Explore the rugged beauty of the Scenic Rim in beautiful Gold Coast hinterland reserves


Sydney-siders may boast about their blue mountains, but Brisbane and Gold Coast residents offer volcanic lamingtons to their visitors! The magnificent national park version, that is.

Within sight of Gold Coast skyscrapers, a 200km sweeping semicircle of spectacular mountains repose in majestic beauty. They once formed the eastern rim of a massive volcano, and their rich soils still support beautiful subtropical rainforests, remnants of those present when ancient Gondwanaland parted into the separate continental land masses we know today. These forests are now protected within World Heritage-status national parks, and offer us unique natural experiences which help us recharge the batteries… if not the soul.

Oh, and don’t fret over the volcano: it last erupted 22 million years ago, and now snoozes contentedly in retirement.

We had no idea such dramatic and imposing landscapes dwelled so close to our familiar southbound route out of Queensland. Weary of the Gold Coast’s high-rise hype, we decided to seek an alternative, inland route for our most recent journey south. We were delighted to discover a diversion with interesting potential, and jumped off the M1 at Beenleigh. We soon realised the ‘Scenic Rim’ region of southeast Queensland contains a rare form of nature at its ancient and rugged best.

Tamborine, Lamington and Springbrook National Parks are exceptional in their unique offerings of rare and protected species of plants and animals, striking landscapes and cultural heritage. Each has magnificent waterfalls, views, lovely walking trails… and some driving challenges, too.

With very steep and narrow access roads into some of their more remote places, a number of roads in these parks are unsuitable for trailers, caravans and motorhomes longer than 5 metres. To visit Lamington, for instance, you will need to set up your rig in Canungra and visit the park on day trips.

There are several options on places to stay in, and near, Canungra, although there are no major caravan parks. Spring Gully farm stay and Canungra Showground both have powered sites which cost $25 per night for two people. Otherwise, enjoy more primitive but beautiful tranquillity in Riverbend Campground at Sharpe Park, 5km south of Canungra. We chose the latter – it is a spacious, leafy park, divided into two sections by the meandering Coomera River. It has low fees for the basic facilities provided, costing only $12 per night for two people.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that Riverbend Park sits directly opposite the Australian army’s Land Warfare Centre! Military exercises are rarely held, however, so you would be unlucky to hear anything other than frog ‘bopping’ and birdsong. Local signage forewarns of imminent warfare exercises, so campers can easily choose to stay elsewhere if WWIII is predicted to break out.

Canungra is a sweet little town with a forestry and military history. The gorgeous old Tudor hotel is positioned opposite the town’s park, so a cold beer on the veranda has considerable appeal. Being a destination village, it has some terrific cafes, galleries, home décor and fashion houses… and, girls – the best shoe shop EVER!

Our first excursion took us to Tamborine National Park where we enjoyed a series of easy walking trails to lookouts over three different waterfalls, through lovely rainforests and palm groves, and past rock pools where the old boots came off for a well-deserved foot soak. Being close to the major population centres, these excellent tracks in Tamborine National Park are busy on weekends, so mid-week visits are advised in peak season.

The ghastly road up into Lamington National Park is absolutely exhilarating! It is an adventure in itself and one of the best parts of the entire Scenic Rim experience. The road is not one for the fainthearted, but the fabulous scenery makes the “eeek” moments worthwhile.

Half way up the mountain, the Mountview Alpaca farm is well worth a stop for a coffee and cake experience on a deck that offers unbelievable valley views. Warning: a browse through the gift shop can become expensive, because it’s loaded with lovely Alpaca products. For the kids, and kids-at-heart, the sweet creatures outside will line up at the fence for a pat, but I sincerely recommend you spend $3 and buy a bag of Alpaca treats to feed them. Otherwise, you are liable to wear a glob of – there’s no way to say this delicately – camelid spit (as I discovered)!

There are some brilliant short walks available in Lamington, using O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat as a base. Varying from 800 metres to 8 kilometres in length, there is something for everyone, including those with limited mobility. The best of these are the amazing treetop walk – a brilliant experience – and the orchid circuit, the stroll to Python Rock or the climb up Mick’s Tower. For a little more effort, the magnificent Picnic Rock and Elebana Falls walk is a beauty.

Our lunch destination, intended to be O’Reilly’s day-visitor café – had a disappointing outcome, the consequence of experiencing frazzled, obstructive staff and pricey commercialism. Stepping back outside and taking a deep breath, we retreated into the forest to recover. How could one not! The spectacular views through stands of giant eucalypts soothed the soul, the nerves and the temper. Out there, we met other more experienced visitors who had cleverly planned ahead and brought their own picnics to enjoy amidst the natural beauty. A wise move!

Heading back down the mountain, we stopped in at the Alpaca Farm again – not only because I had a score to settle with one of its more obstreperous inhabitants, but because I decided I just had to have that gorgeous red Alpaca-wool cape! Considerably poorer, we tackled the mountain’s switchbacks, single lane sections, potholes, blind corners and sheer drop-offs all the way back down to the Canungra valley – loving every challenging inch of it!

Perfectly situated for an afternoon coffee or wine tasting, the Canungra Valley Vineyard offers free tastings if a bottle is purchased. Meals are available on weekends, and chefs will also prepare (pre-booked) gourmet picnic hampers for guests to enjoy down by the river – highly recommended, although, at $75, they are quite pricey!

Springbrook National Park lies to the south of Canungra, and east of Lamington. This delightful little group of four reserves offers an entirely different aspect on the Scenic Rim tour. The twisting, hilly drive from Canungra to Springbrook, via Beechmont, is fabulous, and each turn presents new and exciting scenery.

Our journey was made slightly more complicated having our caravan in tow. Since we were heading south, for Murwillumbah, we hitched up and towed our van all the way into Springbrook, then back up and over the mountains to the Numinbah- Murwillumbah Road. We had no trouble at all, even with our big van, so don’t let Springbrook’s relative remoteness and roly-poly terrain put you off visiting, even if you are towing a caravan. It is definitely one national park not to be missed!

Near the junction of Pine Creek Rd, Springbrook Road splits because the mountain is so steep. At the top end of this one-way section, be sure to pull over for a three-way treat. The tiny Springbrook Mountain Visitor Centre has to be seen to be believed: despite being too small to swing a cat, it is surprisingly well-stocked with self-serve brochures. We’ve experienced information centres ten times the size, and staffed by a veritable mob, that has offered less information than this little ripper!

Next, cross the road to a lookout that has stunning views to the east. Yeah, sure, another lookout, you say? Ah, but this one is special, because the high-rise skyline of the Gold Coast, can be seen! Finally, head up the driveway of Puddleduck’s Garden Café for a delicious fare of home-cooked food in delightful surrounds. Yum!

Amongst all the amazing lookouts, waterfalls, walking trails and forests of Springbrook National Park, there are two top spots that really stand out. The first is ‘Best of All’ lookout at the southern end of Springbrook. It is accessed by a well-formed 700m path that guides visitors past rare and incredibly ancient Antarctic Beech trees, to an impressive platform perched right high over the state border. An astonishing vista stretches for many kilometres into NSW, drawing admiring comments – gasps, actually – from all who venture there.

The second top spot is in a different section of the park – but first, we must explore the mountaintop hamlet of Springbrook. It’s a charming place. There are several more cafes and the community hall has a fantastic mural not to be missed. We enjoyed browsing through the little Bushman’s Art gallery, and chatting to the owner about his wild camel-taming enterprise in central Australia. He uses the beasts to take troubled kids out into the desert – onto Country – to challenge them and help them realise their potential. What a great man, living a wonderful existence – in Springbrook all summer and Alice Springs all winter! He’s really got it figured out!

The second extraordinary feature of this park is ‘Natural Bridge’ – a fabulous geological formation in the westernmost section of the park. Cave creek emerges from the forest and plunges down into a sinkhole, disappearing into the depths of the earth seemingly forever. A little further around the path, however, a staircase descends into the back of a deep cave, to reveal where the creek pours through the roof into a beautiful pool. A massive arc of rock forms the cave entrance, hence the name – ‘Natural Arch.’ Shafts of sunshine pour in through the sinkhole, highlighting the water spray and creating shimmering reflections on the trunk of an unfortunate tree that was caught in some wild flood and dumped unceremoniously into the cave. It all makes for very beautiful photography! At night, the cave comes alive and glistens with the happy little sparkling bluegreen lights of glow worms. It’s a magical experience, and a fitting end to our tour.

The scenic rim is heaven for photographers, birdwatchers, tree-lovers, and purveyors of fine views… and foods. We were so glad we looked for a diversion from the hustle and hype of highway travel. We decided on something different, and in our quest, we found paradise.