Close encounters of the wildlife kind
We are ensconced in our comfy bed, propped up on pillows, smugly enjoying the tranquility of our rainforest villa, when I see something small and brown, I suspect of a wildlife nature, sprint across the floor.
“It’s a mouse!” I screech.
“It can’t be,” my husband reassures me, which I know is just an excuse to not move from under the fluffy doona.
“There it goes again!” I counter, as a small, furry brown creature scampers beneath the bed.
By now, I am out of the bed, thumping the floor, trying to encourage it to leave our tranquil haven. It obliges by running out the bedroom door, which we slam behind it.
The next morning, I inform reception staff at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, where we are staying for the weekend, about the intruder. They smile knowingly, saying, “ah yes, they are so cute, and a protected species” which translates to setting a humanitarian trap to capture the tiny mammal, and releasing it back into its rightful habitat. I am duly satisfied and not a little embarrassed by seeming so indignant about sharing my luxury villa with what could have been a Pseudomys gracilicaudatus, otherwise known as the Eastern Chestnut Mouse.
Walk in ancient rainforests
We are in a rainforest, after all, and here to get up close and personal with all things flora and fauna, in the ancient and stunningly beautiful Lamington National Park. Reached via a winding mountain road in the Gold Coast hinterland, along the border of Queensland and New South Wales, this series of peaks, valleys, waterfalls and Gondwana forests dates back 300 million years. It is a popular spot for hikers, with 160 kilometres of walking tracks taking in prehistoric sub-tropical rainforests, featuring pines, ferns, acacias, beech and brush box, many of which have survived life on earth beyond the age of dinosaurs. With spectacular mountain views as far as Mt Warning in New South Wales, it is a world away from the bustling metropolis along the coast below.
There are an abundance of self-guided walks, or you can book a guide, often an O’Reilly family member, to take you on one of the iconic hikes, which might include one of the famous treetop swing bridges. A popular walk is the 22 kilometre Binna Burra to O’Reilly’s walk along the Border Track, with regular transfers available for guests ($33 per adult) from the retreat to Binna Burra.
This weekend we are guests at O’Reilly’s as part of the bi-annual Stinson Walk. Unfortunately, due to a back injury, I am not partaking in the actual walk, but have been invited anyway, to learn about the history and rigours of the trek from the hardy crew who have signed up for the 37 kilometre trek, but more on that later.
Discover abundant wildlife
World heritage-listed Lamington National Park is a haven for wildlife, and a perfect opportunity to witness Australia’s largest collection of sub-tropical birds, and some of the world’s most beautiful and soulful songbirds. While I was luxuriating in the jacuzzi on the deck of our villa, surrounded by dense foliage, I was visited by the black and gold Regent Bowerbird and several Crimson Rosellas. O’Reilly’s conducts daily morning bird walks where you can spot the rare Albert’s Lyrebird, water birds, yellow robins, scrub wrens, whipbirds and others. Daily bird feeding attracts King Parrots and the aforementioned Crimson Rosellas. If this sparks your fascination with the abundant birdlife of Australia, you can join the annual Bird Week where you can tick off many of the 200 species of rare and native birds on your must-see list!
You don’t have to be a wildlife warrior to be fascinated by the Birds of Prey show, featuring owls, wedgetail eagles, kestrels and black kites; the Wildlife Encounter, where you can cuddle a carpet snake or get finger-licked by a squirrel glider, and the Glow Worm Experience. Or, if you prefer to meet your wildlife on your own terms, you can just enjoy watching the pademelons (petite wallabies) frolicking in and around the retreat, or take your chances on coming across a red-bellied black snake on your morning hike – a warning we received as we were about to head off on our two-hour trek along the Border Track!
Experience nature at any age
If you are travelling with youngsters, there is plenty to keep them entertained, including Segway Safaris, Flying Fox adventures, Billy Tea History Tours, documentary films or hot chocolate and marshmallows around the campfire! Private tours are also available. O’Reilly’s covers all bases from young to old and those with physical impairments, ensuring everyone gets the chance to experience this unique and beautiful environment.
Retreat in luxury
Romance and relaxation are also on offer, by staying in the luxury of your private rainforest villa. Built in 2007 to complement the existing O’Reilly’s accommodation of 66 serviced rooms, which have been progressively established since the first slab-hut guesthouse in 1926, the 48 villas are a great self-catering option for those who prefer a bit of privacy and comfort. Set into the rainforest, the views, particularly at sunset, are stunning, and best enjoyed on your deck in the jacuzzi, accompanied by a glass of champagne and a cheese platter.
If you prefer to be catered to, there is a bar, restaurant and café on-site, which serve hearty meals in rustic surrounds. It feels a bit like an alpine lodge, without the snow, although the winter nights can be chilly, made eminently more palatable by cosy fireplaces in the public areas and one-bedroom canopy suites.
O’Reilly’s has a proud history of eco-tourism, and is still operated by the same family, now in its third generation. Originally dairy farmers, the O’Reilly’s soon realised the tourism potential of their slice of paradise, and set about creating the iconic resort. With a true pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit, the family also owns O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards, at the base of the mountain, which is a great place to stop for lunch and some wine tasting on your journey to or from the retreat. Not surprisingly, the wines feature strongly on the drinks list at O’Reilly’s.
A day spa and conference centre were opened in 2008 and retreat rooms are currently undergoing refurbishment, with new bathrooms, décor and insect screens. A rejuvenation of the Green Mountains campground into an eco-tourism venture, complete with safari and sky tents, a new communal hall and upgraded amenities, is in the planning stages.
Trek the famous Stinson Walk
As well as the usual attractions O’Reilly’s has to offer, we are here for the infamous Stinson Walk. There is nothing like an heroic rescue in the wild to create a legendary tale of courage, miraculous survival and bushman’s spirit. On 19 February 1937, the Stinson Model A airliner, travelling from Brisbane to Sydney on the weekly mail run, disappeared. Carrying five passengers and two pilots, all hope was lost for any survivors as rescuers struggled to identify the location of the missing aircraft. However, while out walking one day, Bernard O’Reilly noticed a single burnt tree in the dense forest of Lamington National Park. Having heard about the missing plane and being familiar with the flight path, he had an inkling that he had spotted the crash site. So, he set off on a gruelling hike towards the tree. Two days later, he came across the plane, with two men, barely alive after 10 days without food and limited water. He gave them some sustenance then set off to rally local farmers to assist him in carrying the men out of the rainforest. The rescue mission has been immortalised in Bernard O’Reilly’s book, ’Green Mountains‘, and the 1987 film ’Riddle of the Stinson‘, starring Jack Thompson and Richard Roxborough. A replica of the plane used in the film is now stationed at O’Reilly’s. Over 80 years since the crash, the Stinson Walk retraces the steps of Bernard’s and the farmers’ historic rescue.
The walk is billed as “one of Australia’s most significant yet gruelling hikes…tough yet incredibly rewarding!” The overview is littered with enough warnings to scare off any hiker not used to trekking a total of 37 kilometres in one day, some of it in darkness and at running pace. The walk, through dense rainforest, which needs to be cut with secateurs by the head guide, involves climbing a total of 1,040 metres and descending a further 1,590 metres. Pre-training is essential.
The August 2018 walk was led by travel entrepreneur and former Queensland Tourism ‘Best Job in the World’ winner, Ben Southall. A seasoned adventurer and fitness freak, his energy and enthusiasm are contagious, as he briefs the excited hikers the night before the trek. As I look around the room at what I calculate to be participants mostly over the age of 60, I marvel at their bravery and commitment to undertake such a torturous hike. Their day will begin at 3am the next morning, and I look forward to hearing their tales at dinner…
As I enter the private dining room the following evening, I am greeted by a weary, bleary-eyed and sombre group, who are nonetheless jubilant in their sense of achievement. One man enthuses wildly about the adventure, scoffing at its predicted ‘difficulty’. I ask his wife her opinion of the trek, and she can’t answer, saying “I need to think for a few days about how I feel about it.” Another woman whispers that it was the hardest thing she has ever done. Others are either boastfully vocal about the once-in-a-lifetime experience, or strangely silent. Ben makes an early departure, no doubt keen to get home to a familiar bed. The group breaks up not long after and head to their rooms, for a well-earned sleep!
We likewise retreat to our villa, confident in a peaceful night’s sleep ahead. Alas, I am awoken in the wee hours by a scurrying and scratching noise below me. As I turn on the light, I see a brown creature tear across the room to hide under the bed….
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If you would like to discover the beauty and luxury of an O’Reilly’s two-night retreat, with or without a privately-guided Stinson Walk, Evvoke Bespoke Experiences has an exclusive package available – contact us now to find out the details!
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