Two unruly bundles of white feathers that Aborigines call kookaburra, sit nearby and mock me.
Two unruly bundles of white feathers that Aborigines call kookaburra, sit nearby and mock me. Craig Warhurst

Natural side reveals hidden gems

TALK to Gold Coast locals and they'll proudly tell you: "We've got everything here on the Goldie, mate, it's Disneyland, Las Vegas and the Copacabana all rolled up in one."

But probe a little deeper and you'll find there's also a green and pleasant world in the hinterland. It just takes a little exploration to unearth its hidden gems.

The secret is to head for the hills, following a touring route called the Great Sunshine Way. Beginning in Brisbane, the Gold Coast portion of the route makes a large loop around the hinterland highways and byways, taking in charming hilltop towns such as Mount Tamborine and Eagle Heights.

On a sparkling day, I follow the Nerang-Beaudesert Road up to the lush cool rainforest of Lamington National Park, one of Australia's most treasured natural wonders.

I sample wine at a cellar door, delve into art and craft shops and buy fresh fruit at a farm gate. At every twist and turn, the Great Sunshine Way offers something new and exciting.

There's a full programme of daily guided activities and the main attraction is the Tree Top Walk. This has an ecologically soft footprint, a birds-eye view and a bevy of vociferous crimson rosellas and stately king parrots, which get intimately acquainted with my head and arms, pecking furiously when I offer birdseed. Flitting about in the canopy is a cheeky willy wagtail, and a bevy of variegated fairy-wrens and little honeyeaters.My destination is a mountain haven, one of the delightful oases of solitude and serenity in this vast forest region, O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat. Staying here is like creating one's own Discovery Channel of natural wonders.

At ground level, I spot a nest full of blue bottletops and silver can tabs, gathered by the elusive playboy of the forest, the satin bowerbird, but there's no sign of this curious kleptomaniac.

I join the Mammal Search and go one-on-one with cute critters called potoroos, bandicoots and pademelons.

I'm on a natural high with all these sensory delights - living the life of O'Reilly. Managing director Shane O'Reilly, tells me his family has been welcoming visitors to the park for 90 years. Their luxury guesthouse and rustic chalets are in the heart of Australia's largest sub-tropical rainforest.

Driving north to Tamborine Mountain, I view the famous Gallery Walk of art and craft shops near Eagle Heights. At the sublime Songbirds Rainforest Retreat, I dine under a canopy of towering eucalypts in a lush garden setting.

My gourmet table amid the rainforest is surrounded by vivid green fernery and dappled with soft evening light. I sit in blissful peace listening to the distant murmurings of wompoo pigeons high in the canopy; heralding the witching time of night with their haunting onomatopoeic call.

Two unruly bundles of white feathers that Aborigines call kookaburra, sit on a nearby branch and mock me with an infectious chuckle that brings a smile to my face. Their cackling call is the signature sound of the Australian bush and I find them pleasantly sociable and engaging as dining companions.

Songbirds' owner, Bonnie Rodwell, explains how the retreat was created by lovers for lovers. 'There are six spacious villas here amid an enchanting eucalypt forest and every day is Valentine's Day. Romance blossoms like frangipani and hibiscus flowers in spring.'

On my final day, the touring route leads me to an area called Mt Cotton. I have a soft spot for sweeping rural views and the one from Sirromet Wines is a knockout, extending all the way to Moreton Bay. It's a view worth toasting and, fortunately, the means to do so is close at hand because in this idyllic spot owner Terry Morris has created Queensland's most modern, award-wining winery.