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Destinations

Australia Zoo and Noosa for kids

Bryce Corbett road tests Australia Zoo for kids and tries his hand at beach four-wheel driving in Noosa.

The hiss of wet sand under tyres, the floating sensation as you cruise just along the water's edge, the wonderful sense of isolation as miles of pristine Queensland beach stretch before you. Welcome to the lesser-known Noosa (or LNN) – a little-known place brought to you by the wonders of four-wheel driving.
The striking thing about a visit to the LNN is how nearby, yet how utterly different it is to its better-known counterpart. The bustle of Hastings Street with its winning mix of restaurants and boutiques may only be a short car-ferry ride away and three kilometres to the south, as the crow flies, but as you direct your 4WD onto the wide sands of the Noosa North Shore beach, part of the Great Sandy National Park, you feel like you are worlds away.
Following a largely unsuccessful attempt at all-terrain driving on Fraser Island some two days previously, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I steered our trusty 4WD onto the beach north of Noosa – a place that has become a four-wheel drivers' paradise.
With two small kids, a wife and two parents-in-law as cargo, now seemed like an inopportune time to pop my beach-cruising cherry. But with the car's differential locked in 4WD mode and the tyres suitably deflated, it turned out to be far less hairy than anticipated.
Much is made of Australia being an island and being blessed with the best beaches in the world. And any international traveller will know there's not a country in the world that has beaches worth a grain of sand compared to our own. Even Bondi on a busy Saturday is a better beach experience than you'll find anywhere else in the world.
Four wheel driving on Noosa's north shore, offers a glimpse of a Noosa few see.
But nothing compares to pulling your 4WD into a shaded alcove on a 70-mile stretch of beach and pulling out a picnic for you and your family. Sun beating down overhead, a slight breeze playing in the maleleuca trees overhead, boogie board propped expectantly against a rear tyre and pristine waters just a stroll away. Heaven.
Of course, spectacular as a swim on a deserted Aussie beach is, no family holiday would be complete without a waterslide-equipped hotel resort.
Impromptu picnics on a deserted stretch of beach alongside the Great Sandy National Park north of Noosa.
Noosa Blue, atop the ridge that overlooks Noosa beach, boasts the perfect combination of tastefully-appointed accommodations and kid-friendly distractions.
It's an immutable fact of parenting that you only need to give a five-and three-year-old a ten-metre stretch of waterslide and they are entertained for hours.
And, happily, rendered exhausted enough afterwards that they fall willingly into bed at an hour that leaves plenty of scope for a spot of Mummy and Daddy wine time, on the balcony, in blissful silence, overlooking a private pool.
And what visit to the Sunshine Coast with ankle-biters in tow would be complete without a pit-stop at Australia 'crikey!' Zoo?
Say what you will about the life, times and general deportment of the man they called the Crocodile Hunter (to many he was a hero, to others, his overwrought use of the Aussie vernacular was grating), but if part of his legacy is Australia Zoo, then it's a credit to him.
The spirit of Steve Irwin is still very much present at the zoo. So too is evidence of his oft-stated aim to encourage everyday Australians to become amateur conservationists simply by exposing them to the wonders of our native wildlife.
You can't turn around at Australia Zoo without having a koala, baby crocodile, snake or macaw proffered for a pat. You don't so much stare at the animals through glass, as handle them, stroke them and have a picture taken manhandling them.
The staff – who, to a person, are friendly and genuinely enthusiastic about their jobs – seem all to have sipped from whatever perma-perky brew Steve himself used to drink. And all power to them. For underpinning their bounciness is a genuine conservationist zeal.
The school holidays are particularly well-catered. Parents are able to drop their kids at the zoo gates at opening time and leave them on-site for the day to take part in the junior zookeeper programmes: a day's worth of fully-supervised activity in and around the zoo which includes sessions of feeding the animals and cleaning out their enclosures.
Together with the provision of free kids' rides, the free wildlife display in the 'Crocoseum' – involving a troupe of incredibly well-trained native birds and a succession of equally well-trained crocs – plus the fact homemade picnic hampers are welcomed through the gates, and you have a zoo which couldn't possibly be more family-friendly.
During our visit, we were invited into the tortoise enclosure, to meet, pat and feed the zoo's lumbering pair of Aldabran tortoises, Igloo and Goliath. An amazing experience.
Crikey! Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast has perfected the uber-professional, child-friendly zoo experience. 
And striking out beyond the zoo's immaculately-maintained tropical gardens to the large stretch of "savannah" beyond, we took in the newly-opened African section, complete with rhino herd, zebras and giraffes. Crikey, indeed.
The Corbett Clan travelled the Sunshine Coast courtesy of Tourism Australia, and both navigated and recorded their adventures using a Nokia Lumia 625 handset.
For further information see:
Noosa 2 Fraser 4WD: www.hire4wdnoosa.com.au
Noosa Blue Resort: www.noosablue.com.au
Great Sandy National Park: www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/cooloola

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