By Brad Foster

You may have seen, read and heard all about Noosa, but there’s plenty more to the `Sunny Coast’ for the conference sector, as some association executives and Brad Foster discovered recently.

Noosa may be the flavour of the month – or decade – when you think of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast but there is plenty more to this destination besides the so-called `Hamptons of the North’.

The fact is, with the incredible growth of the region, you really don’t have to go to Noosa specifically to have a great time or conference. And, the Sunshine Coast Convention Bureau proved just that during a famil last month for around 10 association executives, with the three-day tour not venturing within cooee of the Noosa township.

Instead, we parked ourselves at the Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort, the co-sponsor of this famil, to revel in its idyllic spot just 10 minutes south of the airport and its brand spanking new convention centre.

With the long goodbye of the Clive Palmer owned Palmer Coolum Resort (previously the Hyatt Coolum) just up the road, the Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort is the pick of the bunch for larger meetings in the region.

And the great news is that the owners of this property value the meetings and events sector, building a brand new centre earlier this year that can cater for up to 2500 delegates. The 3300 square metre venue is set in the heart of 36 hectares of natural bushland, with some fantastic undercover outdoor space, and nice level green grass to spill onto when the weather is oh so nice.

With 361 accommodation rooms in a range of configurations, a restaurant and bars, and plenty of options for off-site soirees, this destination is already going gangbusters and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Coupled with such a variety of things to see and do “beyond the ballroom” the Sunshine Coast is a clear alternative to meetings on the Gold Coast or Brisbane for those who are looking at taking their meetings to Queensland.

Our intimate group were given a snapshot of the many off-site options now available although I suspect we hardly really scratched the surface.

First stop for us was 15 minutes south of the airport at the seaside village of Mooloolaba with its quaint shops and beautiful beach. We headed to The Dock Mooloolaba located on what was once a derelict wharf and now boasts restaurants and bars and some designer-style shops.

The Dock would make a great off-site option for groups, with the capacity to host up to 300 people.

Another off-site option we enjoyed with a glass of bubbles or a locally-brewed beer was the historic Yandina Station in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, only about 20 minutes away from the Novotel. Built in 1853 it has been home to a local farming family, with the current family descendants continuing to breed and raise cattle and now hosting dinner events (and weddings) for up to 200.

Think elegance with country charm and you get the picture of what this place is like. Oh, and the views are to die for.

Yet another venue is the nearby Spirit House located in a rainforest setting and with a real Balinese theme about it. Aside from catering for groups in carefully curated cooking classes, groups of up to 90 can book out the entire restaurant. Smaller groups of up to 30 can reserve their own private area.

The food here is to die for. The whole crispy fish with chilli tamarind sauce our group enjoyed was beyond mouth-watering.

Take a break

When the eating and drinking is over the Sunshine Coast also has plenty of new options for groups including the impressive Tree Top Challenge, described as “Australia’s largest zipline and high ropes adventure” course.

Located adjacent to the Big Pineapple, the park offers 100 challenges and 12 ziplines, the highest of which is 25 metres above the ground.

It is proving popular with groups of all shapes and sizes and is extremely affordable.

For those who prefer their excitement to be on terra firma, the Maroochy River Golf Club, once again just 10-15 minutes from the Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort, is a great option. As well as an 18-hole championship golf course the club is putting the finishing touches to a putt putt course that should be popular with groups.

There is also a golf simulator that players or groups can use to improve their swing or simply have a bit of fun by playing any golf course they want to in the world.

A few minutes up the road the Bli Bli Watersports Complex is great for groups or partner programs. Originally built as a waterski cable park it has added an aqua park that has a fun obstacle course, and a barramundi fishing park, reportedly the only one in SE Queensland.

For the health sector

A little known venue new to the Sunshine Coast and one which should excite the medical and health fraternity considering meeting in the region is the Sunshine Coast Health Institute (SCHI) – a dedicated education, training and research facility. As a collaborative partnership between the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, the University of the Sunshine Coast, TAFE Queensland and Griffith University, SCHI provides a range of educational tools and training to develop and improve the skills of doctors, nurses, allied health workers, health professionals and vocational students.

The SCHI auditorium, lecture theatres, multi-purpose teaching rooms and clinical demonstration classrooms are available for hire – all just 15 minutes from the Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort.

On my tour, director Anton Sanker explained how the mock operating theatres and wards mirrored those in the adjacent hospital allowing nurses and doctors to perform and practice medical scenarios complete with life-size mannequins and state-of-the-art equipment. What’s more, the SCHI can film and record practice procedures to allow teams to debrief and analyse where they went right, and wrong.

During my time there, I observed a medical team from India, using the virtual operating facilities.

Video-conferencing capabilities are also available.

Up, up and away

Recognising its potential for tourism growth, getting to the Sunshine Coast direct will be considerably easier over the next few decades, with the airport developing a master plan through to 2040.

Sunshine Coast Airport is currently building a new runway that is wider and longer allowing it to service larger planes from international ports.

Over the 2018/9 financial year passenger growth grew by 5.7 per cent with 1.26 passenger arrivals.

And, after a little visit there, I can certainly see why.

To learn more about meetings and events on the Sunshine Coast contact Maureen Brennan and Michelle Burgum on