Beyond the bikini-draped shores of Australia’s Gold Coast is a lush, subtropical wonderland of cascading waterfalls, bioluminescent mushrooms and rainforest retreats.

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.

Cosy log cabins and romantic cottages with heated spas and open fireplaces continue the charm factor. Most are scattered along the Springbrook plateau; try the wonderful Mouses House with its enchanting A-framed chalets nestled in the forest.

Devonshire tea and craft cottages
In the hinterland’s north, Tamborine Mountain is home to Queensland’s oldest national park, Tamborine Mountain National Park, which stretches across an 8km plateau and has numerous walking trails offering tumbling cascades and coastal views. One of the most popular is to Witches Falls in the satellite suburb of North Tamborine. The easy 3km circuit meanders through rainforest, past seasonal lagoons surrounded by piccabeen palms to a lookout and waterfall. Witches Falls was declared a national park in 1908, making it the oldest section of Queensland’s oldest national park.

The birdlife in Tamborine Mountain National Park is spectacular, and kaleidoscopes of butterflies float through the trees. The park is home to the rare Richmond Birdwing butterfly, once commonly sighted along the entire southeast Queensland coast but now restricted to pockets of the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Look out for it on the 300m rainforest canopy walk at Skywalk in North Tamborine; the male of the species is the most noticeable with brilliant green and black wings.

Tamborine Mountain has its share of rainforest walks, romantic cottages and snug bed and breakfasts, but the primary lure of this mountaintop community is its thriving chocolate, fudge and craft cottage industries. In North Tamborine, be sure to try a boutique beer or a liqueur distilled from native herbs and botanicals at the Tamborine Mountain Distillery. Only 2km away, stroll down Tamborine’s main avenue, Gallery Walk, in the suburb of Eagle Heights, to sample homemade jams and fruity wines, listen to street musicians and artists and discover an ever-changing array of locally made creative knick-knacks. But no matter where you go on Tamborine Mountain, the delightfully English tradition of a Devonshire tea (delicious homemade scones with lashings of whipped cream) is, rather surprisingly, never too far away.

Before leaving Tamborine Mountain, call into the rustic St Bernards Hotel (5km south of North Tamborine in the suburb of Mount Tamborine). This charming relic is one of the oldest buildings on the mountain. It was built in the late 1880s and became a pub in 1911. After being greeted at the door by a shaggy St Bernard, savour the stunning views of the Tamborine Valley and Guanaba Gorge from the back deck with a drink in hand. On a fine day the Gold Coast high rises and sandy beaches are clearly visible – a short drive, but a world away.