If Trees Could Talk – a visit to Lamington National Park
I’ve mentioned in previous posts my desire to run away into the woods and how spending a few days at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park momentarily fulfilled that urge, but I’ve only really glossed over the actual experience. A luxury lodge was not quite the cabin in the woods I’d been dreaming of but it was a step closer than suburbia. My friends seem to have the mistaken impression that I’m far from the outdoor type anyway so this option seemed like a good compromise.
The prospect of being a woman wandering alone through the woods with expensive camera gear was admittedly quite daunting. But besides creepy crawlies and the weird creature I found mauled by the roadside there seemed little to fear. Each day I hiked 15km+ carrying my tripod, camera gear, and a backpack full of costume dresses and food. When I found a picturesque spot I would change into a dress, set up my camera, and climb into the scene. Afterwards while I packed everything away someone always walked by and I can only imagine what they would have thought had they arrived a moment earlier.
The drive to O’Reilly’s is a challenging, often one lane, winding mountain road made even more difficult because it had been raining non-stop for the past week. The slow and steady drive meant I arrived later than expected and so the first afternoon I did the short Booyong walk, including the Tree Top Walk over the forest via suspension bridges. When I returned to my room there were rosellas sitting on my balcony who barged into my room looking for food.
The second day I walked part of the Border track with a short detour along the Albert River Circuit to admire the 3000 year old Antarctic Beech Trees. I was on the hunt for fairy tale spots and these trees certainly delivered. I then rejoined the Border Track having to detour from the path into the overgrown forest for a few minutes to avoid a massive fallen tree and walked as far as the NSW border before returning the same way. It’s amazing how easy it is to clear your mind in the bush when your focus is entirely on what’s directly in front of you.
The third day I again started on the Border Track but left after 3km to do the 11km Box Forest Circuit. Heading clockwise I walked along muddy paths down to the trail of waterfalls, rolling my ankle on the way which made things tricky for awhile. Most of the waterfalls I had completely to myself so I stayed for a long, peaceful time at Nugurun Falls and after a couple of creek crossings found the incredibly powerful Box Log Falls which felt oddly menacing so I was fearful to stay long. I headed back via Elebana Falls which is one of the more popular waterfalls in the area and involves a serious rock climb to reach the picture postcard spot. There I found a 70 year old man who’d been waiting since 7am for the right light. He said the soft, overcast light became perfect just as I arrived and I was amused to see the sun came out again just as I was leaving. Thanks nature!
The uphill walk back was slightly laborious so I took a short rest in my room and then went to visit my feathered friends at the designated bird feeding spot (in an attempt to stop them doing home visits).
On the last day I did the peaceful Wishing Tree walk, which is only accessible to O’Reilly’s guests, down to Glow Worm Gully and Moran’s Creek.
Afterwards I drove to the Moran’s Falls walk entrance which is 1km away or you can take a path directly from O’Reilly’s. Either way the walk ends at the main lookout before looping back on itself. There’s a spot near Moran’s Falls which continually shows up on Instagram but after having trouble finding it I asked an O’Reilly’s tour guide for advice and he blatantly lied to me and told me it was a 6km walk away. Luckily someone on Instagram came to my rescue and told me it was only 10m away over a fence. Obviously, fence jumping is not advisable, but sitting at the top of an 80m waterfall with incredible valley views was certainly worth it!
As I drove down the spirally hill away from the forest back to suburbia fatigue began to set in and I struggled to stay awake on the highway, so while I felt energised from my time in the forest, all the exercise wore me out completely.
COMPARISON – O’Reilly’s vs Binna Burra
Lamington National Park contains two lodges, one on either side of the mountain and having previously stayed at Binna Burra Lodge on the opposite side I thought it might be useful to outline the differences between the two accommodation options, O’Reilly’s and Binna Burra. When researching this trip I could find little about this topic and I’m sure others will find it helpful.
The drive to Binna Burra is far less stressful than the winding roads to O’Reilly’s and it’s slightly closer to Brisbane.
Both lodges offer a range of accommodation choices varying from camping to basic to ‘wedding party’. I stayed in the base room at each place and found that Binna Burra’s rooms were more rustic and slightly closer to a log cabin feel, while O’Reilly’s offers hotel room comfort. I get a strong impression that Binna Burra caters more to serious hikers while O’Reilly’s draws couples and the retired middle class. The price difference between the two reflects this. In truth Binna Burra could probably do with a refurb while O’Reilly’s has recently updated.
Understandably food is limited only to what the accommodation provides and so both are pricey being your sole option. O’Reilly’s offers a bar for casual dining and a dining room for a fine dining experience although the same meals are available in both. I felt like a fish out of water among the overdressed couples in the dining room and eating in the bar felt like, well, eating in a bar. I wasn’t terribly impressed with either option. There’s also a breakfast buffet (which I didn’t try) and free morning and afternoon tea. A separate café and grocery store provides for in between meals. I took my own food for breakfast, lunch and snacks which is highly advisable.
Binna Burra offers an excellent buffet for breakfast and dinner in a cosy dining room where you generally share a long table with fellow guests who are often alone and clearly there for hiking rather than a lazy getaway. I preferred their food and down to earth approach. You can purchase a meal package when you check in. We took our own lunches, and morning and afternoon tea were free. There is a teahouse for in between meals.
The bar at O’Reilly’s and the dining hall at Binna Burra both offer spectacular views.
ACTIVITIES & AMENITIES
O’Reilly’s is a clear winner here offering bird and wildlife shows, Segway tours, a flying fox, glow worm experience and daily tours. The birds in the area are really tame and will happily climb all over you and fly into your room for the promise of a feed. It’s these experiences which has the place swarming with tourist buses during the day. Binna Burra’s activities are more adventure focused with abseiling, archery and orienteering but we found these only ran sporadically. I like that Binna Burra offers more relaxed activities such as journaling and yoga and enjoyed their range of free nightly get-togethers, talks and tours which are sadly lacking at O’Reilly’s. Both offer a day spa and O’Reilly’s has a couple of lovely pools.
There are plenty of walks of different lengths offered at both. Personally I preferred the variety of the walks at Binna Burra but if it’s waterfalls you’re after O’Reilly’s is the favoured destination. Since O’Reilly’s caters more to tourists and families it’s pretty rare to bump into anyone on hikes over 5km although this makes the shorter tracks busy. The walks at both are similarly well maintained.
You won’t be disappointed by either option and it really just depends what kind of getaway you’re after. I would happily return to both but preferably Binna Burra for hiking and O’Reilly’s for a day trip or family holiday. If you’re really keen you can stay at both by hiking the 22km+ track which links them.
About ‘If Trees Could Talk’
When I found these gnarly, moss covered Antarctic Beech trees along the Albert River Circuit I knew immediately they had the fairy tale look I was after. The trees in this area are believed to be thousands of years old and I imagined all the stories they might tell if trees could talk. How incredible to be so resilient and how lucky we are to still have them! I was also struck by the idea that without human interference the things that move the slowest tend to live the longest.
The pose was shot on location so it’s not a composite although the image is a panorama made up of four shots edited together to get the full scope of the trees. In editing I tried to add a touch of magic – fireflies, fairies, butterflies – but I abandoned all these ideas because I really just wanted this image to be about the simple bond between the girl and the tree, as if it were telling her its secrets.