Get back to nature with these spectacular road trips through northern New South Wales and South East Queensland.
By Ellie Schneider
The Rainforest Way is a series of scenic drives through the World Heritage rainforests and national parks that link northern New South Wales and Queensland. Follow one of the many routes to explore lush rainforest, cascading waterfalls and idyllic country towns. The best way to experience the Rainforest Way is from the Gold Coast or Byron Bay, which are both about an hour drive away.
From Casino in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, drive west to Mallanganee, stopping at the lookout for spectacular views over the Richmond Range. On a clear day you can see the distant volcanic plug of Mount Warning. Travel into Tabulam, where you can grab a bite to eat at the Tabulam Co-Op, before driving north to the historic village of Bonalbo. This is the gateway to the World Heritage rainforest of Richmond Range National Park. Walk past rare spotted gums at the Cambridge Plateau picnic area and follow the 30-minute Culmaran loop trail through tall woodlands along the rainforest edge. Back on the road, continue north through the Yabbra State Forest, a popular place to fish and 4WD. From Urbenville, you can do a loop through the village of Woodenbong to Tooloom Falls and Tooloom National Park, home to ancient Aboriginal sites and 10 species of kangaroos and wallabies.
You'll crisscross through the states of Queensland and New South Wales on this road, built by local Lions Clubs community groups in 1971. Start from pretty Kyogle in New South Wales, which sits on the Richmond River encircled by rainforest. Turn onto the Lions Road just north of Wiangaree and curve around Border Ranges National Park, part of the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforests. The Border Loop Lookout provides incredible views down Gradys Creek and the rail engineering feat of the Border Loop as it spirals up the mountain. From here you can also follow a 45-minute hiking track through the rainforest canopy, keeping your eyes peeled for koalas. On the other side of the Mount Lindesay Highway lie the rugged peaks of Mount Barney National Park. Stop into Rathlogan Grove in the small town of Rathdowney to visit its olive groves and enjoy afternoon tea at its family-run cafe.
Start from Nerang on Queensland's Gold Coast and head south-west into Lamington National Park. Travel to Beechmont then follow the 10-kilometre (six-mile) rainforest drive to the Binna Burra section of the park – home to hundreds of waterfalls and walking trails – or continue on to Canungra. At Canungra turn off to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, where you can enjoy a picnic, join a glow worm tour or zip-line above the rainforest. Do short sections of the Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk, or spend four days hiking the entire 54-kilometre (34-mile) trail. Back on the winding road, drive to Tamborine Mountain, where you can visit vineyards, hang glide off the mountain or browse art and antique shops on the Gallery Walk. Nearby Tamborine National Park offers scenic picnic spots and the enchanting 30-minute walking track to Curtis Falls.
Begin in the hinterland town of Beaudesert, less than an hour from both Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Drive west to Boonah, in the heart of this Scenic Rim area. Here you can drop into local art galleries, buy fresh produce from the roadside stalls and check out the distinctive heritage buildings. Just outside town try rock climbing on Mount French or canoeing on Lake Moogerah. Continue on the road to Main Range National Park and take the short circuit walk to the top of Queen Mary Falls. Continue past Daggs and Browns Falls towards Killarney and Legume, then head east to Woodenbong. Travel back to Beaudesert, stopping to hike to the Lower Portals (deep rock pools and small waterfalls) in Mount Barney National Park.
Drive from the picturesque town of Murwillumbah to Wollumbin-Mount Warning National Park, where you can walk the short Lyrebird Track across Breakfast Creek and through palm forest to a scenic viewing platform. Jump back into the car to visit the thriving arts community of Uki, and tuck into handmade pies at the Uki Bakery. Drive past Mebbin National Park, where the one-kilometre (0.6-mile) return Byrrill Creek walking track takes you through subtropical rainforest to a stand of ancient fig trees. Head to the village of Tyalgum then onwards to Chillingham, where you can stroll through the bush tucker garden at Buck's Farm. Head north to Springbrook National Park to visit Natural Bridge, a spectacular waterfall through the roof of a basalt cave. Head back through Chillingham to Murwillumbah.
Explore the galleries, theatres and performing arts space around Lismore before driving east through Bexhill and a patchwork of farmland and forest to the small village of Rosebank. Follow the signs to stunning Minyon Falls, which plunge more than 100 metres (330 feet) into a deep, palm-fringed gorge. There are a number of designated walking trails to the bottom of the falls, including an eight-kilometre (five-mile) loop walk, or follow the Boggy Creek walk from the Rummery Park campground to the top of the falls (one to two hours each way). Head towards the village of The Channon, home to a famous monthly market, then travel through Nimbin, the cradle of Australia's counterculture since the 1970s. See remnants of the area's volcanic activity at Nimbin Rocks, drop into the Nimbin Candle Factory or stock up on organic produce at the Nimbin Farmers Market, held each Wednesday. From here you're a one-hour drive to the quaint township of Bangalow and Byron Bay.
From Kyogle, head north through Wiangaree to the World Heritage rainforest of Border Ranges National Park. The road is unsealed but suitable for conventional vehicles when dry. Follow one of the many walking trails from the Sheepstation Creek campground or trek through primeval rainforest on one of three trails to Brindle Creek. Look out for the red cedar tree believed to be 1000 years old on the 30-minute Red Cedar Loop walk. Or hike the Bar Mountain Circuit (three hours return) to the lookout, the highest accessible point of Border Ranges National Park. Enjoy a picnic at the Antarctic Beech picnic area, taking in views over the Lost World wilderness area out toward the Queensland border. Don't miss the short walk to Pinnacle Lookout, which sits 919 metres (3,015 feet) above sea level, on the rim of the caldera. You’ll be treated to spectacular views of Mount Warning and the Tweed Valley below. Drive out of the park's southern entrance onto Murwillumbah-Kyogle Road.