinterland town on the Sunshine Coast is a perennial crowd-pleaser. If you are partial to a good market as part of your travels, Eumundi will blow your socks off with its twice-weekly mercantile showstopper.

Back in 1979, the first Original Eumundi Markets day attracted three stalls and eight shoppers. Now, with more than 600 stalls to explore and over a million people visiting every year, this powerhouse market extravaganza has cemented legendary stature in Australia. Like a fine wine, these markets appear to be getting better with age. The market motto here is “Make it. Bake it. Sew it. Grow it.” Every Wednesday and Saturday, rain or shine, Eumundi absolutely pulses as locals and visitors come to explore this amazingly ebullient, one-of-a-kind market, spilling forth with locally made treasures.

It's the personal interactions with the producers which underpin its magnetic pull. You’ll meet the talented hands behind handcrafted furniture, homewares, artworks, ceramics, cutting-edge fashion and jewellery. Have a chat to the farmers and bakers who sell fresh produce and gourmet delights by the truckload. Chill out under the beautiful heritage-listed fig trees as you indulge in a massage, have your palm or tarot cards read, listen to live local music and watch the street performers.

Whether you love artisan wares or you’re just after some sensational market food, trawling the rows upon rows of Eumundi’s fascinating and colourful stalls is a multi-sensory adventure. The Original Eumundi Markets have always had a locally-made policy so everything you see has been made or designed in the region. They’re also sticklers for sustainability, from their own tote bags, made from natural unbleached calico to the drinking stations for refilling your bottles. Eumundi Markets reach deep into the ‘try before you buy’ philosophy, so I happily nibbled my way through a veritable platter of delectable delights.

Photo / Visit Sunshine Coast

It was a tour for the taste-buds, noshing my way through Japanese pancakes, peanut brittle and fresh roasted chestnuts while slurping down a glass of ice-cold homemade lemonade. Another sure-fire hit is the Langos caravan, brimming with a variety of flavours. Langos is a traditional Hungarian street food, made from a simple yeast dough, deep fried in oil. If you want to go old-school, order up a salt & paprika Langos. Scrumptious snacks!

Adding to the colossal culinary parade, there are Spanish tapas, French soups, homemade ginger beer, organic breads and conserves, Tibetan momos; Dutch poffertjes, Bavarian bratwurst, award-winning Noosa Chilli (more free tastings, if you dare), organic samosas, mango licks, stinky cheeses and cold meats. One of Eumundi’s most celebrated culinary sons would have to be Russian sausage genius David Kasmaroski, whose now-famous Eumundi Smokehouse meats had their humble beginnings here just over a decade ago. Bush foods master Peter Wolfe runs free cooking classes each Wednesday in the produce precinct, drawing upon both his vast knowledge and the superb selection of fresh materials available right there on the day. No wonder the crowds keep flocking back every market day. 

Beyond the market scene, Eumundi’s characterful main street and surrounds boasts a hive of quirky galleries, gift shops and art studios. Take a self-guided tour through on the Street Art Trail, where inventive artistic installations and murals inject flair and verve into quiet alleyways, across outdoor walls, inside hospo venues and even on the rubbish bins. The Discover Eumundi Heritage & Visitor Centre will happily share their insider tips on the must-sees. Beyond the street art, some of my favourite galleries include The Real McCaul. Specialising in kangaroo and cowhide., this is where Paul McCaul and his team produce superb handcrafted leather goods. You’ll love APMA Creations, an Aboriginal owned and operated studio, specialising in fabric art and accessories by Western Arrernte Artist, Merryn Apma. And definitely peruse the wondrous array of local artworks at Artisans Gallery, from artisan woodwork to gorgeous glass work from Tina Cooper.

Photo / Visit Eumundi

In addition to the art, the vibrant culinary scene is just as alluring. I enjoyed a delicious lunch at Bungalow Eumundi, a beautiful new restaurant in the heart of town, featuring a light-filled La Casa style setting and a tranquil courtyard. The Bungalow’s visual aesthetic is equally matched by their exceptional quality of food, wine and service, where the accent is distinctly Mediterranean. I noshed on Saganaki as a starter, seared Greek cheese with honey, lemon & oregano, before feasting on Eggplant Moussaka as my main, enriched with charred capsicum, potato and bechamel. And I just couldn’t resist trying Coconut Panna Cotta for dessert, accompanied with caramelised prosecco cured pineapple & toasted coconut. Bliss.

At night, I had the pleasure of dining at Popina, another culinary heart-stealer where Penny and Alex are at the helm, anchored by southern European fare and revitalised into spectacular modern cuisine. The twinkle of fairy lights, the tinkle of jazz and a sprinkle of al fresco laughter from fellow diners, sets the scene at this diminutive eatery at the south end of town. Historically, a popina was a wine bar in Ancient Rome that had a simple menu of food done well.

This Popina unquestionably raises the bar. With a sharp focus on local seasonal organic produce, Popina’s menu is ever-changing. I feasted on the most divine Butterflied Mooloolaba Prawns, with caramelised garlic butter, lemon and parsley. The truly exquisite desserts are as flavourful as they are artistic. I plumped for Raspberry Mille Feuille. Translating as "thousand sheets" in French, this is a classic dessert composed of three layers of light, airy puff pastry. Popina’s version was layered with crème patisserie, pistachio and raspberry sorbet. Magnifique!

Where to stay? Make tracks for the town’s hottest new haunt, HOLA Eumundi (House of Local Art). Directly across from the markets, set back from the street, this brand-spanking luxury boutique property is truly a revelation. Lustily chiming with Eumundi’s creative credentials, HOLA pays homage to the stirring talents of local artists, craftspeople and designers. HOLA boasts splendidly appointed hotel-style accommodation, where each guestroom is uniquely adorned and furnished with magnificent local artworks available for purchase.

And we’re not just talking wall-hangings. The handmade cups, the cutlery, lampshades, cushions - even the bathroom basin, have all been created by local creatives. The attention to detail is exceptional with a giddy spoil of thoughtful touches. I love how the Do Not Disturb door signs are all individually designed with a playful twist. (My sign said “Washing our hair – Do Not Disturb.”) They are handmade by local resident, Rene McGovern.

Photo / HOLA Eumundi

The creature comforts are laid on thick, including Nespresso machines, matching high-end bathroom amenities from Leif, USB power points, big smart TVs and complimentary snacks. The complimentary mini-bar is generously loaded with beers, gin and vodka from Eumundi Brewery and Distillery, plus soda water and tonic from Long Rays.  HOLA loves copper, with copper spoons, copper bottle openers and even copper coat hangers. The glassware is made from recycled bottles.  An art directory, showcasing all of the art available for purchase, was waiting for me in my room, along with a lovely welcome letter pointing out the various treasures decorating my room and who created them. It’s an art-laden hospitality tour de force, spectacularly crafted by Nicky and Paul Thomas. 

These enterprising former Cantabrians relocated to the Sunshine Coast about a decade ago and HOLA is just the latest addition to their remarkable Eumundi empire. Adjoining the boutique hotel is one of Eumundi’s cherished landmarks, the 110 year old Imperial Hotel, an enormous historic Queenslander pub that is unquestionably the beating heart of Eumundi’s social life. Highly versatile, its vast floor space hosts all manner of events and celebrations, from wedding receptions to music festivals. Like HOLA, this characterful institution with its sweeping verandahs and sprawling beer garden pulses with personality and wonderful artworks.

But wait – there’s more. Within the Imperial, Paul established Eumundi Brewery, a craft beer powerhouse producing superb brews, including Lager, Pale Ale and Ginger Beer. For something different, try their Folktale Brut IPA, which is a beer that tastes like a gin! Speaking of gin, never ones to rest on their laurels, Paul and Nicky have also established Eumundi Distillers, crafting a fantastic range of gins and liqueurs, and planning barrel-aged spirits too. Just two years old, the distillery produces small batch handmade spirits using the best UK juniper and featuring the finest botanicals mixed with local Cooroy Mountain spring water.

Their fabulous Folktale Gin features a wonderful range of Australian botanicals including lemon and anise myrtles and pepperberry. For added kick, I sampled Folktale’s Navy Strength Eumundi Gin, which clocks in at 57.1% ABV. In the days when sailors’ pay included a daily ration of alcohol, high strength spirits were the drink of choice. If sailors thought the captain was watering down the drink, they would call for “proof”. A drop of spirit was added to a small amount of gunpowder and lit with a match. If the powder flared, the spirit was proven. If the captain had been adding water to the barrel, the powder would not burn. This is the origin of British Imperial proof and 100 proof is 57.1% ABV. Garb a seat at the tasting bar and savour their bespoke, small batch gins.

Photo / Mike Yardley    

Just south of Eumundi, if you’re travelling with kids, treat them to the delights of Yandina, a charming subtropical town and home to The Ginger Factory. In 1941, Buderim Ginger set about producing confectionary ginger and 80 years on, they remain the world’s biggest producer. It was the war’s impact on Chinese ginger supply in the 1940s that gave rise to the company, which has been operating from Yandina since the 1980s. Alongside the production, the Ginger Factory is swooned over by families for its boutique theme park-style assortment of attractions. I joined a Factory Tour which was brilliantly brings to life Buderim Ginger’s backstory and concludes with a fabulous product tasting session. I have a major ginger fetish, so I was in seventh heaven.

Don’t miss the Ice Creamery and a scoop or two of Ginger biscuit and Ginger cinnamon! I hopped on board “Moreton”, the factory’s beloved 120-year old ginger train which tootles through the property’s lush, leafy and impeccably maintained tropical gardens. The Ginger Factory’s Super Bee educational tours are absolutely riveting, complete with honey tasting. They stock a stunning Tasmanian honey which tastes like maple syrup. Kids love getting up close with the hives, spotting the Queen, and discovering all of the factual errors that the Bee Movie trotted out. It’s a cut-throat world being a bee. After the boys’ mate with the Queen, they die. The girls actually do all of the work collecting nectar and pollen.

And if the hive isn’t running well, the Queen will be killed by the other bees. But the most instructive nugget that makes a striking impression is the fact that 70% of the world’s food needs bees to pollinate. After that nerdy bee-fix, I finished my frolic through the Ginger Factory by joining the signature family ride, Overboard, which follows the Gingerbread man, around the world. This meandering water adventure ride, which is unmistakeably reminiscent of Disney’s It’s a Small World ride, is delightfully presented and even includes animatronic rugby players performing a haka, as part of its 200-strong cast of handmade puppets.

Photo / Ginger Factory

But does the Gingerbread man escape the clutches of the hungry chefs? Take a ride to find out! Another head-turning addition to the Ginger Factory is the extraordinary art installation, Rainbrella. A huge splash of colour has created a wondrous canopy in the Ginger Factory’s gardens, with close to a thousand brightly coloured umbrellas suspended over the rainforest walk. The Ginger Factory collaborated with local artist Sophy Blake to create a joyous explosion of colour, aptly named the Rainbrella Project. With rainbows synonymous as a symbol of hope, the artwork’s blazing trail of rainbow colours is designed to encapsulate the mood of new beginnings and new hope after the long and winding trial of the pandemic. It’s brilliantly uplifting. 

Also in Yandina, I ventured to the revered culinary destination, The Spirit House. Swaddled by tropical gardens and tranquil ponds, The Spirit House has the right amount of exotic ambience to transport its guests into the heart of Thailand. Home to an award-winning Asian food restaurant, this is a sublime spot for learning how to make the finest modern Thai cuisine. I freely admit that I have limited culinary prowess, so I felt like I’d been thrust onto the set of Masterchef, feeling hopelessly ill-equipped and out of my depth. 

However, the great thing about the Spirit House Cooking School is you are soon put at ease in this highly sociable experience, with a very patient Spirit House chef ably leading you through the process, having you cooking with confidence in no time. Our school created a variety of salivating Thai dishes including slow cooked southern Thai curry with tamarind and potatoes. The steamed sticky rice with coconut and seasonal fruits for dessert was heavenly. I was fascinated to learn that Thai cooks always wash their rice before cooking it, so as to remove excess starch and achieve a pure white colour. 

Photo / Visit Sunshine Coast

I flew to Queensland with the low-fares leader, Jetstar, who operate direct services from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. When you book on Jetstar, you're guaranteed the lowest fare. With their Price Beat Guarantee, if you find a better fare online, they’ll beat it by 10% - and that includes Jetstar flights you find on other websites. 

With a superb year-round climate, escape to the Sunshine Coast to experience contemporary beach culture, lush and soothing rainforest encounters, charismatic Hinterland villages and unforgettable dining. Relax and recharge your senses on the Sunshine Coast. 

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.