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