Beyond Brisbane, it's glorious

Geoff Strong explores the little-known attractions of the hinterland.

A cold wet afternoon spent sipping warm soup around a blazing woodstove is not the tourist-luring image Queensland tends to project, but there are aspects of the state that don't fit the mould of coast high-rise, reef islands and languid stockmen.

Only a short drive from Brisbane are a patchwork of towns and villages in the hill country they like to call the hinterland. Mount Tambourine and the villages of the Lamington Plateau are cool, green rainforested places behind the glitz of the Gold Coast, as is the Maleny district further north behind the Sunshine Coast.

In early European days before air-conditioning, they offered a refreshing retreat from coastal heat for people used to more temperate climates. Their purpose was a bit like the hill stations of British India.

Among the least-known to outsiders are two tiny settlements, so close to Brisbane they could easily have been swallowed by urban sprawl if not for a national park. The closest, on the edge of the rainforest is Mount Nebo. A bit higher and right in the rainforest centre, is the magnificently named Mount Glorious.

Its village is a handful of houses, about half a dozen restaurants and cafes (none open in the evening) and three places that offer accommodation. Apart from a buzz of daytrippers, many of them motorcyclists attracted to mountain road's curves, there are few permanents residents. Some locals tend to be slightly eccentric: artists, sculptors, yoga teachers and organic apiarists.

At 680 metres it is cool and high enough to attract the rain that makes rainforest. It had attracted it the day we arrived for an overnight stay in early July. We spent the previous few days watching whales, swimming and kayaking in the jade waters of North Stradbroke Island off Brisbane's coast, where the sun had obligingly shone. Here the cool misty wet made a dramatic contrast.

Because of the national park there is limited private land here, much of it dating from soldier settlers' parcels offered as reward for surviving the trenches of World War I.

Like much soldier-settled land it was dubious value, poorly suited to the kind of farming attempted. Now there is little agriculture apart from a winery near Mount Nebo using the red hybrid grape chambourcin. One product called Dr Red, is said to be a smooth drop infused with a range of unusual substances including antioxidants from olive leaf, citrus skins, grape seeds and skins, plus ginger. We didn't try it.

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Finding accommodation proved tricky at first. Mount Glorious Getaway Cottages were booked out and Turkey's Nest cottages seemed closed so we were directed to Maiala Park Lodge. It was built about a decade ago on a hillside in the style of a traditional Queenslander.

The owners have done a convincing job. I grew up in such a house and was fooled at first. There are four guest rooms plus cottage, swimming pool and tennis court. The room decor is heavy chintz with Queensland touches like cane chairs and ceiling fan. But the shared lounge and dining rooms, displaying collections of china, paintings and antique clocks, felt like a real family home and these rooms are warmed by gas open fires.

There was no choice but to eat in for dinner which cost $70 a person for three good courses and a bottle of wine. Accommodation was $195 a night including a breakfast that can stretch to four courses.

Management, by couple Frank and Ada, bears no resemblance to Fawlty Towers, but it would probably be safer to mention the war than to talk climate change. Ada is a robust denialist.

Walks in the rainforst proved a safer option than this topic and a kilometre up the road the park that gives the lodge its name offers well-graded walks that are quoted as taking between one and three hours. When it has been raining there are streams and waterfalls to visit too. The walk we chose was supposed to take an hour and a half but we completed it easily in 45 minutes.

The extra time allowed us to spend diminishing daylight in the rustic looking Elm Haus Cafe. We were suprised to find its timber lined interior aglow from a blazing wood heater and about a dozen people seated around it sipping coffee or soup.

Run by Karl a self proclaimed "crazy German," closing time like most mountain cafes was supposed to be 4.30, which was when we arrived. The other guests were daytrippers from Brisbane. Deprived of real winter, they seemed to be getting their dose here enjoying the friendly warm interior. We left about 6pm but no-one else appeared ready to move.

Queensland used to boast being beautiful and perfect on alternate days. They illustrated this vanity with sunlit beach pictures, but as Mount Glorious proves such concepts are relative.

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