Ancient flora, craggy peaks and endless sky feels a world away from downtown Brisbane. But 70 minutes from the CBD lies the Scenic Rim, a rich and fertile green basin bordered by the Great Dividing Range. It’s an area of contrasts – flat farmlands and towering mountain ranges; dry fields and lush rainforests; chef-quality produce and simple hospitality.
Here’s how to escape the city for a weekend and adventure into the High Country.
Head south west
Go south on the national highway and relax. Once out of the city you can flick on cruise control because there’s no changing roads for more than 70 kilometres. It may take until the mountains appear in the distance, but before long you’ll be on country time. Meaning stopping six times to take photos of the landscape, horses, cows, tractors and chickens is perfectly acceptable.
Lunch – Arthur Clive’s Bakehouse, Boonah
The first official stop on this itinerary is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town called Boonah. There you need to make a stop at Arthur Clive’s Bakehouse on High Street, which has been fueling Scenic Rim locals for more than 80 years. A glass counter filled with rustic, homestyle pies spells “lunch” – and as you should at a family-run country bakery, pair the pie with a malted caramel milkshake. The cake counter is filled with classic treats like carrot and walnut cake and on-trend baked sweets that wouldn’t be out of place at Eat Street.
Adventure drive – Spicers Peak
Hop back on the Cunningham Highway and 45 minutes later you’ll see a sign for Spicers Peak Lodge. Veer off and the bitumen soon gives way to a dirt driveway. Twenty minutes on the car is still bumping along the ascending drive, through changing layers of flora from dry bush to lush forest.
Finally you’ll pull into a clearing and the grand Spicers Peak Lodge perched on the hilltop – the highest non-alpine lodge in Australia. The surrounding Spicers Peak property is 10,000 acres of bushland and a nature conservation area, the lodge sitting up high at 1.1 kilometres above sea level. The seemingly endless mountain views are spectacular and once here there’s plenty to do, including bushwalks, hike tours, bike trails, horse rides and more, so no need to tackle the 12-kilometre driveway twice in one day.
The brainchild of owners Jude and Graham Turner, the lodge was originally intended to be a private country escape for their family, and there are still personal touches and potential adventures all around the property: a rope swing with views for days, fluffy Highland cows to be chased around the paddock; you can spot wallabies as dusk, and hunt out a trail of sculptures. Just follow one of the many self-guided walks around the property, and see what you find.
Dinner and stay: Spicer’s Retreat
After an afternoon’s exploration, stay for sunset drinks and a pre-dinner dip in the pool. The award-winning Peak Restaurant here serves up a five-course tasting menu which changes nightly, meaning if you stay more than one night you won’t receive the same food the next. Nice. As you’d expect this far from the city lights, paddock-to-plate eating is a way of living here, not just a theory. Head chef Minh Le (ex-Foraging Quail) plates locally grown produce in creative ways that let the ingredients shine.
After the eating marathon, slip into a cotton gown and enjoy your room’s private fireplace, or wander over to the fire pit and take in a sky of stars unblemished by Brisbane city.
Make your descent
Once you’ve woken to the majestic views of the valleys below, depart Spicer’s and drive 45 minutes back towards Mount Alford, where you can stop for something to eat.
Lunch – Kooroomba Vineyards and Lavender Farm, Mount Alford
Over the past couple of years, owners Doogal and Verity O’Hanlon have put blood, sweat and funds into turning this stunning combination vineyard and lavender farm into a destination unto itself. It’s impossible to tell how busy the restaurant will be for lunch – book ahead or arrive early to nab a table in the open-air dining room with panoramic views. While waiting, explore Kooroomba’s six-hectare vineyard on foot or say hello to the egg-laying ladies next door, before continuing up the hill to a giant swing. Here by the olive grove there’s picture-perfect views of the property framed by a never-ending mountain range.
There’s also a lavender gift shop and a tiny artist studio where printmaker Sal Hart sells the work of local artists as well as runs workshops on Sunday afternoons. After lunch kick back on the terrace with an ice-cream – lavender, of course – before jumping back behind the wheel.
Adventure – Lake Moogerah, Mount Edwards and surrounds
At the next bend of road a splash of blue signals Lake Moogerah. After passing farm after farm of dry, oat-coloured fields, the sight of a big, blue lake strikes like a desert mirage.
Turn right and follow the curves of the Lake Moogerah until you find the turn off for Fred Haigh Park. Expect to find picnic goers reading under trees, boaties exploring the water playground, and locals taking a dip. Lace up the joggers, slap on sunscreen and walk over the dam wall into Moogerah Peaks National Park (keep an eye out for turtles bobbing as you cross). Depending on how many photos you pause to take, the rocky and steep return journey to the summit of Mount Edwards takes around three hours. The reward is plenty of picturesque lookouts at the top, and the promise of a swim in the cool, clear lake once back.
As the sun starts to drop, the changing colours into an auburn and lavender filter across the Scenic Rim’s varied landscape. Instead of cruising the same highways, pass through Boonah (there are three country pubs with cold beer here, if your party so wishes) on the way and let the Ipswich-Boonah Road carry you home.
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