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Secret Spots Loved by Locals

Christine Retschlag

There's a hand painted wooden sign nailed to a tree on the road leading from Canungra to Lamington National Park, which encourages motorists to simply "keep going". And how apt this message is. For the Gold Coast is full of hidden secrets if you know where to look, and none more so than in the hinterland, that green behind the gold for which this region is renowned. Head west from the coast and drive through charming Canungra with its iconic hotel and the Outpost Café popular with motorcycle riders seeking their morning latte.  This journey winds around the aptly-named Green Mountain past Dunns Ghost Gums, Hoop Pines and Fig Trees. There's a parade of pademelons on the side of the road to greet you as you pass over rickety cattle grills and the odd cow paddy. Authenticity? They have it in spades up here. Yes, the Gold Coast skyline is well and truly in the distance as you glide through emerald tree canopies and enter the 23 million-year-old World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest which this year celebrates 100 years of conservation.  

Want to know a secret? The air is about 5 degrees cooler up here, all the better for taking one of many self-guided walks – one of the most popular of which is the 10.6km return Box Forest circuit. Trek clockwise, take a picnic lunch break at Elabana Falls, and follow the track as it winds through Brush Box and Piccabeen Palms towards the Canungra Creek which gushes like a Gold Coast socialite in the valley below. The pretty Darraboola Falls, Picnic Rock and Box Log area also along this route.

In the distance, whip birds crack the silence of the rainforest, green moss embraces the rocks and inky black land mullet lizards laze in the morning sunshine.

The popular Treetops Walk here is the first in Australia as is the new World Heritage-listed wheel chair path. And at O'Reillys Rainforest Retreat Lost World Spa, their vino therapy uses a spa bath full of wine from the family's vineyard in the Canungra Valley in a healing technique believed to be the first of its type in Australia.

Come nightfall, join resort staff and walk over lemon-scented leaves to a secret galaxy of glow worms accidentally discovered by one of the O'Reilly nieces. These glow worms are in a rare overhang, as opposed to a cave, and so vivid are these “stars” of the O'Reilly experience, you'll swear you are staring at the Milky Way.

Glow worms are also on the agenda at nearby Tamborine Mountain and Springbrook National Park, both delicious destinations home to a myriad walks and waterfalls which are the trademarks of a Gold Coast hinterland adventure. Want a glow of a different kind? Head to Nightfall Wilderness Camp in Lamington for a spot of glamping where you'll drink fine wine and feast on organic food by the campfire before collapsing in your luxury safari tent.

For those who like to gain their glow closer to the coast, the opulent Palazzo Versace boasts Australia's only Water Salon. This cabana oasis, set within a sizzling beach scene, is for those who are so cool, they are considered hot. Tucked behind the sheer curtains of your cabana, it's like having a slice of Arabia right on the Gold Coast. Sip on champagne and spray your face with a cool mist while you relish this secret haven in the heart of luxury. The cool crowd will also adore Studio 56, a new music space at Miami Marketta which comes alive several times a week with fresh food, bars and street art. Other hidden precincts which are the epitome of cool these days on the Gold Coast are 19 Karen Contemporary Art Space and Dust Temple at Currumbin.

For a cool brew, the local Burleigh Brewing sells its beer all around the coast, or you can head out to the brewery itself west of Burleigh. Try the 28 Pale Ale, My Wife's Bitter, and FIGJAM IPA among other drops. Want another hot tip? Professional surfers Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Josh Kerr and a marketing mate Stirling Howland are tipped to open their own brewery – Balter Brewing Company – at Currumbin.

If your idea of making a splash on your Gold Coast holiday is back in the water, head to Cooly Dive right on the boarder where local Tim Adams and his crew will take you on a 15-minute boat ride out to some of the secret spots off of Cook Island. Here, you can snorkel with the resident population of green turtles and the odd clown fish or two.

The Gold Coast is full of surprises and secrets. The trick, as the sign on that tree leading up to Lamington National Park suggests, is to simply keep going.

Christine Retschlag

Writer

Christine Retschlag is an award-winning Australian journalist who has worked in newspapers, magazines and online for the past 25 years in Australia, Hong Kong, London and Singapore. In 2006, she won the Australian Travel Writer of the Year award for Best Trade Story as well as the Jack Butters Memorial Award for Travel Writing Excellence. In 2007 she won Best Australian Story over 1000 words and in 2014 won Best Food Travel Story. She is also the author and architect of the successful travel blog: The Global Goddess.

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