By Julie Fison www.juliefison.com
It’s a perfect Winter day on Queensland’s Scenic Rim as we pop the cork on a bottle of Veuve and unpack our lunch – a selection of charcuterie, cheese, figs, freshly baked sourdough and pistachio muffins. We’re eating alfresco at a sunny table overlooking the World-Heritage listed Main Range National Park. Bell birds are calling in the gully, a few wallabies spy on us from further up the track, and a couple of Scottish Highland bulls graze on the other side of the ridge, but apart from that we have this tranquil mountaintop to ourselves. Spicers Peak Lodge knows how to put on a picnic (see The Peak Restaurant at Spicers Peak Lodge).
It’s all about gourmet indulgences here at Australia’s highest non-alpine lodge. And of course the view. The retreat is 1100 metres above sea level, set on a massive swathe of farmland and wilderness in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. It’s home to red-necked wallabies, grey kangaroos, lyrebirds and glossy black cockatoos. And with accommodation for just 26 people, it’s not likely you’ll have to fight for a picnic table here. The lodge is a little under two hours from Brisbane, but by the time you get to the top of the steep, windy, dirt road, the city feels like a world away.
After polishing off our picnic we set off for a stroll along the ridge. It turns out to be a serious hike to Ryan’s Lookout - up and down seven hills. It’s a hard slog in places but the view from the lookout is amazing and we definitely need the exercise. In a couple of hours it will be time for canapés in the lodge, maybe a game of billiards and then we’ll be sitting down for dinner. We need to work up an appetite!
The sun is slipping behind the range as we take up a vantage point at the lodge. The main building is an understated architectural masterpiece of cedar, bluestone and towering glass windows to take in the view. A handful of guests are gathered in the comfy sofas by the grand fireplace, others are braving the cold on the terrace like us. (It might be Queensland, but it’s chilly up here on the mountaintop.) Dusk brings out the wallabies. They graze in the clearing as we sip our drinks and try to capture the ultimate sunset snap.
When the sky darkens we retreat to the warmth of the indoors, then follow the smell of smoky gum leaves into the dining room and begin another gourmet journey. This one is a seven-course degustation menu with matching Antipodean wines. An unforgettable feast.
The following day we set off in search of wildlife. Our chosen track takes us to a creek at the bottom of the gully. The lyrebirds I was hoping to encounter remain elusive, but one thing is clear: the only way back to the lodge is up. It’s a butt-burning gradient that we’ve got ahead of us, but at least we can justify our next meal!
The weather has closed in by the time we get back to the lodge. It’s overcast and cold, but I can’t resist another picnic. The staff couldn’t be more obliging. We arrive at our scenic picnic spot and find an open fire already roaring. Our chicken salads, cheese board and sweets are set out on the table. All we have to do is enjoy the food and warm our hands over the flames. I could definitely get used to this treatment.
There’s time after lunch to inspect the mysteriously out-of-place red phone box that stands in the clearing not far from the fire-pit, and to investigate a flock of black cockatoos that are screeching in the nearby bush, then I’m off for a massage. When I float out of the spa, an hour or so later, it’s that time again. I need to spruce up. It’s nearly sunset, and that means drinks and more food!
I’ve read the research: spending time in nature reduces stress, enhances creativity, improves intelligence and even makes you a kinder person. After three days of stomping through muddy gullies, clambering up steep slopes, I’m ready to take on anything. I can’t say what impact eating large amounts of fine food while enjoying the bush might have, but it certainly is a delicious combination.