GROWING up in Sydney, I envisaged the Gold Coast as a glitzy, neon-lit town filled with clubs, pretentious people and blonde bimbos.
I pictured it as the Las Vegas of Queensland, the Kuta of Australia.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After my recent sojourn to the Gold Coast, this stereotype has been put to bed.
While a small element of that does exist, the Gold Coast has so much more to offer – from beautiful beaches to quality dining at both ends of the price spectrum, to animal encounters, rainforest walks and country getaways.
After a few days enjoying the activities the Gold Coast is most famous for – surfing lesson, dolphin encounters, staying at the beautiful Hilton at Surfers Paradise, eating at the PalazzoVersace and shopping up a storm – the lesser-known side of the tourist strip awaited. Only about a 45-minute drive west from Surfers Paradise is Mount Tamborine – the Gold Coast’s most northerly plateau.
As we wind up the mountain and drive past lush bushland, this is a completely different world.
Here, our group meets Cody, from Bunyip Bike Tours.
The tours take in tropical rainforests, showcase breathtaking waterfalls and finish at one of the local vineyards.
With tired legs, we head to the Witches Chase Artisan Cheese Factory and home of the MT Brewery for a cheese and beer tasting.
All the cheese is made on site and there is a huge range of cheesy choices from hard cheeses to soft cheese and everything in between.
Nestled in the lush rainforest of the mountain is Songbirds, a string of secluded cabins with a Balinese feel.
The restaurant, Songbirds in the Forest, has won a string of awards and is our lunch destination.
Not surprising, given the awards the restaurant has won, the food is exquisite and the meals presented with a creative and artistic flair.
But it was that night that I tasted the best crème brulee of my life at the Liquid Amber Bistro and Grill at the Witches Chase Cheese Company. It was the kind of dessert you never want to end and as you take that last mouthful, you wish time would stand still.
Not far from the Gold Coast hinterland is the Scenic Rim, which is an arc of spectacular mountains stretching from south of Beaudesert around to the area south-west of Ipswich.
Our destination is Mt Barney, a majestic mountain which is a solid almost half-a-day climb to the top.
On the way, we stop off at Rathlogan Olive Grove. It’s like a little piece of Greece as you stare at the rows of rows of olive trees.
Run by Col and Marylyn, the property has more than 1200 trees.
Marylyn is also a whiz in the kitchen and cooks up a storm of three-course lunches for the tour groups that come through.
Armed with plenty of olive information as well as oil, we head to Mt Barney Lodge, our destination for the night.
Run by husband-and-wife team Innes and Tracey Larkin, this ecotourism retreat is nestled at the base of Mt Barney.
We are staying in Moringarah, a charming old house with a wrap- around veranda that sleeps up to 15 people.
Now I am not a cook by any stretch of the imagination, so it was with a few nerves that I attended an Italian cooking class at Classi di Cucina Italiana Cooking School.
The cooking school is run by Pietro and Desley Agnoletto who founded the hugely-popular Schonell Pizza Caffe at the University of Queensland.
Now the two are located at a vast property tucked away in Rathdowney.
Pietro starts the class with a history of pizza and explains just what a pizza should be. He shows us how to make the dough from scratch, and then it’s our turn to roll it out, add the toppings and cook it in the massive wood-fired oven.
The worst part of any holiday is when you realise it is over. But the best thing about the Gold Coast is that it’s not too far for a getaway again sometime soon.
IF YOU GO
Bunyip Bike Tours: 0447 286 947
Witches Chase Cheese: 07 5545 2032
Rainforest Skywalk: 07 5545 2222
Liquid Amber –Bistro & Grill:07 5545 2032
Songbirds Rainforest Retreat: 07 5545 2563
Rathlogan Grove: 07 5544 1024
Mt Barney Lodge: 07 5544 3233
Classi di Cucina Italiana Cooking School: 07 5544 1008
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