Beautiful rainforests & mountains in that lush green hinterland

The Gold Coast’s hinterland is strikingly beautiful. The sea-to-mountain geography may not be as dramatic as that in places like Hawaii or Tahiti, but behind The Coast lies a mountainous world of heavily forested plateaus punctuated by waterfalls, and ravine-like valleys with rolling pastures that nurture the fattest of dairy cattle. Ascend these mountains and you find yourself in an ethereal world of lush rainforests as beautiful as any in the world.

The Gold Coast’s flat coastal strip is barely ten kilometres wide, with the steep mountains easily visible from any elevated building along the beach. It’s so dramatically different to anything along the beaches, yet the Gold Coast hinterland remains unknown to many first-time visitors drawn by images of sand and water. Visitors are often quite stunned by the unexpected natural beauty.

The rainforests on a series of plateaus here are unique remnants of subtropical forests that have largely been cleared for agricultural and pastoral purposes. In places, the forests are especially dense and impenetrable, while in others the thick canopy locks the sunlight out so thoroughly that little grows below, leaving visitors on an open forest floor but enveloped in near darkness. It’s an extreme contrast to the Gold Coast’s bright, open sunny beaches . Even the small, traditional dairy farms that occupy some of the flatter land are quaint and picturesque.

Getting right into the heart of the rainforests is surprisingly easy, thanks to an pro-active National Parks system that maintains extensive networks of walking tracks in all of the major National Parks, listed below. Small towns, or villages, are found near some of the Parks, offering food and accommodation, while back-to-nature passion has driven some people to build dream homes on the forested plateaus.

rainforests, waterfalls & national parks; touring the Gold Coast hinterland

Mudgeeraba; This is a quaint little village directly west of Burleigh Heads Beach on the lowland strip, right at the base of the mountains, making it a good starting point for a hinterlands trip. The road that ascends steeply from here gives access to Springbrook and the Nunimbah Valley.

Springbrook: This is a magnificent National Park and a quaint village among rolling hills atop the first plateau west of The Coast. It makes a quick and easy mountain trip, while showing visitors a mix of verdant, sub-tropical rainforest and small farms on rich pastureland. The mountaintop exudes a lush exuberance of towering trees in evergreen forest plus rainforests darkened by thick, vine-woven canopies. Waterfalls are a dime a dozen on this plateau, with Twin Falls one of the biggest and most spectacular. Several walking trails maintained by the National Parks Department give easy walking access to the forest.

Small tea houses and restaurants have either camouflaged themselves amongst the verdant greenery or hang out over mountainsides to offer spectacular views back to the Gold Coast. These cafes and restaurants make delightful lunch or tea and coffee stops. Camping grounds, guesthouses and small lodges are also available here, just outside the National Park, offering a variety of overnight accommodations. The road in and out is mostly narrow, often twisting tightly around the mountainsides.

The Nunimbah Valley; This deep, knife-like incision through the mountains divides Springbrook, the first plateau, from the larger ranges to the west that encompass Lamington National Park. The long, straight valley is sided by steep mountain walls, with typical Australian dairy farms occupying both the lower realms and all but the steepest slopes where the rainforest takes over. Fat cattle ramble through knee-deep pastures, while birds of all hues and cries flock through tall trees. There’s a shady, pleasant picnic ground with a children’s playground, BBQ stations and toilets beside the small Nerang River at mid valley that makes a popular resting point.

The walking trail into Natural Arch, a small waterfall that has cut its way through solid rock, offers easy access into the heart of the rainforest. This easy, in-out trail through deep rainforest can be completed in less than an hour. Being well sign-posted, it is easy to find.

Tambourine Mountain: This small plateau to the northwest of the Gold Coast is easy to reach through Nerang, and offers a quick glimpse into the region’s spectacular subtropical rainforests. One stretch of the road to Tambourine follows a ridgeline that affords spectacular views back over the entirety of the Gold Coast. Here daredevils in hang gliders and parasails launch themselves into the void, creating fun entertainment for visitors who stop for the view. Mt Tambourine also offers a number of pretty tea houses and accommodations that either share those grand views over the coastal strip or are integrated into the lush forest. Tambourine can be included into a trip to Brisbane.

Lamington National Park and O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

Lamington National Park, on the west side of Nunimbah Valley, encompasses some of the wildest mountains and densest rainforest found anywhere. This World Heritage listed park offers 160 kilometres of walking trails that venture into the depths of the rainforest, passing scores of waterfalls while giving a genuine back-to-nature experience and the chance to come face-to-face with local wildlife.

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat; This is probably Australia’s most famous rainforest lodge, secreted in a far reach of Lamington National Park. This makes an exceptional overnight stay, with the complete assurance of seeing wildlife both by day and night. O’Reilly’s is built over a hillside clearing, with walking tracks into the nearby rainforest. As the photos here show, some of the wildlife might come right into your accommodation in the search for free food. Possums, sugar gliders and other marsupials are regular night-time visitors, and quite unafraid of the torches used to spot them. The same wild turkeys that can be seen down by the Gold Coast beaches are also found here in their natural habitat. Pademelons, a variety of kangaroo that grows just knee-high, are regular evening visitors and cute favourites with the visitors. It’s common to see females with little joeys sticking their heads out of mum’s pouch to both look at visitors and grab any food offerings they can.

O’Reilly’s offers rainforest tours using electric Segways or 4-wheel drive vehicles – though I suggest that taking one of the many National Parks walking trails cannot be beaten. O’Reillys’ Retreat and its walking trails also make a pleasant lunch stop on a day trip. The drive from the Gold Coast beaches to O’Reilly’s takes about two hours, through beautiful countryside.

If venturing into these mountains visitors need to pick up one of the free maps available in hotels, or buy a good one. There is a complex network of small roads here, making it easy to get lost without a good map. Or perhaps the on-line geo-map services have already caught up to this area, turning a mobile phone into the best guide – in those places with a signal.

forest tracks and bushwalking in the Gold Coast Hinterland

Australians love their forest walking tracks, and here in the hinterland of the Gold Coast there is a plethora of them. Walking trails range from short and easy – the kind a confirmed couch potato can conquer with little more than a few drops of sweat – to long and arduous, those that only experienced bush walkers should tackle, with a compass and topographic map. The great majority, however, fall somewhere in the middle, in the range that Australia’s Department of National Parks rates as Class 2, 3 or 4, for people in all age groups with reasonable levels of fitness. Most of the trails have been cut and graded, often with stairs on steep slopes, to make waking relatively safe and easy. The shortest walks run just one or two kilometres, though some classified as full-day walks run over 20 kilometres. There is a number in the 2 – 6 kilometres range that can be covered comfortably in a one, two or three hours.

The real beauty of Australia’s subtropical rainforests are laid bare by these trails, allowing visitors to glide silently into ethereal worlds that would otherwise be near impenetrable.

While we show snippets of the Department’s maps here, there is a lot of valuable information and maps available at the website:

Circular day tour through Springbrook, Nunimbah Valley & Murwillumbah

Here’s one excellent route for a rewarding Gold Coast hinterland day tour that encompasses the full range of environments of this area; beautiful rainforests, lush pastureland, a steep valley, great lookouts and views over the Gold Coast. There are walking trails along the way, waterfalls and plenty of picnic areas. There are small tea houses, restaurants and shops to find food and drinks.

This route starts in the middle of the Gold Coast, climbs up to Springbrook National Park, then descends into the Nunimbah Valley. That leads south to, and crosses the New South Wales border before dropping into the wide valley or Murwillumbah.

From there return to the Gold Coast, start in Mudgeeraba and drive up the mountain into Springbrook. Spend whatever time you wish here, enjoying the sights. This is an ideal spot to take one of the shorter rainforest walks. Drive northwest and descend into the Nunimbah Valley where you will run into Route 97, or the Nerang-Murwillumbah Highway. This takes one through scenic countryside with fat dairy cows up to their knees in grass. Follow the valley south, and perhaps stop for the half hour walk to see Natural Arch. There are plenty of signs.

Continue south as the pretty Nunimbah Valley rises high and higher, finally coming to the high ridge that marks the valley end. This is both the border between Queensland and New South Wales, and the outer rim of the cauldron of an ancient volcano. Descend steeply into the valley below and enjoy the beautiful grazing country and traditional farming homesteads. The little farming community of Crystal Creek has an old-style village store where you can stop for an all-Australian meat pie, drinks etc. From here the road heads east towards the coast through dairy farms, market gardens, sprawling fields of sugar cane and finally the small , bustling country town of Murwillumbah. This little town is about as Australian as you can find, so do stop by the milk bar for some local flavour.

Returning to the Gold Coast from here is simple, with a choice of super-highway (fast but boring), the old coastal highway (recommended) or a back route over mountains through Tomewin into the Currumbin Valley (also very attractive).

Total driving time for this trip takes about three hours, leaving lots of time for stops and other activities along the way. If time allows, stop by Coolangatta and the lesser-known beaches at the south end of the Gold Coast.

Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Site

Only miniscule 0.3% of Australia is covered in rainforest, however this tiny area holds about half of all plant species in the country, and about a third of the mammal and bird species. It’s not surprising then, that the rainforests in the Gold Coast hinterland, called Gondwana rainforests to reflect their primitive origins, have World Heritage listing. These forests are direct descendants of the vast rainforests that once covered the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, and still contain many primitive plant forms, including some of the world’s most ancient ferns and conifers with origins in the evolution and breakout of flowering plants 100 million years ago.

More than 200 rare or threatened species of plant and animal are restricted to these small but diverse patches of forest. Here we also find the highest diversity in marsupial, bird, snake and frog species in Australia.

The southern ridge and cliff faces where the Springbrook and Lamington plateaus fall abruptly into the huge valley of Murwillumbah is the outer rim of a primordial volcano, with Mount Warning at its centre, more than 15 kilometres south.

by John Everingham