Except for circus big tops, this could well be the biggest tent ever made. At more than 60 square metres, this tent is more spacious than my two-bedroom apartment.
The sun has set and here, beside the World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland, the creatures of the forest are getting jumpy. Dingoes howl above me in the mountains and the red-necked wallabies who kept me company most of the afternoon have gone into hiding. Outside is one of the most biodiverse rainforests left on Earth, but when I light the wood in the fireplace (the twigs are stacked, the newspaper's scrunched – all I need is a match) and roll down the canvas walls, it feelsevery bit as cosy as a country cottage.
I lie on a king-sized bed and look across a hardwood timber floor at two galvanised-tin French vintage bathtubs placed side by side in the bathroom. There's a flush toilet and hand-built basins crafted from local stone. Fancy, definitely, but it still feels like camping, probably because it smells like camping, and it sounds like camping, too. That familiar canvas smell from the tents of childhood; the damp, heady scent of slow-rotting forest floor, the waft of logs burning. And the sounds: the wind and the soft drip on canvas when gentle rain falls and temporarily blocks out the stars.
Nightfall owner Steve Ross might well have created one of the country's premium glamping experiences, but he says it's the bush that deserves the credit. It sits inside a deep gorge escarpment, on the edge of the 23 million-year-old Tweed Volcano; its plateaus and cliffs jut out all around us. Ross calls himself a minimalist, and I see where he's coming from. The tents – there's just five – blend with the forest and are spaced far enough apart that when I lift my tent flaps to shower with an unhindered view of the trees, it's only the red-necked wallabies that have to deal with the sight of me naked.
Nightfall is on 104 hectares of private land adjacent to Lamington National Park. The developed section makes up less than one hectare and the rest is bush, which Ross spends a good deal of his time returning to its former glory as parts of this area have been cleared for farming. It's located at the end of a narrow bitumen road beneath a big mountain range that separates us from NSW. Entry is by way of a track which crosses a swollen creek called Christmas. This is where the "day spa" is: you sit on hollowed-out rocks within its cascade and save money on a massage, though there are massages available on-site, should you prefer hands. The mountains that surround Nightfall are so sheer that base jumpers leap from the peaks. Less than 15 kilometres from camp lies the wreck of one of Australia's most famous plane crashes. It was here City of Brisbane, a Stinson Model A operated by Airlines of Australia, crashed in 1937.
Local bush pioneer Bernard O'Reilly set out to find survivors. He rescued two men and found the body of another, Jim Westray, who perished in his efforts to find help for the injured.. "Imagine trees growing so closely together that their tops interlace in one continuous canopy," O'Reilly wrote in Green Mountains,his tale of the saga. "Imagine that canopy so enveloped and smothered with leafy vine it would be possible to travel for miles on the tree tops without coming to Earth."
Visitors will find Westray's grave five kilometres away at the end of an easy trek through an unmarked trail beside a creek. There are numerous hikes from Nightfall through rainforest including a guided hike to the site of the crash, but Ross says most guests don't leave the property.
I sit on the wooden patio outside my tent and gaze at the towering cliffs beyond, part of one of the most species-rich and diverse areas of Australia, and the largest tract of Gondwana sub-tropical rainforest left on Earth. Later, I test the coffin-style bath as wallabies watch on. Wildlife abounds – there's platypus in the creeks, if you slow down long enough to spot them, and when you're not looking in the creek, keep your eyes skyward for koalas.
Guests can soak up the ambience of the bush from creek-side dining tables, where, when the weather permits, a private table is set up around our very own bend of the creek. When it's cooler – usually at night – meals are best enjoyed in the retreat's "restaurant", an open-air hut built around a log fire with enough style to call it luxurious, and enough rustic charm to feel like camping.
Guests start meals in group conversation over aperitifs, but couples soon pair off in the near-dark, later reconvening under the stars, out by the organic kitchen garden. On the first night pizza from an on-site wood-fired oven is served to guests their rooms, delivered with a bottle of wine and best eaten beside the fireplace, with the sounds of the bush all around.
FIVE THINGS TO DO IN THE GOLD COAST HINTERLAND
O'REILLYS RAINFOREST RETREAT
On the next mountain range over from Nightfall, O'Reillys Rainforest Retreat offers more than 160 kilometres of nature trails through Lamington National Park. Established by the O'Reilly family in 1926, the Retreat's rooms are built amid the forest. You can also climb into the rainforest canopy along a 180-metre-long suspension bridge.
This is surely Australia's most over-looked wine region, and its most spectacular. Boutique wineries and restaurants operate from historic homesteads and buildings, with unhindered views east over the Pacific Ocean, and west over the Dividing Range. Everything from verdelho to shiraz is grown here.
The hinterland is full of villages with bustling arts and crafts markets, art galleries and studios. Mount Tamborine has more than 60 arts and craft stores on one street (Long Road), along with artist's studios you can visit. Springbrook artist's co-operative, Craft Corner Gallery, is also a highlight.
The Gold Coast Hinterland has an abundance of waterfalls, some of which require multi-day hikes through undulating national park to access. Meanwhile Twin Falls near Springbrook, is accessible via an easy four kilometre return walk and is considered the best short walk in southern Queensland.
Scale the ranges beyond Currumbin Valley on a 20 kilometre loop with thrilling descents, or try south-east Queensland's most challenging trails at Nerang National Park on a track built for the 2018 Commonwealth Games through 1700 hectares of park.
Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Destination Gold Coast and Nightfall.
Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tiger fly daily to Gold Coast Airport. From there hire a car and drive two hours north-west to Nightfall via Beaudesert.
A tent in the forest with all meals and beverages, including alcohol, included costs $795 a night for a couple with a two-night minimum. See nightfall.com.au