High and dry in Queensland’s Scenic Rim

The Scenic Rim is an arc of mountains, a section of the Great Dividing Range which runs inland from behind the Gold Coast, then swings around Beaudesert to continue north towards Ipswich.  To the west, the mountain slopes give way to the rolling plains of the Darling Downs.

Hidden Vale and Spicers Peak are two associated, yet quite different, boutique retreats where city-dwellers can recharge their batteries within a scant hour or two of Brisbane. Each is open for business and operating normally, in spite of the recent floods across much of Queensland.

Spicers Peak Lodge, Scenic Rim, Queensland

Spicers Peak Lodge, Scenic Rim, Queensland

Perfect tranquillity awaits at Spicers Peak, a grassy summit at 1,130 metres elevation, reached by a steep and winding road.  Cattle graze placidly around the alpine-style lodge, which is surrounded on all sides by the Main Range National ParkHuge clouds billow over the ranges as squalls pass across the valleys below.

This bucolic retreat first took shape as the vision of Graham “Skroo” Turner, founder of the Flight Centres business empire, and his wife Jude.  The ten-suite property operates as a boutique luxury resort, complete with fine wine and cuisine.

Temperatures up here are ten degrees cooler than in Brisbane, ninety minutes away – but, strangely enough, peak season is not the steamy summer of lower elevations but rather the winter, when Queenslanders are drawn to the novelty of fresh, misty days and log fires crackling in the grate.  A year-round winter lodge atmosphere prevails with high ceilings, a huge stone fireplace, the warm, earthy colours and textures of suedes, leathers and timber setting the tone throughout the lounge and dining areas.

We kicked off our first evening with champagne and canapés served on the North Lookout, gazing out over the forested ranges.  As the setting sun blushed the clouds, a storm threatened to advance, then stalled.  At the edge of the escarpment, two self-contained cabins allow their guests to soak up this ever-changing vista throughout the day.

Back in the Lodge, executive chef Chris Jones laboured in the kitchen to bring us seven exquisite varieties of degustation delight, served at table by his partner, Cory.  Later, as the night settled, low clouds rolled past at ground level like a blanket of fog.

Three-quarters of the 12,000-acre property has been given over to a private wildlife refuge, protected by covenants from any future subdivision.  Walking trails lead down into rainforest glades and the drier slopes peppered with grass trees, then wind around to the lookouts.  Nankeen kestrels, crested pigeon and wonga pigeon can all be sighted, as can pretty-faced wallabies, koalas, echidnas, goannas and even the elusive platypus.  Remnant stands of hoop pine and red cedar, the latter long gone from most of eastern Australia, await discovery in less accessible tracts.

Turner’s brother-in-law David Stent, an outdoor enthusiast whose own property adjoins Spicers Peak, has created a hosted bushwalking experience that traverses these nature reserves, linking up 80 kilometres of existing tracks and an historic coach road.  Operating from April to November, the four-day Spicers Private Walk also ventures into the pristine Main Range National Park.

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