Most people think the Sunny Coast is all about beaches and alfresco dining in Noosa, Mooloolaba and Caloundra but an entire alternative ecosystem is tucked into the folds of its ancient mountain ranges. In fact, there’s a whole jungle to explore in the Sunshine Coast hinterland…and some mighty fine raw materials for a gourmet getaway.
Black and white dairy cows graze on lime-green pastures. Avocado and macadamia trees burst out of the red earth. Ridge-top gardens peer over the Glasshouse Mountains to the blue Pacific and a family of distinctive villages beckons, each as idiosyncratic as other people’s children.
Two of the Great Walks of Queensland are here too. The 58-kilometer Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk and the 56-kilometer Conondale Range Great Walk rumble through the jungle to the evocative soundtrack of tropical birds and cicadas.
Narrows Escape Rainforest Lodge
Hardy hikers bunk down in campsites along the way but for those of us who prefer our walking in the wild with gourmet creature comforts, Mark and Jo Skinner from Narrows Escape Rainforest Lodge have created a brand new Luxe Trekking Package that also showcases the Sunny Coast’s exquisite local foods.
Partnering with Off Beat Eco Tours, who offer guided day hikes as well as seriously good feasting for famished hikers, the Luxe Trekking Package features two nights in newly renovated rainforest pavilions, a do-it-yourself gourmet barbecue and a delish dinner in Montville.
After licking on Colin James’ luscious ice cream as we browse the craft galleries in laid-back Bohemian Maleny, we arrive at Narrows Escape as the late-afternoon sun slants through the leafy canopy.
Our spacious pavilion has comfy couches, wood stove, full kitchen, huge spa bath and best of all, a hammock-draped deck overlooking a rainforest stream. Within minutes I’m ensconced there while my partner snacks on the welcome platter of local Maleny cheeses and chocolate.
That evening we enjoy a splendid degustation at The Long Apron Restaurant at nearby Spicer’s Clovelly Estate. The setting is stunning…French country style in an airy wooden Queenslander house…and the food sublime in that New Age listing-of-intriguing-ingredients kind of way.
Waking up to the cooing of wompoo fruit doves, we make our own breakfast from a feast of local treats: bananas and pineapple with Maleny Dairy’s splendid mango and passionfruit yoghurt, free-range eggs and bacon, and freshly delivered warm croissants.
Off Beat Eco Tours
Fully charged for our first day’s walk, we meet Caroline Bakker and Nathan Buchanan, the enthusiastic young owners of Off Beat Eco Tours, who’ve brought backpacks with water bottles, gourmet snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and rain ponchos.
Today, we are walking 11 kilometres from Lake Baroon to Kondalilla Falls.
On the rainforest boardwalk, Caroline explains how the Rastafarian-like roots of the slender piccabeen palm actually migrate in search of water, hence their nickname ‘walking palm’. Nathan shows us the ten-kilo cone of a bunya nut, highly prized by the local Gubbi Gubbi people and still celebrated today with a tri-annual festival.
We see lace monitor lizards and green tree snakes and gaze up at giant ramrod-straight flooded gums as a catbird startles us with its child-like cry. Enjoying homemade apple and cinnamon damper and ice-cold fruit juice for morning tea, we watch the graceful flight of yellow-tailed black cockatoos overhead.
Getting into the rhythm of the journey our minds settle and we feel the subtle shifts of vegetation as we move between open eucalypt forest, with its grass trees and termite mounds, and the soft earthy paths of the darker, denser rainforest.
Water is a welcome companion on this sultry day. We gaze down at Obi Obi Creek from a lofty lookout, walk beside limpid pools, slip and slide over smooth round rocks to splash in a stream and…hot and sweaty…celebrate the end of the walk under the cool waters of Kondalilla Falls as thunder cracks across the sky.
Moments before a tropical downpour, we reach the picnic shelter where Nathan and Caroline have laid out a feast on white tablecloths. Clinking glasses of sparkling wine, we devour bush-tucker-inspired dips and organic chicken with cucumber, green apple, coriander, mint and spring onion salad.
There’s plenty of time for a relaxing spa-bath back at Narrows Retreat before we grill our delicious barbecue fixings which we wash down with an earthy Shiraz from local Flame Hill Vineyard.
The next day’s four-kilometer walk is a doddle in the park, Conondale National Park to be exact. After a 4WD river crossing, Nathan and Caroline lead the way across the pink and green pebbles of Booloumba Creek. Yesterday’s rain has left everything gleaming. Delicate native ginger flowers sway in the breeze. Rows of tiny ferns glisten. Yellow fungi bloom in the dampness and the ever-present strangler figs hitchhike up tree trunks in their fight for light.
This is what inspired renowned Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy when he created his Strangler Cairn sculpture to celebrate the Conondale Range Great Walk. We discover his enormous egg-shaped rock cairn with a small strangler fig growing from its apex. The fig will eventually envelope the art till it crumbles in the relentless surge of the rainforest.
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