Stepping into the vibrant spaces of the Sunshine Coast’s eco villages, you may be forgiven for thinking that the days of hippie communes, love-ins and peace signs have not yet left us forever.
Crystal Waters and Bellbunya, two eco villages in south-east Queensland‘s Sunshine Coast, are hidden gems. With a plethora of earth-friendly activities, festivals and workshops, they offer an alternative weekend away, or even a longer stay, in pristine places that nurture body, mind and soul. Established at the confluence of crystal-clear rivers and creeks, with views of the sweeping coastline, here you can forget the modern world for a while and leave your worries behind. Emerging from them, you may even find a new vitality, an invigorated sense of self and a clearer vision of your place in the world.
Crystal Waters Eco Village, founded in 1987, is a 650-acre (263ha) paradise hidden among the forested hills and lush valleys of the Mary River. Half an hour out of the colourful town of Maleny in the Sunshine Coast‘s hinterland, Crystal Waters lives up to its name. The abundant creeks and dams are home to native waterbirds and rare frogs, and the surrounding bushland is alive with kangaroos, wallabies and even the elusive echidna. Birdlife is abundant, with sightings of the endangered glossy black cockatoo welcomed by residents.
If you happen to visit on the first Saturday morning of the month, you will find the Village Green abuzz with live music and market stalls selling everything from local raw honey, fresh eggs, organic fruit and vegetables and beeswax candles to second-hand clothing. The communal kitchen serves home-made baklava, hummus and masala chai, and the Village Bakery their authentic sourdough bread and cakes.
Crystal Waters offers short- and long-term accommodation as well as workshops and residencies on permaculture, sustainability, green technologies, theatre, yoga retreats and natural beekeeping. You can attend a beekeeping workshop led by one of the original founders of the Village, Max Lindegger, and learn hive hygiene, the history of beekeeping, how to make wax frames and also sample the many varieties of honey Max produces, which changes from dark to light according to the flowering seasons.
Morag Gamble is another resident of Crystal Waters, who runs online and real permaculture design courses from her off-grid eco home and polyculture garden. A popular online course of hers is named The Incredible Edible Garden, as well as her permaculture teacher training courses. She also offers monthly free online master classes on Marine Permaculture and No-Dig Gardens, which have attracted thousands of participants. Morag has also established a registered charity called The Ethos Foundation, in partnership with the Permaculture Education Institute, which offers free permaculture education to fire-ravaged Australian communities, as well as supporting permaculture and eco-literacy projects in East Africa.
Crystal Waters Eco Village has stayed true to its original founding principles of local empowerment, ecological and spiritual care for the Earth and its people, social experimentation and low-impact, sustainable living. Gone is the heyday of hippie commune living, but you can still feel the lingering aroma of peace, love and incense. Once there, you feel removed from your everyday life and concerns and part of a greater community of thinkers, doers and change-makers.
Further north toward Noosa, nestled in the foothills of Mount Eerwah (the local indigenous word for ‘death adder’), Bellbunya Eco Village is a secret haven. Established in 2008, Bellbunya is smaller in scale than Crystal Waters, yet with its own gentle charm and subtle beauty. As you wind your way up and down sinuous lanes fringed with bamboo, you arrive at the beginning of a steeply rising driveway which ends at a large white-painted statue of the Buddha. Bellbunya’s self-contained cabins and communal buildings are here, in 40 acres (16ha) of rainforest and agricultural land, with bird’s-eye views to the east.
Self-described as a “living, breathing community, working to increase our own and the planet’s consciousness,” Bellbunya can feel more like a traditional commune or intentional spiritual community than Crystal Waters. Residents, short- and long-term visitors and volunteers still shop and cook and eat together in the communal kitchen, grow organic food together, read from a shared library in the ‘community house’, have weekly meetings and maintain the grounds and wildlife corridors.
Bellbunya offers serene outdoor and indoor spaces for retreats, conferences, weddings and gatherings of all kinds. Like Crystal Waters, they hold workshops and residencies on permaculture, yoga, meditation, sustainability, holistic health, healing modalities, alternative, localised economic and social systems and collaborative decision-making.
One of the hidden gems of Bellbunya is its spring-fed waterhole, large and deep enough to paddle a canoe and perfect for plunging into on a steamy, subtropical Queensland day. You may even share it with a platypus, along with the wallabies, kangaroos and whipbirds you can hear, calling their distinctive cry in the beautiful silence.
Bellbunya may feel like a remote oasis, yet it’s only a 10-minute drive to the world-famous Eumundi Markets or a 15-minute drive to the old-fashioned country town of Kenilworth, with its Cheese Factory. Across the road from Bellbunya is an organic feijoa farm, Hinterland Feijoas, which is open every Saturday, selling fruit and local artisan products from its farm shop and a van serving coffee, tea and cakes, as well as farm animals for children to enjoy.
Crystal Waters and Bellbunya Eco Village are not mere stops on the tourist trail. They have much to teach us about both old and new ways of being, thriving in community, building local networks and coming into our own personal power and creativity.