Away from the glitz, explore rainforests similar to those that covered the supercontinent Gondwana hundreds of millions of years ago.
“Holy guacamole,” the Englishwoman exclaims. She calls to her husband: “John, have you seen the snake?”
Our small group — temporarily united by a potent mix of excitement and trepidation — clusters at the edge of the path, peering into the dim rainforest. A few metres away, a fat carpet python slithers through the leaf litter.
“It must be 2m long,” says one of the Swedish backpackers who initially spotted its mottled skin camouflaged amid the tones of brown and green.
We’re at Purling Brook Falls, a popular spot at Springbrook National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland. And though we’re less than an hour’s drive from Surfers Paradise, it’s a place that feels many times more removed from the high-rise towers and broad beaches with which the Gold Coast is more often associated.
It’s not just the snake: non-venomous carpet pythons aren’t exactly a rarity on the Gold Coast, and large specimens regularly show up in suburban backyards. Rather, it’s the sense of being in a slice of wilderness at the edge of Australia’s biggest non-capital city.
At more than 6000ha, Springbrook is part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests, a biodiversity hotspot that lays claim to being the most extensive subtropical rainforest in the world. Spanning the Queensland-New South Wales border, it incorporates subtropical rainforests similar to those that covered the supercontinent Gondwana hundreds of millions of years ago.
The rainforests and waterfalls of the mountainous hinterland are the other side of the Gold Coast: the serene flip side to the faraway skyline just visible through the haze. Here, conservation areas and national parks — including the larger Lamington National Park to the east and Tamborine National Park, closer to Brisbane — are interspersed by lush farmland and small communities set amid the rainforest.
Spread across a plateau created by a massive volcanic eruption some 23 million years ago, Springbrook is an ancient place and feels it, whether I’m slowing for pademelons hopping across the narrow, winding road through the early morning mist or navigating switchbacks in dense rainforest to Twin Falls, where water falls like rain into a picturesque pool.
The latter is reached by a 4km loop reputed to be one of the best short walks in South East Queensland, or so the brochure I picked up from the dinky information centre tells me. And it is lovely, leading along the cliff tops before descending sharply through the forest to a soundtrack of birdsong and running water. A sound akin to a tropical downpour welcomes you to the pool, where the trail passes behind the falls themselves and where you can go for a (rather chilly) swim.
Like many parks here, the layout of Springbrook can be confusing. It’s divided into four distinct sections, some of which are an hour or more apart. And though many of the most popular walks and best views (including the tantalisingly named Best of All lookout, sadly shrouded in mist during my visit) are in the Springbrook plateau portion, it’s well worth making the approximately half-an-hour journey through pretty Numinbah Valley to visit the Natural Bridge section.
Tucked in behind the plateau, Natural Bridge is relatively small with only a single walking trail but it’s a real gem. The rainforest here feels truly primeval — dark, damp and dense with tree ferns, strangler figs, ancient hoop pines and other species. It’s a sensation only heightened today by the plaintive cries of what could well be some prehistoric creature but is most likely a small child throwing a tantrum. The mystery is solved when I pass an inconsolable little girl a few moments later. “You’ll scare all the animals,” her mother is telling her.
Certainly quiet is advised when viewing the Natural Bridge’s best-known inhabitants, the millions of glow worms which shelter beneath its eponymous rock arch spanning Cave Creek. They’re not visible today — the best viewing times are after sunset from December to March — but it’d be hard to miss the colony of tiny bats, as much for their pungent smell as for their wings fluttering against the cave’s dark ceiling.
In less than an hour I’ll be back on the coast. For now, I’m somewhere that feels far more distant — and very different indeed.
‘Living museum’ within easy reach
Amid the apartment towers and suburban homes of the Gold Coast’s beachside strip, Burleigh Head National Park is a rare pocket that has eluded development: nearly 30ha of rainforest perched between the ocean and a busy highway. If you’re keen to get a glimpse of the rainforest without expending much time or effort, this is the place to come.
Protected since the 1880s, the headland became a national park in 1947, having survived earlier attempts to convert it to a banana plantation. Its vegetation has been described as a “living museum” and provides habitat for birds and animals including brushtail possums and bearded dragons.
The park is crisscrossed by walking trails — including the popular 1.2km Oceanview track, which remains closed following rockfalls — and has fantastic views over the coastline, with the chance to spot migrating humpback whales during winter and spring.
- For independent exploration of Springbrook National Park, you’ll need a car. Otherwise you can join one of the numerous day tours that visit its most popular sights. Nocturnal tours of Natural Bridge to see the glow worms are also available.
- For more on visiting Springbrook, see npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/springbrook.
DisclaimerGemma Nisbet visited the Gold Coast as a guest of AVANI Hotels & Resorts. They did not review or approve this story.
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