©Copyright Kelley Mether, 2016
Two hours drive from Brisbane, and about one and half hours from the Gold Coast will find you in magnificent Lamington National Park. Perched on one of its many peaks, roughly 1000 metres above sea level, is O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, a truly beautiful part of the world.
O’Reilly’s Accommodation and Facilities
The Retreat offers various accommodation styles, from luxurious mountain-view villas to small single rooms in the original Guest House itself, and boasts an impressive restaurant as well. A large, warm lounge with a fireplace (right where I sit writing this, in fact) is open for guests’ use, and was once the O’Reilly family’s personal lounge. After a day’s hard hiking though, there could be nothing better than dragging weary feet up the stairs to sit near the fire in the bar, and enjoy a wine or cocktail during the happy hour (and a half; it goes from 5 – 5:30pm – go figure).
If one doesn’t require the finer things in life, or simply wants to travel – well, simply, I guess – then there is always the camping option. Located close enough to O’Reilly’s to allow use of its bar, restaurant, cafe and convenience store, it is a quiet and very pretty site. Beware in winter, though, that no fires are allowed. Given that temperatures at the peak are on average 7 degrees lower than at sea level, this makes for pretty tough camping. The campsite is not part of O’Reilly’s but is managed by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service; you can find more information and pricing by copying and pasting this link into your browser: http://bit.ly/1cbSeKS
O’Reilly’s has an interesting history, which I’ll make brief: the 5 O’Reilly brothers and 3 of their cousins bought the land at the peak of Mount Lamington for a pittance in 1911. At the time the Queensland government stipulated that the land on the mountain could only be bought if it was used for primary industry: specifically, the government wanted farming or agriculture. The boys cleared some land and tried to make a living as dairy farmers, but success was limited given the extreme hardships of the terrain – carrying milk via horseback 37km down the mountain probably ended in more butter than milk, one would imagine.
Luckily for the brothers, after five years of struggle the Queensland government changed its mind and decided to declare the area part of a national park (Lamington National Park), but allowed the O’Reilly’s to keep their land intact. Over the next few years, with constant requests for food and lodging from day-trippers and campers, it became obvious to the brothers that there was potential for business from the newly declared park, and in 1926, O’Reilly’s Guest House officially opened.
Mystery of the Stinson:
In 1937 a Stinson airplane carrying mail and seven passengers from Brisbane to Sydney crashed into the side of a mountain on the McPherson Ranges, roughly 23 kilometres from the O’Reilly homestead. It sparked the largest air crash search in Australia’s history, and was hampered by uncertainty of the aircraft’s flight route that day, because of cloud cover and bad weather. Nine days after the crash, Bernard O’Reilly set out alone, carrying just bread and butter, tea and some onions, to search for the plane. After two full days cutting his way through sub-tropical rainforest and traversing extremely dangerous terrain, he came across the wreck and miraculously discovered two survivors. They told him of a third, slightly wounded young English man, who had left them the morning after the crash to go for help. After making the two men as comfortable as he could and promising to send a rescue party, Bernard rushed to find the remaining survivor. He found him sitting on a rock by a river several miles away, cigarette in hand, leaning against a tree, but alas, dead. Much later that night, Bernard O’Reilly found his way out of the bush and made his way to a nearby farm to arouse a rescue party. It is said that over 100 men from the surrounding farms volunteered, setting out that very night to cut a path back through the forest to rescue the two remaining survivors. In total, Bernard O’Reilly had struggled through thirty-five kilometres of near-impenetrable bush in this epic journey.
It is possible to walk to the Stinson wreck, but a high degree of navigational and hiking skills are needed. O’Reilly’s offers a guided walk, although apparently it is a government restriction that only eight walks are done, per year. The trek covers 35 kilometres in one day and climbs to just over 1000 metres, and descends even lower, to 1,590 metres to finish at Mount Barney. I’m doing it in 2018, but that’s another story for another time.
So many walks, so little time to do them all. And they really are beautiful. I did the Box Forest Circuit, walking 10.6km under a thick canopy of towering trees, getting up nice and close enough to swim at a few waterfalls, and crossing the river twice by hopping over large boulders. It was a strenuous four hour walk, but in that time we stopped to take photos and even fit in a little picnic.
All the walks that begin at O’Reilly’s are well sign-posted and range from easy one hour hikes of a few kilometres to the more strenuous O’Reilly’s to Binna Burra Walk, which is 23 kilometres and takes about seven hours, one way.
For the Kids:
O’Reilly’s runs an Eco-Rangers program for children aged from five to twelve years old. It includes such things as a visit to the Glow Worm Cave, native animal spotting, and a 180 metre long flying fox ride. The program runs both mornings and evenings, giving parents ample time to do a few of the longer walks, or just relax over a nice dinner together.
O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat: https://oreillys.com.au
The story of the Stinson plane crash, as told by Bernard O’Reilly: http://www.chapelhill.homeip.net/FamilyHistory/Other/QueenslandHistory/THESTORYOFTHESTINSONWRECK.htm