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Australia’s famous Gold Coast, located on Queensland’s southeast coast, is a long ribbon of beach backed by a shimmering strip of high-rises. The undisputed hedonistic epicentre of this 30km stretch of coastline is the iconic coastal resort of Surfers Paradise, where fun in the sun never slows down. But despite the glitzy party hub’s brash barrage of tourist traps, shopping malls, themed nightclubs and American-style theme parks, the coast’s original draw card – its endless summers and spectacular surfing beaches – is as potent as ever.

The Gold Coast’s natural attractions extend beyond its bikini-draped sandy shores, however. Only a 30-minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise is a lush, subtropical hinterland of rainforests, vines and waterfalls, a weird Jurassic-like world populated with 2,000-year-old trees, glow worms, bioluminescent mushrooms and strange  creatures such as the platypus (an egg-laying mammal unique to Australia) and pademelon (a small forest dwelling wallaby).

Rainforest walks and cottage romance
The hinterland comprises the densely forested, unspoiled mountains of the McPherson Range – the remnant of a huge shield volcano that dominated the region 23 million years ago – on the border between Queensland and New South Wales. The national parks here cover the deep valleys and steep cliffs of the ancient volcanic crater with an extensive network of walking tracks, while the quaint mountain villages and rainforest retreats seduce romantic souls.

Serious hikers gravitate to Springbrook National Park and Lamington National Park in the hinterland’s south, where hiking trails delve into Australia’s ancient Gondwana rainforests, a canopied world of filtered light and dappled greens alive with strangler figs, epiphytes and curling vines. In the heart of the rainforest, prehistoric ferns and giant trees, such as the mighty Antarctic beech with its metre-wide girth and gnarled moss-covered roots, seem to grow from a lost time.

In the far southwest of the hinterland, Lamington National Park is a Unesco World Heritage Site and protects the largest area of undisturbed subtropical rainforest remaining in southeast Queensland. The 20,500 hectare park has more than 160km of hiking trails, including the famous 24km-long Border Trail and the 54km-long Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk.

An excellent base from which to explore the park is O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, a rustic guesthouse built in 1926, with its accommodation options ranging from comfortable modern villas to cosy log cabins to basic rooms in the original guesthouse. To reach O’Reilly’s, a spectacular 36km road snakes and twists up Green Mountains, skirting vertiginous lookouts, passing through rainforest and under closed canopies. The retreat organises nature walks and talks and has trail maps and information about the park, including a fascinating historical account of a 1937 plane crash rescue by one of the original O’Reilly clan. A true bushman, Bernard O’Reilly’s search-and-rescue kit included two loaves of bread, three onions, a tin can and a pound of sugar. Not knowing the location of the downed aircraft, he backed a hunch, and spent two days hacking a path through virgin rainforest to locate and rescue the two survivors. The steep 8km Stinson Walk follows his rescue route, sans the bushman’s survival kit. For a less strenuous hike close to the guesthouse, there is an excellent tree-top canopy walk along a series of rope-and-plank suspension bridges 15m above the ground.

Springbrook National Park in the hinterland’s south-east, adjacent to Lamington National Park, covers 3,425 hectares and also has an extensive range of hiking trails. Lookouts along the Springbrook plateau offer sensational views, but one of the best is the aptly named Best of All Lookout from where you can see the once-buried volcanic plug, Mount Warning (1,156m) across the border in New South Wales. For an unforgettable experience, take a night walk to the arched cave and waterfall at Natural Bridge under the western ramparts of the Springbrook plateau, which is alight with fairy-like blue-green lights given off by the millions of bioluminescent glow worms that line the cave roof and the steep earth banks along the rainforest path. The lights are actually emitted by the larval stage of a primitive fly species, Arachnocampa flava, which is found only in Australia and New Zealand. Also in Springbrook National Park, luminous mushrooms of the Mycena species glow green on summer nights. With fireflies flitting through the canopy layers and the night alive with the screeches and cries of unseen wildlife, the rainforest is a fairytale kingdom.

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