The magical Maleny

Situated inland between Brisbane and Noosa, Maleny has cast its spell over the hinterland with its mix of eco-tourism, arts, crafts and co-op approach to living. By Phoenix Arrien

Originally a timber-cutting area, then a dairy-farming district, Maleny was eventually settled by people seeking to build alternative lifestyles.

This is a region plump with organic growers whose produce finds ready markets at the local dining establishments as well as in condiments and skincare products that are sold around the world.

White clouds are swirling over the Maleny-Montville Road and it is an extraordinary sight. The thick fog rushes up from the hidden blue surface of Maleny’s local waterhole, Lake Baroon, then spreads over the road into the great expanse of undulating pasture and forest that stretches all the way to the Queensland coast.

The mesmerising eddies of thick cloud make up a suitably transient and ethereal gateway to Maleny, a little township in the Blackall Range. At 549 metres above sea level, it is the region’s highest town, commanding spectacular views of the Sunshine Coast, Moreton and Bribie Islands, the Glasshouse Mountains and other landmarks. It may be only an hour north of Brisbane, but it is a world away from the city highrises and coastal developments.

Originally a timber-cutting area, then a dairy-farming district, Maleny was eventually settled by people seeking to build alternative lifestyles, followed by professionals wanting to get away from city life. Now it is an eclectic, creative, beautiful place to visit and I revel in the surroundings and atmosphere.

Imagine an undeveloped Byron Bay (without the bay, of course) snuggled into the pretty hills of the Victorian Dandenongs or New South Wales’s Blue Mountains. Add a sunny climate, clean air, the strong presence of transpersonal and cottage industries and more than a pinch of lively community and you get Maleny. It’s not just the natural beauty, but the people, too, that have made Maleny a magnet for visitors.

This is a place of dreams and development — of the personal kind — as the area is very opposed to impersonal building development. It’s the sort of place where you meet inspiring people like Terence and Deborah Bishop who have chosen to build their centres of consciousness there after living all over the world; and where a single mother such as Robyn Harper has enough support to home-school her son. This is where a community of Buddhists finds a pocket of blissful serenity in which to meditate and where nature still grows lush and unhindered.

The current Maleny population is made up of a large number of musicians and artists including glass blowers, wood turners, leadlighters, sculptors, potters, painters, spinners, weavers, carpenters, filmmakers and authors, as well as therapists of every kind. Powerful new transpersonal therapies such as expressive therapy and dru yoga have residents and visitors alike pouring into their sessions.

It is a region plump with organic growers whose produce finds ready markets at the local dining establishments as well as in condiments and skincare products that are sold around the world. It has many local environmental and landcare groups and inventors and manufacturers of several environmental solutions, such as the increasingly popular Biolytix worm-operated sewage system. Maleny is also the “co-op capital” of Australia.

Yet, even while cutting-edge thinking is so prevalent, endearing old-fashioned elements hold fast in ways that have disappeared elsewhere. The local film society chooses unusual movies that screen every Saturday fortnight at the community hall. Before the film, dinner is served on fold-up tables covered with checked tablecloths. You then take your seat on a plastic moveable chair, glass of wine in hand, and settle in to watch and gossip.



A lovely little town first settled in 1887 and now characterised by charming old buildings of wood and stone, Montville is famous for its large range of local art and craft and is close to the Kondalilla National Park whose scenic walks bring you to waterfalls, swimming spots and rainforest picnic areas. The nearby Baroon Pocket Dam offers water-based recreation.



The drive into the Blackall Range is via Mapleton, reaching this sweet little town after travelling in the cool tranquillity of the Mapleton Forest Drive. This road passes through deep forest, going past lakes and pausing at lookouts highlighting coastal and hinterland views. This route from Mapleton to Maleny is among the great scenic trails of Australia. Rolling hills, coastal greenery and blue water stretch out on one side while lakes and mountains ripple out on the other.


Places to Stay


Heaven in the Hills

A cottage, two cabins and a restored vintage railway carriage offer unique and environmentally sustainable accommodation within 10 hectares of natural surrounds. Food comes fresh and organic and there is a range of healing modalities to add to the heavenly experience, including massage and herbal medicine. W:


Waterbreath Retreat

A place to stay, rejuvenate and experience community living, this retreat within the Crystal Waters Permaculture Village has sustainable features such as solar passive design, locally sourced, non-toxic materials and pesticide-free, natural surroundings. Natural therapies are at hand and meals and views are excellent. W:



In this region, Spaviews is at the high end of the luxury accommodation market. Mainly for couples to indulge, relax and be pampered, a stay here takes advantage of the romantic, luxurious environment, meals and in-house massage. Three guest spa suites with view-rich decks and a two-bedroom self-contained cottage with jacuzzi feature handmade furnishings by the on-site craftsman. W:


The Tamarind

Comprising five bungalows with balconies, this retreat is surrounded by rainforest and overlooks Gardner’s Falls. The owner, a chef with a passion for Thai cuisine, shares his knowledge in cooking retreats that culminate in Thai feasts with wine. Or you can skip the chopping and sizzling and just jump straight into Thai and other dishes served in the dining room. Cheese platters and picnic hampers can accompany you into explorations of the countryside. W:


Cairncross Lodge

Staying here means being within walking distance of the Cairncross Reserve, a rainforest of mainly red cedar with strangler fig and fungi just some of the plants creating a diverse ecosystem that’s a delight to wander in. Or there are two hectares of gardens on the property, so plenty of reason to venture out of the B&B or lodge accommodation when the various species of birds are calling. Along with enjoying nature, there are opportunities to partake in personal development workshops. W:


Maleny Tropical Retreat

Cassi and Benji, the two resident dogs at this lush accommodation, are willing guides on the bushwalks you can take near this retreat. The three guest rooms and one self-contained cabin are designed in an airy Balinese style with plenty of polished wood. They offer great views, private decks, spas and woodfires, which all create a tranquil hidey-hole. Tropical gardens and a well-used chess table add to both the inside and outside attractions. W:


Places to Eat


Upfront Café

A funky, folksy hangout in the middle of the main street, this cafe offers organic food and juices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a great lineup of local musicians who play some nights of the week, which is very popular with locals. With acts like “hip acoustic trio includes glockenspiel”, “issues songwriter/fingerpicker” and “accordion mistress”, it’s hard to go wrong. W:


The Reserve Restaurant Cellar

To enter the classy dining area, situated within a renovated three-storey Queenslander at Cairncross Corner, you pass through heavy timber doors with leadlight panels and into a room that sports rustic features such as scribbly gum posts. The menu offers European-influenced food and an extensive wine list and dine-in cellar. Popular entrees include seared Hervey Bay scallops wrapped in pancetta on a sweet pea puree with salmon caviar and beurre blanc. Mmmm! T: (07) 5435 2288


The Cheese Stop Cafe and Shop

For cheese lovers, this cafe is notable for its panoramic windows onto the production floor, which allows views of cheese and yoghurt making there on the premises. The cafe is fully licensed and serves hot drinks, snacks and light meals that include dishes with a focus on cheese (of course). The signature dish is the Cheese Stop platter, a creative selection of handcrafted cheeses, crackers, housemade chutney, fruit and nuts. W:


Vista Maleny

The newest kid on the dining block, this cosy restaurant and function centre was previously operated as Malcolm’s of Maleny. Now reinvented as Vista Maleny by two refugees from Sydney, it promises to deliver its namesake in panoramic views of the Blackall Range and Glasshouse Mountains. The cuisine, with ingredients sourced from local producers, fuses Mediterranean and Asian influences and meals are accompanied by live entertainment from local acts such as The Big Easy, Orphans of Swing and Rebecca Wright Trio. W:


Terrace Of Maleny

A lounge creates a pleasant space for pre-meal drinks before moving into the main dining area where the menu combines classic favourites and new dishes with local coastal influences. Despite being open for only two years, Terrace has already pulled in a swag of awards. W:


Things to Do



Markets are treasure troves of local craft and produce. Regulars include the Maleny Handcrafts Market at the community hall every Sunday, and Crystal Waters Market and Conondale Market at the Conondale State School, both on the first Saturday of each month. A stroll along the main street of Maleny finds a smorgasbord of good shops including ps:Books, a great second-hand bookshop that allows readers to peruse shelves groaning under an eclectic range. Another is Gourmet Afrika, which stocks African-style products often made with herbs from the shop’s own garden.


Cottage industries

Part of the special feel of this area comes from the strong presence of popular local businesses. These include Maleny Dairies, which oversees every step of production of its dairy goods including growing the grain to feed the goats and cows. The results are chocolate-, coffee- and strawberry-flavoured milks, rich Guernsey cream, apricot, strawberry and natural yoghurt and strawberry and natural goat’s milk yoghurt. Another unique operation is Country Harvest, which uses bush ingredients in products such as Australian Rainforest Marmalade, Bush Marmalade and Wildberry Conserve. They even send their chillies to Dubai and their Ginger and Macadamia Conserve to Oman. W:,



There are plenty of bushwalks and picnic spots in the surrounding forests. One of these is the Sunshine Coast Great Walk, a 58km trail that takes in the Maleny-Mapleton plateau and the Blackall Range. Peaceful Conondale Valley, home of the Mary River headwaters and the Little Yabba Creek picnic area, invites you to relax beside the sparkling waters to the sound of birdsong, while Kondalilla National Park perches atop the Blackall Range and takes its name from an Aboriginal word for rushing waters, no doubt referring to the Kondalilla Falls, which cascade almost a kilometre into a rainforest valley. Then there is picnicking by gentle creeks in the nearby Mapleton Falls National Park or rambles through Cairncross Reserve. W:,


Art trail
David Linton furniture & Timber Works

David Linton’s passion for wood, and eye for classical detail result in beautiful furniture including chairs and tables such as the table made from the local bunya pine. David often salvages a wide range of species, which is brought to his workshop to be milled and kiln-dried. His gallery also showcases other craftspeople and artists. W:


The Tree Frog Gallery

Once a squash courts building, this gallery is now an imaginatively designed space remodelled with corrugated iron and timber fittings. It’s almost as artistic as its contents, which are mainly Australian Indigenous works, contemporary paintings, sculptures, landscapes, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and craft from around the Blackall Range. Featured artists include James Corbett, a car parts sculptor, Shane Gehlert, a landscape surrealist painter, and Michael Jones, an Australian landscape humorist. There’s also a cafe offering locally baked delights to tempt the art patron. W:


Crystal Waters Permaculture Village

The first international village to be set up using the principles of permaculture, this community was established in 1989 and currently contains 220 permanent residents who live with an abundance of wildlife. Features incorporate permaculture design, ecologically designed housing, energy conservation and restoration of native forest. Health services range from yoga, meditation, naturopathy, acupuncture, massage and gestalt therapy to Bowen technique, kinesiology and Feldenkrais. You can swim in natural water holes and dams and go cycling, canoeing, fishing and bushwalking. Permaculture courses are offered and local enterprises range from sustainable design consultancy to natural therapies. First-time visitors usually begin with a weekend tour of the community. W:


Indulge Yourself
Worldview Centre

Expansive views complement the far-reaching personal development work that occurs at this spectacular retreat. The two owners’ love of life and their open outlook create a supportive environment to assist people in “evolving awareness” via regular powerful transformative workshops as well as individual sessions. The lovely workshop spaces and accommodation are also used by local and interstate groups for a variety of wellbeing seminars and teaching groups. Transformative, healing and spiritual modalities include dru yoga, expressive therapies, counselling, sandplay, symbol work, mandala art therapy, bioenergetics and dreamwork. W:



A self-development and health centre set in 40 hectares of rainforest with views out to the Sunshine coast, this place offers in-depth healing and nurturing that includes massage and Oriental body therapies, rejuvenating relationships and families. The focus is on personal development for individuals, families and groups who can relax and grow with the aid of counselling, transpersonal and spiritual modalities. W:


Indulge 4 Girls

This innovative mobile spa is actually for anyone who wants to be pampered, not just girls. The therapists come to you at your accommodation and offer massage, facials, pedicures, manicures and body scrubs that go way beyond glowing, clean skin and relaxed muscles. The spas are also great for groups wanting a day to remember. W:


Relax to the Max

Max Whitsun’s calm nature helps clients feel peaceful and relaxed. He offers Bowen therapy, bodywork, massage, reflexology and Reiki and is also the regional co-ordinator of an exciting “rites of passage” program for young people, called Pathways to Manhood, Pathways into Womanhood, Leadership Development and Returning Young Man. The focus on the events that mark the transition from one life stage to another, echoing the all-important rites of passage into adulthood that were important features of traditional societies for thousands of years. T: (07) 5494 8852 or 0401 457 663



Before starting Soul Sister, Joyce Milnes was a nurse and midwife for more than 20 years. In the Maleny barber shop on the main street, she treats both women and men with massage, Reiki, reflexology, lymphatic drainage and aromatherapy. She’s a midwife, so pregnant tummies are well cared for on the massage table. At The Stillpoint Massage, Katie White specialises in topping up your energy levels and balancing body, mind and emotions. This is done through massage, Reiki, shiatsu, acupressure or aromatherapy. White tailors each session to the client’s needs. T: Joyce Milnes (07) 5494 4453, W:


Chenrezig Institute

Named after the Buddha of Compassion, this centre for Buddhist study, meditation and retreat is set in 65 hectares of forest in the hills near Maleny. A community of nuns, monks and lay people assist visitors to transform their lives and realise ultimate happiness. You can take part in the Spiritual Program, which features courses, retreats, talks, guided meditations and discussions. Students of Buddhism can organise private retreats with assistance from the nuns (sangha). There is an extensive library of books and videos or you can just relax and enjoy the tropical gardens and unspoilt bush. Meals are taken in the communal dining area in the wonderfully named Lama Yeshe’s Big Love Cafe. W:



The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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