With a sheer drop on one side and the rusty red dirt cliff on the other, we wind our way up the mountain from Canungra to the top of the O'Reillys mountain in Lamington National Park.
With the boot of the Isuzu MU-X packed with everything our family of four needs for a weeks' Christmas holiday walking in the rainforest, (including a highchair!), we do a quick rock, paper, scissors at our lunch stop in Canungra to decide who gets to drive up the mountain. Hubby and I both LOVE driving and twisty, windy roads are something we'll argue over for hours! This time I WIN!
The drive begins through rolling green hills at the base of the valley, as we start the climb the trees start to thicken at the edges of the road and glances of the view of the valley below are spectacular.
Passing through what our family affectionally calls “The Tunnel” and the kids look out of the large rear windows at the towering walls of crumbling dirt and the trees looming over our heads.
The MU-X is very comfortable and capable on the bends (much more so than the old MU-X would've been) and we discuss what a good car it is for our family for a holiday like this, with plenty of space in the boot for everything you need on top of the mountain and even some room to spare had we decided to bring the kitchen sink too! The cabin still feels spacious even with everyone on board. I tell hubby again, as I reach for my cup of tea, how much I love the rather convenient dashboard cup holders!
With O'Reilly's, once you reach the top of the mountain the car becomes almost redundant, however, it is very important to get you there. Because of the drive up, if you are staying in villa accommodation or camping you need to take everything you'll need for your stay with you. As we all know kids can eat A LOT. Thankfully a large esky full of all their food and snacks for the week fits easily in the boot of the MU-X with space for the large suitcase too. Being 930 meters above sea level, the temperature can be quite different and it can drop more at night too so I find we pack for all weathers with spare changes of clothes too for after bush walks and adventures. Although the accommodation supplies cots and bedding etc I like to take things that make life with a one-year-old more comfortable too like her highchair and carrier. All this fits comfortably in the boot of the new MU-X and there was room to spare had we decided to bring the kitchen sink too.
The higher seating/riding position gives good visibility out of the side windows for all passengers enjoying the views and our rear facing Bub enjoys the view of the “pretty trees” as we drive along. For me, the higher seating position gives me a great view of the sheer drops to avoid as I make my way up! The higher we get, we draw level with treetops whose roots we passed some 30 minutes ago back down the mountain and a eagle glides in and lands alongside us, looking out over the valley below. Slowly, the trees begin to make an arch over the road.
The forest begins to change as the tree trunks thicken and make way for dense rainforest. Towering old trees and huge twisting vines define the single track road that bends around them and as much as you have to concentrate you can't help but be distracted by them!
The best part are the enormous stinging trees that also line the road with their large heart-shaped leaves. They may look friendly but do not touch them! As the name suggests they have a nasty sting that will cause you agonising pain. The previous model MU-X would have rattled you a little on this road, it was very capable off-road but less impressive on the comfort front as this new MU-X, which has managed to combine both great passenger comfort and off-road capability. More about that second point in a future story…
The drive up the mountain takes us an hour, and just as the kids start to say “when will we get there”, we arrive. Transported by the exciting drive up the mountain from our normal life into a whole other world! Boy, is it worth the journey!
The O'Reillys family have been hosting guests here since 1915 and for a long time they cleared the rainforest to use it as a dairy farm and you can learn all about it during your stay. If you think the drive up here today takes some effort, back in 1915 it was a two-day mission to get here from Brisbane, involving, car, train and horseback!
We check into our accommodation and relax on the balcony looking out over the STUNNING valley views! The drive up the mountain is so worth it knowing this is our outlook for the next five days. There are all sorts of accomodation types to choose from and most have jaw-dropping views out over the valley, which is where everyones eyes turn at sunset with a relaxing glass of wine from the O'Reillys vineyard after a day of exertion and fresh air! We opt for a two bedroom valley view villa which is fully self-catered and perfect for our family of four.
What a five days we have! If walking in the rainforest and enjoying the birds and nature does not sound like fun to you then I challenge you to not enjoy it! There really is something here for the entire family. We love big bush walks and luckily for us our six-year-old is well trained in them by now too and happily walks the three-and-a-half-hour walk the next morning and our one-year-old hops out of her carrier to stretch her legs for some of it too.
One of our favourite walks is the Wishing Tree track, which takes you through tall ancient forest, with dense canopy cover making it shaded and cool in there. The rainforest is so calming, it's cool and quiet and as you walk the birds and cicadas chatter and ring around you.
You cross wooden bridges that are like something from Indiana Jones…
…navigate twisted vines thicker than my arm…
…until you reach an ancient and enormous, hollow tree called The Wishing Tree. It is so big you walk through a door like opening at the base of the trunk and we all enjoy standing inside it and making wishes while we munch our morning tea. WARNING: Be careful what you wish for as we have had them come true!
Feeling refreshed we link together with another walking track that takes us on balancing beams over a small creek…
…crossing another at the bottom of a gully…
…until we reach the top of the Morans Falls, where we play Pooh sticks…
…and are very lucky to spot a large blue crayfish that resides in the creek.
Continuing on to a viewing spot to look back at Morans Falls, where we had just been standing at the top. Here you can appreciate its scale and beauty after the wet weather Cyclone Seth recently brought, with Morans Falls in full flow.
This path continues on zig-zagging all the way back up to the top of the mountain and two-and-a-half hours in, our six-year-old needs some serious encouragement to keep going. So we sing songs for as long as we can and then our conversation turns to which celebratory ice-cream we will all choose when we reach the top from the O'Reillys shop!
After an invigorating walk and ice creams devoured we head back to our villa and jump straight into the spa bath on our balcony and look over the valley views at where we had walked below.
There are many walks and tracks to explore at O'Reillys for all different fitness and comfort levels. You certainly do not have to head out for three hours, although once you start it is addictive!! Some of the trees are 1500 years old, just think about what the world was like when they first sprouted!
The easiest, especially with kids, is the Boardwalk that starts opposite the reception, it is flat and wheelchair and pram friendly. For most of the other walks, you will find it easiest to carry any little ones in a carrier.
There is a bird feeding area near the O'Reillys shop where you can buy a tray of bird food.
It's great fun and the king parrots and rosellas get rather friendly!
The birds of the O'Reillys rainforest are spectacular and depending on the time of year you go you will see different species in abundance.
During this visit, the Rufous Fantails, Whip Birds, King Parrots and Fairy Wrens were abundant and not shy to to be seen near the tracks. If you join the free early morning bird walk then you can actually feed them too!
O'Reilly's is renowned for its regent and satin bower birds, which we had some really good views of during our stay and the kids love seeing what blue things the satin bower bird has collected in its bower.
The light in the forests plays across the leaves and you get some beautiful shadows and patterns.
There is lots to do other than bushwalking. As well as the spa bath on the balcony there is a gorgeous infinity pool that all guests can use and hangs over the edge of the valley. There are two or three other smaller pools too. Every day there are activities you can do, which are great for adults and kids. You can get up close to some amazing birds and animals with the wildlife encounter and birds of prey show.
The flying fox is brilliant fun as you zip line out of the rainforest canopy to the ground below. My favourite of all is the night-time glow worms experience, where after sunset you ride in a 4WD bus to a secret gully where the twinkly light of glow worms illuminates the gully wall, it is a pretty magical experience and kids love it too.
We tried our eldest daughter in the Eco Rangers school holiday club for the first time during this visis, doing Christmas Craft and she LOVED it so much she wanted to go back the next day! They run two sessions a day, one in the morning 9am-12 which is perfect if you want to go off and do a walk without them and the second session is 5.30-8pm.
They do some fantastic Eco Ranger sessions, our daughters favourite was the campfire session. Where they walk through the rainforest at night with torches and build a campfire and toast marshmallows, so cute!
The evening session is perfect timing for you to enjoy a glass of wine and dinner in the bar and enjoy the stunning sunset over the valley! It's different every night so you never get sick of it!
It's hot while we're here and one afternoon there is an enormous storm which we watch from the spa bath on our balcony!
Then our girls go out and play in it, relieved for a little reprieve from the heat.
After five days of birds and nature, fresh air, tall trees, balcony baths and amazing sunsets we are all rejuvenated and in full holiday spirit. We load up the MU-X boot, water bottles in the doors and coffee in the cup holders and after a rock, paper, scissors over breakfast I drive us back down the mountain. The views are just as spectacular on the way down, we have the windows down as our eldest daughter feeling is a bit nauseous from eating too many Coco Pops for breakfast and we all enjoy the fresh morning rainforest air.
The MU-X takes the road in its stride, even on the rough patches. We are all comfortable inside and enjoy the views in reverse as we wind down the side of the mountain getting closer to Canungra. The MU-X transitions effortlessly from the twisting windy road of the mountain to the long sweeping country roads that take us onto the highway.
We discuss our next MU-X holiday adventure; an MU-X Dads day out! Will it be just as good off-road on the dirt and sand? Tune in soon to find out!