Gondwana Festival 2021 – WHEN NATURE CALLS

WORDS: Caitlin Hawkes Roberts PHOTOGRAPHY Tourism and Events Queensland

Driving up the winding, eucalypt-studded road from the suburbs of the Gold Coast (where I went to school) and into the dense forest of the Scenic Rim, I got the impression that I was very far from home.

Home being England – central London to be more precise – is where I have been living and working for the past four years with my English husband, Nick. We managed to escape the UK in December and made it back safely to the Gold Coast in time to spend a sweltering Aussie Christmas with my family. Unforeseen events, flight cancellations and new COVID developments in the UK now mean that Nick and I are stuck here for the next little while – not that either of us are complaining!

There has never been a time I have wanted to explore and rediscover my own backyard more than this year. Living in London and watching the news of bushfires ravaging Australia in 2019 was very distressing and made me feel suddenly homesick for the hum of the cicadas, the unique damp smell of the bush after rainfall and the permanent slick of SPF on my skin.

Couple exploring in the lush Lamington National Park, Queensland, Australia

So, feeling grateful to be back, we jumped in the car and decided to spend some time in ‘proper’ nature – a luxury usually reserved for weekends away in the countryside back in the UK, or on holidays abroad.

The drive to the Scenic Rim is almost too easy and we noticed a sense of calm just ten minutes after passing through the urban outskirts of Nerang. The scenes flashing past our eyes were that of charred tree trunks dotted amongst the lush rainforest – a harsh reminder that this area fell victim to the effect of the bushfires, but an even better reminder at how powerful and resilient mother nature is at regenerating herself in a short space of time.

Indeed, this ancient landscape (known formerly as Gondwanaland) has endured 180 million years of every kind of natural disaster as well as human intervention and development, yet it is still not only ecologically surviving, but thriving.

Gondwanaland was a supercontinent that broke up about 180 million years ago. The continent eventually split into landmasses we now recognise as Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula.


Today, the Gondwana rainforests of Australia include the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforests in the world, added to World Heritage listing in 1986. There are nearly 60,000 hectares in Queensland alone.

This is a perfect time to visit for those of us lucky enough to live in close proximity, who have the chance to see and experience the regeneration of this very special, natural wonderland and appreciate how it has bounced back  – a lesson in resilience we can all learn from to help us navigate the complicated new era of a global pandemic and re-emerge with strength and grace.



 Thanks to support from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and other sponsors, we’re all invited to share a month of events and activities around Queensland’s beautiful Scenic Rim. The festival will include guided walks, talks and wild adventures from the base camps (and luxury lodges) of Binna Burra, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat and Mt Barney Lodge, with Lisa of ParkTours taking small specialised groups into some existing and new trails being opened specifically for the festival.

Shane O’Reilly is excited.  “The rainforest is thick and moist… meaning the glow worms are shining brightly and the streams and waterfalls are looking fantastic and birds and animals are very active as there is plenty of food”, he says.

The Festival’s major bases, activity centres and accommodation providers are:


Binna Burra Lodge  

Binna Burra, meaning “where the Antarctic Beech trees grow” in the local Aboriginal language, was partly destroyed by the bushfires in 2019. After a period of closure, the lodge is now up and running, and welcoming guests again. This is great news for past visitors who regard this place as one of Australia’s tourism treasures; you shouldn’t miss the archery lessons and informative short strolls such as the Bush Tucker and Orientation walks.

Binna Burra currently has a reduced range of accommodation options, including camping, safari tents and luxurious Sky Lodges where you’ll wake up thinking you’re still dreaming, looking out from your balcony to misty vistas of nature in all its glory. The original Tea House is still open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner, with further extensions planned. Groom’s Cottage café and cozy bar is open according to demand.

Many of the region’s walks and trails pass through or start at Binna Burra. The Gondwana Festival will kick off here with a launch ceremony on Monday 1 March followed by a week of bushwalking and rainforest experiences. From 14-18 March you can also sign up for Arthur’s Trek led by Lisa Groom of ParkTours on an exclusive five-day journey from Binna Burra to O’Reilly’s, on to the Lost World Valley and finishing at Mt Barney Lodge. The trek honours one of Binna Burra’s founders and Australian conservationist, journalist and author, Arthur Groom (Lisa’s grandfather) who advocated for the preservation of much of the Scenic Rim mountain ranges. For the full program, contact Binna Burra at [email protected] or ParkTours at [email protected]


O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat  

Famous in the Scenic Rim area is O’Reilly’s, founded as a guest house nearly 100 years ago and still operated by the family today. The O’Reilly philosophy is to offer every guest “green” experiences whilst the company’s core operational values strongly support the history, heritage and education of the surrounding Lamington National Park. For accommodation, there’s everything from a new camping area with optional safari tents perfect for families (they can sleep five), to the Retreat’s Mountain View rooms and Canopy Suites, plus a selection of luxurious modern villas with spectacular views, an infinity pool and the Lost World Spa.

The Gondwana Festival is an opportunity to enjoy every activity O’Reilly’s has to offer (such as Stegway tours, a Flying Fox ride, a birds of prey show) , plus special events such as Autumn Bird Week from 7-12 March for dedicated and beginner bird watchers, hosted by local experts and guides in small groups. There’s also a day event on 7 March, Forests of Lamington, a walk and talk with leading rainforest ecologists and evolutionists Dr Bill McDonald and Ray Carpenter – as they explore the mysteries of these ancient forests located on Brisbane and the Gold Coast’s doorstep.

Advanced walkers and adventure seekers should not miss the Stinson Walk 29-31 March, honouring the life of Bernard O’Reilly who heroically saved the lives of two plane crash survivors over 82 years ago in Lamington National Park, highlighted in the Australian film starring Jack Thompson, The Riddle of the Stinson.


Mt. Barney Lodge  

In this dramatic mountain setting, from 19-21 March the inaugural Scenic Rim Adventure Festival starts at the base of Queensland’s fourth highest mountain (1359m), the ideal point of departure for the fit and adventurous aiming to climb Mt Barney and its associated peaks.

Near Rathdowney

The programme arranged by Lodge owners Innes and Tracy Larkin will feature inspiring speakers including Michael Groom, unquestionably one of the world’s greatest big-mountain climbers, who while descending from the summit of Kangchenjunga suffered crippling frostbite and had the front third of both feet amputated. He’ll share with us his challenges and how he achieved his childhood dream to return to the Himalayas and climb Everest. A truly amazing story.

The comprehensive adventure program will also include live music, an under-the-stars film festival, adventure travel displays and children’s nature play activities, plus guided bushwalks, bushcraft survival and guided mountain expeditions to the top of Queensland’s most impressive peak. Camping and limited accommodation is available in a range of cabins on site.

Spending a few nights, or even just a day, surrounded by ancient trees, breathing in the mountain air, listening to the rustle of the gum trees and the cackle of the catbirds is enough to make you believe in the magic of nature and its incredible healing properties. It is most evident when looking at the gnarled, blackened bark of the gum trees being nursed back to health by its environment, a giant green Band-Aid reintroducing new life back into the rainforest once more.

Nature, just like us humans, has an ability to bounce back after disaster – sometimes twice as strong and with some valuable lessons learnt. Whether it is a break for your soul, or a trip just to witness the regeneration of this ancient wonderland, hope and magic can still be found here.

 The Gondwana Festival acknowledges and pays respect to the land and the traditional practices of the families of the Yugambeh Language Region of South East Queensland and their Elders past, present and emerging.