This wayfarers’ paradise had to find more perseverance than any community should need. With World Heritage listed rainforests, stunning mountain ranges and primal landforms as ancient as time, this is a region that was once just known for its beauty.
Like many other communities, the real beauty resides not only in its stunning natural beauty and incredible locally produced food; it also shows in the characteristics of its remarkable communities.
These are communities that, like so many other towns and villages across Australia, have had to find a way to face the world, smile and move on — in part, so they can continue to offer a friendly welcome to visitors out for a daytrip from Brisbane or the Gold Coast, or to those settling in to stay awhile.
What they know on a day-to-day basis, and what I discovered, were communities immersed in the best of Australian nature. When you add in a superb mix that includes ample opportunities for adventure, walking, cycling and seeing natural rock pools, or just the ability to relax at the end of the day with a tasty local beer or wine, these are the towns and villages that make travelling Australian highways and byways so rewarding.
And heaven knows they’ve needed a sense of community, for the recent story of the Scenic Rim region is the story of a region that has drawn on its reserves of perseverance and resilience and come up shining.
Drought came first. In early 2019, the Scenic Rim was among several local government areas in Queensland where drought was declared, bringing the total area of the state that was then in drought to 65.2 per cent.
At the time, Scenic Rim Mayor Greg Christensen said, “All sectors of our primary production capability reliant on growing or grazing in the Scenic Rim are suffering extreme drought effects and, prior to this declaration, a growing number of individual properties were seeking and achieving individual drought declarations.”
By September 2019, things only got worse. Drought and arson colluded on September 7, 2019 at 4:15pm. At that time, Queensland Police declared “an emergency situation in Canungra… in relation to an ongoing bushfire threat”. That declaration included the nearby hamlet of Beechmont further around the mountains that form part of the Scenic Rim.
While folk were told to seek shelter in the neighbouring town of Tamborine in the community hall, they were living through a nightmare that threatened a piece of paradise so beautiful that my Celtic forbears might have said heaven itself couldn’t contain and so it needed the majestic mountains of Queensland’s South East and a giant volcano to nurture it into being.
As 2020 dawned, with the fires out and some rains to quench the embers, this was a battered community that considered itself lucky to have survived. Blue skies and favourable weather helped dry the tears and soothe the sorrow.
With that, I took to the highway from Brisbane and headed into what is colloquially Brisbane’s backyard. Then just as the Scenic Rim communities sighed and caught their breath that the worst seemed far behind them, and travellers like me got going, the world fell sick.
I had arrived in Tamborine or, to be more precise, Tamborine Mountain. Nestled in the north-eastern corner of the Scenic Rim, I was just about an hour out of Brisbane and around 30 minutes from the Gold Coast.
Arriving here meant that I had arrived on a plateau in the Great Dividing Range that is within the corner of an Aboriginal region known as Yugambeh.
Yugambeh embraces the nearby towns of Beenleigh, Beaudesert, the Gold Coast and Logan as well as the Tweed River Valley and the Scenic Rim.
Now in these parts, for Indigenous members of the region, the word for hello is more than just “g’day”, or the ubiquitous “hi.” While hi, hello and hiya are all fine words, the local Aboriginal word for hello is “jingeri” or more particularly “jingeri jimbelun.” Those two words have a very special ancient meaning that says so much about the nature of this region. More on that later.
I switched off the ignition in a really interesting spot perched on the side of Tamborine Mountain called Thunderbird Park.
Co-owner of Thunderbird Park, Judi Minnikin, takes the challenges that have beset the Scenic Rim in her stride. She knows that while her business and the nearby village of Tamborine Mountain were relatively unscathed from fires and have fared well despite drought, the COVID-19 pandemic had her feeling nervous.
Nonetheless, she chose a positive angle, saying that as things continue to recover from the onset of the pandemic, visitors would find a destination that boasts “cool pure air and the fact that we are not travelling to confined spaces and people can, at this point anyway, jump in their cars and come here and feel safe.”
Nestled in a valley near Tamborine, it’s clear that this 112-hectare location is a rich oasis of wildlife and interesting geology that help make visiting what is Judi’s backyard a remarkable experience.
Here, there are gleaming rock pools, inspiring landscapes, lofty rainforests and skies so packed with stars it’s as if you could touch them. That’s the enchantment of this wonderland.
Roll into Thunderbird Park and you’ll find yourself in a tree-lined powered or unpowered camp or caravan site. Larger groups can consider bunkroom camping within the same leafy environment.
If you’re after an accommodation treat and a break away from the caravan, there are plenty of options, with choices ranging from creekside bungalows to architecturally designed, self-contained lodges.
But Thunderbird Park is about more than leafy surrounds, which is excellent for those that want nothing more than breathtaking natural beauty and bushwalking. There are a range of onsite adventure activities including a thunder egg mine for fossicking hounds.
So that you know, thunder eggs are volcanic rock bubbles filled with crystals and semi-precious gems.
There’s also a high-ropes course for those with a mind for adventure in the forest canopy at the TreeTop Challenge, plus horseriding and mini-golf for the youngsters and young at heart.
Food-wise, each campsite has access to a firepit. There are convenient camp kitchens and, for those looking for a little more, there’s a terrace kiosk with a wood-fired pizza oven or a top-notch restaurant with more relaxed ambience than should be legal.
Of course, travelling gourmets will love the Scenic Rim. This is a food lover’s delight and the village of Tamborine Mountain is an epicurean epicentre, offering what seems like no end of gastronomic delights.
On Main Street, Tamborine, you’ll find cafés and restaurants offering anything from German sausage to cheeses and bakery goods, fudge and ice-cream, coffee and craft beers together with bespoke wines. The best part is that it's all local produce — a provedore’s dream. Some of the best on or near Main Street are: Fudge Heaven for a fantastic array of fudge and liquorice, the Mt Tamborine Vineyard and winery for chocolate port amongst other relaxing beverages, the German Cuckoo Clock nest, or Elevation Café for a warming coffee. But if you’re like me and love great pasta, then Tamborine has something special for you.
PIZZA AND PASTA
Among a high-quality array, one of the best is a little café called Tamborine Mountain Pasta and its nearby sister shop, Tamborine Mountain Pizza. While, as elsewhere, the pandemic limited its trading, co-owners Stephanie Berndt and Michael Wickson said the same local community that meets travellers with heartwarming smiles supported his cafés during the worst of it.
That allowed Michael’s chefs to cook up mouth-watering Italian fare that would find a home among Melbourne’s finest restaurants. Having grown up in Tamborine, the couple fell in love with each other and the food they made, having met while Michael, a commercial design student at the time, was making ends meet working part-time at the pizza shop, and Stephanie, now a qualified aircraft engineer for the defence force, was working at a nearby takeaway.
Michael says his business is all about buying local, from the butcher to the green grocer. But more importantly, “with the coronavirus, everyone has really been supporting each other.”
Car lovers will not only enjoy great food; they may also be lucky enough to take a look at the Tamborine Mountain Pizza van — Michael’s daily driver. It’s an immaculately restored 1969 Morris Mini with its brilliant red upholstery and wood-grain steering wheel.
Natural beauty and wonderful gardens
Stocked up on good food, it might be time for a walk. Try a walk to any of Tamborine’s national park waterfalls like Witches Falls or Cedar Creek falls, crystal clear in sub-tropical rainforest.
For those a little less adventurous try the Tamborine Botanical Gardens. Here’s a remarkable mix of exotic and native displays including a tranquil Japanese garden guaranteed to let your chakras line up, or simply put a smile on your dial.
Of course, there’s lots more to the Scenic Rim than Tamborine. Leave the van at the campground and take Canungra Road down the mountain to the sleepy little hinterland village of Canungra. Home to its own array of interesting little shops selling antiques and bric-a-brac (with names like Pickers & Co and Holli Dolli) to keep any budding interior decorator happy, there is also a small assortment of interesting cafés.
However, on cold, star-filled hinterland nights it's worth finding a good butcher and Canungra is home to one of the best, rather unpretentiously called Butchery Canungra.
Established in the early 1900s, this shop is home to fine meats that will bring any camp-side fry-up to life. There’s homemade salami, bacon, aged beef, and unforgettable beef and pork sausages that are so generous and tasty you could happily die, secure in the knowledge that you’ve consumed something that Saint Peter would envy. Beyond that, the owners have a remarkable story told by life and business partners Jo McLintock and Jennifer Downes.
While Jennifer, a one-time aircraft re-fueller, largely plays a backroom role, one-time medical research scientist Jo always wanted to become a butcher because her father was a butcher. That’s why she bought the business with Jennifer and hired a butcher to effectively become her own apprentice. Jo is now the Canungra butcher and loving it.
But it's caravanners that really get the women talking. While, these days, when not at the shop or tearing around the mountains in the motorbike and sidecar, a decade ago while building their home, they spent a year in a much-loved caravan and before that toured in a camper trailer. However, it was the Scenic Rim's rolling green hills that won them over as well as being able to see distant views of the Gold Coast beaches.
WATCH AND SEE
Further afield from Canungra, in the patchwork mosaic landscape beyond Cunningham’s Gap, is the tiny hamlet of Mt Alford, home to the Scenic Rim Brewery.
While the pandemic caused a temporary closure, keep an eye on this one as word has it that the food, coffee and beer are good, with great grub at the Mt Alford Hotel. The reopening should be a cracker.
BEYOND THE FOOD AND DRINK
Remember, the Indigenous word for hello in these parts in Jingeri. It means so much more than hello. In full, it means “hello friend” or “g’day mate”. And that’s the essence of the Scenic Rim — finding good food and produce, enjoying a local brew, and saying hello to a new friend. So to the Swedish family on their first Australian Adventure, to Michael the pizza man, Jo the butcher, Judi from Thunderbird Park, Liam on the TreeTop adventure, Sam in the Thunderegg Mine — Jingeri mate.