This post may contain compensated links. For further information please read our disclosure.

Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve

This week I wanted to introduce you to the Mary Cairncross scenic reserve in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.  Maleny isn’t a big detour for the main highway and a visit to this park is an option even if you’re only passing through or visiting the area for the day.  The pristine tract of rain forest includes a 2km easy walking loop track that is flat and suitable for ‘off-road’ pushchairs and wheelchairs.  Opposite the park you’ll get incredible views back over the glasshouse mountains National Park and there’s a large reserve area with plenty of space for kids to run around and a popular activity playground.  For your picnics there are sheltered picnic tables in good supply and clean toilet facilities are available onsite.   If you prefer there is also a cafe onsite serving drinks, snacks and meals during the day.

The information centre opens at 9am but if you want to get out on the track while it’s relatively quiet you are able to get access from 7am.  The caretaker opens the side gate just past the information centre early each morning and you can access the track from there.

Although it’s a loop track volunteers in the information centre will usually ask that you complete the circuit in a clockwise direction, keeping  left at the forks.  By doing that visitors are spaced more evenly and everyone will have a  better chance of spotting a variety of wildlife.  We’ve always seen several pademelons on the track and in the bush near the edge and it’s been a good spot for sighting the elusive catbird and whipbird that are so often heard but not seen.  It’s also good for small yellow birds with a profusions on yellow-throated scrubwrens and eastern yellow robins.

The red legged pademelon is a rainforest wallaby that’s common in the area and these great mums are doing their best to keep up the local population numbers.  Often you will see a young pademelon with them and another in the pouch, they may also have another embryo that waits in a natural form of suspended animation until the older sibling has stopped suckling and left the pouch to prevent the accommodation becoming overcrowded.

Red legged pademelon at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve

Red legged pademelon at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve
Red legged pademelon at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve

We’ve been less successful with spotting the mountain crayfish whose prolific burrows are visible under the piccabeen palms.  Likewise the frogs that are heard loudly proclaiming their territory at the river outlook platform keep themselves well hidden and us coming back.

Mountain crayfish hole

Management and plans for Mary Cairncross scenic reserve

The reserve exists on 55 hectares of sub-tropical rain forest in Maleny on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.  At one time rain forest like this covered the Blackall range but now it’s a remnant that’s being preserved as a living museum thanks to the generosity of the the family of Mary Cairncross who donated the parcel of land under a deed to honor their mother and ensure the rain forest would be protected in perpetuity.

The reserve is now managed by the Sunshine Coast Council who staff the information center with friendly volunteers and a caretaker lives permanently on site to ensure the area remains well maintained and that the gates are locked and unlocked each day.

On our most recent visit (January 2016) we noticed a display promoting extensive work and investment about to be undertaken tearing down and replacing the long standing information centre and cafe into one much larger and ultra modern facility comprising additional gift shops and meeting rooms.  Several people going through at the same time as us did voice concerns at the change and what it might mean having such a large development taking place on the fringe of the rain forest.  Locals and interest group have also voiced concerns over the years but with council obtaining federal and state government funding commitments in late 2015 it now looks almost certain to proceed as soon as the council approves its funding allocation in 2016.

Time will tell what the long term impact is but currently it’s a well maintained track that’s visited by an excellent selection of birds and wildlife as well as visitors so we trust that remains it’s primary focus.  The park is a wonderful facility for locals, families and visitors to the area but just in case it suddenly becomes a stopping point for an excess of tour buses and conference attendees you might want to take the opportunity for a visit sooner rather than later.

Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve

Access and fees

Access to the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve is at 148 Mountain View Road in Maleny and is well signposted  as you come through the township.  You’ll need your own transport to get up there and there’s onsite parking available.  There is no fee for entry but a gold coin donation is appreciated and helps towards upkeep of the tracks and boardwalks that protect the health of trees and wildlife.

Signs ask people to stay on the path which is essential for the ecosystem with the popularity of the park now receiving 200,000 visitors annually.  As we heard one Grandma quietly explaining, those roots are like the trees fingers, if someone jumped on your fingers it would hurt wouldn’t it so we don’t do that.  The child stopped stomping and returned to asking questions about the bird they could hear.  Best example of parenting I’ve seen in a long time.  The child might be too young yet to understand that repeated footsteps across the soil and roots transports fungus and foreign material into the area and makes a weakness that lets pathogens and disease enter the tree but she did understand that you don’t harm something on purpose.

Enjoy your stop at the reserve and remember to grab something slightly warmer to put on than you think you’ll need if you’re coming from the coast.  It’s not a long drive but it is always several degrees cooler up the mountain and that can be a real blessing on a scorching summer day.

Pin the photos to share the article and make it easy to find later

Explore the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Australia
Explore the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Australia

Have you visited Mary Cairncross Scenic Park or any of the national and regional parks on the Sunshine Coast?  I’d like to know your favourites in the comments below.


    • I know, they are just so adorable. We learned a few weeks ago that it’s only the pademelon (the smallest of the kangaroo family) that don’t mind the mountain slopes so places like this, the Bunya mountains and O’Reillys on the Gold Coast are mostly these cute little guys.

  • How gorgeous! I went to Maleny for the first time last year but only visited the Botanic Gardens and Bird World. There’s so muchmore to do there, would love to base myself up there in the Hinterland for a few days and take it all in.

  • This was a beautiful walk through the reserve with those wonderful pictures, Toni! Thank you. I’m not sure if we have anything this nice in North Carolina but hey, that’s what travel is for! You guys have so much wonderful stuff to see in Australia. Alas, some day.

  • Sounds like a really great spot! I always love exploring scenic reserves, and it’s so nice when they are free, too! The wallaby looks adorable 🙂 Would love to head to Mary Cairncross and explore sometime. Thanks for sharing!

  • Still waiting for my first chance to viist Australia. Your picures from Mary Cairncross Scenic Park look stunning. It must be exiting place to visit. I love anywhere near nature!

  • Thanks for the feature Toni – I’ve just recently spent some time staying in the Gold COast hinterlands, and it was unbelievably beautiful. People so often associate these parts of QLD purely with the beach but in reality there’s so, so much more. Thanks for the note about the developments, will try and get up to explore the Sunshine coast before it has the chance to become too touristy.

  • The Sunshine Coast hinterland is one of my favourite places in Australia. The kids and I were in this area – in Maleny and Montrose – about 12 years ago, but missed this reserve. Looks so beautiful. Good reason to return. 🙂

  • What an interesting landscape. I had never heard f a pademelon it looks quite like a wallaby only much much smaller and what a smart animal with the embryo. So nice to be able to see them in the wild

  • Beautiful reserve. Great for a nice stroll! I like the fact that you can see some wildlife as well. Those pademelons are cute!

    Great shot that of the landscape!

  • My list of places to visit in Australia keeps growing, thanks to posts like yours. The pademelon looks cute!
    I’m surprised your mountain crayfish live on land. We have crayfish in Jamaica but they’re usually in rivers. Is there water nearby?

    • Thanks Marcia, I was really surprised to learn the freshwater crayfish here stray quite a way from water, the piccabeen palm groves always seem to grow in a wetter part of the forest but the burrows are still quite a way from the creek. I had only known about the crayfish in the sea before coming to Australia but these mountain ones are much smaller, they’re the size of large prawns.

    • There really are many beautiful and natural spots here but few pristine prehistoric forest remnants are this convenient to access. For people travelling who are short on time or without equipment for a longer hike it can be a good option close to many other attractions on the Sunshine Coast.

  • This looks like it would be a great day trip for the locals. It seems like such a relaxing place to walk around, and the surrounding geography is so unique!

    • It’s great for locals Natalie but we find it’s a good option for traveller too. Many aren’t equipped for the longer hikes or don’t have the time to travel out further from the coastal areas which is where the vast majority of travellers head to.

    • Hi Ruth, we definitely recommend Australia for anyone what enjoys wildlife. We’ve really enjoyed the variety since we’ve been here and places like this where you can take someone who’s visiting and be virtually certain they’ll see something in the wild rather than in a zoo are great

  • Love the Grandma’s style of how she told the kid to stop stomping on the ground. And bravo to the kid for listening to grandma, it’s very rare to see such parenting style these days.

    Beautiful place!

    • I don’t have children myself so I try not to judge others, I’m sure it’s incredibly difficult to raise a little human being but it’s also wonderful to see someone who can take the time to explain it in terms a child understands and encourage their interest in nature and wildlife.

  • Maleny is a gorgeous area. I agree that the view from the reserve is fantastic. Whenever we visit the Sunshine Coast we always try to fit in a trip to this area. I hope the new construction doesn’t wreck the area. I can imagine any conference that has that view from it’s windows is going to have a few people daydreaming instead of participating!

    • Thanks Jan, it’s a beautiful area so I’m torn between understanding why they want it to accommodate more visitors but also really wanting to keep it protected in the way that the donating family intended.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.