World Heritage-listed rainforests, bohemian towns, surf beaches and a legendary food and arts scene, you can find the country’s best features between Bryon Bay and the Gold Coast – one of Australia’s 16 Ultimate Escapes
Stretching from Byron Bay to the Gold Coast and west into the hinterland of the Great Dividing Range, the Green Cauldron is one of the few places in the country where mountain rainforests meet the ocean. The region encompasses secluded and surf beaches, subtropical rainforest and 12 national parks. Many are found in the Gondwana Rainforest World Heritage Area, a magnificent landscape created from an ancient caldera – the remnants of the world’s second-largest shield volcano.
The national parks – Main Range, Lamington, Springbrook and Mt Barney – are bursting with nature-based activities. You can find more than 1700 species of flowering plants and countless rare and threatened animal species, from koalas and squirrel gliders to platypus and echidnas. Walk and camp amid the rainforest and rolling, green hills, waking early to witness dawn break over majestic Wollumbin (Mt Warning), the first point on the continent to be lit up by the rays of the morning sun. To the Bundjalung and other local indigenous tribes, it has great cultural and spiritual significance.
Take a treetop walk, mountain-bike, or abseil down a cliff face at Mt Barney, indulge in a spa treatment with a lush rainforest backdrop, or visit creative, new-age communities to find spiritual retreats, festivals, artists and character-filled markets stocked with organic produce.
More bohemian vibes can be found at Byron, with blissfully beautiful beaches and a coastline home to whales, dolphins and, of course, some of the world’s most famous surf breaks.
Eco stay: rainforest hideaway
The subtropical World Heritage Lamington National Park is your home while staying in a mountain hideaway at O’Reilly’s, and with 160 kilometres of walking trails and 500 waterfalls at your doorstep, there’s plenty to do. Set off on rainforest walks to meet the neighbours – some 250 species of unique Australian wildlife and interesting birds such as spotted quail-thrush, red-browed treecreeper and glossy black cockatoo – zip through the canopy on a flying fox or simply relax and enjoy the serene surroundings with a healing massage at the Lost World Spa.
Walks: uncover scenic secrets
Stroll through subtropical rainforest to misty lookouts and hidden waterfalls. With Mt Warning standing sentinel in the distance, six-day guided walks explore the south side of the caldera traversing the Historic Nightcap Track, visiting creative communities like Uki, Nimbin and Mullumbimby, and staying overnight at spa retreats. Walks in the north explore Main Range National Park, local food, wine and art, and Moogerah Peaks, where vertiginous peaks guarantee great views. Walks take place in the springtime and Autumn. See: Park Tours; 1300 197 201.
Luxury: peak of comfort
Stay on the spectacular rooftop of the Great Dividing Range. At 1130 metres above sea level, Spicers Peak Lodge is the highest non-alpine lodge in the country. Along with the brisk mountain air, there’s luxury (think plump pillows, pool and helipad) and the culinary pickings are plentiful. Blow out on a seven-course degustation dinner featuring vegies plucked from the garden and pannacotta made with the lodge’s own beehive honey. Ate too much? Simple. Burn off the extra kilos with a guided nature walk the next day.
Explore: Mt Barney’s charms
Camp on creek frontage with spectacular mountain views and enjoy the country charm of Mt Barney, where the family-owned Mt Barney Lodge Country Retreat (07 5544 3233) has cute forest huts, Queensland-style homesteads, camp-sites and glamp-sites. Staying here means the national park is at your fingertips, with bushwalking, wildflowers, birdwatching and cooling waterholes all nearby. Adventurous souls can trek challenging mountain routes or abseil down the 50-metre Golden Staircase Waterfall.
Adventure: paddle Byron Waters
There’s an embarrassment of beautiful coastal riches in the Green Cauldron, but the headland at Byron Bay is one of the most picture-perfect portions, famous for rolling waves, photogenic beaches and clear waters home to frolicking marine life. Paddle around Walgun (Cape Byron), the most easterly point of Australia, in a sea kayak, glimpsing whales, playful dolphins and multimillion-dollar properties at Wategos Beach. Many of the tour guides are indigenous, and will share their stories of the Arkawal people. See: Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay; 0416 222 344.
Getting there: While regular daily flights take you into Brisbane and the Gold Coast (Coolangatta), you can also fly into Ballina Byron Airport, around 40 minutes from the Gold Coast. By road, Mt Barney is around a 90-minute drive from Brisbane.
Eating there: Fine dining in lush rainforest surroundings, beachside breakfasts, traditional southeast Queensland pubs and family-run wineries… the region is a flourishing food bowl and many practise the 100-mile philosophy, sourcing local produce from a 100-mile radius. Look out for farmgate stalls on country roads, growers markets and organic cafes.
Staying there: You can find five-star hotels and luxury resorts on the Gold Coast, and chic eco retreats and beachside hideaways in Byron Bay. More luxury spa retreats are hidden in the mountains and rainforests along with camping grounds, country guesthouses, cabins and treetop lodges.