Southern Cross 4WD Tours offer full and half day tours, in and around Mount Tamborine, the Green Mountains section of Lamington National Park and Springbrook Mountain, in the Gold Coast Hinterland. Known as the "green behind the gold", a rainforest experience is a must for any visitor. The Gold Coast is so much more than a beach destination. If you are visiting the area on holiday, or want to see more of your own back yard, check out this family run tour business, that has been sharing the secrets of the Hinterland for close on 20 years.
Our pick up point was at Movie World and I expected to sit for a while, on the standard drive up Mount Tamborine. Instead, and I have to quote my friend here: "the excitement of the tour began within the first 15 minutes of getting on the bus", as we quickly turned off road and onto the fire trail, a rugged and steep track that grabs your attention and sets the tone for the day, as you begin to explore. Following the original pioneer's track, you won't meet other tourists here. We only saw a couple of women out on horseback and some off road mountain bikers. You might encounter a python as it makes it's way across the trail or koalas in the eucalypt forest but no crowds on this tour.
Boomerangs, Morning Tea & Curtis Falls
As the vehicle climbs, you lose a lot of the humidity you get down on the coast itself, so it feels cooler. The views out over the coast were clear, to the sands of North Stradbroke Island, the Q1 and the Surfers skyline and when reaching Eagle Heights you can't but be impressed by the million dollar views.
Next, it was a short hop to the Eagle Heights park for our lesson in boomerang throwing, after which we attempted to master the art ourselves.
After the rugged start to the trip, we stopped at the old church in Mount Tamborine for tea and scones (or coffee or hot chocolate, whatever you prefer) where the setting is charming. A family was gathering for a naming ceremony, so it had a very authentic feel to it.
Next stop was a rainforest walk to Curtis Falls and our introduction to the uniqueness of the subtropical rainforest and the animals and birds that make their home there. I have been on many self guided rainforest walks and walked past so many things I knew nothing about. I loved the beauty, the freshness of the air and the magnificent trees but knew so little about things that are happening right under your nose.
I can now share facts about the trap door spider, know to avoid the Gympie Gympie (also known as the stinging tree) which would be a "once stung, never forgotten" type of experience, and realize that that cell phone ringing is just the lyrebird mimicking man-made sounds, along with many more interesting bush facts.
The 45-minute walk to Curtis Falls and back was a perfect taste of the rainforest. There are steps to descend and climb again, as you drop into the small gorge but all ages could manage the half a kilometre distance and the climb. The falls were low when we were there but still flowing despite the lack of rain in the previous 3 months.
Gallery Walk with its mix of galleries, souvenir shops and cafes is a lovely stop although there's not quite enough time to do it justice if you are a serious shopper. This was our Wine Tasting stop too and we enjoyed a number of whites and including Verdelho, Sauvignon and Marsanne, along with Moonshine Madness, Reserve Siraz and Cabernet Sauvignon reds. It was all very civilized and if you find something pleasing to your palate, there's the opportunity to buy some bottles to take home.
From Gallery Walk we headed down the western side of Tamborine to the former timber milling township of Canungra. Passing the O'Reilly's Canungra Valley Vineyards, our destination was a 400-acre cattle property in the beautiful Sarabah Valley for our lunch stop. The rustic style setting of Spring Gully Stays (which also has on site tents and camping facilities), offered a covered outdoor area for a delicious Australian style BBQ lunch with drinks. It was cooked as we arrived and a choice of steak, chicken, vegetarian or fish was served with a bread roll, crisp salads and fresh fruit. Located on the river, there are rock pools for a swim so pack a swimsuit.
The open grassy area was the location for our whip cracking lesson. Here's your chance to embrace the outback spirit and learn how to crack your whip and impress your friends. All I can say is I was so near, yet so far.
It's then time to walk off your lunch up at O'Reilly's in Lamington National Park. The Booyong boardwalk leads you to a series of linked suspension bridges so you can walk through the rainforest canopy and even climb the observation tree for a real birds eye view (30m above the ground). I love the history of O'Reillys and the black and white prints on the walls of the café. Click here for more on O'Reilly's.
Colourful native birds flock to the feeding area back near reception and who can miss the photo opportunity of feeding the brightly coloured parrots. A viewing stop at the Kamarun Lookout, on the way back down the mountain, offers spectacular views over the Great Dividing Range which runs all the way from Victoria to Northern Queensland. A few pretty faced wallabies hopped out into view on our drive back which was a fitting sight to end the day.
Despite being an independent traveller who likes to read up on places and do it myself, I would recommend this tour for Australians and overseas tourists alike. I saw a very different side to Tamborine Mountain whilst travelling with Southern Cross. Being 4 wheel drive you get off road through the fire trails which is great, are taken to the best sights, covering so much in a short time, and come away with a richer experience of the area, as a result of the guide's local knowledge and the company's well researched itinerary. I learned how to throw a boomerang correctly and can even give a fair attempt at cracking a stockman's whip. All of this was enjoyed in good company and made for a relaxing day, where there were no driving directions to follow or decisions to be made.
The day was filled with: rainforest walks and waterfall views, a canopy treetop walk and lookout climb, wine tasting, off road 4 x 4 driving, following fire trails though Eucalyptus Forest, amazing panoramic views over the coast, wildlife information, boomerang throwing and whip cracking, morning tea of fresh scones and a lovely BBQ lunch, bird feeding, a river swim in summer months, the shops and galleries of Gallery Walk, not forgetting sightings of wallabies and even a barrack of bats at the end of the day and yet all this was accomplished without a feeling that you were being rushed from one place to another. Our guide was knowledgeable, professional, personable and had a sense of humour, engaging with his passengers in a fun way. A selling point for me was the fact that the tour was all-inclusive, with no dipping in your pocket for "extras". When you research tour options, always check exactly what's included and excluded, as you can often end up paying more than the initial comparison of tour prices. On this tour, you can leave your wallet at home and sit back and enjoy the day.
The in vehicle commentary was great, with an efficient sound system. The vehicle on our tour was a 16 seater Mercedes 4x4 with raised viewing (much better than a car) and large viewing windows. There's good headroom, unlike smaller tour minibuses I have travelled in. It was immaculate inside and out, air-conditioned and of course is seat belted. It made easy work of the steep fire trail tracks, with excellent traction control. For a fuller description of vehicles used, click here.
The tour is suitable for all ages. We covered close on 200km in the day but there were no drive stretches over 45mins long, so kids wouldn't be fidgeting over long distances (just be aware that the road up to O'Reilly's is narrow and very winding, if they are prone to motion sickness).
Click here to view the full range of tours on offer. For enquiries and bookings, visit the Southern Cross website or contact Darran or Steph on 07 5574 5041, E: firstname.lastname@example.org . They will advise you on meeting points and hotel pick ups. Current tour costs can be found here.
I'd say this tour is the perfect option if you want to book a private group tour or family tour for a special birthday celebration, overseas visitors or with a group of friends, looking for a day out with a difference.