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Mike Yardley: Forest treats & secluded retreats on the Gold Coast

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Fri, 22 Mar 2024, 11:43AM
Tamborine National Park. Photo / Destination Gold Coast
Tamborine National Park. Photo / Destination Gold Coast

Mike Yardley: Forest treats & secluded retreats on the Gold Coast

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Fri, 22 Mar 2024, 11:43AM

The Gold Coast hinterland abounds as a soothing playground of artisanal indulgence and soft adventure pursuits. When you need a breather from the beach bling, savour some forest-bathing within characterful, bucolic embrace of Tamborine Mountain. Just a 40-minute drive from the bikinis and the breakers, the verdant haven 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 Brisbane. 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 rich red volcanic soils and basalt rock are an enduring legacy to its geological back-story - the volcano blew itself apart 23 million years ago.   

Leafy lanes of Tamborine Mountain. Photo / Mike Yardley

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. 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.  

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 15 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 towering 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. 

Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk. Photo / Destination Gold Coast

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, with their vast white picket fences, 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 completely cuckoo.  

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. 

Wine tasting at Witches Falls Winery. Photo / Mike Yardley

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. 

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 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. 

Tamborine Mountain Distillery. Photo / Destination Gold Coast

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.  

Back down at sea level and at the northern end of the Gold Coast, take your serene oasis holiday-vibes one step further, by checking in to the InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort. To great fanfare, this showpiece resort was unveiled to the world 35 years ago, with Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston on-hand for the glittery launch. Regularly refreshed, the alluring resort still sparkles with contemporary charm, offering a blissed-out, secluded atmosphere with all the trimmings. During the Covid era, InterContinental undertook a multi-million-dollar renovation, replacing all the furniture and unveiling a fresh, inviting colour palette of blue, green, grey and white. The décor is light, bright and uplifting, paying homage to the Gold Coast.  

Photo / IHG

The glossy Sanctuary Cove marina and three golf courses book-end the resort, including the acclaimed Arnold Palmer-endorsed course, the Pines. (The course is laid out on 100 hectares of pine forest, so you’re guaranteed to see plenty of roos bounding about.) The resort’s 250 rooms and suites fan out in wings from the central building, fittingly known as the Grand House. Beneath its high ceilings, timber beams and stained glass windows, the Grand House sports two great restaurants, including fine-dining venue, The Fireplace. All elements of the menu here are curated to showcase the distinctive flavours of their Redgum wood-fired oven. Craving a fish dish, I plumped for Humpty Doo Barramundi, which was accompanied with sweet corn, capers, artichokes and roasted wood-fired peppers. Magnificent. 

The expansive property is nestled within lush and immaculately maintained grounds, running the gamut from botanical gardens to shady woodland. Then there’s the X-factor touches, like the Italian-style fountain terrace that sweeps down to the private pool deck and the truly spectacular artificial lagoon. This is a family favourite, with shallow waters and soft sand edging the lagoon pool. I could have spent all day in this lustrous body of palm-fringed water. It’s one acre of watery wonder. Request a lagoon view guest room and you’ll never be parted for long!  

An aerial view of Sanctuary Cove Resort. Photo / Destination Gold Coast

From the glitter strip of the bling-bling beach scene 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/ 

I flew to Coolangatta with the low-fares leader, Jetstar. When you book on Jetstar.com, you're guaranteed the lowest fare. With their Price Beat Guarantee, if you find a better fare online, they’ll beat it by 10% - and that includes Jetstar flights you find on other websites. Jetstar ensures its base fares are the most affordable, by giving you complete choice and flexibility over whether to include checked luggage, an in-flight snack or assigned seat. For the best fares, head to www.jetstar.com 

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings. 

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