It’s hard to imagine the Gold Coast ever dropping off the list of Australia’s most popular destinations. And nor should it.
The sun, the surf and, increasingly, a sophisticated dining scene secures the region’s widespread appeal. Yet, just next door is an entirely different but equally inviting locale, whether you’re up for a pace-changing side trip or a stand-alone escape.
The Gold Coast Hinterland is a rich amalgam of national parks, scenic delights and charming towns. Full of pristine Gondwana rainforest, the hinterland is less than an hour’s drive from the bright lights of Surfers Paradise, but a world away – the coast’s energetic buzz making way for a welcome calm.
Whichever way you slice it, this lush paradise is a dream. Still, we’ve decided to carve it up three ways: for couples, families and nature-lovers.
If you’re going to get a song stuck in your head for two days straight, it may as well be Songbird by Bernard Fanning. The sweet tune from an Aussie fave proves an earworm from the very moment we pulled up at Songbirds Rainforest Retreat, a gorgeous hideaway in Tamborine Mountain.
Songbirds Rainforest Retreat is a gorgeous hideaway in Tamborine Mountain
If it’s a slower pace you’re after, this is a dream spot. There are just six villas, each spacious, well-appointed and surrounded by 20 hectares of verdant rainforest. And you can forget Fanning. The soundtrack here is the real deal – a chorus of birdsong to help you unwind – and your private balcony is the perfect place to enjoy it.
Just up the road, Tamborine Mountain Gallery Walk is ideal for hand-in-hand meandering. The shops are hit and miss, but the hits are big – think chocolate, cheese, fudge – and the village vibe will infiltrate your bones. Plus, at the Macdonnell Road end of your stroll, Tamborine Mountain Distillery awaits, tasting room included.
For lunch, Three Little Pigs Bar & Bistro on Main Street is a modern space with a strong cafe menu. A little further afield, it’s hard to pass up the romantic setting of a gourmet picnic (complete with bubbles, obvs) at O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards. And yes, there’s a cellar door.
It’s hard to pass up O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards
Back ‘home’, Songbirds’ restaurant is a genuine five-star treat. Head chef Meyjitte Boughenout delivers a creative menu, where house-grown produce is king and the wine list is exceptional. So too, restaurant manager and sommelier Alex Menzies’ recommendations.
Round up the young ones. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is going to blow their mismatched cotton socks off.
Located in the heart of the World Heritage-Listed National Lamington Park, O’Reilly’s wouldn’t be out of place in any of these three sub-categories. I’ve given it top billing in the family category because of the parent-friendly volume of kid-friendly activities.
The flying fox adventure at O’Reilly’s Retreat
Wildlife shows, glow worm caves, a 180-metre-long flying fox, Segway tours, and the friendliest rainbow lorikeets you’re likely to meet – it’s a boredom-smashing combination.
For parents – an oft-forgotten element of the term family-friendly – O’Reilly’s Lost World Spa offers a blissful escape. The usual selection of treatments is available, but for an adult-themed indulgence (hang on, hang on… mind out of the gutter please) try the Vinotherapy Ritual. Don’t deny it, you’ve always wanted to soak in a wine bath.
On the accommodation front, there is a range of options including two-bedroom suites and two- and three-bedroom villas; the latter sleeping up to nine. The villas, featuring mesmerising valley or rainforest views, are contemporary, yet cosy, and include a spacious deck with a spa.
There is a cafe, restaurant and bar on-site (the pizza is A-plus) and in-room dining is available. For the self-caterers, grab your supplies at the FoodWorks in Canungra on the way through.
O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is a rainforest retreat
O’Reilly’s is a destination in itself, but if you need even more adventure to exhaust young energy, hit up Thunderbird Park. With mini-golf, horse riding, laser skirmish, crystal mining and a treetop ropes course, everyone will sleep well. A range of accommodation, from camping through to four-star lodges, is available.
Are the treetops not high enough for your mini adventurers? Float among the clouds with Hot Air Balloon Gold Coast, a sky-high treat over the wide-open Scenic Rim that will leave mouths agape.
Thunderbird Park is a hit with kids
For nature lovers
Would it be okay to just write ‘all of the above’ here? No? Okay, fine. For nature lovers, the Gold Coast Hinterland is your proverbial oyster and if your boots were made for walking, the Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk will be more than satisfactory.
It’s a three-day, 54-kilometre challenge connecting the Lamington and Springbrook national parks via the Numinbah Valley. Start in the magical Green Mountain section, deep in Lamington territory, and be wowed by wildlife-rich subtropical and temperate rainforest, hidden waterfalls, magnificent lookouts, freshwater swimming holes and ancient volcano landscapes.
Bite-sized portions of the track are also walkable and equally awe-inspiring. Try the four-kilometre Purling Brook Falls Circuit. Shorter still, Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, a combination of floor trails and bridges, winds through dense canopies over a leisurely 45 minutes.
Sunshine in Lamington National Park