Parks and re­cre­ation

To dis­cover the real Gold Coast, put on your walk­ing shoes

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LEONIE COOMBES

1. Cen­taur Me­mo­rial and Re­mem­brance Walk: Strad­dling the bor­der be­tween Queens­land and NSW at Point Dan­ger is the im­pos­ing Cen­taur Me­mo­rial, also the start­ing point for a short walk. Few tourists know of this wind­bat­tered ed­i­fice, oc­cu­py­ing a rugged head­land named by Cap­tain Cook when his ship En­deav­our al­most ran aground on reefs near here in 1770.

These waters are fa­mil­iar with tragedy. In 1943, north of this point, 268 peo­ple per­ished when a Ja­panese sub­ma­rine tor­pe­doed a hos­pi­tal ship, AHS Cen­taur. Loss of life off the Aus­tralian coast was sur­pris­ingly com­mon in World War II. Plaques erected on the head­land’s fence com­mem­o­rate 41 navy or mer­chant ships sunk near our shores by ma­raud­ing Ja­panese and Ger­man ves­sels.

This un­com­fort­able fact was a wartime se­cret, with­held from the pub­lic to pro­tect morale. A book­let avail­able from the Point Dan­ger Vol­un­teer Marine Res­cue kiosk proves in­for­ma­tive for any­one view­ing the plaques.

It’s so sober­ing that a scenic walk feels in or­der. Step down to Du­ran­bah Beach, where care­free surfers seem to sym­bol­ise hard­won free­dom. Near here, the Tweed River surges bois­ter­ously through break­wa­ters but achieves its char­ac­ter­is­tic calm by Jack Evans Boat Har­bour. This is a good point to turn and head for arty Cafe D’Bar op­po­site Point Dan­ger. Judg­ing by the lunchtime in­va­sion, this restau­rant is def­i­nitely no se­cret. More: bigvol­cano. com.au; cafed­bar.com.au. 2. Tweed River Art Gallery: Built in 2004 on el­e­vated land do­nated by for­mer politi­cian Doug An­thony and his wife Mar­got, this con­tem­po­rary gallery is tucked away in Mur­willum­bah, 30km south of Tweed Heads. Though off the track for many Gold Coast tourists, its col­lec­tion and set­ting make the short drive worth­while.

The build­ing — a light-filled space of cor­ru­gated iron, glass and tim­ber — sits eas­ily in its bu­colic set­ting, the huge caldera of a longex­tinct vol­cano.

Panoramic vis­tas em­brac­ing the Tweed River and Mt Warn­ing can be en­joyed from a ve­randa or viewed as art from in­side, each seg­ment of land­scape framed by strate­gi­cally placed win­dows.

The walls host a large col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs and paint­ings in which por­traits pre­dom­i­nate, rep­re­sent­ing Aus­tralians from all walks of life. Tra­di­tional works by Tom Roberts catch the eye but more mov­ing is Robert Hannaford’s elo­quent ren­der­ing of Bill, an or­di­nary bush­man, which won the Doug Mo­ran Na­tional Por­trait Prize in 1990.

The Gallery Shop tempts some vis­i­tors with its classy range of affordable gifts, while oth­ers linger on, dis­cussing art over a glass of wine at the al fresco cafe, which of­fers stylish meals on a shady ve­randa with views that go on for­ever. More: tweed.nsw.gov.au/art­gallery. 3. Royal Queens­land Art So­ci­ety Gallery: Not many tourists know of this gallery snug­gled up against the Broad­beach Surf Life­sav­ing Club. It is manned by vol­un­teers and dis­plays an eclec­tic range of art for sale.

Artists must be­long to the so­ci­ety in or­der to have their works hung, and on the day I pop in there is a broad se­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary paint­ings. Art in the Park is held on the sec­ond Sun­day of each month, pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity to watch artists at work and pos­si­bly snare a bar­gain.

Up­stairs is a large stu­dio where in­ex­pen­sive classes teach­ing a va­ri­ety of medi­ums are con­ducted sev­eral times a week. Par­tic­i­pants must also pay a $70 fee to join the so­ci­ety be­fore the Warhol or Whiteley lurk­ing within can be lib­er­ated; this could be great fun, tacked on to a Gold Coast hol­i­day. More: rqas­gold­coast.com. 4. Mac­in­tosh Is­land Park: Over the road from Main Beach is a large park that scarcely qual­i­fies as a se­cret be­cause the Gold Coast High­way de­fines one boundary. Yet this peace­ful haven is un­der­utilised. Strad­dling the Nerang River, its shady lawns and wide paths pro­vide sooth­ing respite from the un­re­lent­ing fun of fam­ily hol­i­days on the Gold Coast.

When the beach has lost its nov­elty and theme park ex­haus­tion grips you, bring the chil­dren here for a change of rhythm. Ibises, pea­cocks, plovers and pur­ple hens call this place home, strut­ting about non­cha­lantly, of­ten with off­spring in tow. In a huge pond are ducks, geese, tor­toises and eels, wish­ing for tourists bear­ing slices of bread to glad­den their day.

Af­ter duck feed­ing, an enor­mous cov­ered play­ground will keep the kids oc­cu­pied in­def­i­nitely. Ex­cit­ing their imag­i­na­tion even fur­ther is a stony cave oc­cu­pied by a large model of Big­foot, a slightly scary, bearded crea­ture, sleep­ing peace­fully.

If you have no young­sters to en­ter­tain, just join the walk­ers who visit this tran­quil re­treat each day. Ca­suar­i­nas, figs, palms, pan­danus and pa­per­bark trees pro­vide shade for the paths that fol­low the river. Elec­tric bar­be­cues and cov­ered ta­bles are pro­vided for pic­nick­ers. More: gold­coast.qld.gov.au. 5. Gold Coast and Hin­ter­land His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum: In the back­blocks of Surfers Par­adise, sur­rounded by res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ings, is a charm­ing half hectare that has es­caped the bull­doz­ers. Orig­i­nally the site of mid­dens cre­ated by lo­cal Abo­rig­ines, it later be­came the burial ground for work­ers from the 19thcen­tury Bun­dall Sugar Mill.

Three graves are ev­i­dent, a fact that re­served this land for use by the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety. The gates to the mu­seum and its sur­pris­ing na­tive gar­den open on the first Sun­day of each month. Fur­ther view­ing is pos­si­ble in Au­gust un­der Aus­tralia’s Open Gar­den Scheme. Vis­i­tors can ex­pect to find plants in­dige­nous to this lo­cal­ity lin­ing cool gravel paths shaded by ma­ture trees.

His­toric dis­plays in­clude a steam en­gine and a replica set­tlers’ cot­tage in ad­di­tion to the some­what home­spun mu­seum, which houses do­nated trea­sures in­clud­ing vintage cam­eras, proj ec­tors and pieces of wrecked ships. Nos­tal­gic pho­tos of a Gold Coast long van­ished re­veal that this city of tall tow­ers has a nar­ra­tive reach­ing back to tim­ber­cut­ters and farm­ers.

Tourism changed ev­ery­thing. Black-and-white im­ages cap­ture Gold Coast beaches with big­ger crowds in the 1920s than now. Per­haps that’s what peo­ple did be­fore vis­it­ing theme parks, hang­ing out in malls or get­ting a sou­venir pierc­ing. More: gold­coast.qld.gov.au. 6. Burleigh Head Na­tional Park: In the mid­dle of the glit­ter­ing Gold Coast is a 27ha green haven that mo­torists tend to ig­nore. Maybe that is be­cause this jut­ting head­land over­looks Tallebudgera Creek, so pretty where it meets the ocean that it eclipses ev­ery­thing else. But Burleigh Head Na­tional Park is equally cap­ti­vat­ing, so stop the car and go walk­ing.

Set out from the in­for­ma­tion cen­tre car park just off the Gold Coast High­way, be­fore the bridge at Tallebudgera. There are two short trails, one fol­low­ing the rocky coast­line and one el­e­vated cir­cuit pass­ing through rain­for­est. For such a small area, the va­ri­ety of veg­e­ta­tion is stag­ger­ing, en­com­pass­ing lit­toral rain­for­est, man­groves and eu­ca­lypts.

Take the flat coastal track first. The view of a spiky Surfers Par­adise sky­line framed by spikier pan­danus is worth a photo. Whales are fre­quently spot­ted in these waters in win­ter. Brush tur­keys, sea ea­gles and os­prey are com­mon at all times and so, too, is an­other Gold Coast species: the new­ly­weds. Al­ways in pairs and heav­ily plumaged, they char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally fol­low a flit­ting pho­tog­ra­pher into lush lo­ca­tions.

Com­plete your walk via the medium-grade high trail, which has a few steps. Then re­ward your­self with lunch at Ge­orge’s Paragon restau­rant, shaded by trees, near the in­for­ma­tion cen­tre. More: gold­coast.com.au. 7. The Stin­son Crash Site: In 1937, a Stin­son air­craft car­ry­ing seven peo­ple crashed en route to Syd­ney in the McPher­son Range. Its lo­ca­tion could have re­mained the jun­gle’s se­cret for­ever, but lo­cal farmer Bernard O’Reilly, acting on scant ev­i­dence, guessed the where­abouts of the lost plane.

He ven­tured alone into al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble rain­for­est a week af­ter its dis­ap­pear­ance, cre­at­ing one of Aus­tralia’s most in­spir­ing search-and-res­cue sto­ries.

The wreck­age site is pro­tected by thick veg­e­ta­tion and so far re­moved from civil­i­sa­tion that only in­trepid trekkers can reach it. O’Reilly’s Rain­for­est Re­treat, oc­cu­py­ing the Lam­ing­ton Na­tional Park clear­ing where Bernard’s fam­ily once farmed, of­fers its guests sev­eral walks to the Stin­son crash site be­tween July and Septem­ber. Many are led by Tim O’Reilly, Bernard’s great-nephew.

Not for the faint-hearted, this one-day, 35km trek over moun­tain­ous ter­rain re­quires aboveav­er­age fit­ness lev­els. Par­tic­i­pants set off at 5am and re­turn by early evening.

The grad­ual loss of the wreck­age to cli­mate, veg­e­ta­tion and sou­venir seek­ers was in­evitable but the graves of four vic­tims of the crash re­main at the site.

If not for Bernard’s self­less hero­ism the toll would have been higher. Even af­ter 74 years, a pal­pa­ble sense of tri­umph and tragedy pre­vails at the Gold Coast hin­ter­land’s most poignant lo­ca­tion. More: or­eillys.com.au.

queens­land­hol­i­days.com.au Next week in our Se­cret Seven se­ries: the Queens­land Sun­shine Coast.

O’REILLY’S RAIN­FOR­EST RE­TREAT

Vis­i­tors on a board­walk in the tree­tops at O’Reilly’s Rain­for­est Re­treat in Lam­ing­ton Na­tional Park

Burleigh Head Na­tional Park near Surfers Par­adise

The Tweed River Art Gallery at Mur­willum­bah

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