Mountains, rainforests, peace and quiet. It could only be the Gold Coast, writes Jane Jurgens.
Aussies love nicknames for people and places, and there couldn't be a better one than "the green behind the gold". The pity is how few Kiwis leave behind the Gold Coast's more obvious attractions and take a little time to venture into the mountains, rainforests and villages just a short drive inland.
Quirky Tamborine Mountain, World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park and the wider Scenic Rim region are a complete change of pace and space from the coast's better-known beaches, restaurants and nightlife.
Rent a car and head for the hills. It's easy enough to take in Tamborine Mountain and a part of Lamington in a day — but you'd be short-changing the experience and what the hinterland has to offer. Take two or three instead.
Less than 30 minutes drive from the beaches, Tamborine is a quaint mountaintop village — think Titirangi on a way bigger scale but with very much the same vibe.
Arts and crafts, tea and coffee shops, cake and fudge treats are dotted through the town's main street. shops, cake stalls, brewery and specialist cheese shop and wander through the scenic township.
"The Mountain" is also famous for its hobby farms, growing avocados, kiwifruit and macadamia nuts, as well as its artisan food and beverage producers of wine, beer and cheeses and a distillery crafting spirits and liqueurs. No problem about getting home: there are numerous B&Bs ranging from home comforts to five-star lodges here.
At just about every bend in the road there's a walking track through rainforests with panoramas of cliffs and waterfalls. It can be as short as the 1.5km track to Curtis Falls, a gentle stroll down the track lined with eucalypts and palms to the cascade, or the more strenuous 3.1km Witches Falls circuit.
Drive south for an hour into Lamington National Park, a gem of southeast Queensland.
The road itself is one of the attractions — 50km of single lanes, hairpin bends, blind corners, major roadworks to repair cyclone damage — and spellbinding views over sheer cliffs.
As you ascend, the air clears and cools to anything from 4-7C lower than the coast below.
The road ends at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, a family-owned guesthouse and resort on private land inside the national park.
The park is more than 20,000ha of sub-tropical rainforest on the Lamington Plateau in the McPherson Range, saved from logging and farming in 1915, four years after the O'Reilly family settled in the area, planning a dairy farm. That didn't turn out well, but the hospitality business did.
The resort is the centre of more than 150km of walks designed by Romeo Lahey and constructed during the Depression in the 1930s. He noticed that cows' paths on the hills never had a gradient of more than 1:10 and laid out the tracks so walkers would not be out of breath. Some are short, others take up to seven hours.
The Tree Top Walk, 15m above the ground, provides the opportunity to walk through the forest canopy; braver hearts can climb the ladder up a strangler fig to an observation deck 30m above the ground.
Lamington's plants are among the oldest and rarest on Earth. Roots of some Antarctic beeches are more than5000 years old; other plants are relics from the last ice age. The Lamington underground orchid is one of only four flowering plants to complete its life cycle entirely underground.
The area is also home to an incredible variety of wildlife, including marsupials, rare and threatened birds and butterflies. The blue Lamington crayfish is found only here, in pools and streams 450m above sea level.
Feel like cooling off? Hard to beat a plunge into a waterfall. Stop off at the freshwater swimming holes of Currumbin Rock Pools or — for the more adventurous — Cougal Cascades, a little further upriver.
Perhaps the hinterland's greatest surprise is its emerging wine scene — there are a growing number of vineyards around Tamborine, Mt Nathan, Canungra (owned by the O'Reilly family), Scenic Rim and Lamington, most of which have cellar-door tastings or restaurants.
But you're still on the Gold Coast and you should probably honour Aussie tradition.
Surfing superstars and local legends Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson created Balter Brewing Company with some mates only three years ago, but they've already won a bunch of awards. Their brewery at Currumbin Waters (a few minutes from the rock pools, just saying) is a more-than-friendly and not-a-little-stylish operation.
Best time to visit, if you can swing it, is Sunday afternoon when the food trucks, exclusive beers and tunes roll out. Try your hand at World Tinnie Hurling, invented on the premises and vying with petanque as only one of two sports best played with an alcoholic beverage in one hand.
That'll probably set you up to drive back to Burleigh Heads and see if you can surf as well as they can brew.