Higher calling: discover the Lost World among the Green behind the Gold
Perched high atop a plateau in the Green Mountains of southeast Queensland, O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat has been accommodating hikers and birdwatchers since the O'Reilly family opened its first guesthouse in the Gold Coast Hinterland in 1926.
Rooms at the original guesthouse have no televisions, no phones and no internet. Shane O'Reilly, third generation of the family that built the place and now general manager, says some guests even complain about being 'out of touch with the world'. Standing on the deck of the Rainforest Room bar with its cosy wood fire, watching mist and cloud gather in the valley then creep up to the range, locking us in, it's hard to imagine why.
Early next morning, we are taken on a short guided walk to watch the early birds, then indulge in a hiker's breakfast of fruit, yogurt and muesli, French toast and bacon. With a dozen rainforest trails to explore (distances range from 500 metres to 30 kilometres), we settle on a 10-kilometre hike down to Canungra Creek and back. Rummaging in the leaf litter along the way are a variety of scrub wrens, brush turkeys, robins, and irrepressible log-runners doing just what their name suggests, while up in the rainforest canopy, glimpses can be caught of bright green and red king parrots and the magnificent gold-and-black regent bowerbird.
In its early days, O'Reilly's was a defiantly no-frills guesthouse, but as it found fame around the world for its location - just a two-hour drive from the Gold Coast in the heart of Australia's largest subtropical rainforest - along with its birdlife and unique family history, demand grew for a more luxe holiday experience. This has now taken form as O'Reilly's Mountain Villas (which do have phones and TVs) and Lost World Spa. Each villa has a private deck with hot tub and uninterrupted views across Lost World Valley - so named because it looks like a land that time forgot, where dinosaurs still might roam.
It's worth experiencing the Lost World Spa's 90-minute hot-stone massage. While you stretch out on the massage table, two smooth flat stones are popped into a heated pan then dunked in massage oil. The idea is to have them hot enough to stimulate the muscles, but still bearable against the skin. Though the stones at first touch feel almost too hot, your skin quickly relaxes along with your muscles as the therapist sets to work releasing tension. Finally, she nestles one still-warm stone in the upturned palm of each hand, where they stay, radiating a gentle warmth.
Next, hop into the steam room to sweat out some of the toxins that are released during a massage before settling onto a daybed in the spa's relaxation lounge in a thick bathrobe. There, spend at least an hour doing nothing besides drinking herbal tea and gazing out across the blue-green haze of the Lost Valley.
Later, I meet with O'Reilly for a chat over dinner. We start with his favourite appetiser on the menu, a crispy garlic pizza, followed by slow-roasted pork belly with prosciutto-wrapped scallops. Just as we're polishing off the last of the wine, rain starts to patter and then batter the roof. Back at the villa, there's a big-screen TV and gas fireplace waiting, but the library's just a few steps away and has everything you could want - shelves of books and a log fire.
My last morning at O'Reilly's is a Sunday, and I have the option of joining an 8am yoga class before breakfast and one last rainforest stroll. Barely 100 metres from the dining room is a series of suspended walkways that allow access to the treetops and their rich symphony of twitters, bells, shrieks and trills. The air is so saturated with oxygen that I find myself sucking in as much of it as I can before it's time to leave O'Reilly's and Queensland's glorious Green Mountains behind.
Qantas flies daily direct to Brisbane (return fares from HK$6,800), www.qantas.com
Hire a car for the two-hour drive to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, Lamington National Park via Canungra, Queensland www.oreillys.com.au
One- to three-bedroom villas cost A$400 (HK$3,100) to A$650 per night; stock up on food and wine at a supermarket in Nerang (45 minutes before you reach O'Reilly's) and you'll be self-sufficient. Alternatively, you can book dinner at the retreat. Check the website for packages that include meals, bushwalks, activities and spa treatments.