If you could use some time away with the one you love, consider a romantic getaway at the Gold Coast Hinterland. The ‘green behind the gold’ has a special glow over the cooler months (all those cosy fireplaces perhaps?), making it ideal for a couple’s short break or weekend escape.
We recently carved out time to escape the city, designing a three-day Gold Coast Hinterland itinerary that balanced indulgence with adventure. Tapping into the region’s food and wine culture, cosy accommodation options and glorious natural attractions, we even snuck in a bucket-list experience (hint: it involves a balloon).
Follow our tracks or tweak the itinerary to suit your budget and tastes — just be sure to leave some breathing room. After all, nothing kills the romance of a short break like feeling rushed and exhausted. Go at your own pace and embrace those laid-back mountain vibes.
Here’s our three-day Gold Coast Hinterland short break …
Tamborine Mountain is our first stop: an elevated idyll of wineries, waterfalls and nature walks that forms the north-eastern point of the Scenic Rim region. It’s only around 80 kilometres (or just over an hour’s drive) from Brisbane so we head off mid-morning and beeline it to the renowned Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard & Winery for lunch.
Chambourcin and verdelho varieties are grown onsite here, with other grapes sourced from some of Queensland’s top vineyards, ensuring a solid line-up of stellar wines. The cellar door is open daily, and there’s even an onsite art gallery and glow worm cave. But we’re here to enjoy the picture-perfect restaurant that overlooks the lake and gardens.
Showcasing fresh local produce and wines from the estate, the restaurant’s Modern Australian menu can be enjoyed alfresco or inside the Hamblin Room. The latter is our favourite option over the cooler months when log fires create a cosy haven. It’s a lovely way to ease into our hinterland holiday before driving on to Witches Falls Cottages, home for the next two nights. Fun fact: the Witches Falls section of the Tamborine National Park was proclaimed Queensland’s first national park back in 1908!
The weather is perfect for a hinterland getaway, with summer abruptly walking out the door a few days beforehand. As soon as we pull into the drive, we know we’ve booked the perfect romantic hideaway. The misty day adds to the atmosphere but the gorgeous gabled stone cottages, with their peaked roofs and creeping vines, really do cast a spell.
We’re invited to select bath salts, a hamper for breakfast, and a bottle of local wine before heading to our cottage (loving it already). Inside, a comfy queen bed is elevated on a mezzanine overlooking the living area, kitchenette and fireplace, while the private courtyard is equipped with a dining setting and barbecue equipment. The piece-de-resistance is undoubtedly the bathroom, designed to let the outside in with a glass wall overlooking private green space, an internal green wall, and a huge double spa bath.
The drop in temperature is such a novelty after a sultry Queensland summer that we stoke the fire and settle in. What decadence to have a lazy afternoon together — reading, sipping red wine, and enjoying that gorgeous spa.
I can see the attraction of stopping at the local IGA before check-in and just not leaving the cottage. Still, we’ve decided to strike a balance between exploring and relaxing, so venture out to one of the mountain’s iconic locations for dinner, St Bernard’s Hotel.
Perched on the escarpment, the hotel boasts magnificent views stretching to the Gold Coast skyline. Even at night (sans views) the old-world charm that makes this place such an institution is here in spades. Resting at the entrance, the hotel’s much-adored St Bernard dogs barely bat an eyelid as we pass by. It’s a public holiday, so these (very tired!) beauties have already played host to a crowd! After a class pub meal of homemade pie and mash and a red wine (or two), we make tracks back to our cottage.
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We are early risers (yep, even on holidays). Meaning we dodge the crowds at one of the mountain’s best-known circuits, Curtis Falls. This 1.5-kilometre return is a reasonably easy walk, passing through a magical landscape where wet eucalypt forest meets ancient rainforest. After a recent deluge, the falls are in good form, cascading into the rock pool below.
A generous breakfast hamper of local eggs, tomato, bacon, sausages and mushrooms to cook on the barbecue greets us back at Witches Falls, complete with fresh-baked bread. Really, is there anything more delicious than warm bread on a cool morning?
Next stop: the Tamborine Mountain Distillery, a place we’ve been excited to visit since hearing of their lauded range of boutique liqueurs and spirits. Located near Gallery Walk (Tamborine’s popular shopping/cafe precinct), TMD has risen from humble beginnings to win over 300 international awards and secure worldwide distribution. Pretty impressive!
The original owners, passionate gardener Michael Ward and his wife Alla (a longtime distiller), worked magic with botanicals. Their delightfully unique liqueurs, gins, vodkas, schnapps, rums and more garnered a cult following before the couple retired after almost 25 years. Now, new custodians Shumei Hou and Head Distiller Gordon Chalmers are committed to guiding the brand to the next level.
We spend a happy hour learning about the distilling process and tasting the expansive range, leaving with a couple of bottles in tow. And don’t worry, if you can’t make it to the mountain, check out their online shop for a taste of Tamborine.
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Although we haven’t quite walked off breakfast, we make room for more gourmet delights at Three Little Pigs, one of SE Queensland’s best-kept secrets. Their food alone is worth the drive to Tamborine! The restaurant is situated on the main street of North Tamborine and the atmosphere is rustic and warm, revolving around a toasty fireplace. While my Salt and Pepper Prawns dish is delectable, my husband’s Famous Slow Roast Pork Belly is the showstopper. The crackling is deliciously crispy, and the meat succulent and tender. It’s the sort of meal you find yourself thinking about time and time again. So good.
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Because this hinterland itinerary is all about balance, we back up our pork belly feasting with an eco-adventure at the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk. The 1.5-kilometre walk includes forest floor trails, steel bridges to take you high into the treetops, and a cantilevered bridge suspended 30 metres above the creek. You could do it in 20 minutes, but we take a forest-bathing approach, slowly immersing in the pristine environment that has been left untouched by the skywalk’s careful design.
Tonight, in-cottage dining is on the agenda ahead of a very early start. We’ve booked a hot-air balloon flight and the meeting point is in Canungra, a 40-minute drive south of Witches Falls.
I’ll be honest, booking this flight has created mixed feelings. My husband, a photographer, is super excited. Me? I’m scared of heights! Yet, I know I’ll have regrets if I don’t give it a go. So, I put on my big girl pants, wake up in the pitch-dark of 3.45 a.m. and prepare for a leap of faith.
Weather is everything when it comes to hot-air ballooning, so the exact launch site isn’t revealed until our group meets at the Canungra Visitor Information Centre. Our driver, Oliver, runs through the safety checks and explains we’ll be flying in one of the biggest balloons in Australia — a somewhat comforting detail. By the time we pull up at the paddock, my fears are evaporating. We’re in excellent hands, flying with some of the industry’s most experienced operators at Hot Air Balloon Gold Coast.
We all watch, mesmerised, as the team inflates the balloon in the early dawn, knowing the power it will soon have over us. With the sun breaking through the sky, it’s time to climb aboard. The 25-person basket is close to capacity but still feels roomy and wonderfully sturdy. Our pilot runs through more safety checks, adjusts the burners, and we softly ascend.
Here is where I thought fear would kick in again and I’m holding my husband’s hand very tightly. But the take-off is so gentle that an unexpected feeling of serenity washes over me. The entire experience is like this. Soaring over the Gold Coast Hinterland with the sun coming up around you is so spectacular that you can’t help but be in the moment. It’s also surprisingly peaceful, almost silent save the occasional whoosh of the burner.
With our fellow adventurers lost in their own reverie, there’s a dreamy just-us feeling as we float above a shifting landscape of lakes, mountains, farms and tiny suburbs. It really is, so romantic. Then, after a blessedly uneventful landing, the magic continues with a champagne breakfast at O’Reilly’s Canungra Creek Vineyard. Riding our hot-air balloon high with a glass of bubbles at the vineyard’s historic homestead is the icing on the cake. What a buzz.
O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat
After starting the day in the clouds, we climb again to reach our final hinterland accommodation. And it’s a goodie. It may only be 27 kilometres from O’Reilly’s Canungra Creek Vineyard to their mountaintop resort but you’ll want to take it slow as the road is windy and, at times, a little hairy, although incredibly scenic.
The O’Reilly family pioneered ecotourism in Australia when they began hosting visitors in Lamington National Park in 1915. By 1926, they had opened their ‘Guest House’ and slab huts for paying guests, who spent nearly two days travelling there via car, train and horseback!
Today, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is a contemporary destination with accommodations ranging from three-bedroom luxury villas to one-bedroom suites, motel rooms and even a campground. Poised on the edge of Lamington National Park, O’Reilly’s attracts nature-lovers and keen walkers, yet you don’t have to be either to appreciate the rare beauty and spectacular scenery. It’s like another world — cool, often misty and a million miles from the busyness of everyday life.
Onsite, guests can enjoy the excellent Lost World Spa (couples will love their three-hour Vinotherapy Ritual), cafe, bar and restaurant, plus plenty of guided tour options. A must-see is the O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk, the first of its kind in Australia. Nine suspension bridges showcase life in the rainforest canopy, and at one point you can take in the scene from a 30-metre platform cocooned in a Strangler Fig tree! We recommend a sunrise stroll when the birdsong is at its peak.
Venturing further into the rainforest, we take advantage of our early morning and tackle the 10.9-kilometre Box Forest circuit before check-in. It may be the ‘shortest’ option if you want to get amongst the waterfalls and ancient brush box trees — but after four days of rain it takes us the best part of a day. Luckily, the challenges of the Grade 4 track pay off in the incredible scenery and it proves yet another highlight of our Gold Coast Hinterland short break. Just look at the photos to see why! If you’re more adventurous, the Toolona Creek and Albert River circuits are both excellent full-day options.
To cap off another outdoor adventure, we take a bottle of red wine to the deck of our One-Bed Canopy Suite back at O’Reilly’s. The sunset is breathtaking. Watching the colours splash over the hinterland, before retreating to the spa bath, log fire and comfy four-poster bed inside, is an experience we’ll cherish forever. I find myself thanking the O’Reilly family three generations back for being the pioneers they were and creating this exceptional escape.
We return home feeling rejuvenated — our three-night Gold Coast Hinterland getaway seemed so much longer. There’s nothing quite like a dose of mountain air (and a few local wines) to shake off the big-city blues. No doubt we’ll be back soon, even just for the pork belly!
Looking for another Queensland short break destination? Try the Granite Belt wine country