Locals know that the real border monument isn’t the bright red one on the highway behind the airport, it’s one that’s been there for millions of years. Mt Warning looms large as you head south from the Gold Coast, coming into view not long after you cross the border and reminding you that the highrises and fast-paced life of the GC are long left behind.
And while Mt Warning stays with you for much of the journey, it’s not until you take the Murwillumbah / Tweed Valley Way road and start heading west that she appears dead centre on the horizon. She’s a formidable landmark and rightly takes centre stage across the whole Tweed Valley.
If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Murwillumbah, you’ll need to be reminded of the vast expanses of canefields, the Condong Sugar Mill, the meandering Tweed River lined with old Queenslanders that have withstood many floods, and the town itself, full of century-old retro and art deco buildings and quirky vendors with plenty of stories to tell.
We often associate this Tweed region with barefoot adventures. The hippy trail, if you will. Hell, I spent most of my last high school years roaming the region in a van full of Christian surfers chasing waves and little-known mountain villages. And while the district certainly still delivers on that concept of grassroots adventure for Brisbane and Gold Coast day-trippers as well as low-budget DIY tourists, it also continues to evolve. Its luxury tourism offerings are on the up.
Enter Mistere Spa and Retreat. Part of the Regal Retreats Group, the one here at Urliup and other Mistere properties allow you to be fully immersed in the landscape while enjoying complete privacy and all the trimmings of luxury travel.
After an abundant grazing platter at Keith’s in Murwillumbah, it’s dark when I arrive at my accommodation, one of only three villas at the Murwillumbah property. It’s the Waterfall Villa and it’s aptly named. Even though it’s raining, I can hear the waterfall cascading through the surrounding forest.
When morning comes, I begin to understand the depth of my surroundings. This villa is a bird-watchers wet dream. It actually looks like a bird hide from outside. And while I’m no birder, I see tonnes of avian friends flitting amongst the trees, making me wish I’d brought binoculars and an ID book.
The surrounding bush is lush and thick and the indoor trimmings are just as lush as those outdoors. A well-stocked breakfast basket featuring a heap of local produce takes pride of place in the kitchen, there’s a gas fireplace which is controlled with a remote control, DVDs, a well-equipped kitchen, outdoor BBQ and grill, plush dressing gowns and a seriously comfy bed. The bathroom, though, with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows is where I end up spending most of my time. With an enormous spa – big enough for two people – looking out to massive trees and ferns, I’m surprised I didn’t evolve into some kind of aquatic creature.
You’d be forgiven for never leaving Mistere (particularly given its massage offerings, which are cheap and top quality), but being located at the very heart of the Tweed Valley means there is more than enough to keep active people busy. And if you really want to get to the heart of the Tweed Valley, there’s no better host than Mount Warning Tours. They’ll put together an itinerary for food or art lovers, or you can join one of their regular guided tours on the Tweed and Rous Rivers (and word to the wise, the catering is to die for).
Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre (open Weds – Sun, 10 – 5) is the jewel in the region’s cultural crown, but there’s plenty more for art-lovers. If you time your stay, you might catch the annual Murwillumbah Art Trail or the monthly Makers and Finders market which delights with hand-made treasures and local artisans. The Tweed Valley is a beacon for artists in the region, with a very high concentration of Australia’s artistic community living and working here. There are lots of opportunities to experience that art – with cafes showcasing local talent and boutiques selling local handcrafts. Even the pubs are in on the act. Upstairs at the Court House Hotel, you can visit Caldera Wildscapes Art Gallery & Studio (open Weds – Sun 10 – 4). As well as checking out the art by Andy Reimanis you can experience the 20 metre long panoramic painting of the Wollumbin Mt Warning Summit – the piece was a year in the making and features remarkably accurate geographic detail.
Aside from the art, there’s also a bunch of boutique stores selling old wares, collectables and antiques – with two of my favourite new discoveries located less than 20 minutes away in Burringar: Heath’s Old Wares, and the recently opened Burringbar Roadhouse Gallery are like something you’d see in a movie (and little wonder because Heath’s are regularly called on to supply props for movies and events).
But enough about the art and culture. Let’s talk food…. Apart from the fact there’s an annual Tweed Foodie Fest (this year it’s Saturday 1 December), there’s a stellar offering of food and drink throughout Tweed Valley. At Burringbar, Fallen Leaf is a new tea and espresso house that serves its own delicious teas made from local ingredients, Tweed Valley Whey had opened just days before I visited, making cheese from milk produced in their own dairy, that’s been in the family for like four generations (try the chili feta, it’s the bomb) and Husk Distillers has laid down roots at Tumbulgum – the only paddock to palate distillers I know of – creating stunning rums and a new ink gin that people are dying to get their hands on (they’ve got a cellar door opening in 2019). And being surrounded by all that red dirt means the region is just bursting with farms of all sizes and foodie fanatics aplenty – many of whom own cafes and restaurants – so believe me when I say, seriously, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
After a weekend of sampling local fare and making the most of Tweed Valley hospitality, my favourite is the House of Gabriel. Located right on the Tweed River and located in a restored 120 year old house, as well as a gift shop and peaceful gardens (not to mention bloody excellent coffee), there’s a menu bursting with seasonal flavours as well as wood-fired pizzas on Fridays (5 – 8pm) and a high tea on offer too.
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Disclosure: Samantha Morris was the guest of Mistere Spa and Retreat for three glorious, rainy, child-free nights where the temperature fell to 12 degrees and both spa and fireplace were made very good use of.