June 25, 2020
Spicers signature property, Spicers Peak is where the ‘relaxed luxury’ adventure truly begins. Peak Lodge was built from scratch with love, and a view to sharing the breathtaking, natural scenery of the Scenic Rim with you.
Spicers Founder, Jude Turner and her husband, Graham “Skroo” Turner both grew up in the Scenic Rim region, in Warwick and Stanthorpe respectively, so have always had a soft spot for the area. The pair met in London working for Skroo’s then fledgling travel business, Topdeck Travel. They later married and returned to Brisbane, Australia, where they started their internationally renowned Flight Centre business, and settled to raise their young family.
Living in a rural suburb in Brisbane’s West, the children attended school and later university. Once the kids had flown the coup, however, Jude and Skroo moved into the inner city, which left them yearning for some country land where they could build a farmhouse for family visits. They both felt drawn back to the beautiful but relatively undiscovered Scenic Rim region common to their childhoods. In 1999, they bought a mountain-top property called ‘Cedar Mountain’ for around $300k at auction. The property was known as ‘Cedar Mountain because of the wealth of cedar timber that had been taken from the site in the late 1800s-early 1900s. At the time of the sale, the only structures on the property were a few sheds and an old barn. These were retained and used as storage facilities. Beyond that, they would need to start from scratch. Jude and Skroo started by renaming the property ‘Spicers Peak’ after the nearby mountain peak and Peter Beauclerk Spicer, the first superintendent of prisoners at the Moreton Bay settlement in the 1820s-30s. Shortly after purchasing Spicers Peak the couple realised the cattle station property below, Henrietta Downs, included part of the top of the mountain. In their quest to refine their holding and own the complete mountain top, the Turner’s also purchased this property, employing a farm manager to continue running it.
The more Jude and Skroo visited the Spicers Peak property in those early days, the more the couple realised that if they built a farmhouse solely for their family, they were unlikely to visit often enough for it to be worthwhile. The opportunity to share the experience emerged; ideas started percolating of a boutique style getaway for the public. Fortuitously, around this time another property nearby in the Scenic Rim region, Hidden Vale – farming land with a B & B – came onto the market. Jude and Skroo were keen on acquiring more land and secured the property. They thought it would be easy to get someone else to run it the way that Jude envisioned and identified Peppers as a good fit. Peppers Hidden Vale opened to the public in 2002. At the time, Peppers appealed to Jude as they were the only group in Australia that ran small retreats as opposed to hotel groups. After Hidden Vale was up and running (it had been an unexpected distraction) Jude returned her focus to developing the Spicers Peak property.
Jude and her sister Ros immersed themselves into the design of Peak Lodge, giving life to Jude’s original vision of a boutique accommodation experience. They’d only contributed to residential renovations before, but didn’t let this stop them. The women’s father had worked in the architectural/engineering space and their mother had been an art teacher, so they’d grown up in an environment encouraging of creativity, and had actually both trained as art teachers. While Jude’s strong point was overarching vision, Ros had the drawing skills to break that down into basic architectural and spatial plans (you can see one of the sisters’ original drawings with notes on the wall at Peak Lodge).
Starting in 2002 the Peak Lodge build took place over two years with builders Ian Crann (who had built the Turner’s house in Brisbane) and Peter Bradfield (from Warwick). The project developed interest with the locals, many of whom enquired about work. Graham Hickson, a local farmer, and his son, came on board and did much of the earthworks, landscaping and walls. Over the course of the build, Graham developed a solid friendship with Jude’s brother, Dave Stent, who was also spending significant time working on site (in particular he built the stone fireplace in the Manager’s house).
Peak Lodge was completed in 2004. The Turners found a wonderful team in Mark and Belinda Stapelton who became the first managers of the Lodge working under a Peppers Management agreement (the Stapeltons would later become partners with the Turners in the Vineyards Estate property). Peak Lodge opened to the first guests later that year as Peppers Spicers Peak Lodge. The building had 10 rooms: two upstairs and four along each wing.
Early on, Jude realised that Peak Lodge and Hidden Vale were “destination” properties and she worked hard to create a richly layered guest experience combining luxurious yet welcoming interiors, gourmet restaurants, delightful walks, mountain-bike trails, engaging art, and top quality facilities including swimming pools, tennis courts, and treatment spas. The staff played a significant role, their proactive service and warm engagement with guests reflecting a core value to encourage authentic connection with each other and the surrounding environment.
In 2007, five years after Peak Lodge opened, Spicers extended the Peak property accommodations with the addition of two private lodges, the spa, and a house to function as staff quarters. This took the property to the next level. As things progressed, however, Jude felt a growing desire to have more control over the property’s management and to shape the way the staff and their service were integral to the Spicers product. Peppers was moving in a direction that no longer closely aligned with the small scale boutique approach that Jude valued.
With a view to expanding the Spicers offering into the future, and a healthy dose of her husband’s encouragement (“You can’t limit the business to running just two properties!”), Jude purchased four other properties throughout 2007-8: Clovelly Estate and Tamarind on the Sunshine Coast, Balfour in inner-city Brisbane, and Vineyards Estate in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. This time the properties were located in more established locations where Spicers wouldn’t need to create the entire experience! Spicers initiated the separation from Peppers and started to move in their own, exciting direction. The Spicers Retreats brand was officially launched in 2010 with Spicers Peak Lodge, Spicers Hidden Vale, Spicers Clovelly Estate, Spicers Tamarind Retreat, Spicers Balfour Hotel, and Vineyards Estate.
Today Peak Lodge is the company’s signature property that sits at the heart of the Spicers story. Peak Lodge offers an exclusive, intimate Australian wilderness experience that connects people with nature in the context of luxury. The lodge continues to attract new and repeat clientele for short boutique stays.
PEAK LODGE AND THE ORIGINAL SCENIC RIM TRAIL
Jude recalls her brother Dave Stent and local farmer, Graham Hickson, putting their hearts and souls into Peak Lodge’s development. During the process the two men became great friends, and when the build was completed in 2004, Jude sent them off to do the Bay of Fires walk together in Tasmania as a thank you. The gift was also intended to get the men thinking in more depth about the potential of the Spicers site for walking adventures, as this was a time in Jude’s life where she’d developed a real passion for walking holidays. Having now completed many multi-day walks in New Zealand, Tasmania and overseas, she recognised the potential for Queensland to offer a great walk in the spectacular but relatively undiscovered Spicers Gap region.
When Dave and Graham returned from their adventure they began to offer some early walks under the business name ‘Hidden Peaks Walks’. Guests were collected in Brisbane and driven to Hidden Vale for breakfast, before being dropped off at an entrance to the Main Range National Park and walking up into Spicers Peak Lodge.
Meanwhile, Jude and Ros were designing Canopy – a luxury tent or “glamping” site to be situated on a grassy plateau on the Spicer’s Peak property. Jude now had the underlying idea of one day creating a multi-day walk that could eventually connect Hidden Vale to Spicers Peak. The construction of Canopy was completed in 2009 allowing Dave and Graham to further develop some of their ‘Hidden Peaks Walks’ to include a night at the new site, as well as Peak Lodge. The groups used to start at Governor’s Chair and walk along the creek into Canopy. Over the next five years, the walks were rebranded to ‘Spicers Private Walks’ and then relaunched in 2014 as the Scenic Rim Trail. Today the Peak Lodge is the final rest stop of the 2-day Scenic Rim Trail, before guests are transferred back to Canopy for their last night of accommodation.
The region surrounding Spicers Gap certainly has an interesting history. Alan Cunningham, an English botanist and explorer, was the first European to identify Cunningham’s Gap, which the present day Cunningham Highway passes through. Cunningham was born in Wimbledon in Surrey in 1791. After an early legal job in conveyancing he purposefully moved in a different direction and accepted a position as assistant to the manager of Kew Gardens, W. T. Aiton. Aiton recommended Cunningham to Sir Joseph Banks, a famous botanist and naturalist who sailed on Captain Cook’s first great voyage, and who was the Kew Gardens’ advisor to King George III. Cunningham secured a position working for Banks as a botanical collector. This saw him first travel to Brazil for two years, and later to New South Wales collecting specimens. In New South Wales he took part in a number of exploratory expeditions under different leaders, before beginning a series of his own explorations that took him up into what is now South-East Queensland.
Cunningham’s key achievements were discovering the rich agricultural area of the Darling Downs in 1827. Cunningham led packhorses from Sydney for several weeks before the group reached the Main Range. From the vantage point of the Peak Lodge plateau Cunningham described the range as “a stupendous chain of mountains”; it would have been as breathtaking to him as it is to guests of the Spicers Peak Lodge today! On this occasion and from this vantage point, Cunningham and his men noticed a gap in the Dividing range to the North-East which they believed was suitable for a road – Cunningham named it Spicer’s Gap. The group then had to return to Sydney as their supplies were running low and the horses needed refreshing. In 1828 Cunningham returned to found a route from the shores of Moreton Bay leading to the aforementioned Gap. This time, approaching the range from the North-East, the Spicer’s Gap Cunningham had spotted the year prior was obscured by Mt Mitchell and its twin peaks, and Cunningham and his men earmarked a different Gap also suited for passing through the Great Dividing Range, now known as Cunningham’s Gap.
During these explorations, Alan Cunningham named Spicers Peak mountain (1220m) and the original Spicer’s Gap after Peter Beauclerk Spicer – the superintendent of convicts at the Moreton Bay Penal Colony – because Spicer had apparently identified the peak while looking for escaped convicts from the Moreton Bay penal settlement. Interestingly, Spicer kept a journal of day-to-day life in the colony with meticulous cursive handwriting, called “The Book of Public Labour Performed by Crown Prisoners” which today is stored in the Queensland State Archives. It is commonly known as “Spicer’s Diary”. Alan Cunningham died in Sydney in 1839.
Cunningham’s Gap was too steep to negotiate easily with drays (2-wheeled carts with no sides) and their contents having to be lowered over a cliff with ropes. As such, 20 years after Cunningham had originally spotted Spicer’s Gap, in 1847 stockman Henry Alphen was credited with “re-discovering” this same easier route 7km to the south of Cunningham’s Gap. Indigenous people most likely used the Spicer’s Gap route for trade between the east and west of the range. After Alphen’s “rediscovery”, Spicers Gap then became the first trafficable route between the Darling Downs and Brisbane’s port. Bullocks would traverse the Gap pulling carts loaded with wool to the port, and returning with supplies for the Darling Downs settlers. A road through Spicer’s Gap was built by prisoners from Moreton Bay penal colony. And Alphen set up a travellers’ inn at the start of the road, opposite today’s Spicer’s Gap camping area. The inn thrived for a while before a rail line was established that connected the area to Brisbane. Many years later, a more direct route, the Cunningham Highway, was constructed at Cunningham’s Gap with the first car passing through in 1927.
The settlement of the Main Range area included the dispossession of Indigenous land and culture. Indigenous people lived and hunted in the ranges prior to this time, living harmoniously with the environment. The tribe to the East of the range to Warwick and South to the border were the Gidhabal people. Spicers Peak was known as Barguggan by these people and Binkinjoora by the people below the range. Separate tribes inhabited the East, the Ugurrapuls, and to the West was another tribe. The top of Spicers Peak (as well as other mountains) was used for many millenia as a smoke signal site, sending messages from the West to the coast near Brisbane.
A huge amount of timber was felled in the region between roughly 1850 – 1950, particularly old Red Cedar, White Beech, Rosewood, Blackbutt, Stringy Bark and Hoop Pine trees. Only a few Red Cedar trees survive today; sadly timber getting had little thought for the future. On the Spicer’s Peak property there are portions of original forest remaining that were earmarked early as timber reserves for railway purposes. Two in-tact reserves eventually became part of the Main Range National Park and can be experienced by Scenic Rim Tail walkers today. Land in this region was first converted by the government to National Park in 1909. Between then and now, the protected area has grown significantly and sections have been added to the Australian National Heritage List. Since the Turners acquired Spicers Peak, attempts to re-forest some parts of the property have had some success.
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