One of our favourite spots in the Sunshine Coast hinterland is the Mary Cairncross scenic reserve. Maleny isn’t a big detour from 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 rainforest includes a 2 km 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 Glass House 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 on site serving drinks, snacks and meals during the day.
The information centre opens at 9 am but if you want to get out on the track while it’s relatively quiet you are able to get access from 7 am. 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 whip birds that are so often heard but not seen. It’s also good for small yellow birds with a profusion of 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 from becoming overcrowded.
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.
Management and plans for Mary Cairncross scenic reserve
The reserve exists on 55 hectares of sub-tropical rainforest in Maleny on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. There was a time when rainforest 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 family of Mary Cairncross who donated the parcel of land under a deed to honour their mother and ensure the rainforest would be protected in perpetuity.
The reserve is now managed by the Sunshine Coast Council who staff the information centre with friendly volunteers and a caretaker who lives permanently on-site to ensure the area remains well maintained and that the gates are locked and unlocked each day.
A couple of years back there was extensive work and investment 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.
Along with many locals and interest groups, we had our misgivings about having such a large development taking place on the fringe of the rainforest. Now completed it has made the reserve much busier especially on the weekends but the Councils attention has remained firmly on the commercial opportunity from the valuable land and it hasn’t made any real difference out in the rainforest which is still a beautiful spot to visit.
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 the 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.
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. The 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 transport 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.
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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.