People come from around the world to see the Sydney Opera House, watch the sunset at Ayers Rock and scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef.

Aussies who live with these cliched tourist icons encourage foreigners to come and spend their money seeing them, while reserving some secret hideaways for themselves."You're welcome here, but don't tell anyone else about this paradise," a restaurateur in Noosa told me as I dined on succulent Moreton Bay Bugs, a small lobsterlike crustacean.

Sorry. I never could keep a secret.

Most tourists from overseas are lured to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, with its miles of talc-white sand and Miami Beach-style high-rises and so much Japanese influence that it has earned the nickname of the "Little Ginza," or to Cairns, which daily sends out a fleet of tourist boats to the Great Barrier Reef. Aussies, on the other hand, seek out relatively discreet hideaways such as Noosa, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, just 70 miles north of Brisbane.

Noosa is favored by Melbourne denizens seeking an escape from the chilly gray winters down south. They fancy themselves the sophisticates of Australia, upholding a continental European tradition.

So Noosa offers fine dining and plush lodging as well as the more usual "Aussie basic" motels and backpacker joints.

Noosa's upscale Hastings Street runs along the beach on Laguna Bay, beloved by visitors because it stretches out around the bay and faces north, making it one of the few places on Australia's east coast where you can enjoy the sun setting over the water while sipping a fine domestic chardonnay and sampling local seafood, including the "bugs."

Just about every restaurant here features seafood, such as Roberto's, On the Beach, Cafe la Monde and the Italian fine-dining spot, Lindoni's.

You can work up an appetite with a hike in the national park next to Noosa, strolling several miles up gentle trails that branch off to secluded beaches, and eventually double back at Noosa Head, which offers as fine a panorama of the Pacific as any place in the world. Keep an eye out for dolphins gamboling in the whitecaps.

Also watch for wild koalas dozing in the crooks of eucalyptus trees, a fairly rare site for a tourist. The easiest way to spot a koala is to look for a crowd of people beneath a tree, pointing cameras upward.

If you can't wait to eat after your hike, a restaurant called Coco's is just inside the park, offering fare so delicious it's also patronized by "bush turkeys," local wild turkeys that barge in to beg for scraps. A waitress will shoo away any bird that gets too forward.

Noosa Beach can be viewed from quite a different perspective - on the swaying back of a camel for a two-hour ride through beach and bush that stops for a rest break on the sands north of town.

Camels were imported to Australia's deserts in the 19th century to haul supplies to remote communities and help build the telegraph lines and railroads. Now, hundreds of thousands of them roam the Outback, descendants of escapees. The Noosa camels are far from their desert homes, but they seem to enjoy the beach sand.

After spending a few days enjoying the heated outdoor pool at the delightfully art deco Sheraton Noosa Resort on Hastings street, I decided to try a more secluded spot, the Sunshine Beach community just south of Noosa.

It was an inspired choice, I decided, standing at the balcony rail of a rented penthouse apartment, overlooking the nearly deserted golden sands of Sunshine Beach.

A handful of surfers bobbed in the water searching for the right wave, looking like seals at play. Once or twice an hour, a couple strolled the beach hand-in-hand, or a jogger padded past.

The apartment at La Mer-Sunshine Beach had a fully stocked kitchen, two bedrooms, a sprawling living room with leather furniture under a two-story ceiling, and on the second floor, a huge sun deck.

In case the rumble of the surf ever grew tedious (it never did) the place had a stereo with CD player and TV with VCR.

Out the back door and across the street, I could pick up fresh-baked rolls, newspapers and groceries, or choose between five excellent restaurants, including the award-winning Le Soleil.

This luxury cost less than $90 a day on a three-day stay. A similar deal could be had at Costa Nova, just next door, and better bargains could be found at less plush apartments, or those not right on the beach.

If Noosa is the secret Australians wanted to keep, Sunshine Beach would be my own private hideaway.

The Asian economic crisis has driven down costs in Australia and opened up bargains for overseas tourists in three ways. Visits by Asian tourists are way down, and many Australians are forsaking domestic vacations in favor of going to Vietnam, Hong Kong or other Asian sites that are now rock-bottom bargains.

In addition, the value of the Australian dollar has fallen, a bonus for American and European visitors spending currencies that are now worth more.

So if you visit Australia, by all means visit the Opera House, see Ayers Rock (also known as Uluru, its Aboriginal name) and feed the fish at the Great Barrier Reef.

But consider spending some time among the Aussies at their own oases.

Just don't tell them you heard it from me.