Photo by: Lamington NP Tourism and Events Queensland
The one thing that most people don’t realise about Australia is its vastness – in size, it rivals the USA (although it has one of the lowest population densities in the world by space). It is, after all, the world’s largest island and home to a range of eco-systems, with tropical rainforests in the northeast, mountain ranges in the east, and dry desert in the middle. Most of the population lives within 20km of the ocean, occupying a suburban, southeastern arc from southern Queensland to Adelaide.
Its harsh outback interior has forced much of Australia to become a coastal country, and for most visitors it has become a land of endless summers known for its great outdoors coupled with a thriving beach scene and casual friendly culture.
One of the most popular destinations is the Gold Coast, which straddles the border between Queensland and New South Wales. This strip of land between the mountains and the impossibly long coastline is home to lively cities, beautiful surf beaches, and a chain of national parks packed with wildlife and stunning mountain views.
The coast is a virtually unbroken 40km-long strip of beach, stretching from South Stradbroke Island to Surfers Paradise and Burleigh Heads, and continues down to the New South Wales border at Coolangatta.
In spite of being known as the ‘Glitter Strip’, there are plenty of things to do that won’t cost you a cent. From the beach to the mountainous hinterland, markets and music festivals, there’s bound to be something to check out.
NORTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES
Providing a buffer between New South Wales’ big cities to the south and Queensland’s Gold Coast to the north, the North Coast of New South Wales offers an altogether quiet and varied escape.
Here, you’ll find cute little turn-of-the-century towns and villages dotted throughout the rolling farm landscape, where farmers rub shoulders with city slickers, and a strong hippie vibe can be felt in towns like Nimbin and Mullumbimby.
You’ll also find lush farmlands – with grazing cattle – interspersed with tracts of World Heritage parks.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet surf beach, meals made with fresh local produce, awesome hikes in the hinterlands, or a psychic reading, you can get it all here along this stretch of coast.
Queensland’s hinterland towns are known for their beautiful wooden Queenslander-style houses, which can be found along a scenic route from Ipswich to Toowoomba, both established at the turn of the century during the rail boom.
NSW also has a few notable towns with heritage architecture, including Chillingham which is known for its colourful store. The laid-back town of Mullumbimby is known for its meditative experiences and the weekly Mullumbimby Farmers Market as well as the eclectic annual Mullum Music Festival.
A number of quirky small towns are scattered across Wollumbin National Park, including Nimbin, Australia’s most famous hippie destination; Uki, a thriving arts and crafts village with a general store and post office; and Federal, an outpost with a general store and a very popular Japanese-run cafe.
These are all easily accessible from Murwillumbah, a hilly town which houses many Art Deco buildings.
The National Parks are where you’ll find the views, flora and fauna. You can trek through ancient rainforests, walk under waterfalls and swim in mountain streams. There are plenty of bushwalking trails and clubs to help you navigate the terrain. Most of these trails lead to amazing look-outs that show off the coastal skyline, beaches or hinterland.
Springbrook National Park
Not far from Gold Coast, Springbrook is where you can tackle a hiking route, like the Purling Brook Falls (1.5 hours; 4km) with its pretty rock pools, or simply admire the view from any of its lookouts, like the aptly named ‘Best of all Lookout’ in Mudgeeraba or the Canyon Lookout where you can see two waterfalls and the main strip of the Gold Coast off in the distance.
Another highlight is the Natural Arch – a breathtaking waterfall in a cave where glow worms hang out.
Lamington National Park
Home to the famed O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk (180m) which takes you through a rainforest canopy from 15m above ground; comprised of 9 suspension bridges and 2 observation decks it’s the first of its kind in Australia.
Other hiking trails take you to Moran’s Falls (4.6km), Pat’s Bluff (5.4km), or Elabana Falls (7.6km); you can overnight at O’Reilly’s Guesthouse to tackle the 46km-long Border Track that takes you to Binna Burra. Approaching Lamington is Canungra Valley, where you’ll find a couple of vineyards and cellar doors.
Tamborine National Park
While it has walking tracks in six sections of the mountain, most are short, like the Curtis Falls track (1.1km) that takes you through towering eucalypt and gum forests along a creek. The Skywalk (1.5 kms) is a combination of forest trails, 300 metres of steel bridges through the canopy, and a 40m cantilever bridge at 30m above the creek and rainforest below.
The main draw on this mountain are the numerous wineries (and one quirky Tudor-styled distillery), in addition to a plethora of dining options. In addition, numerous lookouts provide vistas all the way to the ocean.
Wollumbin National Park
Located between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, Wollumbin National Park (formerly Mt Warning National Park) provides the perfect base to explore the cosy mountain villages, lush rainforests, towering waterfalls, golden beaches, funky craft markets, hidden art galleries and the coast.
Many visitors come to conquer Mt Warning (1,157m) – an 8.8km (5 hour) return walk that culminates in breath-taking 360o views around the ancient caldera with coastal views stretching from The Gold Coast to Byron Bay.
The track passes through subtropical rainforest and shrubland, and ends with a challenging rock scramble before reaching the summit.