The iconic bunya trees are one of the most distinctive sights at the Bunya Mountains, with the soaring peaks sheltering the largest stand of ancient bunya pines existing in the world today. And the most iconic part of the bunya pine is, of course, the bunya nut. These giant edible pinecones form every two to three years, ripening up to the size of a soccer ball and dropping in summer. The cones encase the edible nuts inside a shell, with each cone containing between 30 and 100 nuts, depending on the size. They are a unique, iconic and very healthy food source, and were believed to have been eaten by dinosaurs many eons ago!
The bunya nut has a long and colourful history at the Bunya Mountains, holding great cultural and historical significance for the Aboriginal people of the area. For many thousands of years, large groups of Aboriginal people gathered at the Bunya Mountains to take part in what was known as the bonye bonye festival – regarded by the many tribes who attended as a great chance to socialise and engage in ceremonies, law-making and dispute resolution. Bunya nuts were gathered daily from the forest and were eaten raw, roasted, or made into a kind of cake. The feasts were supplemented by freshly caught meat, and the whole festival was regarded very highly by all mobs. However, expansion of European settlements and activities disrupted the large gatherings. The last great bonye bonye festival is reported to have been held in the late 1800s.
The bunya nuts have been long beloved by the local indigenous people, who went to great lengths to harvest these delicious delicacies. They cut notches in the trunk of the bunya pines and used vines wrapped around the trunk to help them climb, often scaling trees up to 50 metres tall. Soft, juicy, immature nuts were eaten raw while the mature nuts were roasted. Alternatively, kernels were pounded into meal and roasted into a kind of cake that could be stored for several weeks. Unshelled nuts were often buried in netted bags in the beds of creeks for later consumption.
These days, the bunya nuts are just as popular with both human and animal visitors to the mountain. Bunya nut season is heralded by large crashing sounds as the nuts fall to the rainforest floor, often taking out tree branches as they fall. It’s wise not to park your car under bunya pines from January to April, as the bunya cones can sometimes weigh up to 10kg.
And of course, no stay at the Bunya Mountains is complete without trying some local bunya nut delicacies at Poppies on the Hill Café! Bunya nuts can be cooked in many ways or eaten raw, and work well with both sweet and savoury dishes. You’ll find everything from bunya burgers and beef and bunya nut pies, to bunya nut ice cream, bunya nut scones with jam and cream and the famous bunya nut carrot cake. And not only are the bunya nuts delicious, they’re also very nutritious – and while low in protein, they contain 66% starch and 14% water. The bunya nut in all its forms is the ideal healthy and nourishing snack to indulge your tastebuds – so don’t forget to check out the range of exquisite bunya nut delights at Poppies on the Hill Café.
Bunya nut season is also a great time of year to see wildlife, as the native birds and animals enjoy the bunya nut feast as well. It’s an iconic time of the year at the Bunya Mountains – and a favourite time to visit for many of our guests.