Natural wonders off the beaten track

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An eclectic and diverse array of natural wonders, ancient rainforests and treasures await those who go off-grid and explore the Gold Coast region and its surrounds along The Rainforest Way.

This 650-km self-drive tourism route consists of 11 magnificent journeys that weave in and out of south east Queensland, northern NSW and parts of the Scenic Rim.

It’s one of the few cross-border projects in Australia that allows visitors, travellers and locals to get off the busy highway and explore the multitude of quiet towns, villages and eco-tourism ventures that inhabit some of the country’s most spectacular scenery.

From families taking kids on day trips to expose them to natural wonders such as glow worm caves and diving holes, to free independent travellers intent on spending a week soaking up the positive ions that are abundance in nature, the possibilities are endless.

Despite its name, The Rainforest Way is more than just about exploring rainforests, it’s a chance to connect with something real, to enjoy the journey and not just the destination. To meet some of the people who have lived among some of the 14 incredible World Heritage-Listed National Park for decades.

With the ancient volcanic caldera of Wollumbin (Mt Warning) National Park at its heart, the main drive of The Rainforest Way takes you on a journey through the soul of Australia’s Green Cauldron where you’ll be linked with the quaint and historical towns and villages of Casino, Kyogle, Rathdowney, Beaudesert, Gold Coast, Tamborine Mountain, Murwillumbah, Nimbin, Lismore and Byron Bay.

You’ll have chance to experience stunning escarpments and an amazing concentration of primitive plants, including the world’s highest concentration of ancient Antarctic Beech trees and more than 170 different bird species.

While you can research all 11 routes here, we’ve unearthed a little bit more information about three of the touring routes and included a sneak peek into the delights you will be treated to during your travels.

Tamborine Circuit

Just a stone’s throw from the Gold Coast’s iconic beaches and funky beachside scene is the Tamborine Circuit. As you weave your way up to some of the world’s best preserved stands of sub-tropical rainforests in Lamington National Park, you’ll be treated to amazing rainforest views.

At Beechmont you can either carry on towards the Binna Burra Section of the park or continue to Canungra where you can access the Green Mountains Section of Lamington National Park. As you get close to Binna Burra Lodge, nestled within the World Heritage rainforest, it feels as though the mountains are closing around you and the temperature plummets.

Binna Burra Lodge offers accommodation, safari and powered tent sites and luxury rooms with unbeatable views of the coastline and rainforest. If you’re just day tripping then there’s 125km of graded walking trails, a cafe and convenience story and plenty of wildlife roaming in and around the area.

Back down the hill at Canungra you can decide to drive 36km through a winding and narrow yet picturesque road to the Green Mountains section. Pack a picnic or even a tent and stay at the camping area or choose a full or half-day walk among densely-forested ranges and valleys that conceal the area’s ancient volcanic origins and dramatic lookouts.

For a longer stay, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat offers rooms with breathtaking views as well as a day spa, school holiday activities, guided walks, a segway safari, birds of prey and wildlife show and so much more.

Before you leave Canungra heading towards Tamborine, you must stop and have a famous meat pie at The Outpost Cafe, a cafe built in 1946 by the Jope Family to serve 120 meals a day to the Kokoda Army Barracks; that still exist today.

While you’re there, take the kids to feed some alpacas at Mountview Alpaca Farm, saddle up and have a ride at nearly Gumnuts Farm and Horseriding Resort or enjoy a tasting at Sarabah Estate Vineyard and Winery, bookings essential.

Just before you reach Tamborine Village you must stop and watch hang gliders as they dive off the mountain, it’s also a fabulous spot to capture the sunset across the Scenic Rim. There’s a few takeaway places nearby if you forget to pack a picnic. The much-loved Gallery Walk in the heart of the village will appeal to artisans of all flavours and on alternate Sundays Tamborine hosts arts, crafts and food markets.

Springbrook-Natural Bridge Circuit

Another two-prong route, this scenic drive takes you up to the Springbrook mountain plateau and the amazing World Heritage-listed waterfalls, lookouts and rainforests of Springbrook National Park and across the ranges to Natural Bridge.

This circuit is unique in that nature speaks for itself, it’s definitely a must-see for nature lovers who prefer flora and fauna over tourist operators, businesses and people.

Leaving from Mudgeeraba you’ll wind up and along a steep yet stunning road with coastline views and plenty of cabins and chalets such as Mouses House Retreat. It features 11 enchanting abodes where songs of native birds and the haunting call of nocturnal animals will have you in awe.

A range of lookouts and walks are dotted about and include the Canyon Lookout, offering the Twin Falls 4km return walk, and Purling Brook Falls, where you cross a stunning suspension bridge. It’s worth driving a little further to the Best Of All Lookout for it is truly that.

As soon as alight your car you can instantly feel the change in climate, it’s as if you’ve been transported to another time in history. Even on a hot summer’s day it’s cold and damp and you’ll shiver as you meander through a gentle 15-minute walk past 2000-year-old Antarctic Beach trees.

You’re led to the edge of the plateau and greeted with a stunning view to Wollumbin (Mt Warning) and beyond to Byron Bay, showing the incredible geological formation of the largest remnant shield volcano that dominated the region 23-million-years-ago. A photographer’s paradise!

Before you head down the mountain, enjoy at coffee at Dancing Waters Cafe where owner Anastasia serves a plethora of homemade and local delights, including something for vegans and those who are gluten-free

If you want to stay and enjoy the serenity a little longer, Echo Valley Farm Stay is a historical farm and a certified organic kiwifruit orchard where host Rozie offers much for young and old including goats, chickens and a renovated self-contained cottage with a fire.

Once back down the mountain you can travel 38km through the spectacular Numinbah Valley towards Natural Bridge. Kids will love imagining who lives in the naturally formed rock cave completed with a cascading waterfall, and at night you can return and have a tour of glow worms who reside in the cave.

The Scenic Rim Way (Qld)

Arguably one of the most photogenic places in Australia, the Scenic Rim Way is an east to west crossing connecting Aratula on the Cunningham Highway to Route 90 through the Gold Coast and Pacific Highway.

It’s packed with routes, tails and loops that showcase scenic lookouts, wineries, lakes, national parks and quaint country towns such as Boonah. Antique lovers will enjoy perusing wares at art galleries and craft shops in Aratula.

Starting at Nerang, Highway 90 travels through the Scenic Rim and offers so much along the way including a stop at the historic town of Canungra where you can take the road locals affectionately call the Goat Track to Tamborine Mountain or continue to Beaudesert.

It’s the largest town in the region and from here you can stock up on supplies before you go camping or travelling to Mt Barney National Park. The park’s camping area can only be reached on foot and conditions are rugged with no facilities, a permit is also required.

There are three privately run camping area with showers, toilets and barbecues, they are Mt Barney Lodge Country Retreat campground, Bigriggen Reserve and Flanagan’s Reserve. Mt Barney Lodge Country Retreat campground is near Yellow Pinch Reserve. Bigriggen Reserve and Flanagan’s Reserve are closer to the Boonah–Rathdowney Road.

While you’re here take time to travel to Boonah before a short drive to the Cunningham Highway. Nearby you might like to explore the towns of Kalbar, located in the fertile Fassifern Valley with magnificent views; it has a rich German history and has historical accommodation and heritage-listed buildings.

The village of Harrisville is 20 minutes from Boonah Harrisville was also home to the pioneer film-makers, Charles and Elsa Chauvel, producers of Errol Flynn’s first epic, In the Wake of the Bounty. Here you can visit Normanby Wines or Paradine Estate Wines for a tasting or enjoy a drink at a country pub or a meal in a heritage cafe.

Don’t forget to take your mountain bike, horse or walking shoes to explore the 40 kilometres of multi-use trails at Mt Joyce Recreation Area at the Wyaralong Dam. The lake is popular for paddle craft, fishing and campers. Permits are not required for boating or fishing at Wyaralong.

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