Away from the coastal glitz is a wonderland worth exploration, writes Lorna Subritsky.
Word Association 101. Hear the words Gold Coast, and immediately you picture busy beaches, soaring skyscrapers and frenzied theme parks, right?
But just 30km from Surfers Paradise is a tranquil oasis in the Gold Coast Hinterland: Tamborine Mountain, a lush volcanic rim plateau that rises 560m above sea level and is home to Queensland's first national park.
It's a treasure trove of flora and fauna; from waterfalls to wallabies, butterflies to brushturkeys, koalas to carpet pythons (harmless, I'm assured). The wildlife and scenery is simply breathtaking and transports you light years away from the metropolitan melee.
I want to pack a lot into my day trip, so for a great overview (quite literally) of the place where the gumtrees meet the rainforest, I start at family-owned Rainforest Skywalk, a high-tech elevated steel walkway through 12ha of magnificent greenery.
Not one for heights, I was initially apprehensive, particularly about The Cantilever which soars 30m above the rainforest floor. My fears were forgotten though as I drank in the view — even some unruly children ignoring the signs and rocking the cantilever didn't spark any anxiety.
Depending on when you visit, expect to see vibrantly coloured butterflies, crystal clear rock pools, abundant birdlife and fascinating fauna as you travel through the upper, middle and lower canopies — I was particularly enamoured by the strangler fig and its symbiotic relationship with its host. I also noticed a plaque dedicated to motor racing legend Sir Jack Brabham — such a fan of the Rainforest Skywalk that his ashes were scattered here. The self-guided walk is around 1.5km in total and takes about 45 minutes, though if you include a visit to the cafe and giftshop, it would be easy to while away a couple of hours.
Anywhere that's been named in the Top 10 Retreats in the South Pacific by Trip Advisor deserves a visit I reckon, so my next stop is The Escarpment Retreat.
Walking through the wrought iron gates, it's like I've entered another world with 1.5ha of botanical gardens and rainforest, a mountain stream and waterfall, and cliff views to the Gold Coast and beyond. Perfect for a romantic getaway, each divine split-level villa boasts a sunken lounge with a log fire and feather couches, a private balcony, a four-poster canopy bed and a decadently deep spa bath.
There's a Gold Class cinema on site and a day spa too, so I temper my disappointment at not being able to stay the night by submitting to the skilful hands of Shannon for an hour of aptly named Body Bliss: a full body massage with an indulgent foot scrub, hot towels and a tension-release head massage that removes knots I didn't even realise I had.
Rejuvenated but hungry, my next stop is just up the road in Eagle Heights. Tea and Niceties offers just that: the ultimate high-tea experience in manicured gardens that back on to Curtis Falls.
While the European-inspired tea room is contemporary, it also brews up the grace and elegance of a bygone era, and it's a concept embraced by its patrons as well. It's a busy Saturday when I visit, and over welcome Champagne I admire the floral dresses and hats donned by the mothers and daughters, old friends, and bridal shower groups in attendance.
Although vastly outnumbered, the odd male I spot also looks perfectly happy, particularly when the generous high tea itself arrives. All freshly made on-site, there are delicate petit fours, cakes, melting moments, truffles, profiteroles and velvety-smooth pannacotta; warm scones with mixed berry jam and cream; and as if that weren't enough, hot and cold savouries too. To accompany it all, I choose a dark chocolate tea from the extensive list, and it's every bit as wonderful as it sounds.
To walk off a fraction of the calories just consumed, I finish my day with a wander through Gallery Walk, a stretch of more than 70 art, craft, gift and culinary shops with something for every taste and every budget. Get your shopping in early though; most businesses in the area seem to close at 4pm.
Lastly, no visit to Tamborine Mountain would be complete without a scenic shot for the album; there's many great lookout spots with panoramic views to the coast or inland, but a local reliably informs me that the best view of the Gold Coast is from Eagle Heights Resort, and she's not wrong. As I gaze at the jumble of high rises in the hazy distance, I kick myself for not exploring the Hinterland on previous Gold Coast trips.
Getting there: Emirates flies a daily A380 service between Auckland and Brisbane.