A Prehistoric Rain Forest Down Under

Spring has sprung in the northern hemisphere, and fall in the southern, marking the drawing to a close of a particularly nasty winter for us, and a particularly brutal summer for those down under. With Australian brush fires finally being extinguished, and with the polar vortex finally releasing its icy grip on America, thoughts now can turn to outdoor adventures that don’t involve ice-crusted beard or smoke jumpers. While Australia is known to those of us in the United States primarily for its surf beaches and its Outback desert full of steak houses and marauding bands of punks in dune buggies, I always enjoy seeking out the slightly less common avenues of leisure and adventure. Which is how I found myself in the Gold Coast Hinterlands, a sprawling collection of mountains cloaked in mist and primordial rain forests that are home to prehistoric plants and a collection of oddball wildlife.

After an indulgent night in Brisbane, where they have top rope climbing and bouldering on cliffs right in the middle of the city, we took our car inland a little, up a winding mountain road and into Springbrook National Park, famous for its rain forest and waterfalls but little known and even less visited by tourists from outside of Australia, who tend to flock to the nearby Gold Coast to claim a few inches of sand on the famous and famously crowded beaches. In the mountains — from which you can even see the towers of Gold Coast luxury resorts along the distant horizon — the crowds drop dramatically, and you can walk for hours among gigantic trees and tumbling waterfalls where you’ll see more wallabies than humans.

With no restaurants nearby, we stocked up on groceries and headed to our cabin at the Lyrebird Retreat, a perfect mix of remote and luxurious — a cabin nestled in the rain forest at the top of the mountain, but also a cabin with a jacuzzi tub and a complimentary bottle of champagne in the fridge. With no cell phone reception or internet service, it’s the perfect place to disconnect and hit the many trails that snake through Springbrook National Park. Trails are well-maintained and well-marked, and while none of them are what you’d call primitive, they are mountain and waterfall trails, so prepare for some wet and muddy spots and a lot of steep ascents and descents.

We opted for a couple hikes: the relatively short Best Of All Lookout Trail (it was a really nice lookout) and the longer Purlingbrook Falls loop with a spur to Waringa Pool. Both hikes are like plunging yourself into Jurassic Park, only with kookaburras instead of velociraptors, or like visiting a forest where sprites and trolls are likely to be relaxing under giant ferns and smoking those long-stemmed pipes. Massive, gnarled trees covered with moss, drooping vines, incredible waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas that let you see as far as the Gold Coast and Pacific ocean.