Elevate your playground. Take a soothing breather from the beachside bling for the trail of hinterland treats at Tamborine Mountain.
As much as the golden sands, glitzy skyscrapers and sensory thrills around Surfers Paradise command a magnetic holiday pull, the Gold Coast hinterland abounds as a soothing playground of artisanal indulgence and soft adventure pursuits. As the locals say, it’s the Green behind the Gold, a lush high-country wonderland of rainforests, characterful mountain villages and boutique treats. If you’re in need of a breather from the theme park thrills, savour the majesty of Tamborine Mountain. Just a 40 minute drive from the bikinis and the breakers, the green-drenched embrace of Tamborine is not only Queensland’s oldest national park, but the third oldest in the world. Fun fact – the road up to Tamborine was Queensland’s first sealed road outside of Queensland. It’s also the most northern section of the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest volcanic caldera, a vast green eroded cauldron sprawling for 40km as far as Byron Bay.
The great caldera derives from the ancient Tweed Shield Volcano that blew itself apart 23 million years ago. The rich red volcanic soils and basalt rock are an enduring legacy. The abundance of walking trails envelope you in Australia’s ancient Gondwana rainforests, a canopied world of filtered light and dappled greens brimming with palms, strangler figs, epiphytes and curling vines. Like many trails across Tamborine Mountain, the Curtis Falls Walk is short and stress-free. An unexpected frisson of shock greeted me on arrival, as an enormous flooded gum tree cracked and crashed down to the forest floor. The noise was thunderous.
A quick ten minute stroll through lush rainforest brought me to Curtis Falls, which flows into Cedar Creek and its spectacular cascades and swimming holes. With a Disney-like drop into a rockpool, before tumbling over basalt boulders, Curtis Falls is the only fall that can be viewed from its base.
Speaking of Cedar Creek, I took the opportunity to admire the brand-new glamping option that has been unfurled at Cedar Creek Lodges. Wrapped in rainforest, with adventure activities, premium dining and luxuries at hand, the new Woodland Tents raise the bar on rustic luxury, complete with wide-screen TV, BBQ, fire-pit, king-sized beds, along with a private ensuite and outdoor shower. They’ve been super popular with newly-weds. www.cedarcreeklodges.com.au
I also ventured to the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, another glorious way to bask in the brilliance of the forest finery. Relax, refresh, inhale. Established by the Moore family 13 years ago, elevated steel walkways zip you through the upper canopy of the forest, combined with trails through the forest floor. Accentuating the experience, the Eco Gallery serves up an insightful array of flora and fauna displays, there’s a local history enclosure, a butterfly lookout and indulgent on-site café and giftshop.
But the runaway highlight of the Skywalk is the 40-metre long cantilever bridge that juts out into the heart of the forest, 30 metres above Cedar Creek. The lookout vividly illustrates how nature is locked in a constant tug of war between the giant flooded gum trees of the Eucalypt forest and the sub-tropical rainforest. Strangler Figs are the rainforest’s front-line soldiers, leading the charge against the invasive gums, by growing on top of them and strangling them.
Strangler Figs also cast out their wide canopy to shade the ground and provide ideal refuge for more rainforest plants. In this remarkable battle for domination, the Flooded Gum trees fight back by shedding their bark every year to remove young figs from their trunk. I stopped by Hang Gliders Lookout, where adrenalin-junkies hurl themselves off the plateau’s grassy ledge for their 500 metre descent into the Scenic Rim below. I can’t say I have ever felt the urge. For a sizzling vista back to the coast, head to Eagle’s Nest, where on a clear day, the Surfers Paradise high rises and sandy beaches shimmer on the horizon. The grand old homes around Eagle’s Nest are drop-dead gorgeous.
I loved lingering in the Tamborine tourist hub of Gallery Walk. The mountain community’s long driveways and stately gates are a reoccurring feature of this moneyed community. Gallery Walk lures the tourists in their droves, with its abundance of craft shops, art galleries, superb boutique wineries and eateries. Don’t miss the myriad of flavoured fudge at Granny Macs Fudge Store – over 40 flavours in the range!
Across the road, the Cuckoo Clocks Nest is a cracker, brimming with authentic German cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks. Each clock is set to a different time, so that shoppers don’t go, well, cuckoo. Slightly reminiscent of Sedona, the Gallery Walk is also home to a hive of new age peddlers, touting all manner of therapies and paraphernalia, including crystals, salt lamps, dream catchers, psychic healing and metaphysical healing. Hello woo-woo.
If you’re up for some wine tasting, you’ve got a wealth of options necklacing the mountain including the truly charming affair at Witches Falls Winery. (Yes, these are some nearby falls of that name, inspired by local children, who thought the forest branches looked like witches’ brooms.) Like many Tamborine Mountain winemakers, this family operation source premium grapes from Stanthorpe, on the Granite Belt, four hours west of the Gold Coast. Jon and Kim Heslop’s inaugural vintage was in 2004 and Witches Falls is now one of Queensland’s largest wine producers, with all products made on-site at Tamborine Mountain. Traditional techniques are combined with some of the most modern and advanced practices to produce wines of exceptional quality, character and consistency.
I enjoyed a comprehensive wine tasting, costing just $10 a head, and consisting of six pours from their menu. (A separate artisanal cider tasting is also available.) Don’t miss their Wild Fermentation range, like Wild Ferment Grenache, a wonderfully rich and intense red, with added complexity. In deference to the climate, some interesting varietals that are more heat and drought resistant, like Negroamaro, Touriga and Tinta Barroca now enrich their range.
A wild-fermented wine uses native yeasts that are found on the fruit and in the vineyard, rather than cultured yeasts. By allowing nature to weave more of its spontaneous magic, wild ferments lend themselves to more dynamic flavours. It’s hospitality-plus at Witches Falls – you’re very welcome to bring your own picnic blanket and laze on the lovely vine-wreathed grounds. It’s a great place to loll about with a cheeky glass or two.
Then there is Cedar Creek Estate, elegantly set across 22 beautiful acres with a lush and leafy European feel about it. Alongside the wines, it’s a divine stop for lunch. You can’t go wrong with the calamari. The vineyard’s patriarch is 89-year old John Penglis, a former television executive, who regales visitors with the most hilarious jokes. Another recommended stop is Mount Nathan Wines, where Peter Gibson navigated me through a comprehensive tasting of wines, honey wines and blood-pumping liqueurs. Peter wisecracked that their Ginger Honey wine would give Covid-19 a run for its money. It’s been a massive seller in the past two years.
For a complete palette change, pop into Tamborine Mountain Distillery, an iconic powerhouse of fine liqueurs and spirits, which has seen them scoop over 300 national and international awards since opening nearly 30 years ago. They are Australia’s most decorated distillery this century. Given the boom in boutique distilleries, these guys were light years ahead of the curve, where production methods are steeped in tradition. Utilising a range of specialised copper pots and reflux stills to create their sublime range of spirits and tinctures, you can now go behind the scenes of this working craft distillery to see first-hand the production process. The jovial distillery boss, Gordon Chalmers, happily shares his passion and pride in the distillery.
The wickedly inventive flavour range seemingly knows no bounds, from Ginger Vodka and Turkish Delight Liqueur to Pineapple Rum and Davidson Plum Gin. I enjoyed a tasting flight and was struck by their selection of cellos – not to be confused by the musical instrument of the same name. Their Limoncello Liqueur is particularly zesty and Gordon remarked that most Limoncellos only contain 3% lemon juice.
Tamborine Mountain Distillery ramps that up to a staggering 36%! I also enjoyed the unfamiliar taste of Yuzucello Liqueur, which derives from the Yuzu citrus fruit, prized in Japan and Korea, which tastes like a cross between a mandarin and a grapefruit. Treat your taste buds to a tasting tour de force and discover the art behind these ancient crafts and the wondrous individual flavours.
Peckish? I’m a walkover for big, slobbery dogs and as the previous owner of a big St. Bernard, I felt duty bound to pop into St. Bernards Hotel, where Molly and Syrah are on paw patrol at the front door. Located on the escarpment overlooking Guanaba Gorge, this historic hotel has been welcoming guests and diners for over a century. It’s a popular lunch spot and the Guinness Pie is a perennial favourite.
Tamborine Mountain has an unmistakeably cosmopolitan personality, infused with a great variety of cultural richness. Another must-do is the Polish Place, a legendary guesthouse and restaurant that Phil and Ania Sowter established nearly 40 years ago. It was one of the first restaurants to open on Tamborine Mountain and the original chateau sadly burnt to the ground in 2017. The self-contained cottages weren’t affected and remain a beloved roost on the mountain.
Designed to share a slice of Ania’s homeland, the business has roared back into life and the restaurant was bustling when I popped in for lunch, where Ania can still be found in the kitchen, overseeing her magnificent Polish culinary delights.
The signature dish, roast duck for two, is made the traditional Polish way, stuffed with Granny Smith apples and served with red cabbage, fried apple and cherry sauce. The pork hock is slow cooked and in keeping with tradition comes with beer and garlic butter. Then there is pierogi, Polish dumplings, with meat, sauerkraut and mushroom, or cheese and potatoes. Delicious!
I also wrapped my laughing gear around the Polish potato pancakes with sour cream. Sinfully good, the pancakes resemble a ball of soft curly fries. Be sure to leave room for Ania’s divine Apricot and Almond Cake. And try a Polish coffee, deep, rich and strong – not dissimilar to Turkish coffee. Then there are the 50 Polish Vodkas to size up! Beautifully furnished with Polish décor, the delightful waiting staff are immaculately attired in traditional Polish dress, while the stunning views over the Great Dividing Range are dreamy. Don’t make my mistake and be sure to actively shoo away the local rainbow lorikeets from carrying out a mob attack of your table! www.polishplace.com.au
There’s some stirring wildlife in the hinterland. I thought I was already familiar with most feathered and furry specimens of Australiana, but my jaunting around Tamborine Mountain added two new entries to my list. First, the red-necked or red-legged pademelon. They’re super shy – but you might get lucky, particularly at disk when they tootle out to more open forest areas to feed on grasses. If a wallaby is like a small kangaroo, a pademelon is like a super small wallaby.
They’re no bigger than a rabbit and very cute. I also glimpsed one of Australia’s most extraordinary birds scurrying into the foliage, Albert’s lyrebird. Timid and about the size of a weka, it’s the world’s largest songbird and reputed to have the most powerful, musical voice of any species.
Sir David Attenborough is a raving fan. With the power to sing non-stop for four hours, it’s the Pavarotti of the rainforest, and adding to its repertoire is the lyrebird’s uncanny ability to mimic all manner of sounds, from other forest birds to a chainsaw busy at work. Previously shot to be eaten in pies, this crafty crooner is far too talented to end up buried in pastry. Another personal favourite, Blue-Tongue Lizards. These guys are slow moving lizards with distinctive pink mouths and bright blue tongues. Locals tell me they’re a trusty mate in the garden, as they have a predilection for crunchy snails. Every home should have one!
From the glitter strip of Surfers Paradise to the mountain villages and ancient rainforest trails of the Scenic Rim, the Gold Coast bursts with a world of possibilities. Start planning a great playground escape on the region’s official website. https://www.destinationgoldcoast.com/
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