Tamborine – Magical Mountain

About fifty years ago a bunch of us – all English Lit / drama students at the University of Queensland – jumped into begged and borrowed (I don’t think there were any stolen) cars and headed out for a happy weekend in the mountains inland from the Gold Coast.  I can’t remember who drove or how many of us there were, but we headed for the famous O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat (in those days it was just O’Reilly’s Guest House) for a boozy weekend of laughter and glow-worm grottoes and perhaps some naked dancing …

The mountainous hinterland about an hour from the Gold Coast is home to O’Reilly’s Retreat – spared from the ravages of recent bush fires – and lots of other juicy delights.  This month I went to Tamborine Mountain hoping to rediscover O’Reilly’s only to find that it was about fifty kilometres south – but found that there were lots of other great things to enjoy.

View from Eagle Heights Hotel East to the Gold Coast

The mountain range looks East towards the coast.  Superb views of the Gold Coast can be found at the Eagle Heights pub, where I had a very good eye fillet with a glass of shiraz.  A couple of kilometres further into the township you come to Gallery Walk, a long street of cafes, restaurants, shops offering Reiki healing and tarot readings, fudge, hand-blown glass artefacts, wine-tasting places and all the sorts of shops you’d expect in a trendy seaside village.  Byron Bay thirty years ago has been reinvented in the Gold Coast Hinterland.

COVID 19 played its part in this village and the streets were pretty quiet.

Camellias blossomed in nearby gardens, a cute little house (see left) that may have been home to a few Hobbits nestled in a tree-lined grove, and Camille at the wonderful Tamborine Mountain Distillery (www.tamborinemountaindistillery.com) was knowledgeable and friendly and helpful as she guided me though a tasting platter of several yummo glasses of liqueurs and gins … and an eye-curling glass of absinthe.

  • Did you know that the human eye can curl?

Camille serving several yummo sips

Have a swig of the 60% alcohol Moulin Rooz (sic) absinthe at this little distillery and after your eyes stop spinning in their sockets you might just understand why Van Gogh chopped off his ear and why Toulouse Lautrec was so short.

Beware of the green fairy

 Absinthe is known by many names, one of which is the “green fairy”.

This is not a nickname for a gay Irish Rugby player … but it is a suitable tag for this potent sip, made in Tamborine with the juices of the aniseed myrtle, rather than star anise.

Author in the store room

In a small room off the main tasting area at the little distillery is a cornucopia of jars and flasks and tubs and bottles of local herbs, grasses, leaves, fruits and roots and tinctures used in making the “green fairy” and the cardamom liqueur and the Eucalyptus Gum leaf vodka and the Davidson Plum gin and the Cachaça – a juicy name for fermented sugarcane juice and apparently one of Brazil’s most popular tipples.

The distillery was pretty quiet when I was there:  no boozy weekend of laughter or glow-worm grottoes and certainly no naked dancing … but the manager assured me that at weekends when COVID was not about, the piano in the corner got a good walloping and there was much frivolity as the green fairy met the quandong and gentian liqueur.

  • I am rather taken by the bizarre image of a green fairy mating with the lesser-toed, mud-dwelling marsupial quandong.

Because Tamborine is scattered along the crest of a ridge it is rather spread out, with Gallery Walk a few minutes’ drive from Main Street, the main commercial hub of the village – if indeed that is not too grand a name for a Post Office, The Three Little Pigs Bistro, the Spice of Life Deli and a few real estate agents’ offices.  Yes – real estate on Tamborine Mountain is big business and house prices are almost as eye-curlingly expensive as that shot of absinthe.

Zamia Theatre, Tamborine Mountain

The lovely old community hall, rather grandly called the Zamia Theatre, has been a feature of the local social whirl since it was built in 1923.  It was where On Our Selection, the first “talkie” movie was screened in 1933.  The place is now managed by the Tamborine Mountain Little Theatre group, whose production of M is for Mabel has been postponed – like so many live theatre productions world-wide – until next year.

The show must go on

Although Mabel will have to wait a while, there is one show that waits for no one and is an every-day occurrence.

The sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west.

Hmm.  Rocket science or green fairy figments of imagination …?

Waiting for the sun to set …

At Tamborine, on a grassy slope often used by enthusiastic hang gliders to get airborne, a daily ritual takes place as scores of happy people gather to share a bottle of bubbles and some tasty tit bits and wait for the sun to go down.

Picnic blankets are spread, dogs gayly gambol about sniffing new ankles and hoping for a bit of dropped chicken wing, corks are popped and people loll about counting down the seconds until the last edge of the sun holds on by its fingertips to the distant ranges – and then drops quietly into night and everyone goes home.

  • Simple joys? Yes – but delightful.

Going … going … going

The setting of the sun is a time for people to think about dinner.  For a small town such as Tamborine there are plenty of choices of where to eat.  The Codfather offers great grilled barramundi (and also fried cod), the Three Little Pigs has a famous huge slab of slow-cooked pork belly and Songbirds apparently offers “Queensland dining done differently”.  I had read about this place and was looking forward to a meal there, but it was closed.  Perhaps as tourism resumes it will reopen and will once again offer “authentic, rule-breaking fun” food.  Perhaps I will try it again – or perhaps not.

View from the elevated catwalk

Not far from Songbirds is the excellent Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk.There is a 300-metre catwalk, perched securely on nine towers about thirty metres above the ground.  As you walk along the path, small signs indicate the names of the various tree species, and you feel free and part of the treetops.  Birds chirrup and Korean tourists chortle.  There is another walk – at ground level – that takes you through the beautiful rainforest and to a stream lookout where the Koreans can’t be heard.  Again, plenty of signs are there to tell you what that tree is, where the Koreans are going to go next (Star Casino?) and the walk is a very pleasant half-hour or forty-five-minute nature ramble from start to finish.

But wait – there is more!

In my short visit to Tamborine I did not DO everything or SEE everything.  Yes – there are more glow worm grottoes here, there are country markets on the second Sunday of each month, a scarecrow festival in September and an art festival in November, a chance to go fossicking for thunder eggs, a zip-line or two and many kilometres of walks through the bush.

Stonehaven Scottish Guest House

If you want to stay overnight there is the Stonehaven Scottish Guest House (like HM the Queen, I stayed in the Balmoral room), the Polish Place (www.polishplace.com.au) with almost fifty different Polish vodkas and spa-equipped rooms, there are lots of B&Bs and there is even The Castle if you are feeling in the mood for something a bit more regal.  You can get pampered at numerous spas, bash a golf ball into next week or take to the trails on a docile pony or soar over the trails in a hot air balloon.

Sculpture for an Ancient Land by Antone Bruinsman

My sister lives just the other side of Tamborine, (and was very active in the 2008 Sculpture for an Ancient Land Festival) so I am sure I will have every chance to try some of the other magical moments this mountain has to offer as I come or go from the coast to visit Beaudesert.

But I think I am pretty much past the naked dancing now – old age takes its toll on agility, flexibility, suppleness and faun-like bodies.  Perhaps a bit of crochet will be in order instead.

And a massage, please.

Oh – and a shot of the green fairy, too.


Text and photographs © Christopher Hall July 2020.

Location map from Internet

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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight

  • Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship









2 thoughts on “Tamborine – Magical Mountain

  1. Last time I was at Tamborine Mountain, I didn’t see any green fairies but did see unbelievably enormous avocados being sold at the side of the road. What a treat.


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