There's more to southeast Queensland than just its iconic beaches, writes Conal Hanna.
Like a lot of Australians, I grew up facing the beach. Quite literally, at one point, when my parents owned one of those infinite seaside take-aways you find dotted like sentry points all around the perimeter of this island.
A move to Queensland's Sunshine Coast when I was 5 only exacerbated the trend. The land of 'beautiful one day, perfect the next' or, to quote a more recent tourism campaign, 'where Australia shines', brand Queensland remains inextricably linked with sun, sand and surf. So much so that many interstaters seem surprised to find there's anything else to do here.
Not that I can talk. Now city bound in Brisbane, I must confess to generally treating weekend getaways as a chance to catch a wave somewhere.
Which is a pity, really, as southeast Queensland has as much to offer the would-be tree-changer as it does the sea-changer. There are nine national parks in the southeast corner alone, along with an array of state parks, forests and reserves.
Travel half an hour inland from the Gold Coast, and you'll find the wonders of Lamington National Park, with its waterfalls, glow worms and 160km of walking trails, surrounded by an ever-increasing number of wineries and B&Bs nearby. The Sunshine Coast, too, boasts the bustling three Ms – Maleny, Mapleton and Montville - along with the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk, a 58 kilometre, multi-day hike through the Blackall Range.
But perhaps the most neglected of the region's hinterland remains that closest to Brisbane. While tourists and residents alike have marvelled at the renovations to have taken place in the front room of the Queensland capital over the past decade, there's also a pristine, unspoilt back yard here worth exploring.
Starting with the Mt Coot-tha Forest, just five kilometres from the CBD, bushland sprawls north-west in an expanding triangle, through the Enoggera Reservoir, Brisbane Forest Park, D'Aguilar National Park and Bunyaville Forest Reserve. It's invigorating to have so much green space so close the city centre. But it's also easily taken for granted. Why is it that the attractions closest to home take the longest to get off your arse and see? I've hiked a few treks in my time, from Tasmania to Peru, yet never felt obliged to pull on the boots and drive an hour to climb a peak called, of all things, Mt Glorious. (There's also Mt Pleasant, which one can only assume feels inadequate in comparison).
I'm ashamed to say it took an invite to convince us to ignore the ocean's siren song and go west for the weekend. We're here for the relaunch of the Clear Mountain Lodge, a long-time retreat nestled among the gum trees which has recently been given a multi-million dollar makeover by Mercure.
Having spent the day tramping around Mt Glorious, we're ready for a bit of luxury. Chatting upon arrival to a fellow guest whose house was flooded in January is a reminder that Brisbane has rarely been in greater need of some time to unwind.
And there could be few better places to do it. Looking out from Clear Mountain across the contours of Lake Samsonvale, we're overwhelmed by the silence. The tranquillity is deliciously, emphatically mind-numbing. Before long my brain has resorted to contemplating the big questions of life, like 'I wonder if the lines on the palms of your hand are symmetrical?'. The serenity is all the more startling when you drag yourself away from the lake and turn 180 degrees to see the Brisbane CBD less than an hour's drive away.
The hotel is seeking to become a luxury spa destination, and it certainly has the tools for the trade, including a $10,000 imported stone bath and heated, vibrating German massage beds which ensure one side of your body doesn't feel neglected while the staff work their magic on your other half.
As hard as that is to take, we're also eager to get out and explore what else is nearby.
As you'd expect, the attractions are largely natural, be it water activities on Samsonvale or the neighbouring Lake Kurwongbah, or the many bush, bike or horse riding trails. The region also takes a pride in its heritage, something largely ignored on the nearby coasts, which history buffs can absorb at the Pine Rivers Heritage Museum or while exploring the markets at Old Petrie Town.
Dotted amongst all this is a string of pleasant local communities in which to meander away the hours. Samford and Dayboro are my kind of towns. Small, tourist-friendly, but unpretentious, they manage to welcome visitors without sacrificing a genuine local identity. Some of the most regular visitors here come by motorbike, with two-wheelers filling the car parks outside local pubs while their owners relax after a morning navigating the contours of the local terrain.
And the roads do make for great driving, with a panoramic vista around every corner, from the forested mountains to, when you're high enough, Australia's longest bridge at Redcliffe and out to Moreton Bay beyond.
Breathing in the fresh mountain air, the view of the ocean can't help but remind me of all those families down below, no doubt clamouring for a spot of sand on a crowded beach. Suckers.
Conal Hanna stayed as a guest of the Clear Mountain Lodge.
Clear Mountain Lodge
564 Clear Mountain Road, Clear Mountain Queensland
Getting there Clear Mountain is less than an hour's drive from central Brisbane. It's accessible via the northern suburb of Strathpine, but the more scenic drive is to head northwest from the city, out through the suburb of Enogerra and the town of Samford.
How much Rooms at Clear Mountain Lodge start from $179 for a standard room, or else there's the weekend Romantic Stopover package, including a two-course dinner for two, a bottle of bubbly and chocolates, breakfast and a 12pm checkout, for $345.
Perfect for A great escape. On-site spa Stephanie's will knead your troubles away.
Don't forget A good book. It's quiet out here.
More information http://clearmountainlodge.com.au, (07) 3298 5100