Discover the dark side of Australia’s 6th largest city. In the mountains behind the beaches and the buildings, lies a vast untouched wilderness of ancient heritage-listed rainforests that play host to a plethora of natural wonders.
From tourist-friendly mountaintop towns to idyllic middle-of-nowhere camping grounds, short strolls to stunning lookouts or multi-day treks for hardcore hikers, the Gold Coasts hinterland, with its practically innumerate list of things to do and its sheer beauty will have you coming back time and time again.
Here’s a list of some of the coolest things you can do on your trip to the dark side:
Tamborine hosts several tranquil rainforests walks that will make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to when nature was all that ruled. Being a tourist town, a lot of them are short and even the longer ones are easily manageable by those of average fitness. Curtis Falls in the Joalah section provides what is probably the most visited walk in the popular weekend getaway town. The easy 30-minute, 1.5km return track leads to a quaint waterfall that flows year-round and is great for families with small children.
Another popular waterfall track is the one that flows down from Cedar Creek on the north side of the national park. The easy 900m track leads down past several levels of falls before reaching the end where you are greeted with cascade-like falls and a picture-perfect rock pool to take a dip in.
And when you’ve done for the day, there’s no better place to say Au revoir to the day than heading over to the Rotary Lookout or the more spacious Robert Sowter Park to watch the sun slowly dip below the horizon to cap off a day of rainforest exploration.
Lamington National Park
Split up into two sections; Green Mountain/ O’Reilly’s and Binna Burra and featuring the Gold Coast Great Hinterland Walk, Lamington National Park is a vast, dense rainforest wilderness filled with many natural wonders and native animals that attracts casual daytrippers and endurance hikers alike.
Green Mountain/ O’Reilly’s
Green Mountains/ O’Reilly’s is the more popular destination of the two but it still feels small, quaint and a world away from anywhere. Here you can feed wild birds such as the stunningly beautiful Crimson Rosella, see a replica of the famous Stinson that crashed in these parts in 1937 as well as a monument depicting the rescue of the three men who fell here.
There’s also the fantastic Tree Top Walk that takes you high above the ground up into the canopy via a suspension bridge and ladder climb which is great fun for all ages.
Heading deeper into the forests, there are heaps of walks in varying degrees of difficulty, but some of the nicest shorter ones (I’ve done) is Picnic Rock and Elabana Falls on the Box Forest Circuit and Python Rock Lookout which has stunning views of Morans Falls and Morans Gorge. The Morans Falls track is a nice short walk as well, with incredible views of the gorge, but the actual view of the falls is not as definitely not as good as Python Rock Lookout even though it’s much closer.
Heading over to the other end of the Great Hinterland walk the easy way, Binna Burra and its labyrinth of dark, moist rainforest tracks are equally as rewarding as its eastern cousin.
A favourite walk of mine is the Caves Circuit. Not quite caves so much as overhangs, the two towering sections of protruding rock are stunning and dramatic. Even though the advertised Kweebani Cave is the second along (if coming from the lower entry point), the first unnamed cave was the more interesting of the two, with a man-made arch welcoming you to the natural wonder that lies behind.
Springbrook National Park
Perhaps my favourite of all the national parks in South East Queensland is this little slice of paradise. Boasting caves, waterfalls and towering cliffs, glow worms, fireflies and suspension bridges, this piece of the untouched wonderland that sits between the skyscrapers and the Stinson is well, for me, the crown jewel of the Gold Coast’s stunning landscape.
You can’t mention the Gold Coast Hinterland without first mentioning the Natural Bridge. Located on the windy road connecting Killarney and Murwillumbah and straddling Lamington on one side and Springbrook on the other sits an incredible waterfall famous because of the way it carved its way through the landscape: through the roof of a dark cave home to millions of glow worms.
The glow worms are only visible at night, but for the love of all that is good in the world, please do NOT shine them with any kind of light! Way too many people, even tour groups and photographers, ignore the MASSIVE SIGN located right before you go in.
Yes, it’s very dark but that’s how the glow worms need it to be to feed. There’s been a dramatic decrease in the number of glow worms over the last few years due to light exposure. This is an incredible natural phenomenon that happens here. Please don’t be part of the reason it might not be anymore. Hold the handrail before you enter. You’ll be okay.
Springbrook (Main area)
Making your way to the township of Springbrook and the main section of the national park, you’re spoilt for choice for nature hikes. There are a couple of incredible lookouts that are either a handful of steps away from the carpark or a waterfall that’s about 100 metres but descend along a trailhead and you’ll be greeted with several breathtaking single drop waterfalls tumbling over spectacular cliffs, such as Purlingbrook Falls, Rainbow Falls and Twin Falls.
Glorious as they are to see from the front, they are even more spectacular from behind. Rainbow Falls and Twin Falls allow you to sneak a peek behind the curtain of water and experience the beauty of these tumbling waters from a whole other perspective. Careful. You. Will. Get. Wet. Sometimes soaked, but therein lies most of the fun and this is the only place in South East Queensland (that I know of) where you can do such a thing. (Purlingbrook falls used to afford you the same opportunity but unstable cliffs forced wildlife services to close the walk behind. You can now view Purlingbrook Falls in all its glory from a bridge suspended over the creek.)
Even if you don’t feel like crushing it in a rainforest hike, there is a super easy walk at the end of the road leading to a lovely top-end view of Goomoolahra Falls and gentle mountains that make up the Tallebudgera Valley below.
It doesn’t matter where you go in the treasure trove that is the Gold Coast Hinterland, you don’t have to look too far to find something beautiful. To truly get a sense of the awe and wonderment that hides in the Gold Coasts backyard, I definitely recommend taking a few days to get lost in its vast serenity. You won’t be disappointed.
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