Carnarvon Gorge National Park

Unplugged: where to reconnect in Queensland

Let’s paint a picture of a potential future afternoon of yours:

Sound: The nearby pod of kangaroos, nibbling on grass.

Sight: The sun, retreating for the evening behind the Great Dividing Range.

Smell: The aroma of your favourite drop, wafting up from your hands.

The result? A moment of refreshment your senses have yearned of for only you know how long.

There’s no need to dance around the truth – life is busy, sometimes it’s exhausting and the best answer, like the aforementioned afternoon, is an escape to reconnect and recharge the mind and body.

But before the daydreaming and planning begins, let’s uncover your perfect reconnection – nature, ocean or the outback.

Reconnect in nature (and over a delicious meal)

Koalas-Spicers Hidden Vale-Brisbane

Mara and Miriam, residents at Spicers Hidden Vale

The VHF receiver gently pulses as the group led by Dr. Andrew Tribe weaves past ironbark and blue gum Eucalyptus trees. The pulse turns to a throb as Dr. Tribe cranes his neck at the nearest gum.

Target found.

Andrew was on the lookout for the local population of koalas that reside at Spicers Hidden Vale, a luxury retreat nestled on 12,000 acres an hour’s drive west of Brisbane.

The koala program is one of the research projects undertaken by the Hidden Vale Wildlife Centre that opened on the property in partnership with the University of Queensland in 2017.

The program is studying the population to understand the density, health and reproductive success of the koalas. In only a relatively small period of time, the population has grown considerably well, which is easy to believe as you gaze upon Mara and her joey, Miriam.

The Hidden Vale Wildlife Centre is only part of the story, include the dining, beautifully appointed accommodation and location (that screams serenity with a capital S) and you start to unveil the complete Spicers experience.

Spicers Hidden Vale-Garden-Brisbane

Head Chef Ash Martin in the on-site garden

Homage, the one chef-hatted restaurant is headed up by Melbourne expat Ash Martin who has developed a menu with a microscopic focus on locality.

Many vegetables and herbs from kohlrabi to radish and herbs are grown in the on-site garden, the signature sirloin dish (cooked in hay and milk) is from their neighbour and the pork is raised on-site.

The result of the hyper-local approach is an intricate and immaculate dining experience driven by produce from one of Australia’s most prolific food bowls.

All that’s left to do for the evening is find a glass of red, put your feet up on the porch and enjoy the blanket of stars above.

Reconnect in the ocean

Lady Elliot Island-Bundaberg-Unplugged: where to reconnect in Queensland

The descent to Lady Elliot Island

The moment your descent begins to the coral cay that is Lady Elliot Island, you’re distinctly aware of how special this place is.

The 45-hectare island is a refuge for wildlife and travellers alike and marks the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Bundaberg. Peter Gash, Managing Director of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, epitomises the ethos of “give back, never take”.

After taking over the guardianship of the island in 2005, Pete has been on a mission to decrease its footprint, a mission that in 2020 will see Lady Elliot Island become 100% sustainable through a combination of solar and gas technology, water desalination and various behavioural changes including carbon offsetting for flights to and from the island.

Peter Gash-Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island’s Managing Director, Peter Gash

The true power of the island is below the surface. Declared a highly protected Green Zone by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the zoning ensures the waters are brimming with creatures great and small. From the gracious Manta Ray to schools of placid trevally and many divers’ favourite little creature, the Nudibranch.

It’s this ‘snorkel-on-face-down’ time that truly enables the mind to release whatever it was holding on to and focus on the present. The ocean talks and we listen.

Back on land you can join a marine biologist for a tidal walk, go on bird watching tours and during the season, watch either mother turtles nesting (November to February) or hatchlings making their dash for freedom (late January to March).

Reconnect in the Outback

Wallaroo Outback Retreat-Carnarvon National Park

Justin MacDonnell (more than 6′ tall) with a 2,100 year old Cycad.

Standing next to a 21ft-tall cycad (Macrozamia Moorei) you will feel very small (types the 5’4 writer) but as you crunch the numbers, you’ll feel minuscule.

These ancient ferns grow one foot every century, making some of the towering cycads at Wallaroo Outback Retreat, a 72,000-acre cattle station near Carnarvon National Park in central Queensland, roughly 2,100 years old.

This plant (pictured above) was growing up at the same time Julius Caesar was. Ponder that for a moment.

Flora is not the headline act though, with the property home to a range of Indigenous artworks and significant sites including Rainbow Cave and Wanderers Cave.

With 72,000 acres to explore, owners Justin and Pauline MacDonnell have only scratched the surface when it comes to the historical significance of the land. On the day we were there, Justin was surveying fence lines, saw an area he hadn’t explored before and when looking around found hand paintings on a rock face.

Days at Wallaroo Outback Retreat are spent exploring the property and sunsets are enjoyed at one of a few spots enjoying a frosty beer and a few yarns with Justin.

Situated an hour further north from Wallaroo, the Carnarvon Gorge section of Carnarvon National Park is the region’s jewel in the crown (click here for our complete guide).

Carnarvon National Park-Carnarvon Gorge

Towering sandstone cliffs uplifted around 20-30 million years ago are ever-present along the 19.4km return walk from the Visitor Information Centre to Big Bend camping ground, although many walkers choose one of the key sites along the main track as turnaround marks.

Along the walk you’ll pass Moss Garden (7km return), a green oasis several degrees cooler than the main walking track; Amphitheatre (8.6km return) with its cavernous 60 metre deep chamber; Wards Canyon (9.2km return) and it’s King Ferns (Angiopteris evecta), impressive green ‘dinosaurs’ with strong links to the ancient flora of Gondwanan origin; before reaching the Art Gallery (10.8km return), a significant Aboriginal site home to 2000 engravings, ochre stencils and free-hand paintings adorning the 62m long sandstone wall.

As for the fauna, we spotted red-necked wallabies, grey kangaroos, echidnas and cockatoos among others in just one morning… imagine what you’d discover over a few days.

Regardless of how you connect, there’s a place in Queensland that your mind and body will thank you for exploring. You can now let the daydreaming begin.