Take A Magical Hike To Australia's Green Cauldron

Pack your hiking boots and camera and head south west to Brisbane's nearest 'outback'.

Rich in rural scenery and brimming with loads of friendly characters, the Scenic Rim is a short ninety minute drive from 'Brissie' or the Gold Coast and is home to a welcoming mix of artisans, farmers, and couples making a good go of small businesses. It's also a paradise for hikers and after an hour of calf-wrenching trekking through low-hanging cloud up Mt Barney to Yellow Pinch Lookout, I swear the region is also home to hobbits.

But that has more to do with my over-active imagination – and perhaps a lack of water – than the mysterious light that peeks through the clouds casting eerie shadows on the Gondwanan rainforest around me. I'm told that no-one else who has hiked Mt Barney has encountered weird little creatures, unless of course you count the fanatics who regularly climb to the top just for the fun of it.

At any rate, the reward for fighting imaginary elves is spectacular. Mt Barney is a single emerald in a necklace of ancient volcanic peaks that form a green caldera stretching from Byron Bay to the Gold Coast and west toward the Great Dividing Range. Standing at Yellow Pinch Lookout, it is easy to see how this volcanic mass was formed millions of years ago when plates of earth collided to push the mountainous baubles higher and higher.

I'd love to stay here but our host for the night has promised a sunset tour of Mt Barney Lodge as soon as I master the trip down (note: hiking boots and a moderate fitness level are needed to navigate the descent). 

One half of the management team at Mt Barney Lodge, Innes Larkin is a second generation owner and a nature enthusiast. Alongside his wife Tracey and two kids Caitlyn and Connor, the family's infatuation with the land and its history is infectious.

Right from the start, you can see they care. Accommodation consists of three heritage Queenslanders that have been relocated from various Brisbane suburbs and revamped into charming digs suitable for couples, families and groups of friends. There are also camper-trailers and camp sites to cater for those with more mettle and leaner budgets.

Innes shows us around the property, proudly signalling the red mahogany trees he planted to lure the Black Eagle to nest, and the trickling creek which he and the family have restocked with fish, creating a magical setting when entering the property. That night 'blue fairies' (aka Caitlin and Connor) play happily on the banks; what a cool way to spend the afternoon after school.

Innes introduces us to the Sandpaper Fig Tree, one of nature's supermarket plants, once used by the indigenous people for shade, polishing tools and creating fire sticks. Apparently, it's also quite the thing to cure ringworm, if you are itching for a remedy; so to speak.

Tracey calls the tree “gold” as the tiny black fleshy fruit can be transformed into a heavenly tasting paste, not unlike Maggie Beer's quince paste but grainier. Like the real metal, it takes hours of labour to extract just enough to make two small jars a year.

As the sun falls and the mercury plummets, we savour this “gold” alongside other local delights - rich cheeses from Witches Chase Cheese purchased at nearby Mt Tamborine and a few bottles of red and white wine from Mt Barney Vineyard (also known as 'Beds and Reds'), all the while knowing that the blankets and doonas in our rooms will protect us from the cool Autumn night ahead.

If Innes is the David Attenborough of the mountain, then Tracey is the Masterchef in the kitchen. Adopting a paddock to plate concept, she uses freshly grown herbs and other garden produce to serve marinated chicken wrapped in bush leaves followed by a chunky Beaudesert steak topped with a red pesto and all washed down with home-made Lemon Myrtle tea. Her home-made berry pie with vanilla ice-cream is to die for.

With dinner done, I soon learn that I have committed the ultimate city slicker sin, leaving my room light on and the window open – issuing a massive country invitation for a plague of mountain mosquitoes to join me. But it's nothing that a few candles and a can of Rid can't fix and I'm soon snuggled into the perfect bush slumber.

The second day of our 24 hour Scenic Rim tour has us zipping over cattle grids and driving on ungraded roads to sup gourmet olives at the superb Rathlogan Olive Grove with Colin and Marilyn followed by an eclectic pizza making class with Desley and Pietro at Cassi di Cucina Italiana.

Then it's back to the Gold Coast leaving behind the rolling mountains speckled with fat cows and juicy fruit trees for some hedonistic fun and aquatic adventures. It's hard to believe that behind the staggeringly high buildings that frame the 46 kilometres of golden sand there's a rural oasis like this just 90 minutes drive away.

Editor's Notes: 

Word Count: 872
Author: Nikki Dudley

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