Glass houses, mountain ranges, and green valleys – a lovely diversion from a major highway


I lived in South East Queensland all my life. As a child, I travelled the Bruce Highway (the old one) on our annual family pilgrimage to Noosa where we camped every Christmas and Easter Holidays. Regularly we would stop over at the rest area near Mt Tibrogargan on our way north; the “big gorilla”, we used to call it. Now, as grey nomads, we are back on the Sunshine Coast as tourists, determined to walk the trails and drive the tracks. ‘The Bruce’ is now a major dual carriage ribbon as it leaves Brisbane on its way to Cairns. We chose to drive the road less travelled: Old Gympie Road and Steve Irwin Way from Caboolture to Landsborough, visiting the sites that were only ever visible to us as children from the back seat of the car. Our plan was to go further on towards Blackall Range and the Mary Valley.


A wet afternoon found us pulling into the Glass House Mountains Camping Grounds, where we settled in on a beautiful grassy patch, with a rainforest background where we could hear Eastern Whip Birds competing with willy wag tails and cicadas. Steve, the owner, a Cobb and Co fanatic, loves coaches: he builds replica coaches as well as restoring old ones. The grounds are part of an historic site where Cobb and Co coaches changed teams of horses back in the horse-drawn days. Steve will give you a tour of his collection as part of your camping fee; all money goes towards helping build his Australian Teamsters Hall of Fame.

The camping grounds are within cooee of the Glass House Mountains Lookout, a steep drive to an altitude of around 185 metres, giving views of all nine of the basalt lava plugs. The lookout also has an 800m-circuit hike, which can be completed easily in about 20 minutes. To recover, you can fire up one of the beautifully clean BBQs and have a picnic lunch. The mountains were named by Lieutenant James Cook, on his survey expedition up the coast of Terra Australis in 1770. He sighted the mountains, and claimed they reminded him of the skyline of many English industrial cities, dominated by soaring factory glass works furnace cones.

Mt Tibrogargan, probably the most recognisable, and Mt Coonowrin (Crookneck) are linked with a fascinating dreamtime legend, featuring all of the “family”. Tibrogargan, the father, asked Coonowrin, his eldest son to assist his wife, Beerwah, who was heavily pregnant at the time, while he helped the rest of the family flee rising flood waters. Coonowrin did not do as his father bid, and in his anger, Tibrogargan struck him with a club, breaking his neck. He turned his back on his son, and cried tears, which turned into rivers of the area.

To get yourself up close and personal to these mountains, there are car parks at the base of most, where you can take a hard, steep hike to the peaks. This is not recommended for the faint hearted: attempt these hikes only if you are fit and weather conditions are suitable. If you are not into hardcore hiking, you can still drive around the countryside – up hills, down valleys, through macadamia, pineapple, custard apple, coffee, paw-paw and other exotic plantations. Some properties have farm gate stalls, where you can buy fresh fruit, while most shops sell local produce. At almost every bend, another view of these majestic basalt mountains greets you.

If you are looking for an easy hike try the Dularcha National Park, between Mooloolah and Landsborough. We drove to Landsborough Station, caught the train to Mooloolah, and then hiked back – three kilometres along the tunnel track, an old rail trail parallel to the current rail line. The old railway tunnel built in 1891, now complete with a bat colony, is part of this pleasant walk through eucalypt and rainforest vegetation.

From Landsborough, we needed to make a quick detour back to the coast, and discovered the recently established Eumundi RV Camp. The car park for the weekly markets has just been opened to self-contained RVs, but there are hot showers and flushing toilets on site. With its close proximity to Noosa, this would have to be one of the best freedom camps around. If you happen to be there on market day, you may well find yourself “parked in”, but it is all part of the fun of the markets. Buskers, food stalls and original craft make this market one of the best on the coast.


After exhausting all the grade 2 walks and driving all the tracks, we moved on to Maleny in the Blackall Ranges and parked up in the Showgrounds. Good seasonal rain has made this site beautifully green and lush, with Obi Obi Creek babbling in the background. The well maintained oval hosts cricket and football, dog obedience and fitness fanatics – there is always something to watch.

While Maleny is host to many galleries and eateries, we chose to continue to wander the back roads, finding more lookouts, subtropical rainforest walks at Mary Cairncross Park and waterfalls at Gardner Falls. The Obi Boardwalk, a pathway between the showgrounds and the main street of Maleny, showcases the rehabilitation of the Obi Obi Creek – and you might even see a platypus. While you are in Maleny, make sure you check out the delightful aromas coming from the local Co-op. The smell of freshly ground coffee still floats around our van. Tucked into a back road, at Reesville, we stumbled across Manfred’s Wood & Antique Shop. Manfred is a master cabinetmaker and restorer from Germany, while his Swiss wife, Lili, shares her passion of antiques. Lili took me under her wing and showed me her extraordinary collection of European and Australian antiques. Both antiques and restored cabinetry items are for sale. Lookouts here still command views of the Glass House Mountains – Howells Knob on the Reesville Road being one of the most notable – with views to Tibrogargan, Coonowrin and Beerwah.

Further afield, via Witta and Conondale, is Kenilworth, with access to national parks and state forests. You’ll find not only a cheese factory but also more superb forestry tracks and walking trails. Using Kenilworth Showgrounds as our base, we explored the Conondale National Park and Imbil State Forest, driving the logging tracks for miles and hiking part of the Conondale Range Great Walk, a 56km circuit that takes in the natural rugged beauty of the area. While we walked only three to five kilometres of this circuit, a challenging four days is required to complete the hike in its entirety. Camps are available for hikers. The area is known for its dairy farming, and how better to complement this than with a visit to the Kenilworth Cheese Factory? The factory, originally part of the Kraft Corporation’s chain of factories, closed in the late 1980s. A group of employees bought the factory, and turned it into the boutique cheesery that we see today. We sampled cheeses at the factory, bought pieces for lunch, and teaming the dairy product with bread from the local bakery and a few condiments from the local stores, we enjoyed a picnic in the park.


After leaving Kenilworth, our last pit stop in the Mary Valley was Kandanga. We were disappointed to learn that the Mary Valley Rattler – a steam train adventure from Gympie to Imbil – no longer ran. Due to damage to the track in 2011, the train has been grounded. However, affected towns like Imbil and Kandanga continue to raise funds in an effort to bring back the tourist dollar. Imbil has converted the area beside the rail track to a nine-hole golf course, the Royal Imbil Golf Club Heritage Park, which is open to the public. You can play a round of social golf, or, if you want to play by yourself, you can pay at the honesty box at the old railway station. Just outside Imbil is the Mary Valley Koolewong Golf Course, which also welcomes RVs. They have 6 camp sites in a rural setting overlooking the golf course. At the suggestion of one of the local students, the Kandanga citizens hold regular sausage sizzles, and recently donated their first $1,000 to the cause. From our RV camp at Kandanga, we were able to visit Lake Borumba, the Borumba Deer Farm, and have fun driving the northern stretches of the Imbil State Forest. Take care on the forestry drives; bunya nuts were prolific at the time of our visit, and they could do some damage to your vehicle.

Our detour through the Sunshine Coast hinterland and Mary Valley came to an end as we reached ‘The Bruce’ just shy of Gympie. In ten days, we travelled approximately 500km, an achievement for us as we continue our journey around Australia. If the Sunshine Coast has a heart, we have discovered its soul – the Hinterlands.