In a flash of red the King Parrot ousts the Crimson Rosella from prime position on top of my head. The Rosella undeterred by the new status quo repositions himself on my shoulder, then proceeds to edge down my arm. How cute, I think, until I realise he has his beady bird eye on my plate of cashew nuts. What had started as a quiet glass of wine taking in the view from our balcony has turned into a sparring match between the majestic King Parrots and the smaller Rosella parrots over a plate of nuts.
These feathered locals are part of our introduction to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat just over an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast’s beaches, bustle and bedlam. On the edge of Queensland’s Lamington National Park, it’s a mountain top oasis for walkers and bird lovers.
On our first morning we join the regular 6.45am bird walk outside the guesthouse to meet “the locals” with a bit more formality. The ranger makes the introductions and firmly points out our feathered friends should not be fed! I keep my eyes fixed on the birds and hope they wont rat on me. We learn a few more home-truths about our little feathered mates, the King Parrot is basically a bit of a thug in the local bird world as he muscles all the others out of the way for food.
Our bird walk takes us into the rainforest, and we hear, but do not see, the Green Catbird so called because their song really does sound like someone is murdering puss. We meet a variety of shy little Scrubwrens that the guide coaxes from their hiding place with some broken walnuts. One of her favourite birds is a showy fellow, the Eastern Whipbird, or rather “Mr Whippy” as she fondly calls him, until she decides he is far too standoffish today, so this must be Mrs Whippy. “ Mr Whippy would be climbing up my trouser leg by now,” she tells us. Just as I am about to comment to her about a pile of litter in the bushes, our guide proudly points the blue rubbish collection out as a Bowerbird’s bower. Talk about silence is golden, I was a breath away from taking my ignorance out and giving it a good old airing! I decide to keep my own council for the rest of the walk after two near foot-in-mouth occasions.
If the birds are the star of the show at O’Reilly’s then the Red Necked Pademelon are the support act. These small wallaby-like little chaps, whilst not as tame – read brazen – as the the parrots are certainly as adorable. They come out to feed at dawn and dusk on the lawns around the resort and are quite used to the fascinated tourists taking their photo, from a distance.
O’Reillys have lived here for over a hundred years. In 1911 five brothers and three cousins paid 35 shillings an acre for approximately 100 acres of land each. They had planned to run cattle but when the Lamington National park was established in 1915 surrounding their property it made farming awkward. In 1917 the resourceful O’Reillys started taking in paying guests who were besotted by nature and undeterred by the two day arduous trek from Brisbane. By the Easter of 1926 they welcomed their first guests to their purpose built guesthouse. But it wasn’t until 1947 that they actually got a road to their front door, for the intervening years guests and their luggage had to arrive by packhorse. This makes the windy, often single lane road of today, that snakes its way up the mountain firstly through bush, then farmland and finally rainforest seem not quite so bad. It is certainly with a sense of arrival – and relief – that you drive out of the lush forest to see O’Reilly’s sitting there welcoming you.
The birds and scenery are the main attractions for day trippers up to O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park, but for outdoor nuts there are over 160kms of bush walking tracks to explore. And exploring them was high on our list of must-dos, especially given the quality and quantity of the food at O’Reilly’s.
We are a pair of keen walkers, not the arduous Kokoda Track camping, pack carrying sort of walker, more the Amalfi Coast staying in a nice hotel walking during the day sort of walker. We have done several walks at O’Reilly’s. The short Python Rock walk and the longer Box Forest Circuit and the Morans Falls via Moonlight Crag, each about 10kms (3.5 hours). Both are stuffed with waterfalls, soaring rainforest trees and views to leave you breathless, and talking of breathless some of the ascents left you that way as well. The tracks are well marked, the resort has maps and asks that you complete details in a walker’s book of where you are going before you leave, along with your mobile number and start time. A good precaution just in case, and yes, they have excellent mobile reception as there is a mast on the hill.
We encounter a few other walkers on the tracks, and I have to say I developed a bad case of shall we call it “kit envy”. Apart from my boots, my walking attire is nothing special, not so some of those we met on our walk. One particular pair looked as though they had tumbled out of an outdoor clothing catalogue, with those smart zippy pants that turn into shorts, matching shirts, matching hats – you get the picture – I was blending in with the undergrowth I was so green. Then there was the couple with the most glorious daypacks I have ever seen, neat, compact little numbers with sturdy shoulder and waist straps, complete with a collapsible walking stick tucked in the side. Yes, a very bad case of “kit envy”, but at least James will know what to buy me for my next Christmas and Birthday presents!
We decide our next time here will be for the big walk, the 23 km one way trek from Binna Burra. I might use it as the “break-in” walk for all my new kit from the Katmandu catalogue I have left carefully positioned around the house.
O’Reilly’s is a truly special place. Even as a country Queenslander I felt I had to slow down to mountain time whilst I was there and enjoy the serenity. Along with all my glowing accolades about the inquisitive birdlife I must add a cautionary note. I would not, under any circumstances recommend watching the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Birds” prior to visiting O’Reilly’s.