It’s the Green behind the Gold, where boutique delights galore are begging to be explored, writes Mike Yardley.
As much as the golden sands, glitzy skyscrapers and theme park thrills around Surfers Paradise provide perennial pulling-power for Kiwis, the Gold Coast hinterland abounds with sensational soft adventure pursuits. As the locals say, it’s the Green behind the Gold, a lush high-country wonderland of rainforests, waterfalls and characterful mountain villages. If you’re in need of a breather from the sensory overload of Surfers Paradise, 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.
The great caldera derives from the ancient Tweed Shield Volcano that blew itself apart 23 million years ago, as the rich red volcanic soils and basalt rock serve testimont to. The plethora of walking trails delve into 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 us on arrival, as an enormous flooded gum tree cracked and crashed down to the forest floor. The noise was horrific. A quick ten minute stroll through lush rainforest brought us to Curtis Falls, which flows into Cedar Creek. This is a spring fed waterfall, with a Disney-like drop into a rockpool, before tumbling over basalt boulders.
We also took in the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, another effortless way to soak up the forest finery. Established by the Moore family a decade ago, elevated steel walkways zip you through the upper canopy of the forest, combined with trails through the forest floor. The highlight is the 40-metre long cantilever 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. We 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. 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 totally insane. 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, enjoy a fabulously flavourful full day tour with Pineapple Tours, whether you’re staying on the Gold Coast or Brisbane. My very jovial, illuminating guide was Chris, who originally hails from Waiheke Island – and bears an uncanny resemblance to Carmichael Hunt. Necklacing together a swag of stunning wineries with the natural scenic beauty of Tamborine Mountain, our first stop was Mount Nathan Wines, where Peter Gibson navigated our small group 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 year.
Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard and Winery is another magnificent experience, set on 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 88-year old John Penglis, a former television executive, who regaled us over lunch with the most hilarious jokes.
Another sublime stop is the small family operation of Witches Falls Winery. Like many Tamborine Mountain winemakers, they source premium grapes from Stanthorpe, on the Granite Belt, four hours west of the Gold Coast. For a complete palette change, pop into Tamborine Mountain Distillery, a multi-award winner both locally and internationally.
They may have the smallest operating pot still in Australia, but that in no way impedes with the quality of their boutique liqueurs and spirits. The artisanal approach and multiple distillations, taps into an impressive range of natural ingredients and native flora, to create smooth and wickedly inventive flavours. Since 1993, they have been manufacturing fine liqueurs, vodkas, schnapps, eaux-de-vie, rum, gins and more.
The flavour range includes caramel vodka, chocolate mint and eucalyptus gum leaf vodka. Pineapple Tours artfully blends a packed day of highlights and tastings, you’ll be whisked around in luxury mini-vans and enjoy a truly premium experience, without having to worry about the driving. A highly recommended experience. www.pineappletours.com.au
Another great hinterland foray is to swing south of Tamborine to Springbrook National Park, with a noticeable elevation climb. Springbrook Mountain is the tallest peak in the hinterland, topping out at 1000 metres. Average temperatures are generally 3-5 degrees cooler than the coast. After refuelling for lunch at Springbrook Café, where a cheeky kookaburra sidled up to me, we headed for Purlingbrook Falls, a staggering spectacle of rainforest, cascading water and canyon-like cliffs, flaunting their volcanic hues. Once again, many of the walking trails are incredibly short affairs and the 118 metre drop of Purlingbrook’s waterworks is a breathtaking sight.
Canyon Lookout is another recommended stop, serving up supreme views right across the Gold Coast with Rainbow Falls and Twin Falls in the foreground. As the name would suggest, Best of All Lookout is the grand-daddy of all views, serving up a sweeping canvas of scenery from Springbrook’s high plateau, reaching across the border into New South Wales and to Mt. Warning, which was the core of the ancient volcano. To reach the lookout entails a 10 minute stroll through ancient rainforest, which also boasts the geographical oddity of mighty Antarctic beech trees. They are unique to the area, a hangover from Gondwanaland, and the gnarly giant specimens on this walk are 2000 years old – and still going strong.
There’s some fascinating wildlife in the hinterland. I thought I was already familiar with most feathered and furry specimens of Australiana, but the day-trip added two new entries to my list. First, the red-necked pademelon. We saw scores of them in Springbrook, although they’re super shy. If a wallaby is like a small kangaroo, a pademelon is like a super small wallaby. No bigger than a rabbit. Very cute. I also glimpsed one of Australia’s most extraordinary birds scurrying into the foliage, Prince 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.
David Attenborough adores them. 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. One other critter to keep an eye out for is the leech. If it’s raining, keep a vigilant eye on any puddles you step in, to avoid these blood-suckers latching onto you and having a feed on your ankles.
From theme park thrills, golden beaches and the birthplace of bikinis to the ravishing world heritage-listed beauty of the hinterland and ancient rainforests, start planning a great getaway to the Gold Coast. From the glitter strip of Surfers Paradise to the mountain villages and forest trails of the Scenic Rim, the Gold Coast bursts with a world of possibilities. Make your first stop, the region’s official website. www.queensland.com