The Bird Is The Word: O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat

24 December 2014

It rains in the rainforest. Who knew? When we decided to go for a trek down to Morans Falls, we didn't expect to be met with the full force of a waterfall halfway along the trail, with no cascades in sight.

The Scouts were clearly onto something with the whole 'always be prepared' mantra. Sadly, I did not earn any merit badges for preparedness on the day I visited O'Reilly's. Although, I don't know that a brollie would have done any good.

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O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in the Gold Coast Hinterland has been welcoming guests for the better part of a century.

This massive eco-certified escape is impressive when you paint it by numbers: 20,000 hectares of rainforest, 160 kilometres of walking trails, 500 waterfalls, and around 250 species of native wildlife, adding up to one of Queensland's most enduringly popular weekend escapes.

She'll be coming 'round the mountain

O'Reilly's sits atop a plateau on the western fringe of the Lamington National Park. This Heritage-listed setting is what makes the O'Reilly's experience just a little bit special.

Winding your way up the mountain range is the perfect appetiser, setting the scene for an escape that wholly embraces its natural surrounds. After each twist and turn, you wonder how far away this place actually is from civilisation.

 Hanging out in the Hinterland

The answer is about half an hour from the base of the mountain, factoring in plenty of time to give way on the shoulder of the road, with a friendly wave after each passing.

Winding back the clock to O'Reilly's early days, the trip from the coast to the top of the hill meant a good two day journey. Today, it's about two hours from Brisbane or 90 minutes from the Gold Coast.

Take it steady and try not to let your gaze drift to the lush pastures growing smaller as you climb higher and higher above sea level. Be on the lookout for a few furry hitchhikers casually snacking by the roadside, too.

 What's that Skippy? O'Reilly's is this way?

When the scrubland gives way to rainforest, with mist clinging to tall cedar trees fit for an Enid Blyton novel, you're getting warmer. Actually, you'll be getting cooler – by around five to eight degrees, to be exact. Cardigans at the ready!

The bird is the word

It's difficult not be enraptured by the colourful birds flitting around the veranda of your guest house. Take it from me, though: offer up a Jatz biscuit at your own risk.

These friendly parrots have the vision and precision of hawks and are able to spy a tasty bickie from a mile off. Scenes from Hitchcock's The Birds came to mind, only with more crumbs and girly squeals, and less avian assault.

 Flocking together with the local wildlife

Making some new feathered friends comes free of charge from the balcony of your accommodation, but closer encounters can be booked in at reception.

Mark 'The Birdman' Culleton will school you on the resident birds of prey. Otherwise, you can splurge on a $4.00 tray of birdseed to lure the greedy King Parrots, Crimson Rosellas and Bowerbirds. There are 232 recorded species on site at O'Reilly's – a stat sure to get any ornithologists' heart racing!

Choose your own adventure

O'Reilly's tagline could easily be 'spoiled for choice'. With plenty of space to play with and decades of experience in the tourism biz, they have more than enough activities on the menu to fill your day, or keep the kids entertained if you're travelling with the brood in tow.

Take your pick of Segway tours, treetop walks, a zip on the flying fox, glow worm caving, four-wheel drives, and more hiking trails than you can poke a compass at.

You can even order a packed lunch in a brown paper bag the night before you hit the trails (primary school tuckshop flashbacks included at no extra cost).

 Sorry, Segwayers. No bush-bashing allowed.

You will definitely want an all-weather wardrobe at your disposal if you plan on exploring the grounds. Sturdy shoes, a windcheater and some high-intensity bug spray come highly recommended.

However, if your idea of being outdoorsy means swishing a glass of O'Reilly's Picnic Red out on the terrace of a rainforest bar, you're in luck!


Looking to get a little closer to nature? Go glamping in Queensland.

Prefer a city stay? Dip into luxury at Jupiter's new rooftop pool.


Back at basecamp, head upstairs to the cosy watering hole for happy hour (5pm–6.30pm), meaning half-price cocktails, beer and wine. There's no need to venture down to the restaurant if you're settled in for the evening – let the roasted pumpkin and feta pizzas come to you!

A rosé by any other name

One of the great things about O'Reilly's is you can visit on either a beer or champagne budget. The basic Rainforest Retreat experience is rustic and functional; a simple Garden View room will set you anywhere between $130 and $230 depending on the season and how far ahead you book.

 The Villas: from such great heights

My advice, however, is to invest a little bit extra in your stay; the luxury villas are the way to go. Complete with ensuite, kitchen, outdoor spa baths and cosy fireplaces (which you will probably get use out of even in summer), the two- and three-bedroom villas are the peak of O'Reilly's accommodation.

Staying in a villa also means you're conveniently close to the Lost World Spa and infinity pool, which looks out across the mountains as far as the eye can see.

 Suffering from serious spa envy

If I had followed the Scouts' advice, I would have booked a spa experience in the Couples Suite and happily stewed away in the wooden tub, surveying the bleak conditions outside.

Instead, my partner and I both ended up sad, soggy messes. Once we had wrung ourselves out and weaved our way back down the hill, a pop-in at O'Reilly's Canungra Valley Vineyards was almost obligatory.

 Rambling through the vineyards in Canungra

Being a fan of lolly water myself, I highly recommend the Picnic Moscato, but trusted sources tell me the Organic Red is another worthy tipple.

Grab a bottle, a blanket and your pre-booked picnic basket (did someone say Southern Fried Country Chicken?) and you've got a pretty unbeatable start or finish to your O'Reilly's experience – even if your plans do get washed out.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg