Head for the hills of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

17 December 2020

Taking the road less travelled from Brisbane to Montville not only delivers superb scenery and delicious detours, but also makes for an exhilarating drive.


Head for the hills of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

17 December 2020

Taking the road less travelled from Brisbane to Montville not only delivers superb scenery and delicious detours, but also makes for an exhilarating drive.

It’s just over an hour’s drive north on the M1 from Brisbane to the turn-off for the Blackall Ranges and Montville. But honestly, why rush when the alternative offers so much more for both driver and passengers?

Our destination – the pretty, temperate town of Montville – is particularly popular on weekends, when tourists cram into its gift shops and galleries, and pack its old pubs and charming cafes. If you can sneak away on a weekday, you’ll have a more relaxing experience.

From Brisbane, use the freeway to get you just clear of the city traffic snarls, then take the Strathpine exit. There’s not much of note until Dayboro, a town beloved by bike enthusiasts, who park their polished machines under the sprawling fig trees in front of The Crown Hotel. Timber getters and dairy farmers settled here from 1866, but Dayboro, then known as Hamilton, became an official town in 1875. Stop for a coffee and a stroll past the historic Federation-era architecture, including the classic butcher shop that has managed to remain in continuous business and is renowned today for its premium sausages.

From Dayboro, the road climbs to 450 metres; the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC providing an effortlessly smooth ride in comfort mode, despite with the occasional pothole. Crack the sunroof to breathe in the eucalypts and watch for glimpses of Lake Samsonvale between the lantana thickets to the left. The shimmering waters of Moreton Bay are on your right.

Keep your eyes peeled for the gates to Ocean View Estate – there’s scant opportunity to do a safe U-turn for a while. This family-owned vineyard was planted in 1998 and grows four varieties of grape: viognier, chardonnay, shiraz and ruby cabernet and also buys in Queensland verdelho and merlot. Swirl, sip and spit (or swallow, if you’re not the designated driver) at its Providore cellar door where, in addition to the wine, you can buy jams and preserves, biscuits and cheese, chocolate and other “essentials”.

Continuing north, make a short detour via Sellin Road to the Gantry in D’Aguilar National Park. Unlike most of the park, it’s accessible to two-wheel drive vehicles. A site of historical interest, its huge shed was erected to house the overhead gantry crane used at the sawmill that operated here until the 1950s. Stretch your legs with a leisurely stroll around the Picabeen Circuit, through rainforest remnants and groves of picabeen palms.

Mt Mee Lookout in the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

Pull over at Mt Mee Lookout to take in views of the Jurassic-like scenery of ancient volcanic cores Mt Tibrogargan and Mt Ngungung rising from the valley floor. Image: Russell Shakespeare.

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

The Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 handles Mt Mee’s twists and turns like a dream. Image: Russell Shakespeare.

It’s a joy to navigate Mt Mee’s bends in the GLA – the car doesn’t miss a beat. It’s sharp and responsive in sports mode, the steering effortlessly light. Here, the views begin to demand attention, so pull over at the Mt Mee Lookout (Dahmongah) for the Jurassic-like scenery of ancient volcanic cores Mt Tibrogargan and Mt Ngungung rising from the valley floor.

Back on the road, keep a careful eye out for motorcyclists – it’s a popular route and they love to open the throttle on the curves. This route is also favoured by car clubs and you’ll often find vintage cars and bikes parked at Pit Stop Café. Owner John Alexander hails from Durban in South Africa, where his father had a large motorcycle dealership and John raced road bikes. If you can tear yourself away from the breathtaking 180-degree escarpment views, make sure to check out John’s private collection; from pristine vintage Matchbox cars still in their original packaging to autographed photos of racing superstars, vintage tin cars ads and his prized 1948 BSA motorcycle.

Reaching the plateau of Mt Mee, the landscape suddenly resembles the English countryside: green and gentle, with tiny purple flowers dotting earth embankments and herds of contented Jersey cows grazing from the lush pastures. Somehow, even the air feels softer, the sun less harsh. 

A gentle descent takes you to workaday Woodfood, home of the famous annual folk festival in December. Here, the road turns east towards the coast and bends and dips its way up again towards the spine of the Blackall Range. Follow the signs to Mary Cairncross Lookout at Maleny to drink in an uninterrupted vista of the Glass House Mountains.

Maleny’s comely town centre is bursting with bookshops, organic cafes and gift shops, mostly with an alternative bent. There’s a rather renowned cheesery and, tucked in just behind the main road, Brouhaha Brewery offers a huge range of craft beers from IPAs to milk stouts and saisons and a restaurant with an appropriately beer-friendly menu.

A short drive past verdant gardens (it’s said you can plant a stick here and it will grow), you’ll need to keep an eye out for the next detour – the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sign to the local swimming hole, Gardners Falls. It’s barely a five-minute walk to small, family-friendly rockpools and rivulets that are perfect for paddling. Further along, the water cascades a few meters over the basalt into a cool, tree-fringed pool.

Dairying is common in these parts, thanks to the nutrient-rich volcanic soil. A couple of kilometres on, Maleny Cheese buy the milk from local herds and churn it into cheeses and an award-winning yoghurt. If you’ve bought a cooler bag, stock up on crumbly cheddars, gooey white-mould cheese, or tangy fetta. If not, find a spot in the café and observe the cheesemakers at work while grazing on the fruits of their labours.

Spicers Clovelly is another lunch option, just 10 minutes by car on the outskirts of Montville. This chic country house with deluxe villa accommodation also welcomes non-guests to its hatted restaurant, which is overseen by head chef Chris Hagen. The Long Apron’s lunch menu is more casual than in the evenings and features French-accented grazing plates of charcuterie, cheese and terrines.

Once you arrive in Montville, park in the leafy main street and have a leisurely stroll, exploring the antique and gift shops packed cheek by jowl up the sloping street. Housed in an original 1890s Queenslander, Montville Art Gallery has a collection of everything from David Hinchcliffe’s evocative oils to Jan Jorgenson’s iconic scenes of inner-suburban Brisbane and David Mackay Harrison’s classic bronze figurines.

Hens at Flame Hill Vineyard in Montville QLD

The welcoming committee at Flame Hill Vineyard consists of Cisco the rooster and his brood of hens. Image: Russell Shakespeare.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 at Flame Hill Vineyard in Montville QLD

Flame Hill Vineyard offers wine tastings at the cellar door, cottage accommodation and has a popular restaurant which takes its produce from the property’s market garden. Image: Russell Shakespeare.

Jump in the car again and head to Flame Hill Vineyard, where you’ll more than likely be greeted by a brood of hens and handsome rooster, Cisco, who takes his job as chaperone very seriously. Current owner Tony Thompson took over in 2012, and Flame Hill now has a hectare under vine, supplemented by grapes bought in from his substantial Granite Belt property. There are tastings of the wines at the cellar door, cottage accommodation and a popular restaurant which takes its produce from the property’s market garden and its beef from Flame Hill’s own Angus cattle.
“Our aim is to be authentic in everything we do, and to be responsible custodians of the land,” Tony says. Ongoing projects include land replanting and regenerating Skene Creek, which runs through the bottom of the property. They also have a strong locavore focus, using only locally caught seafood and sourcing anything they can’t produce themselves with the lowest possible food miles. By mid-next year, Tony says, they’ll also be hosting a weekly market for local growers in the carpark.

People swimming at Kondalilla Falls near Montville, QLD

Explore Kondalilla National Park and then cool off with a dip at the spectacular Kondalilla Falls. Image: Russell Shakespeare.

If you’ve packed your swimmers, then make Kondalilla National Park your last stop. It’s named for the 90-metre falls where Skene Creek drops down the sheer rock face but you’ll need a couple of hours to get there and back. Instead, take the one-kilometre walk through riparian rainforest. Sun filters through the canopy, the soundtrack a choir of birds; the trill of an olive-backed oriole, the quarrels of noisy minors, or the pure tones of an eastern whip bird. Immerse yourself in the fresh, cool water – on weekdays you may be fortunate enough to have the rock pool it all to yourself.

Dry off, wander back to the car and turn towards home, heading down the Range and travelling this time via the old highway. It’s certainly not as exciting a journey but a quicker route, and you’ll be farewelled by the hulking simian form of Mt Tibrogargan in your rear vision mirror.

On the road checklist

Ocean View Estate
2557 Mount Mee Rd, Ocean View, QLD 
Providore open Wednesday to Friday, 10am – 4pm, Saturday 8am – 5pm, Sunday 10am – 5pm. 
Restaurant open Thursday to Saturday 11:30am – Late, Sunday 11:30am – 5pm.

Pit Stop Café
2070a Mount Mee Rd, Ocean View, QLD 
Open Friday 10am – 4pm, Saturday 8am – 5pm, Sunday 8am – 5pm.

Brouhaha Brewery
6/39 Coral St, Maleny, QLD 
Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11am – 5pm.

Maleny Cheese
1 Clifford St, Maleny QLD 
Maleny Cheese open daily, 10am – 3pm. 
Café open Wednesday to Sunday.

The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly 
38-68 Balmoral Rd, Montville QLD
Open daily for breakfast 7.45am – 9.30am and dinner, 5.30pm and 8.30pm. Also open for lunch Friday to Sunday, 12pm – 2pm.

Montville Art Gallery
138 Main St, Montville, QLD
Open daily, 10am – 5pm.

Flame Hill Vineyard
249 Western Ave, Montville, QLD 
Open daily for wine tastings and sales, 10:30am to 5:30pm. Deck and terrace open daily for lunch 11:30am to 3:00pm. Wine tastings are $10 per person.

By Natascha Mirosch