The dappled sunlight breaks through the canopy of bird’s nest ferns, providing a myriad of dancing beams to the right and left of the path.
I’m on the Morans Falls track, one of the many walking trails starting from O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. Located two hours’ drive south of Brisbane or 1.5 hours west of the Gold Coast, this historic property within the World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park has been drawing visitors for close to a century. It offers an idyllic nature-based escape, without having to compromise on creature comforts.
Here are some of the amazing things to do at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.
Locals and overseas visitors come to O’Reilly’s to connect with nature. They’re lured by what the O’Reilly brothers and cousins discovered was special about the region when they settled in the area in 1911 to establish dairy farms. Tom O’Reilly was the first in the family to build a basic guesthouse in the rainforest. In Easter of 1926, he began charging visitors for the privilege of staying on the Lamington Plateau — a journey that took two days via train, car and horseback.
Today the journey up to the Lamington Plateau is by road. It’s a winding climb filled with tight hairpin turns. Take it slowly, not only for safety’s sake, but for the chance to glance at the scenic mountain vista to the west — aptly named the Scenic Rim.
Beyond the stunning setting, the history and the heritage of the O’Reilly’s themselves and a strong sense of family are a key aspect of the Retreat’s appeal. Peter O’Reilly is the second-generation O’Reilly on the mountain, while his son Shane now runs the property. Third generation Mary O’Reilly (whose grandfather Mick was one of the eight original O’Reilly boys) also works at the Retreat.
Declared a national park in 1915, Lamington National Park covers 21,176 hectares and has 130 kilometres of formed walking tracks. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, with extensive stretches of sub-tropical rainforest, creeks, waterfalls and lookouts offering spectacular views. From O’Reilly’s, there’s a choice of short walks (800 meters to 3.4 kilometres), half day walks (5.4 to 7 kilometres), and full day walks (10 to 21 kilometres). Take your pick depending on the amount of time you have available.
A thousand metres above sea level, temperatures in Lamington National Park are 5 to 8 degrees cooler than on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane. Dress for these conditions if you plan to do a walk.
At age 86, Peter O’Reilly’s tree climbing days may be behind him, but that activity was his inspiration for building the Tree Top Walk. There are nine suspension bridges, extending for 180 metres, and swaying 15 metres above the rainforest floor. The walk was designed to give guests a different aspect of the forest, and in that, it certainly succeeds. You can also climb to two observation decks. The highest is 30 metres above the ground and while the ladder is enclosed, I wouldn’t recommend it if you have any vertigo issues!
O’Reilly’s offers a number of daily wildlife encounters. Join the early morning bird walk and watch one of the Retreat staff attract a variety of wild birds, including the yellow and black regent bowerbird. If you’re taking pictures, have your camera on sports mode — these birds move like lightening.
At any time of day you can purchase a tray of bird feed from O’Reilly’s Mountain Cafe. Walk outside and become instant friends with crimson rosellas and king parrots. Walking back from the Tree Tops Walk, I held out my hand to a small eastern yellow robin and out of nowhere a king parrot landed on my palm. These wild birds have become comfortable around humans and it’s incredible to get so close to them.
Other daily activities include the Birds of Prey Show, which occurs at 1pm. Running for 45 minutes, the show is available to day trippers as well as in-house guests. Bookings can be made online. The late afternoon Glow Worm Experience involves a four-wheel drive trip to a glow worm grotto. BYO torch or purchase one from the O’Reilly’s gift store.
Time spent on the trail creates an appetite and a need to refuel, and O’Reilly’s dining room serves breakfast and dinner daily. Breakfast is buffet style (make sure you order a freshly cooked omelette), while the dinner menu offers an extensive range of a-la-carte options. Note: the meal sizes are very generous. Two diners at our table ordered the whole slow cooked confit duck board and it was too much for them. For a light snack, head to the Rainforest Bar.
For day guests, O’Reilly’s Mountain Cafe offers a tempting array of a-la-carte dishes, cakes and coffee, served up with expansive views. The kitchen closes at 2.30pm — so those that like a long or late lunch should time their visit accordingly.
If you are lucky enough to be staying overnight at the Retreat, and it’s winter, I can personally vouch for the library as the perfect place to wind down after a day of walking. Sitting in front of the crackling log fire with a glass of O’Reilly’s own Reserve Selection 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon in my hand, and surrounded by family memorabilia, I can almost hear the whispers of the O’Reilly ancestors.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of things to do at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Jennifer travelled as a guest of Life’s an Adventure on their three-day guided Gold Coast Hinterland Traverse walk.
Additional images: Bigstock
Jennifer Johnston is a Brisbane-based freelance writer and blogger inspired by travel, health and wellbeing. She juggles pursuing her passion for writing with raising three rowdy young men, a dog and a couple of goldfish. Jennifer has explored much of the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States (including Hawaii), Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan and Fiji. When she’s not writing, you may find Jennifer hiking in some distant part of the world.