This is one of those times I should be grateful my phone has a panorama photo mode, but I haven’t even thought of it yet, just enjoying the moment without a screen obstructing the view. It’s not long after dawn (which is very early in South-East Queensland this time of year) and I’m at the lookout of the Glass House Mountains, the geological wonders fanning out across the vista.
Fourteen mountains, formed by masses of molten rock more than 25 million years ago, rise from the lush green landscape as enchanting shapes with mysterious stories. I finally remember to take a shot of them.
For the traditional owners, the Jinibara and Kabi Kabi people, the mountains hold spiritual significance. The Jinibara believe the 556-metre-high Mount Beerwah is a pregnant mother, while Mount Tibrogargan is the father (they request that you don’t climb either, although there are trails to the top of both), and almost all the others are their children.
The most popular of the peaks to climb is the 253-metre-high Mount Ngungun, said to be the pet dingo of Tibrogargan. It’s only 1.4 kilometres in each direction but I am covered in sweat by the time I reach the top, even at this early hour. But it’s worth it for the view, the summit offering a 360-degree perspective of the giant monoliths and the eucalyptus forests beneath them.
On the way down, I realise I’m getting hungry, and thankfully I get back to my accommodation at the Glass House Mountains Ecolodge just as owner Keith Murray is serving breakfast and coffee while yellow-tailed black cockatoos squawk overhead. The coffee, I learn, comes from plants that are grown right here at the ecolodge – I can see them if I lean far enough over the deck.
In fact, there’s plenty of food growing here to eat, including some rather sour native fruits and more palatable finger limes, which I use to cook some dinner in the communal kitchen.
The kitchen was at first hard to find in the sprawling collection of disparate buildings, and then hard to miss, right in the middle of everything inside a converted old railway carriage. Two of the accommodation options are also old trains, including my room in a 60-year-old carriage that has been lovingly restored with an outdoor deck added.
But I think Keith’s greatest project (although he might disagree and say it’s his craft beer) is the 125-year-old Queensland church that he’s converted into stunning accommodation with a view from the loft bedroom to Mount Tibrogargan looming over everything.
Within the Glass House Mountains National Park, the peaks do tend to loom, a hulking presence above picnic spots, suddenly appearing between trees when you’re driving. But about 20 minutes’ drive north, into the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, you get a perfect view of the string of peaks from Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve.
The reserve is also home to a $4.7 million Rainforest Discovery Centre, opened in 2017, with a walking trail looping amongst the plants (and when I visit, past a rather large carpet python).
When you think about the Sunshine Coast, there’s a natural inclination to think about … well, the sun and the coast – but I’ve enjoyed discovering there’s much more to the destination.
In less than half an hour from Maroochydore Airport, you’re up in the hinterland surrounded by these verdant forests, with rivers flowing through the trees and waterfalls crashing over escarpments. It’s a decent walk to the 90-metre Kondalilla Falls, but you only have to stroll across the car park to get to the viewing platform to look down on Mapleton Falls, which have a drop of 120 metres.
If you’re feeling more active, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk passes both waterfalls – and then many other highlights. The 58.8-kilometre trail is designed to be done over four days, with campsites along the way, but there are enough entrance points that you can do some sections in just hours.
The closest town to the start of the walk is Montville, a charming little community that almost feels like it’s been transplanted from the NSW Southern Highlands. With cafes flowing onto decks, boutique stores with local crafts, and some impressive art galleries, it’s a reminder that, although I am focusing on the nature, the trail of quaint villages through the ranges is also worth exploring.
If you need more convincing, there’s Flame Hill Vineyard, just out of town, where I stop for a tasting. About 3000 vines of verdelho and shiraz are grown right here, 420 metres above sea level, but make sure you try their barbera as well.
Just down the hill from the winery is the start of the Great Walk at Lake Baroon, now a recreational area for swimming, boating and fishing, but also a site with important Indigenous heritage.
Every three years, when the crops of local bunya nuts peaked, the Kabi Kabi and Wakka Wakka people would host a huge festival for hundreds of guests from across the region. They would solve disputes and arrange marriages, but also share songs and dances, some presumably telling the stories of the Glass House Mountains, just 20 kilometres away, near a coast that’s about more than just the sunshine.